According to Paul Streeten, Human Development is “more than just the rise or fall of national incomes. It is about expanding the choices people have to lead lives that they value." How have we conceived this as of today--we have indices such as the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index (HDI), prepared along six basic pillars: “equity, sustainability, productivity, empowerment, cooperation and security.”
Equity is the idea of fairness for every person, between men and women; we each have the right to an education and health care. Secondly, sustainability is the view that we all have the right to earn a living that can sustain our lives and have access to a more even distribution of goods. In addition, productivity states the full participation of people in the process of income generation. This also means that the government needs more efficient social programs for its people. Empowerment is the freedom of the people to influence development and decisions that affect their lives. Cooperation stipulates participation and belonging to communities and groups as a means of mutual enrichment and a source of social meaning. Last but not least, security offers people development opportunities freely and safely with confidence that they will not disappear suddenly in the future.
I would also like to cite the remarkable work accomplished by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in compiling the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) which looks at human development from either Expert Assessment (EA) or Official Data (OD) from the perspectives of welfare, education and health.
In view of the existing paradigms, Human Development depends critically on actions to improve skills, tools, policies and indeed the functioning of institutions capacity engaged in development. Inherent in these paradigms is the shared role of the individual, the state, and institutions whether public, private or from civil society, and the key role of indigenous information, global knowledge, and continuous learning.
It is in recognition of this evidence that 12 African countries, of which Senegal, and their development partners from 12 non-African countries and 3 multilateral development institutions (the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme) created the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) 21 years ago to build sustainable human and institutional capacity in Africa in support of African countries effort to achieve human development.
ACBF defines capacity as the aptitudes, resources, relationships, and facilitating conditions required to act effectively to achieve specified mandates. Capacity is then conceptualized at three levels--individuals, work environment or organization, and institutions taken as interactions between individuals and organizations. Capacity takes meaning in specific settings (capacity for what?). ACBF measures capacity in indices compiled in the African Capacity Indicators Report (ACIR) which it publishes annually to add value to the dialogue and debate on the issues of human development and to bring new information for the purposes of learning by individuals, public institutions, non-state actors and society at large.
The challenge for many recipients of these messages is how to distill them into credible, accurate, and informative resources on the basis of which to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Unfortunately, an overwhelming proportion of these stakeholders do not have the capacity to undertake this distillation exercise in a manner that is useful, as far as their contributions to socio-economic and political development, as informed citizens, is concerned.
The media has a critical role to play in taking such measures and indices as the HDI, IIAG, and ACI, and making them known to the average citizen. Politicians have the responsibility to work with the media to use the indicators to show progress and assess effectiveness of different policies. Citizens have the responsibility to use these indices and measures to hold politicians accountable and in fact even engage the media as not only users but also contributors of information.
The other point for debate is the balance between human capacity and productive capacity for development. Mother Nature has endowed Africa, our beloved continent, with a wealth of natural resources (arable land and mineral resources). Looking at the path of other continents, we know very well that Africa will not achieve human development through the mere export of raw natural resources. Sustainable human development requires a development of manufacturing capability taking into account our obligations to the environment. Developing manufacturing activities entails deep economic transformation, which will not be achieved without full ownership of the process by citizens. The media has a critical role to play in mobilizing citizens in support of Africa’s economic transformation drive.
For Africa to achieve true economic transformation that leads to sustainable human development, a partnership between citizens, media and government (the State) is a prerequisite. An effective human development will not be achieved without an environment in which citizens can query and question political governance and that for citizens to do so they need to be adequately and reliably informed.
Allow me to quote a distinguished former BBC news anchor, foreign correspondent and journalist Michael Buerk speaking to students at Ryerson University, Toronto. He said, “A flawed media, I suggest, leads to a flawed democracy. Ill-informed citizens cannot make proper judgments about their leaders' actions, about the actions that take place in their names, about the laws that govern them. The media matter.”
Africa can no longer afford flawed media as the patience of the African people on the road to human development is fading rapidly. An effective partnership between the citizens, media and the State requires that the State create an environment that is conducive for the development of a free, independent and competent media. If significant progress has already been made in that direction, a lot remains to be done for Africa’s media to really become a successful advocate of economic transformation leading to human development.
Our continent remains the most dangerous for journalists to work in, says the International Federation of Journalists. Of a total of 179 countries ranked, only 2 African, namely Cape Verde and Namibia, made it to the top 20 of Reporters Without Borders’ 2011/2012 Press Freedom Index, with a total of 9 in the top 50 and 26 in the top 100.
The margin of progression towards a media that African citizens deserve is still very wide and calls for a sustained and concerted effort from citizens who have to continue demanding it; from the State which has to conduct bold reforms as many African countries already have and stand by them; and from the media itself which has to make its fair share of the effort by raising its competency level, ethics and independence. Joseph Pulitzer said, "a cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself."
A base people will not serve the purpose of human development and economic transformation in Africa. It is sad to see that even in our most advanced economies, some politicians have been using the media for rent or for hire to make a political point.
Media/information literacy is a critical necessity for African decision makers as the Continent takes its place in a Globalized world, especially in using the media to shape the needed political and socio-economic transformations for successful development outcomes. For these transformations to contribute to the benefit of all, citizens have to be engaged actors and diligent watchdogs within the public sphere. It is only when citizens demonstrate competence as knowledgeable and discerning processors and producers of information that they can contribute effectively to democratic consolidation, political accountability, good governance, peaceful co-existence, national unity, and equitable socio-economic development.
This is the reason why ACBF decided a few years ago to open its capacity development support to African media organizations such as the West African Journalists Association (WAJA), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the East African Journalists Association (EAJA), and to consultative frameworks like the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF). Like ACBF, many organizations engage in efforts to help the development of free and independent media in countries around the world. These efforts can take many forms, from funding the establishment of an entirely new media outlet to assisting an existing outlet in improving its professional capacity.
Common efforts at independent media development include: journalist training and education; improving the legal environment for media; efforts to improve the sustainability of existing outlets; media literacy training; digital media training and integration; infrastructure development; and monitoring and evaluation efforts. With the continued support of its multilateral, bilateral and African partners, ACBF will continue supporting the emergence of a free and competent media in Africa. The Foundation also aims to support "Media for development" which refers to the use of existing media to convey messages about specific development issues.
Africa needs a vibrant, competent, free, independent and ethical media. This is the media that citizens will rely on to be adequately informed of what their leaders are doing on their behalf and will use to convey their views on their governance.
Africa stands a chance to concretize the optimistic projections the whole world makes about its development prospects. An effective partnership between citizens, the media and the State will unlock the potential and energy of a population which is young, with more than 65% aged less 35, to transform the continent’s exceptional endowment in natural resources thus creating sustainable human development.
By Dr Frannie Léautier
Executive Secretary, African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF).
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