Archive | March, 2009

Sustainability in Katine

24 Mar

Sustainability is an important issue in international development journalism and one which has been the issue of sceptics of the Guardian’s Katine project. Freelance journalist Eliza Anyangwe questioned whether, despite, being exciting and able to make a difference, a short-term project like this £2.5m initiative is actually a good idea…

“That per capita investment would produce higher agricultural yields, better healthcare, more enrolments in school and better rural governance anywhere in the world. But what happens in the years after the project? Who will be able to afford the high-yield seeds and who will provide books for schools or train teachers? What becomes of the villagers of Katine then?

It makes me wonder if Katine is an example of recklessness or a good project that shares a universal characteristic with other development projects: they tend to leave a bitter aftertaste.”

She suggests “short-sightedness” in development means that issues, such as education and health, will not get the long-term attention they require. She also raised concerns that those trained by the project will move to the Uganda capital, Kampala.

One of my previous posts looked at some of the problems the Guardian faced, especially in working with NGO Amref. Based on that, anything more than three years would seem quite challenging. Project Katine must build foundations that won’t crumble once the project is over.

It depends whether you think you’re being negative when criticising the project. Once the three-years are over you can fear that the “positive results of these projects will soon erode” or can think that some changes are inevitable in a region like Katine, and the positive has not eroded – but is just evolving to suit the needs of that area. The end of the project doesn’t necessarily mean fail.

But Katine may have helped to change attitudes, but without the funding, Anyangwe does have a point.

Read the full piece in the Katine Chronicles Blog.


Soap operas with soul

12 Mar

Development and health campaigns always face the challenge of firstly, getting their message out to target audiences, and then sustaining that message. But what if there was a method where you could educate people indirectly?

The UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) helps fund soap operas, dubbed ‘edutainment’ in developing countries in Africa and South Asia.


Makutano Junction is a Kenyan-produced soap also shown in Uganda and Tanzania featuring a fictional village. Every episode, broadcast in English, is watched by around seven million Kenyans, of which 50% of television owners live in rural areas.

Described as “stories that touch your heart and maybe teach you something new” DFID say “hard hitting and realistic storylines” are what makes them have the success and popularity of British soaps like Eastenders and Coronation Street from even the remotest of villages.

Storylines educate on topics including contraception, challenging corruption, malaria prevention through bednets, HIV and AIDS and giving women a voice in politics.

The soaps aim to kick off local conversation about some of the most serious health and development challenges that face the Global South.

In India, the series Jasoos Vijay aims to prevent AIDS and also change attitudes on the virus and HIV. Watched by 70 million Indians, figures show the mass audiences DFID have access to. There have also been moves to go beyond English and Hindi speakers, and the show is broadcast in Hindi and seven other regional languages. Throughout the fictional storylines are small intermissions, where experts give information on HIV prevention. It is vital as 5 million Indians are infected with HIV and AIDS and the social stigma of infection remains a factor in its spreading.


But Bollywood churns out more films than America, that are often based in imperialist ideals, where there are echos of Ritzer’s ‘Mcdonaldisation’ paradigm a lot of glamour involved in the clothes, music, houses and storylines – some of which are not relevant to audiences besides escapism and entertainment. It does make you wonder whether Bollywood should play an increasing role in ‘edutainment’.

Makutano Junction

Makutano Junction

Soap operas on the radio reach an even bigger audience than on the television. The Story Story radio programme is set in a Nigerian Marketplace and is recorded on location. Broadcast in English on 57 federal, state and independent partner stations as well as on the BBC World Service, which has also delivered extensive radio training to professionals in Nigeria. Versions have also been produced in the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages.

South Africa’s TV soap Soul City regularly reaches 16m people and has been running for over 15 years. It was originally set up by NGOs in 1994, but regular test screenings by producers to ensure they are real and relevant storylines to the audiences watching, where HIV prevention messages are central to its storylines.

It has been so successful that they are introducing a transition in to Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe and encompassing radio shows, information booklets and a spin-off show for young children (Soul Buddyz). One episode which focused on domestic abuse brought in 180,000 calls to a women’s helpline while the programme was on air.

Makutano Junction offers weekly comic leaflets

Makutano Junction offers weekly comic leaflets


Matthew Krouse, arts editor of the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian, has been following Soul City since the beginning and praises it for steering away from Western television exported to South Africa, despite being sceptical at first:

“We’re saturated with crap American TV at the moment, this never-never land of beautiful people and unrealistic lives. But here we have a gritty, realistic soap with a powerful message. It’s something we can really be proud of.”

These soaps are fairly sanctimonious and preachy and don’t necessarily offer a means to put this new thinking into practice. There is the danger that the messages are so indirect that they just blend into the notion of entertainment. Viewers and listeners are also very passive, so it does echo a top-down model.

There is still the problem that these messages cannot reach those who cannot afford to purchase television sets or radios.

However entertainment is an important strategy for development and it does seem practical for regions that have an aural tradition.

Economic Orientalism: The ‘other’ dog

10 Mar


Slumdog Millionaire scooped eight Oscars in Hollywood just over a fornight ago including Best Picture and Best Director.

But journalist Anuja Prashar, recently described in The Indian Star that the  film’s success was an indication of the “asymmetry, ambivalence and atavism” of the globalisation process.

The ‘Other’

She has gone further in proposing that the film’s success may be premised on the development of ‘Economic Orientalism’, based on Professor Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism and the Other, which explains “Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” and the positioning of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

It suggests that Western nations, particularly Britain and the U.S., in times of unemployment and recession are glancing at growing economic powers such as India with a colonial undertone.

Prashar says:

The compounded result of creating the exotic ‘poor’ in Slumdog Millionaire and western leadership rhetoric, is the emergence of an ‘Economic Orientalism’, that defines western economic status as relative to that of the emerging or developing economic status. The positioning of the two, ‘them’ and ‘us’ allows for power and influence to remain centred within a national frame of reference, at the individual level and the national level.

For example, Gordon Brown asserting Britain’s suitability for global leadership of global financial regulation. This discursive approach supports a continuation of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ stance, reminiscent of western ancestral periods of history, with re-imagined notions of a national global leadership.

Global power

With an increase in media stories about real slumlife being born from the fictional Slumdog’s success, is the underbelly portrayal of the Global South damaging the chances of a country on the brink of becoming a superpower? Does it merely echo imperialist propaganda?

Phantom India Louise MalleI can say the latter definitely doesn’t apply to Boyle. Despite some criticisms and protests, the Indian government seemed more welcoming to Slumdog than four decades ago when it had imposed severe restrictions on foreign media after the BBC  broadcast Louis Malle’s documentary, Phantom India.

This time round, the effects of globalisation are more apparent and India is far more confident.

But the question, which Prashar also poses, is should the media be steering away from just painting the negative under developed picture that we have grown so accustomed to? Self censorship in order to aid nation-building – or simply ignoring what is the reality?

NGOs: The African Children’s Education Trust

5 Mar

Take a look at my interview from 2008 with David Stables , who runs an NGO from a tiny council flat not far from where I live in Leicester.

David Stables says NGOs must work within ways that are suitable for Africa

David Stables says NGOs must work within ways that are suitable for Africa

The African Children’s Education Trust (A-CET) is an NGO that takes a more participative approach with an “Ethiopians are the best people to help Ethiopia” attitude.

A-CET brings full-time education and training to thousands of land-mine victims, AIDS orphans and street children, of which 20% are disabled.

They particularly focus on vulnerable children, because culture and tradition still condemns them to exploitation and begging in many areas of Northeast Africa.

It has retained its independence through relying on private voluntary donations, receiving no lottery, corporate or government funding and has minimal overheads with no professional fund raising or consultancy fees, which enables 90% of donations to go directly to the children.

What steers this NGO towards a more horizontal approach to development is that it works in partnership with the Ethiopian Youth Educational Support (EYES), which is run by previous students of the trust. It’s been going for over a decade with this approach which I believe is quite progressive thinking for small NGO emerging in the 1990s.

You can watch their quick video here and catch my interview here – it’s from last year but would be an interesting case study to compare with more familiar NGOs.