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African communication education: sunrise or false dawn?

Guy Berger's picture

acce1.jpg

Thirty-five years after an association of African communication educators was mooted in Accra, some 100 delegates gathered in the same city on 11 August 2009 for a conference of the African Council for Communication Education.

The ACCE has been more-or-less moribund on a continental scale for the past decade, notwithstanding a small presence in Nigeria and Kenya. A financial scandal at one point in its history lost it the patronage of UNESCO, and its own membership fell away.

Opening the Accra event, Ghana’s vice president, John Dramani Mahama, quipped: “May I have privilege and honour to declare the ACCE resurrected, … sorry, to declare this conference open.”

A speech read on behalf of veteran Prof Alfred Opubar noted a disconnect between those who theorise communication in Africa but who cannot communicate the relevance of what they do, and those who communicate but without the benefit of theory.

More seriously, he pointed out that ACCE was remote from power centres that determine national and international agendas, and from bodies like Ecowas, SADC, African Union, UNESCO national commissions, and broadcasting regulators. And he added: “Where are our websites, where are our bloggers?”

Earlier, ACCE founder member Prof Alex Quarmyne recalled that the organisation at one historical point had changed its name from the Council “of” Communications Education, to the Council “for” Communications Education.

For his part, Opubar proposed changing the word “Council” in ACCE to “Conference” so as to symbolise a new revival.

Reading his remarks was well-known African media scholar Cecil Blake, who also spoke independently about revitalising ACCE. Blake said he was heartened by the event because participants were for the first time paying their own way to an ACCE function, without depending on others. “We are seasoned in the art of begging,” he said, by way of explaining his excitement.

ACCE’’s future was touched on by Ghanaian Vice president Mahama who said the organisation had a valuable role to play in advising governments on communications policies and strategies with a view to achieving the Millenium Development Goals.

The theme of the current conference is much wider than this, however. Its title is “Communication education & practice in Africa – a social contract for the 21st century”.

Prof Kwami Karikari of the Media Foundation of West Africa told the gathering that a “social contract” implied shared interests, a sense of community, and a public sphere. Underpinning this needed to be peace, tolerance, human rights, and development (amongst others). The mission of communication education, he argued, was to respond to such needs.

The “social contract” view of communication is not only broad, but also consensual in orientation, unlike a narrower focus on journalism which includes consideration of oppositional communication.

On the other hand, some speakers like conference convenor Dr Audrey Gadzekpo did acknowledge the importance of media pluralism, and especially radio, for democratisation and fair elections.

For ACCE, perhaps the biggest challenge for organisational coherence and longevity is precisely its breadth and glossing over of tensions.

When I attended a meeting of the organisation Cape Town in 1996, the organisation seemed hamstrung by the very wide mix of academics – ranging from those examining health communications through to those mainly interested in journalism.

The delegates back then also included government communicators (and some propagandists). At that time, they were pretty reluctant for ACCE to protest the arrest at the time of Cameroon’s most well-known editor, Pius Njawe. And so the organisation proved unable to rise to the occasion.

If a revived ACCE is to succeed, it needs to understand what went wrong earlier. And if it is to agree on a “social contract” of sorts, with actions to follow, then its supporters could do well to acknowledge the diversity of interests and even contradictions – both within their own ranks and within communication more broadly.

Or is my journalism-centric mind being too blinkered as to the possibilities?

(Twitter tag for the Accra conference: #acce09)

My presentation at the ACCE - Social capital analysis of African journalists at Highway Africa

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Social networking and African journalists final.pdf1.86 MB