The Government of Niger, following the example of a number of other African countries, has since August 2001 undertaken the process of defining a National Communication for Development Policy (NCDP) with the support of UNICEF, FAO and the UNDP.
This decision that was taken by the Niger authorities is the expression on one hand of their awareness of the importance of communication in development and its role as a catalyst in all activity sectors, and on the other hand, of their realisation of the insufficient involvement of communication in development issues.
Niger is one of the pioneer African countries that used communication in its social mobilisation, education and information activities. Nigers first development programme, created immediately after the country gained its independence, was mainly centred upon information, education and communication. The countrys association of radio clubs as well as its development animation services were considered to be role models in communication activities throughout the West African region.
In spite of the results achieved, it became evident that communication for development had specific needs and conditions that the programmes in question had not taken into account.
While it is undoubtedly true that communication constitutes a strategic factor for encouraging, supporting and accompanying the initiatives of the development actors, as well as for obtaining convincing results, i.e. the effective use of communication tools in development activities, it is equally true that field knowledge and an awareness of the expectations and needs of the population are truly indispensable.
Merely publishing and distributing information or leading group meetings will not suffice. Effective exchange must be provided, and the population must be offered new development approaches and actions. As Kunda Dexit of the Panos Institute wrote in the "Deutschland" review (No. 01/2001), "It is only when information requires participation in the communication process, and when it allows individuals as well as those who govern them to make well-founded decisions that information is transformed into knowledge ".
This, therefore, is the main objective of the NCDP in Niger: transforming information into "knowledge". Achieving this does not necessarily imply a drastic upheaval of the present situation, but rather that all strategies should be reconsidered. It should begin with an open mind, and continue with the will to discover the true nature of the population, its situation, its needs and its expectations.
This process should then continue with all levels of society, identifying the approach to be used and the actions that would lead to creating " knowledge ", which would allow all persons involved to undertake and successfully carry out development efforts.
The Niger National Communication for Development Policy has just completed its national workshop that elaborated the policy and programme for its implementation. But even at this stage, the different phases of the process that proceeded from the training workshop to the regional workshops revealed its advantages as well as its major constraints. It is a question now of proceeding to a full-fledged situation analysis and to taking the necessary steps for maximising the assets and minimising the constraints.
Three factors in this respect appear to be truly decisive: The juridical and institutional framework, training and production.
Whether one is dealing with the media or with local communication tools, the statute and the missions, as well as the capabilities of the human resources involved and the quality of the end product will determine whether the activities in question will or will not have a significant impact.
These factors are dependent upon the government authorities and their development partners. If they exercise their political determination and make a sustained effort in this regard, the effectiveness and sustainability of the communication for development structure that will be created at the end of the present process can be assured.
The effectiveness in question is also a function of the conception of the project for the definition of the National Communication for Development Policy as well as the methodology of this process. We shall subsequently see the extent to which the ambiguities, particularly with regard to the obligations of the projects partners, can result in the creation of obstacles and poor performance.
The national workshop that proceeded to elaborate the National Communication for Development Policy was held at Niamey from 7 to 11 January 2002 adopted the following documents:
Regarding the National Communication for Development Policy;
regarding the short-term, medium-term and long-term action programme;
summary of the ten thematic and sectorial research studies;
summary of the work of the eight regional workshops;
The workshops general report.
The Minister for Communication officially selected a committee to supervise the preparation and organisation of the workshop.
The projects principal coordinating body was reinforced by three national consultants who were recruited for this purpose and who had previously carried out thematic and sectorial studies. Two of these consultants had also participated in creating the framework for the regional workshops. The coordination body served as the executing arm for the decisions that were taken by the workshops preparatory committee.
The terms of reference for the workshop and the basic documents for its activities were created and prepared on the basis of surveys and research studies, as well as on the work done by the regional workshops.
It was understood that for the national workshop, the procedure consisted in defining the National Communication for Development Policy rather than in validating it.
"The situation with regard to communication for development in Niger" that has been set forth in these documents was therefore used as the support for the workshop.
Six committees were created in order to discuss the following subjects:
Committee No. 1: Communication Technologies (Telecom, ICTs, Radio, Television, Press).
Committee No. 2: Training in Communication for Development
Committee No. 3: Traditional Means of Communication and Communication Tools and Areas
Committee No. 4: The Mass Media (Press, Radio, Television)
Committee No. 5: The Institutional and Juridical Framework
Committee No. 6: Summary and Recommendations.
Committee No. 6, which had been charged with summarising all that had been done, coordinated the activities of the other working groups and prepared the general conclusions for the attention of the plenary session.
Plans were made for the committees to be composed of 20 persons each, for a total of 120 participants out of the 210 participants who were expected to attend. Each committee of 20 persons included 5 representatives from the regions, 10 persons from civil society organisations at the national level, and 5 persons from Government institutions, international organisations, NGOs and other associations, etc. In this manner, the plenary session listened to and discussed the presentations made, while the committees examined the questions that had been assigned to them. The fear that there might be some confusion between the prerogatives of the plenary sessions presidium and the committee carrying out the summaries proved to be groundless.
The coordination between the committees and the summaries that the committee in question carried out greatly facilitated the formulation of the conclusions that were made in the General Report.
All of the above could not be accomplished, as all the participants insisted upon taking part in the committees deliberations. Finally, only a dozen or so presentations were made at the plenary session, but all of the presentations received were distributed to the participants.
1. IDENTIFYING THE TOPICS AND COMMUNICATION SECTORS TO BE DIAGNOSED AND DRAFTING THE SUMMARY DOCUMENT
The ten research studies dealt with all of the subjects that concerned the communication sectors.
It must nevertheless be pointed out that the problem of communication for development, in its analysis based upon daily life experiences, was more concerned with the media and its tools than with a thorough going study of the subjects in question. This shortcoming is related less to the reference contents than to the wording of the research studies itself, as formulated in the following manner:
The public and private press (in French and the national languages).
Public and private radio broadcasts and rural radio networks.
Television and video.
Traditional means of communication.
Communication technologies (radio, television, the press).
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
The juridical and institutional communication framework.
Training in communication for development.
Local communication tools.
Governmental communication strategy.
This formulation has without doubt influenced the determination of the research directions and approaches that were undertaken in carrying out the research studies themselves. As a result, the general tendency has been descriptive rather than analytic of the phenomena, their impact, and the perception of communication that people have, as well as the perceptions with regard to the practice of communication for development.
The presentation of the different media and other means of communication has nevertheless made it possible to draw up a comprehensive picture of the communication situation in Niger.
2 - THE WORKSHOP
A workshop was organised to bring together all the persons who might be concerned by the process. The ten modules that were presented during the week the workshop was held allowed the participants to assimilate the concept, the contents, the rules and the principles of communication for development.
The daily accounts that certain participants were requested to prepare on an alternate basis, and the criticisms made by the other participants helped considerably to consolidate this assimilation.
It is regrettable that no representatives of development actors at the regional level participated in the teaching workshop. Had they attended, they would certainly have provided valuable support to the organisation and progress of the regional workshops.
3. THE LAUNCHING OF THEMATIC AND SECTORIAL STUDIES
The document created for the project defined the terms of reference for each of the consultants. Precise directives indicated the research to be carried out, as well as the analyses to be made, and the presentation and results that were expected. The consultants contracts were drawn up on this basis, and then approved by them.
The research studies however naturally implied that there would be transfers to the different regions of the country, as well as visits to business concerns, to communities and to resource persons. It thus became necessary to take certain administrative steps in order to facilitate these matters. The coordination structure therefore set about determining the consultants mission programmes, preparing travel documents, and providing transport and transfer allowances, as well as letters of recommendation to the different local authorities.
In spite of these arrangements, nearly all the consultants were at least one week late with regard to the calendar. This was due to a number of factors, including the lengthy procedures necessary for making funds available, as well as some unnecessary protocol such as the official ceremony called «The Peace Flame».
In addition, the need to use public means of transportation constituted an additional handicap for certain persons, due to the total lack of organised transportation in certain areas.
Had certain decisions not been made in advance with regard to determining the programme and the type of transportation to be used, it would have been possible for the coordination structure, working together with the follow-up committee, to proceed in a different way, in a more efficient and in the end less costly manner.
In any event, the missions were carried out in a satisfactory manner. In all areas of the country, the authorities notified by the messages from the Ministry of the Interior offered their assistance, which turned out to be very necessary for the successful carrying out of the surveys.
Similarly, the associations and NGOs as well as the different local communities facilitated the missions research activities and analyses.
4 - THE ORGANISATION AND RUNNING OF THE REGIONAL MEETINGS
The Principal Coordinator and the National Director of the project carried out visits to all the administrative centres of the countrys eight regions. They organised meetings there, all presided over by the Prefects, with the participation of representatives of the different local communities and administrative structures.
These missions made it possible to present the Governments objectives as expressed in the National Communication for Development Policy, as well as the strategies and the overall process. The missions also provided the opportunity to distribute to all persons concerned the standard questionnaire regarding the participants communication needs, their strategies, strengths and weaknesses.
However, the programme did not provide the time needed for making in-depth contacts, which would have made it possible to collect the results of the questionnaire on the spot, and to identify the persons who could have helped in organising the workshops at the regional level. Since this was not possible, the task was given to the local representatives of the Niger Radio Broadcasting and Television Bureau (ORTN) and the Niger Telecommunication Company (SONITEL), who unfortunately were not very helpful in providing the assistance requested of them.
The Coordination body was unable to proceed with the recruitment of local consultants, as had been foreseen in the projects document. It was therefore obliged to mobilise three consultants among the ten who had carried out the thematic and sectorial studies, for support in organising and facilitating the eight regional workshops.
The regional workshops were held from 6 August to 12 September 2001 in Diffa, Zinder, Maradi, Agadez, Tahoua, Dosso, Tillaberi and Niamey.
The programme for the workshops was created with a view to combining a necessary reminder regarding the concept and rules of communication for development, with a compendium of the communication and training needs of a plan regarding communication for development by means of presentations, modules and committee work.
The results have proved to be satisfactory, as has moreover been attested to by the evaluation forms provided by the participants at the eight workshops.
The problems that were posed are clearly and entirely attributable to the regional administrations, whose actions hindered the organisation of the workshops.
In spite of the fact that each region was supposed to send 30 participants to the workshops, the prefectures and sub-prefectures often sent 80 participants instead. Those participants who had travelled a great distance and had spent large sums for their transportation loudly demanded to be reimbursed for these outlays, and for transportation back to their homes. The totals were obviously higher than the amount the budget was authorised to disburse.
These same administrative structures did not carry out the follow-up procedures that had been foreseen in the administration of the standard questionnaire. As a matter of fact, no reply to the questionnaire was ever received from the Tillaberi and Niamey regions.
The regional workshops nevertheless accomplished important work in terms of reflection and organisation, and this made it possible to:
Create a communication for development plan for each region, in order to support the five-year development programme;
Formulate the recommendations with regard to the current situation and the development of communication.
The implementation programme of the National Communication for Development Policy (NCDP) was based upon seven principal factors:
1. Distributing the national policy document to all the different components of the society, as well as to the development institutions and actors, so that all the persons involved in development activities could be thoroughly informed;
2. Carrying out juridical and institutional reforms in order to achieve the effective implementation of the National Communication for Development Policy;
3. Creating and executing a harmonised development plan for the mass media and local means of communication (local radio stations, animation using video and audiovisual supports, language boards, film projections and the production of figurines and television) for the information and education of people in urban and rural areas;
4. Creating media education programmes using different media for this purpose, in order to make the citizens more autonomous and critical with regard to certain press and media programmes;
5. Elaborating sectorial strategies of communication for development by including current projects and initiatives in the areas of agriculture, animal breeding, forestry, the environment, health care, social actions and the advancement of women;
6. Reinforcing the human resources capabilities of all the persons intervening, by training in communication for development;
7. Supporting research in the specific area of communication for development.
The first point that provides for the indispensable distribution of the NCDP documents, so that all elements of society will be fully informed as to their contents and importance is a decisive step in the process. It calls for not only the massive reproduction of documents, but in addition, for meetings, workshops and dialogue directed at all the individuals involved in development activities. This phase of the process will undoubtedly reveal certain shortcomings in methodology and in the programming of activities, and will therefore serve as a reinforcement of the National Communication for Development Policy structure.
Point 2 provides for the creation of the appropriate framework for carrying out communication for development in the different sectors of economic, social and cultural activities. It will involve:
Redefining the place and role of the public media within the context of the National Communication for Development Policy, as well as that of the medias public service missions as a whole;
Creating the juridical framework and the functioning conditions that are appropriate for the development of local communication, particularly by the use of community and rural radio stations;
Taking the necessary protection, preservation and valorisation measures with regard to communication tools and areas, particularly the traditional ones.
In order to accomplish all of the above, it will be necessary to elaborate a number of legislative and regulatory measures, and to have them adopted by the National Assembly and the Government.
Point 3 has the objective of developing the mass media as well as the local means of communication in a harmonious manner, in order to be able to inform and educate the people living in urban and rural areas. This form of development requires that there be a bold political will on the part of the Government, and the resolute support of Nigers development partners. It should result in the creation of a communication system that guarantees openness and the equitable access of all people to information and knowledge.
This is the reason why Point 4 provides for media education programmes directed at the people, in order to develop a greater degree of autonomy among them, as well as a greater capacity for criticism with regard to media programmes and contents.
Point 5 concerns the communication sectorial strategies, i.e. their approaches and contents, particularly in the areas of agriculture, animal breeding, forestry, the environment, health care, social action and the advancement of women.
Points 6 and 7 have the objective of reorganising and coordinating training activities in communication for development, in order to reinforce the human resources capacities of all the participants, and support research in the specific area of communication for development.
The directional points that have thus been defined must be translated into programmes and projects that can be effectively carried out. In other words, the conclusions that were reached at the national workshop have taken note of the current status of communication for development, and have formulated recommendations so that the countrys advantages might be employed in order to improve this situation. However, the effective implementation of these recommendations necessitates the specific and technical elaboration of the project files that will be developed, as was indicated in the timetable of the National Communication for Development Policy that was sent to a meeting of sponsors.
It is most urgent in this regard to create an implementation structure, inasmuch as all the actions to be undertaken following the workshop would become part of this framework.
Following the work carried out at the national workshop, the Projects follow-up committee met in order to finalize the NCDP documents, together with an action plan involving a summary of the work carried out at the regional workshops and establishing a communication for development plan for each region.
During that meeting, the Committee also defined the next steps, namely:
Draft the communication for development programme;
Present the NCDP and its Government implementation programme;
Prepare and hold the round table with the financial partners.
The elaboration of the NCDP was carried out by the national workshop on the basis of:
The communication situation in Niger as determined by the thematic and sectorial studies, the standard questionnaire and the regional workshops;
The discussions in the committees;
The summaries made as well as the recommendations formulated by Committee No. 6 that had been created for this purpose.
This procedure offered the advantage of allowing all the participants to effectively take part in all the phases of the debate on the NCDP and its elaboration.
In reality however, the elaboration of the policy continued following the workshop by means of the formulation of the programme that was to be submitted to the sponsors meeting.
This last phase, i.e. the formulation of the programme was decisive in the process. Long discussions were held within the follow-up committee with regard to the nature of the work itself and the formulation of the programme.
It is quite evident that there is more involved here than merely defining simple directions to take and making vague evaluations: A complete feasibility file must be established for each action, as well as for each achievement provided for in the action plan or in the different workshop recommendations.
The tasks to be carried out necessitate a significant amount of documentary research. The achievements in question must be carefully planned, taking into account the economic and social contexts, and determining the financial costs with extreme accuracy.
The timetable had obviously underestimated the time that would be needed to accomplish these tasks, as well as those related to the preparation and holding of the sponsors round table.
This situation had generated a certain amount of ambiguity with regard to the continuation of the process following the national workshop.
To cite an example: Whereas the principal expert proposed a schedule that went from February to June for the creation of the programme and the delivery of the documents to the Government, the heads of the UNICEF and FAO bureaus in Niger decided at a joint meeting that the final deadline would be set for the end of the month of February. The follow-up committee, realising that the sheer size and complexity of their task would not allow them to complete their work in only one month, proposed, following a long series of meetings and exchanges, that a group of about twenty Nigerean managers and United Nations personnel meet for a period of ten days in Niamey to elaborate the NCDP implementation programme.
However, the true causes underlying the shortcomings of the NCDP process in Niger were the uncertain nature of the means available and the ambiguities of the «Projects» Coordination Statute.
At the beginning, UNICEF and FAO were supposed to equally share in providing for the costs of the project, while the Government was supposed to make its payments in kind.
As a matter of fact, FAOs engagement procedure was never realised. This resulted in the need to negotiate at each stage in the project, either with the UNDP, or with UNICEF as a replacement for FAO.
These negotiations resulted in enormous delays and negatively affected the effectiveness of certain project actions. This was also why the dates that had been officially set for the regional workshops and even the national workshop had to be postponed.
The coordination body that served as the permanent administrative structure for the project did not have a budget available to it, and was required to undertake a long and difficult procedure when requesting even the smallest sum for its expenditures.
1. First of all, a Coordination Unit should be established and made operational. This unit would be the permanent organ of the NCDP designing process and should include:
A follow-up committee made up of the project partners and one representative of the civil society organisations. This committee would meet at least once a month.
A principal coordinator who would lead and coordinate the daily activities of the project.
An assistant specialized in planning.
This Coordination Unit should have a budget approved by partners and made available. The coordinator in charge of payments should report to the monitoring committee.
2. The training workshop should be designed as a short training session in communication for development for a period of at least one month.
3. Some representatives at the regional or local level should attend the training session.
4. The NCDP activities should be launched through a press conference.
5. The sectorial and thematic studies should be carried out in a way that grants a sufficient time for:
Data collection, gathering and analysis in the field.
Study documents processing.
6. The regional workshops preparation is very important and should involve the grassroots stakeholders in the process. This preparation mission should devote at least three days to each region including one at the sub-regional level. A sub-regional committee under the authority of the regional administrative officer should be set up and dedicated to the organisation of the regional workshop.
7. A member of the preparatory mission should stay in the region for two or three days, in order to collect the answers to the questionnaire.
8. As the regional workshops have the mission to design the communication plans for development, the grassroots stakeholders should be represented as widely as possible.
9. The NCPD implementation action plan should be followed by the formulation of a programme: A six month-period should be dedicated for preparing fundable sub-programmes projects to be submitted to partners.
The process carried out in Niger resulted in the formulation of the National Communication for Development Policy and in short, medium and long term action plan.
The measures and actions recommended reflect the exact situation and the actual needs of the development actors. In this process, no less than 200 people were surveyed in one way or another, and had the opportunity to express themselves, to give their opinion and to take part in the decision-making. Therefore, the NCDP is really based on the needs and expectations of the population.
As for the government, it clearly and actively showed its political will to have an organisation and communication tools in order to support its programmes and strategies regarding the poverty alleviation or the fight against AIDS. Similarly, the government showed its determination to take the process to its end, including a round table with financial partners and the implementation of reforms and planned actions.
The political will of the government and the actual involvement of stakeholders in the NCPD are preconditions for success.
Yet, the political will and the stakeholders involvement need to rely on available resources and on a sound organization in order to become a concrete action. In the case of Niger, the Coordination Unit did not have the minimum financial resources, nor a permanent secretariat and a liaison vehicle which are indispensable for the smooth operation of an administration.
The overall process was successful despite the limitation of resources. However, this success would have been even greater if the resources for the organisation and functioning had been delivered on time.