This unit presents the publics of African communication. It presents the two sides of an African, highlighting the reasons for primordial ethnic consideration in the public place.


At the end of this unit of study, you should be able to:

  1. Identify the publics of African communication
  2. Enumerate the reasons for primordial ethnic consideration in public decisions


3.1. The Publics of African Communication

Africa is at once a bundle of contradictions and an enigma that seeks understanding. It is the most ancient continent which marked the origin of the earliest known human beings, and has some of the most enduring artefacts of traditionalism. At the same time, it displays some of the most eager adopters of foreign pop culture. Whereas some rural communities are inaccessible by road and remain impenetrable by the modern mass media, sections of the big urban centres such as [Lagos, Abuja] Algiers, Cairo, Nairobi, Pretoria, and Windhoek are more developed than some areas in
American and European countries (Okigbo, 2004:31).

What is responsible for the adoption of foreign pop culture? From a historical perpective, it could be attributed to colonialism and from a contemporary perspective, might be hinged on the changing values and exposure to foreign media products and models. Again, Okigbo (2004:34) captured it thus:
Though African states gained political independence from their colonial powers, colonialism has left indelible imprints on the psyche of African peoples. Not even the younger generation of Africans who were born after independence has been able to avoid the negative consequences of colonialism. In many aspects of the people’s lives, there are vestiges of colonialism alongside indigenous values, leading some to argue that there are two publics in Africa (emphasis mine).

It was argued in some literature that slave trade and indirect rule caused distrust among Africans, and enhanced the use of state powers against the citizens. Those citizens oppressed by state apparatus, especially the ones who did not work with district officers amongst other positions, sought the use of social organisations to address the concerns. So, the colonial government did not nurture a good relationship between the individual and the state. The relationship was exploitative; hence, Africans turned to the informal networks for “protection”. This was how Africans made a distinction between state apparatus and informal social support structures and mechanisms.

The citizens found out that the informal social support structures and mechanisms which are indigenous had a human face compared to the state apparatus and hence cushioned the perceived harsh treatment given by the state. The next unit surveys some institutions and ethnic associations, which were seen during the colonial era as alternative public institutions that were parallel to the state.

Citing Ekeh (1975 and 1992), Okigbo (2004) identified the two publics of an African as the informal and formal associations. He specifically referred to them as the civic and primordial publics. From the above, it is obvious that Africans as publics of African communication, is one man…two sides.

3.2.0 The Publics: One Man…Two Sides

Okigbo (2004) identified the two publics as civic and primordial. So, essentially, he did not mean to say that there are different publics, but the two sides of Africans. The one public of an African is that African without exposure to foreign government and media products; and the other, a pure indigenous African unexposed to foreign government and media products. This distinction may be likened to what Cook (1993) referred to as public and private dichotomy.

3.2.1 The Public Realm

The public realm which covers the workplace, law, economics, politics, intellectual and cultural life, where power is exercised, is regarded as the preserve of men and seen as men’s domain while the private domain refers to the home and family, where women are seen to belong (Cook, 1993).

Discussing the civic public, Cook (1993) referred to it as the public realm, which covers public life – the workplace, law, economics, politics, intellectual and cultural life, where power is exercised. Again, Okigbo (2004:35) stated that the civic public realm is about the government and state apparatuses or organs; operates on amoral codes of behaviour; relies on the apparatuses of the formal state organ and has a more sophisticated bureaucratic structure. He stated that it is the domain of state politics and the public life of the community; the context of the political state, and requires the education of the citizenry in the spirit of the polity. He argued that although, the state is the major actor in the civic public realm, it “…does not act alone.There are other actors such as associations, political parties, and professional bodies, which operate along with the government in the political space” for synergy in a nation’s goal, but that is not the case in Africa as ethnic and self interest are the main concerns of many pulic office holders. The public office holders have abandoned coordination of citizenship education and mobilisation for national interest.

3.2.2 The Primordial Realm

The primordial realm refers “to the operations of natural and assumed kinship groupings such as the Igbo State Union, Afeniefre, Ohaneze, MOSOP, and the oldKaduna Mafia in Nigereia” (Okigbo, 2004:36) Cook (1993) refered to the primordial realm as the private domain. According to Okigbo (2004:36)

… the primordial public realm operates on moral codes of behaviour, which bind members of informal associations such as kinship and ethnic groups…

The net result of the slave trade and the failure of both the colonial and contemporary state to provide for the welfare of the individual created considerable distrust of the state, and elevated kinship structures to a high pedestal for succour, safety, welfare, and protection.

In Africa, people rely more on informal networks of kinship structure, ethnicity and sectional interests when they relocate or are vying for political positions than state apparatus.

Many members of informal networks major players in the public sphere who utilise their positions and influence to protect and promote the interest of their members and kinsmen; and obtain benefits from the government for their people. This may account for Okigbo’s (2004:36) assertion that “Many people are guided by primordial ethnic consideration in their public decisions.”

In the context of modern day communication, respect for the primordial public has become necessary for advocacy, social mobilisation and programme communication for any development intervention. One of the steps in popularising it is through the study of African communication systems, hence this unit and while the next unit is on African communication systems and African development.


The unit concludes that most Africans are two publics. The duality is caused by slave trade and indirect rule that resulted in distrust among Africans. Slave trade and indirect rule used state powers against the citizens which led the citizens to the use of social organisations to address their concerns. The social organisations were adjudged to have a human face compared to the state apparatus and hence cushioned the perceived harsh treatment given by the state.


This unit examined the publics of African communication. It presented the two sides of an African and highlighted the reasons for primordial ethnic consideration in the public place.
Self Assessment Exercisei. Who are the publics of African communication?


  1. Why are Africans two publics?


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