The promises of communication technologies'
contribution to African social development have gone largely unrealized,
in spite of many decades of both ad hoc and purposive uses of
media to support social change and behavior modification. In the
period immediately preceding political independence in the 1960s,
many African countries were optimistic about the positive contributions
that the modern mass media along with western education could
make to national development. Not surprisingly, newspapers, radio
and television stations as well as ambitious infrastructure in
higher education were some of the development targets of the independence
era. African development planners could look to western countries,
and see how their media and educational systems provided the engines
for public education, professional development, and economic expansion
that coalesced to yield sustained social development. The same
trajectory was envisioned for Africa.
The reality since the 1980s has shown that the western model has not been replicated in Africa, as the majority of African counties were (and still are) overburdened by evident and abundant underdevelopment, in spite of their investment in communication media and formal education. At present, the outlook for socioeconomic development in subSaharan Africa is not attractive, as some countries are experiencing zero or negative growth, declining investments in the media and education, and the increasing incidence of diseases and national disasters. The situation is compounded by pervasive unstable politics, intergroup conflicts, and a monocrop agricultural culture that produces mostly primary products. These lead to serious challenges that can, in themselves, present great opportunities for communication technology and education.
The poverty in Africa is not necessarily a result of technological inertia or lack of formal education. It is more a result of misapplication of technology and the adoption of inappropriate educational policies which very often are implemented without proper research to determine their applicability and suitability. Meeting the challenges of the future will need new approaches to communication technology and education.
With regard to technology, the focus should be on intermediate, timetested, durable, and costeffective techniques that can be sustained in the harsh tropical environment of subSaharan Africa, rather than the latest technological innovations. Traveling the superhighway is not necessarily better than using a batteryoperated tape recorder to teach rural African communities. It is often overlooked that 70% of Africa is rural where basic facilities for advanced technologies are lacking.
We cannot deny that there is an important place for some of the latest technologies in Africa, especially in some of the urban centers such as Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lagos, Cairo and Abidjan. Admitted also is the fact that African countries can " leapfrog" and jump into the modern technological age, but we must caution that learning to walk, before attempting to run is the most logical step in systematic growth. The answer is to adopt a needsbased approach to technological innovation. The needs of the particular society and publics must be considered before any attempts to embrace or reject any particular contraption. Technology both as a communication medium and an aid to education, must be a means, and not an end. There is still room for mobile cinemas, rotary press, and batteryoperated transistor radios among people whose average per capita annual income is less than US$200. The South African "Windup radio" which uses neither batteries nor electricity is a good example of needbased technological innovation. This holds tremendous promise for both schoolbased and informal education in Africa. Such intermediate and culturallyrelevant technological tools are needed in many areas - agriculture, education, health, and public affairs.
There are significant new developments all across Africa, especially in the area of individual initiatives, multiparty democracy, and community revival. The serious problems confronting the school systems in Africa (among which are declining financial resources, lack of discipline, exodus of manpower from the teaching profession, lack of motivation for remaining staff) have left many Africans reinventing the individual initiatives that had characterized precolonial Africa.
The informal sector of skilled (but often uneducated) artisans, is proving to be the bulwark of many African economies. Auto mechanics, plumbers, iron workers and other such groups are adopting available intermediate or rudimentary technology to meet their community's needs, in the absence of sophisticated and unaffordable new technologies. This development needs to interface with the educational system to ensure that this is not just a passing fad. Similarly, the evolving democratic culture and the pervasive new community revival initiatives need to be supported with appropriate technological and educational methods. Sustainable growth is enhanced by stable politics and participatory community development. Technology and education are fast acquiring new roles in the sustainable development of Africa, with the informal sector and individual initiatives now taking more central positions than was the case in the past. In the process, many people and communities who were formerly at the periphery are now being drawn into the vortex of social development.
For African countries to overcome their present development deficits, they need to integrate appropriate technology and education in a sense that will enable them use problembased approaches, instead of too easily borrowing from what obtains in other parts of the world. This poses challenges to policy makers who need to encourage intermediate technologies and also promote both schoolbased and informal educational opportunities for learning. The media and educational systems have important roles in social development. These roles must reflect the particular societies and their needs. Above all the people must be active participants in the development process. The tasks for UNESCO, UNICEF and other similar agencies is to encourage needsbased and participatory approaches to the integration of technology and education to avoid unnecessary copying of foreign models without due consideration for cultural sensitivity and differing levels of development. There is hope for African sustainable development if the right mix of technology and educational methods can be found to address some of the most pressing development deficits on the continent.
Charles Okigbo (ACCE) and Carol Okigbo (Daystar University),
P.O. Box 76540, Kenya
Tel.:254 2 713559