30 Nov 1999 WACC Congress 2008 – Communication and Peace in Africa
Communication, like peace, has an important role in our lives. For peace to reign in our society, for any developmental activity to succeed, there must be effective communication. This is true if we consider the Babel incident where the sons of Noah failed to build a tower just because they could no longer communicate with each other.
Communication is vital to life. It is impossible for an individual to live in peace without communicating. Communication is equally important to organizations. This includes communication within the organization as well as the organization’s public relations with society.Communication consists of sending and receiving messages. The message is sent with a particular purpose: to provoke an act. Communication is indispensable to the promotion of harmony in families, societies, nations and the world. Be it intra-personal, inter-personal or mass communication, it has proven effective in provoking behavioral changes and progress.
The main characteristic of leadership in any sphere of human activity is the ability to communicate for peace to reign. Religious organizations in Africa have been instrumental for peace to reign in this continent by communicating effectively using gospel messages from the pulpit and through choral music and Christian literature. The Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, with its one million members, is an example of a non-governmental Christian religious organization that is using the tools of public relations to communicate decisions taken by church authorities which encourage Christians and the general public to embrace decisions peacefully.
An example of when communication contributed significantly to bringing peace to my country can be seen in the February 2008 social unrest. Sparked by a hike in petroleum product, the unrest quickly affected all other products thereby paralyzing the entire economy for one week. Government and private media quickly understood that they had to communicate with the population not only to explain the reason for the hike but also to call for calm. For the entire week, government officials, civil societies, opinion leaders, independent personalities, amongst others, were seen and heard over the electronic media. This yielded positive results as the unrest came to a halt.
A wide range of modern means of mass communication can be used to promote peace. However, music, film, drama, literary works, fine art and the press appear to be the most utilized in Cameroon. Countless songs have been composed and sung by musicians of renown. Churches preach against war, famine, racism, and terrorism which are threats to peace. Books and films have been conceived by talented authors for the same purpose. But there is still much to be done for it is visible that the world does not know perfect peace and its restoration seems utopic. Conflicts plague human life in many parts of the world. Tyranic governments continue to inflict untold sufferings on their people. Poverty, epidemics and natural catastrophes threaten the life of the populace in many nations. These are factors which should motivate humanity to turn to its creator – The Peace Giver.
Many sociologists hold that communication in Africa should be geared at civilization and social development. This is perhaps due to the fact that most of the continent is still underdeveloped. Some repugnant cultures are still to be combated. Communication seems suited to perform this miracle. The so-called ‘communication for behavioral change’ appears necessary to contest African practices such as female genital mutilation and superstition. An African Head of State once said, “While Westerners are struggling to go to the moon, Africans should rather go to the village.”
For any family or community to have peace, they must communicate effectively and avoid perceptions of discrimination. The absence of smooth communication flow which results in the spreading of wrong information may spark off misconceptions and even lead to death. This is common within families when they are at loggerheads. No peace! No communication or dialogue! Hatred, blackmail, deceit, and fighting reigns, all due to lack of effective communication leading to the lack of peace.
An example of a polygamous family with communication difficultes is that of Mr. Nkem who was married to three wives. Mr. Nkem focused his attention on the last wife who was the youngest and gave much financial attention to her children by, for example, hiring private teachers. This act was misconstrued by the children of his other two wives as being discriminative on the part of their father. As matter of fact, Mr. Nkem did so because of the intellectual deficiency of the children of the third wife, hence they needed much attention. This however, was not communicated to his other children which led to misunderstanding and tension in the family. Had he communicated his intension to the rest of his family, this would have been avoided.
Modern means of communication are mainly used in big towns and cities. Villagers are left to use indigenous means of communication, which have limited effectiveness in reaching and transmitting messages to the masses. Decisions taken by the hierarchy of a country will most certainly have a negative impact on its various publics if not communicated properly. For example, a slight increase in the cost of basic commodities, if not properly explained, may spark off mass destruction and killing.
On many occasions, Cameroonians have been heard making sarcastic comments about the apparent absence of communication flow between the hierarchy and the community. The media have to be well utilized to prevent political uprising. Though some international NGO’s have lent a helping hand to rural community by establishing community radios in Africa’s hinterland, much still needs to be done.
Communication in the rural areas of Africa over the years has been designed to help the rural masses get educated on how to survive in their modest but rich environment. The agricultural activities which characterize life in villages are a factor not to neglect because they bring about peace. The relative illiteracy which plagues villages should prompt and inspire media operators and communicators to shape their messages creatively. Effort in communication should be geared at maintaining peace – the gift of God’s love.
On 6-10 October this year, WACC will host an international meeting for Communicators in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss the theme of communication and peace. It will be an opportunity for communicators from around the world to share experiences and learn from one another on how to use various means of communication to address conflict and peace issues. WACC is inviting Communicators to register for Congress 2008 in large numbers.