Sustainable Development Stories: Accepting A TRUST
ASIA MEDIA SUMMIT, MAY 12, 2018, NEW DELHI, INDIA
Since the colonial era, the stories often told of most Sub-Saharan Africa countries were primarily negative. In this presentation, I refer to such stories as SWOC/T stories. They were stories of Africa’s sins and sicknesses, of wars, oddities and catastrophes. Africa was usually grotesquely painted as the Dark Continent. Granted that many Sub-Saharan African countries were slow in catching up with modern civilization, this pejorative perception does not in any way do justice to the vast opportunities and resources of the continent, the very reason for which western nations invaded Africa to access raw materials to feed their factories during the industrial revolution.
It does not do justice to the fact that Africa was the continent that provided the needed labour on their farms and plantations as many sons of Africa were shipped to Europe during the era of slavery. It does not do justice to the fact that most problems of Africa that manifest in military takeover of governments and political instability, corruption, exploitation and underdevelopment were precipitated by European nations with imperialist objectives in the scramble and partition of the African continent and the neo-colonial agenda of maintaining imperialism through puppet regimes and transnational corporations were responsible for the many development challenges confronting the continent today.
In telling stories about Africa as well as Asia therefore, we first need to interrogate the circumstances of the evolution of modern Africa before using the Western standard, the Euro-America lens and media portrayal to tell African stories. We need to change the narratives of telling negative and depressing stories about our continents to ones that will speedily facilitate sustainable development in Africa and Asia. We need to accept telling good stories of ourselves as a TRUST.
BETWEEN UN 8 MDGs 17 SDGs
Let me at this juncture make some observations peculiar to public and development policy processes. First, The Mass Media occupy a vital position in policy cycle, planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation and that the success of any development policy initiative depends on how the mass media frame and mainstream issues or problems and how they set the agenda in the public sphere. The UN 8 MDGs and 17 SDGs simplify all policy and agenda for development planning for all countries. The objectives of these agenda are all about facilitating change to improve the quality of life of all citizens, especially in the poorer nations of sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean. They symbolize a global commitment to ensure that development policy processes and practices not only satisfy citizens’ existential demands, but also that in the process of exploiting the earth resources or in the way they are used, they do not compromise, deny or debar the coming generation from meeting their own material needs in the future. That is, countries of the world must think and act responsibly while benefitting from these resources today. Through these policies, they must facilitate sustainable development.
On this note, media professionals in Africa and Asia need to ask: what stories must we tell through our platforms of public communication and engagement, through the mass and social media contents generated and shared on radio, television and cable services, delivering news and programme to the airwaves and the world. What should be published in the hard print of newspapers and magazines and on the World Wide Web or online for public consumption for the society to understand the policy choices before all stakeholders to ensure that sustainable development is achieved in all countries? Essentially too, there is the need to ask: What are the decisions that need to be taken to achieve sustainable development, decisions that the mass media will mainstream for public support and endorsement so that when the decisions get to the implementation phase, they will have no problem? These are the summary of questions that need to be interrogated by the mass media if they must ensure effective facilitation of sustainable development.
QUESTIONS AND REFLECTIONS ON TELLING OUR STORIES
Indeed, there comes a time in the life of any nation desirous of change, progress and development that difficult choices and decisions have to be made. This definitely is the time for us not only in sub-Saharan Africa but in all other regions of the world grappling with development challenges. But that choice or decision is not for the government or the leadership of these countries alone to make. While the buck may stop at the desk of the leaders, whatever choice or decision they make will in the final analysis will still be subject to citizens’ approval and support. In countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, the challenge is not really just of economic dimension, even though it seems most manifest in the dismal macroeconomic indices of productivity, employment, savings, investment and consumption. It is a challenge in her entire policy making process. This real challenge can be located within the structure of the polity of countries, which invariably determine the colour of their politics, dictates the nature of their governance and affects the stability of their economy. This combination has so far been dictating how various stakeholders within and outside government support, validate and implement reform projects and policies of their governments.
In Nigeria for instance, this is a remarkable feature of the country’s post-colonial history since 1960 when she gained political independence from Britain till today that the country is battling a number of nation-building crises. These crises have collectively hampered the pace of Nigeria’s development despite her unquantifiable endowments and huge potentials for leadership, not only in Africa but also in the entire world. The issue is: many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa hardly outlived their politics of prebendalism as they still grapples with foundational elements of nation building crisis. The dominant discussion of restructuring or dissolving the nation among some interest groups is a pointer the weakness of national cohesion, when themes like marginalization, corruption and other negative values that compromise national growth and sustainable development rule the airwaves and the press.
In this scenario, no matter how sincere or good is the intention of the country’s leadership or government in any reform initiative, such initiative will still be a victim of political dynamics? This combination of the structure of the polity, the colour of politics and the fibre of governance therefore determines how the elites, the bureaucrats and the technocrats, the labour movement, the mass media and other interest groups aggregate on the policy issues African nations have to address in their quest for sustainable development. This being so in the process of decision making, the countries are usually constrained in the constituent of participants, the sincerity of advisers, the range and rationality of choices and alternatives and the quality and acceptability of decision whenever any reform project is to be embarked upon. The mass media that are supposed to be facilitators are also caught in this web in the kind of issues they frame or mainstream and the agenda they set.
In this context, we need to raise a dozen questions germane to achieving success and sustainable development in our reform projects. These questions underline the nature, relevance and depth of the sustainable development stories mass media should feature about countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific Rim. Such stories should reflect the richness and diversity of our content and themes, how we tell such stories to inspire or facilitate the understanding of the issues. Through who do we tell them to give them authority, validity and credibility and consequently engender the support of all relevant actors and stakeholders. These essentially are the very essence or purpose of Public Service Media working for the achievement of sustainable development in their respective countries. These are the concerns raised to share more insights and perspectives on what as media managers we should be focussed on in our daily programming, periodic publications and what the social media should always reflect in addressing poverty and how to lift our peoples out of backwardness, diseases and disconnectedness in a globalized world that is now neatly networked by technological explosion.
THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
So, the first question here is: What public concerns, issues and problems must INSPIRE our governments in Africa and Asia to commit themselves to an aggressive drive for sustainable development? The post-independence experiences at policy and reform projects in many African countries suggest that they are almost always responding to crises as the structure and forms of governments that have dominated her history have largely being dictated by emergencies and political misadventures. Therefore, our public policies and programmes, even if they were genuine, were not enduring. Today, many of our countries are certainly in emergency, in terms of development aspirations. The logic here is if emergency management has not yielded sustainable development for Africa, governments in the continent must return to long-term and long range planning that will assure enduring transformation and development for their citizens. Consequently, for every reform project, African countries must draw inspiration from countries with similar national experiences and best practices in governance. Brazil, India and China are good case studies just as there are fine lessons in reforms from Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, The Philippines and Singapore. On the strength of these observations, it is possible to probe further other specific questions that should guide Africa and Asia’s quest for reform and transformation and how we should tell these stories, sustainable development stories in the public service mass media.
As Public Service Media, the stories we tell of our continents must pungently ask: What policies must we INITIATE to leapfrog all the countries into the league of the developed nations with commendable human development indices? Despite huge investment in several social capital projects on the continent since the political independence of many of our countries, especially since the 1960s, much parts of the continent still lacked essential amenities that will qualify the governments as committed to development. So, at any point in time and in every situation, our concern must be delivering policies and programmes that ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people, with least compliance lethargy. Health, Housing, Public Transportation, Waste Management and Environmental Protection, Gender Balance, basic education and economic empowerment must be dominant in our content and themes. This however entails rigorous identification and analysis of the issues and problems, real, extant or potential. Again, this demands foresight and sensitivity from the government to the vitality of evidence based research into public issues and problems before they escalate to national emergencies. Therefore, in the stories we tell, we must be interested in the likely responses to reform initiatives by employing all rational and behavioural analytic tools in our predictions on outcomes of programmes and projects designed to address the development challenges identified.
We must also with our stories ask: Who must we INVOLVE? Critical to the success of any reform project is the support and legitimacy of all stakeholders and interest groups, beneficiaries or victims. Without consultation, engagement and collaboration with those to be affected, programmes and reform initiatives are justifiably misconstrued, opposed and rejected or they suffer apathy and indifference even from the intended beneficiaries. Strategic communication, wide consultation and close collaboration with beneficiaries and sponsors are necessary to carry all along and ensure they all take ownership of the projects for them to succeed or at least limit obstacles which those that might be negatively affected by the reform projects may present or impose while pursuing development policies.
Our Sustainable development stories must also probe what policy framework must we INSTITUTE in our development policy formulation and implementation processes? In consideration of reform initiatives, experts and officials are always bordered by how well or how soon a programme will yield the desired dividends. Such result is measured by the efficiency, effectiveness, economy and the impact of the tools and strategies adopted in the implementation process to push through the reform project. Since most reforms are bitter, painful and unusual, they are necessarily prone to rejection. Therefore, the framework that is best suited to preventing policy shock and glut is one that gives room for learning, coping and adjustment by those likely to be affected and those implementing the policies. This is because realities on the field of development policy and programme implementation may alter projections in the plan. Such approach is denoted as incrementalism. This framework of learning and coping gives room for manoeuvring, adjustment and building on experience to correct mistakes. This is the more reason why public service media as the best gauge for monitoring and evaluation in the policy cycle.
Again, we must ask a cogent question on who our governments in Africa must INSPIRE. This evidently is essential question our stories must try to resolve. Our governments must inspire or mobilize the entire citizenry in various countries by the quality of leadership provided. To inspire or mobilize the citizenry towards sustainable development goals and objectives, they must be visionary, responsive and transformational. It must project all the elements of good governance. In practical terms therefore, the governments must inspire in the citizenry the readiness for trust, partnership and collaboration through the services they provide, the incentives and opportunities they create for the stimulation of growth, real employment and productivity. Furthermore, they must inspire the entire citizenry through the cost, sacrifices and denials seen in leaders of the government or the elected representatives. Those visible incentives, sacrifices and denials which ultimately result in savings for the citizens are the stories that the mass media must tell. So, there must be fidelity on the part of the mass media to this function of mobilization.
This leads to the leading to the next question about utilization, maintenance and management of those physical and human capital that are national assets. Without an appreciation of culture of protection, conservation and continuous investment of national assets and resources, quality assurance, measurement or evaluation and improvement of the processes of delivering public goods and services, public investment in them will only be fragmental, misaligned and wasteful. The nation must prevent the mistakes of the past in our culture of public management. These are the themes that sustainable development stories must constantly interrogate.
Such stories must also answer such question as: Who must we INVITE? That is who are those that will partner or even compete with the government in the delivery of these essentials of life that are needed to assure good quality of life that are contained in the Sustainable Development Goals that nations of the world, particularly the poor ones agreed to pursue. The reality of public management and provision of public goods and services suggests that big government is no longer suitable to achieving handsome results as governments in Africa cannot do all alone. They need credible partners and collaborators, including foreign direct investors, operators in the private sector and non-governmental organizations with experience and the financial muscle. Gone are the days that economies of scale are predictably positive and manageable and public needs limited. The bigger the size of government, the more elaborate the hierarchy and processes and the more cumbersome, wasteful and costlier will it be in getting things done in public interest. Therefore, the option for our government is to relinquish those areas of less national strategic importance and seek partnership and collaboration with private sector providers and direct foreign investors who have requisite expertise and financial strength. But their stake in the national economy must transcend profit but include a commitment to national growth and development. They must have qualitative public value to deliver to the nation through their involvement in the local economy. Our stories must reflect how to get such partners and monitor the quality of their performance. The stories we tell must promote investigate the credibility of such partners to ensure that they are actually what they claim to be, and not opportunists.
Our stories must also deal with the question of what we must INCREASE. This question relates to what we produce with our human capital assets and in which areas we have comparative advantage. Our experts and technocrats in various analyses presented facts that clearly suggest that even though we are classified among the oil-rich nations, we are still oil-impoverished per capita when compared with many other OPEC members whose production capacity outweighs ours in spite of their lesser population. A resource whose production process, distribution and marketing does not engage a substantial percentage of our population and does not guarantee us much comparative advantage in the world economy cannot be said to be in our ultimate interest. In Nigeria for instance, the paradox of oil production and dependence in is that while it is enriching the national treasury, it is metaphorically stifling productivity and employment in the real sector of the nation’s economy. This is not to advocate the shutting of Nigeria’s oil oil-wells. Rather, it is a call to rethink the nation’s economic diversification agenda. When we advocate diversification, we must be shifting focus to saving and investing our oil earnings on enduring and sustainable national assets while also concentrating on sectors with higher comparative advantage and greater prospects of employment generation, productivity and self-sustainability. Our stories must therefore explore the theme of diversification of the national economy in such ways that the bigger opportunities that abound in every part of the country become open to all citizens. The successes of Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (EGRP) of the Nigerian government is a clear case study of the type of stories mass media must mainstream in telling our stories of sustainable development. We used to talk about our industries being on the throes of death, producing below installed capacity, diverting to merchandising of imported items or have closed shops to relocate to other countries, With the ERGP being pursued, the stories are already changing. The country is already achieving self-sufficiency in a number of areas especially agriculture. Being a net importing nation had encouraged conspicuous consumption with less employment generation.
This kind of unsavoury situation should compel us to ask in our stories, what must we IMPORT? Collectively, we have to reach an understanding that our imports must be those things that grow and add real value to our capacity rather than being dependent on others for everything through the stories we tell. Our stories must encourage us to moderate the consumption of what is not produced locally. They must therefore lead us to be disciplined on what we must INHIBIT or restrict and why we must restrict them. This question is easily answered in the previous explanation of what we must import if we must achieve sustainable development. Our governments must discourage commodities and items that prevent the growth of our local industries. But they must also explain what incentives and subsidies we must introduce in sectors that are not immediately profitable or attractive to local entrepreneurs who need to be protected. So, the media is critically important in explaining or telling such stories that will assist making correct choices in what we import or restrict as well as seek cogent ways of regulating economic activities whose engagement will jeopardize the needs of the future generation. The public mass media.
Similarly, we need to ask, what must we INVENT or INNOVATE? We must be sensitive to the two demands of inspiring research and development and growing our local industry. So, our government and the mass media through the stories we tell must encourage invention, investment and patronage of technologies appropriate for our development stage. It is indeed absurd for us to be importing simple technologies like grinding and shelling machines fabricated in other countries while similar ones produced by our hard working technologists rot in the roadside showrooms. Our stories must showcase the hardworking and innovative minds and hands that are toiling in all corners of the country to produce inventions and technologies that are appropriate to our peculiarities and development stage. Finding and telling stories of such struggling and unknown local fabricators and technologists will of cause ginger them to work harder to achieve breakthroughs that will solve many problems in the national economy without depending on foreign brands or wasting investment on transfer of inappropriate technologies to the continent.
Furthermore, we must raise issues on what we must IMPROVE. In any reform initiative, it is inevitable that that some vulnerabilities and negative externalities will arise. They are the price we must pay if reform must be impactful. We must therefore improve on our social security deliverables to mitigate the impact of reforms and widen the arena of dialogue and communication to imbue trust and confidence that the evidently harsh and painful decision is temporary. In this regard, the mass media must offer hope and not heighten the desperation of the citizens. In the stories we tell, we must open windows of opportunities for alternatives and reliefs.
Now, in what must we INVEST? The answer is in everyday discourse, but which we have been rather slow to address as we engage in conspicuous consumption while enhancing productivity and improving employment in other countries. We must necessarily invest in infrastructure and human capacity development for us to be competitive in today’s knowledge economy. India is also a fine example in its huge investment in ICT. And there are very good stories of Indian nationals making waves outside their shores as expatriates in other countries contributing immensely to their local economy through what they repatriate home as offshore transfers. However, it is not sufficient to provide the infrastructure and develop human capacity without establishing effective and efficient legal and regulatory frameworks that will ensure sound, equitable and judicious distribution of the gains of our investment.
THE PERTINENT ANSWERS
In specific terms therefore, the following are pertinent in the way we tell our stories, not only in Africa but also in other countries pursuing or implementing policies on sustainable development as enunciated in the 17 SDGs. Our stories must:
i. Assure fidelity to policy, plans and programmes for enunciated in the 17 UN SDGs
ii. Stimulate Productivity in Industry and Economy of Africa, Asia Pacific and the Caribbean nations at whom the SDGs are principally targeted.
iii. Mainstream Peace and Nation-Building/Conflict Resolution; Pluralism, Diversity & Inclusiveness in the continents that are mostly victims of political, ethnic/racial and religious crises which stultify development.
iv. Encourage Participation in governance as there is a usually a wide gap between governing elites and the common citizens
v. Monitor Provision of critical social infrastructure that are being provided in the transformation projects of the SDGs
vi. Engender Partnership and collaboration for development not only among internal stakeholders but also with UN institutions, international agencies and NGOs committed to the success of the SDGs
vii. Advocate Protection of the Environment through responsible use of resources
viii. Promote Positive Values, Ethical Practices and Integrity in Public Management and Leadership
ix. Serve as Performance Measurement Mechanism
x. Assist in Prioritization of Public Needs
xi. Use Platforms for Provision of policy choices and determination of alternatives.
xii. Sensitize public interest in issues of sustainable development through Publicity of Achievements and Progress Reports,
Certainly, it is our responsibility as media content providers and distributors in Africa, Asia and more to tell compelling and impactful stories about our continents’ strides which would galvanize all stakeholders to commit themselves and indeed ensure the attainment of the 17 lofty sustainable development goals within target. But how do we tell these stories? Such stories must be told creatively and engagingly for the governments to appreciate and respect the mass media as partners in progress and not just as mere watchdog of the society.
The strategies and approaches to telling our stories must be able to galvanize citizens understanding that it is in their interest to think and act responsibly in their exploration and utilization of the resources of the earth, and protection of the environment. These are what we must commit ourselves to if we in public service media industry must live up to the demands of our roles as facilitators or agents of change in the stories we tell about our society. It is compelling that we tell stories of how to regenerate, conserve, protect and manage the earth resources so that the environment we are bequeathing to the future generation is not over-used, abused or compromised. Telling truly impactful Sustainable Development Stories demands that we are authentic, creative, committed, enthusiastic, patriotic, yet professional, taking our mission for development as a TRUST.
We must reinvent the matrix of SWOC/T stories mostly told about us in the Western media to that of stories that show our strengths and celebrate our successes, stories that reveal worth of our wealth and wins, stories that will advance our ownership of our opportunities and explore our potentials. Certainly, we must tell stories that will increase our chances in achieving the goals and objectives of development as enunciated by the UN in the 17 SDGs in the issues we frame, the themes we focus on and the choices we consider or mainstream in the media production processes, the talents and opportunities we unveil in our programmes and publications, the courage and commitment we demonstrate in the feature or coverage of the critical infrastructure needed to fast track development: We must tell stories celebrating our creativity, showcasing our investments in human capital or talents and promoting our cultural heritage, not ones that demonize our values, traditions, rites, symbols and practices. This I believe is the way we should tell our stories to advance sustainable development in Africa, Asia and More.
Assistant Director, Strategic Planning & Corporate Development Department, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Lagos, Nigeria