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No Pens, No Computer, No Paper, No Power - How can Communication Happen?

Paul Mitchell's picture

Photo Credit: Flickr user GoyaIn Liberia we have been working with the Ministry of Information and about 50 public relations officers from the various ministries and organizations within the government, including the Ministry of Information, the President's Office, the individual line ministries and a donor-funded economic development program.

In Liberia, the civil war destroyed most infrastructure, including the communication infrastructure. Government information staff function with almost nothing - no desk, computer, no internet, paper, nor pens. The Ministry had its internet cut off recently because it could not pay its bills. Average monthly salaries are about $50, and that in a country where prices of consumer products are high. When running a workshop we had to buy pens, pads, printer ink, and batteries for the public address system. So communication staff have not only the hurdles of getting their managers to understand the role of communication, but also all the hurdles of simply getting to work and then trying to work with few resources. We have seen this in many other places; the information staff try to do their work with almost no equipment, little empowerment and little internal information, which is a problem in itself, yet they manage. And they have a huge hunger for knowledge.

Although the situation is not much better in any other Liberian ministry, future prospects here are worse because typically communication is very low on the donor list of priorities, despite its critical importance in a post-conflict country. The media functions here, but has low capacity and there is basically no advertising market beyond government and donor community job ads and contract ads. Most papers and radio stations need a deep-pocket sponsor to survive. Yet a country like Liberia offers perhaps some of the best opportunities to incorporate communication into development processes. When almost everything is broken you can actually start almost fresh. 

While training is important and often needed, in many countries the largest need is simply for materials and equipment. Yet donors will spend millions on capacity building and nothing on the equipment needed to put this new capacity into practice. It makes little sense to train people for example on developing a website when they do not even have a computer. Would donors for example push a government to expand the private sector without financing the infrastructure needs for water and power? Why is communication different?

Photo Credit: Flickr user Goya

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
interesting complement to the above blog entry. is an oral approach sustainable? it worked in the west for several hundred years... http://blog.doingbusiness.org/2008/04/oral-justice.html

I think the media functions here, but has low capacity and there is basically no advertising market beyond government and donor community job ads and contract ads.

I guess that i have seen this in many other places; the information staff try to do their work with almost no equipment, little empowerment and little internal information, which is a problem in itself, yet they manage. And they have a huge hunger for knowledge.

Submitted by Dan Petrescu on
I find that financing of communication components is directly related to the imminence of crisis. Prime ministers who have totally neglected communicating and explaining policies during a whole mandate of attempted economic reform will wake -up before elections and say: " We have a communications problem" when it has become already a political problem. But he will find sudenly money for "economic communications". Or, veterinary services suddenly will find bonanzas when facing avian or swine flu epidemics and commercial interests are threatened. If you want to finance institutional capacity to communicate , look for a crisis. Hopefully they will hear this in Haiti. In Liberia I supose you came in "post-Crisis".

I think this is very interesting blog as we know many countries work with out computers, pen and papers and do communication because of destruction in past. But we think it is almost impossible to work without computer. Very interesting article to read.

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