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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.

‘Edutainment’

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.

Bollywood

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

‘Gritty’

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.

The Guardian on Katine: Can it start with a village?

28 Feb

The Guardian’s ‘it starts with a village’ project in Katine, a rural sub-county in Uganda with a 25,000 population is halfway through its three-year duration.

The Guardian describes it as more than fundraising and tracks every stage on the website and through blogs and multimedia – successes and failures included, they claim. It is the only project in mainstream media that offers this level of transparency.

Partners

It has been working in partnership with NGO Farm Africa, Amref, Panos and is sponsored by Barclays. It does however make you question if it is a vehicle for corporate interests of the institutions who sponsor it. In 2007, Barclays already had around 180,000 market traders in Ghana linked into a micro-banking programme based on a traditional saving scheme run by local collectors. 

Poroject Katine has also been scrutinised because it only last for three-years – would it be a case of Western organisations putting in their penny’s worth (£2.5m worth to be exact) and then just leaving a region like Katine holding the baby once they’ve got all their stories – how sustainable will it be?

Can media do development?

Last month POLIS held a seminar to discuss whether the media can actually do development. Following this, Charlie Beckett said “the brutal answer from our seminar was ‘no, but it was worth trying’”…

It was clear from the evidence given by the Amref and Guardian staff at the seminar that this was an exhilarating, exhausting and ultimately unsatisfactory experience. They have another 18 months to go and everyone has learned lessons, much has been achieved, – but there was no sense that either party want to or could repeat the project.

amref quoteThe Guardian’s keenness to introduce new media technologies and take a participative, bottom-up approach was inevitably going to face some barriers as AMREF director Grace Mukasa voiced: “There is an oral tradition in rural Africa. You have to remember that these people may not be literate and may not have seen a computer before so it is hard to expect them to blog.”

Amref also said that coping with the expectations of the Guardian and working under the media spotlight was challenging. They were accused of not opening up to the media in the early stages.

Journalists Sarah Bosely and John Vidal also admitted that they had censored themselves, which is an ethical dilemma that many development journalists face. How well can you balance your duty as a journalist to report the truth without undermining a good project?

These ethical issues and pressures to support the project were also faced by Weekly Observer journalist Richard Kavuma, employed by the Guardian to cover Katine.

He said many Ugandan journalists saw it as “the poor of the North giving to the rich of the South” that would only benefit elites, but that other Ugandan media are increasingly reporting human realities that are often “unsexy” issues, giving people on the ground more of a voice.

And with the Guardian’s resources so heavily on Katine, does it compromise their coverage of other development stories? You can however take the view that covering one country intensely and in detail is much more effective than skimming over a number of them.

Archives of material

The Guardian has benefited from more traffic on the website, but of course any media organisation seeks this when covering development. But Katine is not just covering the development – it is executing the development with Amref. The Guardian admitted that they wanted to test to potential of their website and its ability to ‘crowd-source’ public knowledge around an issue.

The effort put in is evidently not for just online traffic however – Katine is an ambitious venture because it does not provide news grabbing headlines. It is ‘slow’ moving documenting everyday lives of a village which differs to sexier stories involving war, famine, AIDS or through the prism of a rock star celebrity – so it is unlikely to evoke revolutionary change. But it does provide a ‘human face’ rather than masses of statistics.

It has recorded a mass of useful information, video, blog and images and has made great attempts at development on a participatory level. It is an interesting experiment for the media and someone had to make the first dalliance..

New Media

See the Guardian’s use of new media technologies in development communication in this short video.

Independent moderator Rick Davies is monitoring the project and you can view his August 2008 report from his second visit here and Amref’s response here.