The failure of development in Africa is not essentially because of the absence of resources, but the poverty of utilising African communication in development information dissemination. According to Ibagere (1994:94), “Modernisation affects only about twenty per cent of the African people, while the remaining eighty per cent still luxuriate in traditional social patterns of which this traditional communication systems is an inextricable part” which underscores the significance of African indigenous communication in development programmes.

“Although the complementary relationship between communication and development is undeniable, the precise contributions of each to the other, is not easily determined” (Okigbo and Eribo, 2004: ix). From this assertion, it is obvious that information and communication play vital roles in development, hence the focus of this unit is on African popular culture and communication for development.


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

  1. Discuss the interplay between mass media and popular culture
  2. Discuss the use of popular culture in communicating development in AfricaDiscuss the use of drama in communicating development in Africa


3.1 The Impact of African Popular Culture on Development

The impact of African popular culture on information dissemination for development is becoming increasingly recognised by both development and communication experts. “Africa’s history is a series of adjustments by indigenous peoples to new ideas from immediate localities and neighbouring continents” (Okigbo and Eribo, 2004: ix).

Specifically, what is the impact of African popular culture on information dissemination for development? From a political perspective, Asante (2004:6) stated that the lack of connectedness to culture is responsible for the dangers we have witnessed in Africa in the past twenty-five years. He argued that :

This lack of attachment to culture creates insensitivity to others, harshness, abrasiveness, and arrogance. Indeed people who have lost all contact with their inner cultural selves demonstrate their loss by their political manners, which include murders, rapes, and wanton destruction of … propert[ies] of others. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Angola, Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda are just markers of disconnectedness. They are examples of the worst kinds of insensitivities.

He opined that the way one deals with and treat others is a manifestation of one’s cultural manner. He suggested that the best hope for African peace resides in rational communication possibly through the use of African communication modes. From outside Africa, Mowlana (1983) in his study of the roles traditional media of communication played in revolutionized Iran, mentioned public meetings, bazaars, dorehs, missions and theological activities as being very useful.

In his article “Talking Drums and the Conspiracy of Meaning in African Political Speech: A Cultural Analysis of Sonny Okosun’s African Soldier’, Musa (2005) highlighted the role of popular culture (music) as a medium of political mass mobilisation and social protest as examplified in Sonny Okosun’s African Soldier. According to Musa (2005:18), “the song venerated both fallen and living, non-military anti-colonial nationalists with military symbols, while vilifying the then, 1993, serving generation of military rulers as corrupt despots who needed to be gotten-rid of.” He opined that the word soldier as used in the song was used to descibe freedom fighters and that the song was sung as a protest against the annulment of Nigeria’s 1993 presidential election by the then military administration under General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.

The message that echoes through the position of the scholars cited above is that African development needs strategic information management, which employs not only the new media but that which also utilises indigenous media that is based on the innate knowledge and capacity of the people who are the target of most development programmes.

3.2. What are the Communication Strategies and Channels that Employ Popular Culture in Communicating Development Programmes in Africa?

Development problems loom all over the world and Africa in particular: conflicts, environmental problems, diseases and population explosion. According to Okigbo and Eribo (2004: x-xi)
After more than six decades of frustrating expectations and the continuous battle between the forces of development and underdevelopment in Africa, there is the need for an examination of employable communication strategies in the age of the new media and globalization. Could the new communication technologies result in positive changes in Africa? Can the new media produce a new Africa? How …[can] Africa [communication modes]…address the internal and external dynamics that have plagued the continent in the last 500 years?

Addressing these problems requires pragmatic communication strategies that appeal to the audience, which are commercially viable, and socially responsible (Singhal, et al, 2004). Among the three main communication strategies (advocacy, social mobilisation and programme communication) adopted by development agencies for development programmes, dialogue, entertainment-education, negotiation, networking, persuasion, partnership, and testimonial form the key channels. Through them information that would enhance support from relevant authorities encourage people at the community
level to participate and support development programmes for sustainability, and harness community resources to achieve a common vision and attitude change, which are hoped would engender adoption of innovation is disseminated.

Below advocacy, social mobilistaion and programme communication are defined before discussing dialogue, networking and entertainment-education which are the ones that mainly utilise popular culture. Advocacy is a continuous and adaptive process of gathering, organizing and formulating information into arguments to be communicated through various interpersonal and media channels, with a view to raising resources or gaining political and social leadership acceptance and commitment for a development programme, thereby preparing a society for acceptance of the programme.

Social Mobilisation is a process of bringing together all feasible inter-sectoral and social partners and allies to identify needs and raise awareness of, and demand for, a particular development objective. It involves enlisting the participation of such actors (including institutions, groups, neworks and communities) in identifying, raising and managing human and material resources, thereby increasing and strengthening self reliance and sustainability of achievements made.

Programme Communication is a research-based consultative process of addressing knowledge, attitudes and practices through identifying, analyzing and segmenting audiences and participants in programmes and by providing them with relevant information and motivation through well-defined strategies, using an appropriate mix of interpersonal, group and mass media channels, including participatory methods.

Dialogue, which is the exchange of information between two or more people with the ultimate aim of reaching agreement over issues, is commonly used in Africa. It is a common feature in African society where people gather at a place like the community town hall to discuss matters of concern in the community. The tools employed include verbal and non-verbal communication, proverbs, songs and music, talking drums, etc. In fact, Unicef, is really adopting this for interacting with target communities.

Another channel is networking. Networking refers to a conscious coming together of people from diverse backgrounds and affiliations in pursuit of a common goal or interest. A network comprises of groups or organizations that agree to collaborate or assist one another. For our purpose, it also refers to a group of individuals from one community working together with a common goal of achieving positive changes in their community. Channels for networking are interpersonal channels, seminar/symposium/workshop, meetings, publications, and internet. The one that is commonly used in Africa is interpersonal contact, outreach, clubs, and associations i.e. informal social support and kinship/ethnic associations. These kinship associations help their community exist to extract benefits for their ethnic groups from the state and also embark on self-help projects in developing their communities.
On entertainment education, it is the process of providing information targeted at individuals and organizations to improve their knowledge aimed at behaviour change. The application of entertainment education to development involves designing messages using entertainment-education format (drama, music, comic, road shows, etc) presentation of packages at community level using appropriate entertainment education format and involvement of community members in the design and presentation of packages.
Some authors refer to it as edutainment i.e. a combination of education and entertainment. It is a fusion of seemingly two unrelated concepts – education and entertainment. It is a product of research to determine what interests and informs people. This is against the backdrop that research has demonstrated over the years the capacity of carefully designed and packaged entertainment programmes to educate and entertain simultaneously. The education-entertainemnt product is done by experts in different areas of development. The facilitators go to the target audiences to find out issues of concern to them, which enhances a bottom-up approach to development. It is a pragmatic approach to development in Africa that ensures message relevance and internalisation by the target audience.
So, entertainment-education is an important communication strategy used to bring people together to sensitise them on particular issues affecting their societies. They range from development projects, to health, agriculture, beliefs, cultural values and attitudes. Modern mass media (especially, radio and television) have adopted this method of communication to drive home information (knowledge) that is useful to the people. Though fashioned to entertain, it is also very educating as lessons derived from them are often difficult to discard.
Entertainment-education by its nature and by virtue of its commonality and fictionalised situation provides a forum for communication to easily take place without the attendant antagonism which would normally occur in directly realistic situations. Thus provides some form of immunity for its performers.
A major tool used for entertainment education is drama. Drama performs a wide range of role such as bringing people together and creating context for collective reflection and action; drawing out participation and expression of popular concerns and analysis; overcoming people’s fears and rationalisation; building confidence and identity; stimulating discussion; and a critical understanding of problems, contradictions and structures underlying everyday realities; clarifying the possibilities and strategies for action; stirring people’s emotions and mobilising them for useful and necessary actions. 
Even, current research and literature have pointed out the possibilities of making the entertainment-education an interactive and participatory tool of development, constituting an asset in mobilising and propelling people into action for sustainable development using local language or even preferably its dialectic variant; idioms and symbolisms popularity laden with development information can be used to enlist local people in theatrical performances.

3.3 The Communication Functions of Drama

In Africa, arts provide a social function. Drama as a mirror of life with every event recorded therein. In all its manifestations, there can englobe the cosmic as well as everyday human existence. Drama as a vehicle for development is based on its old-age popularity especially with people from the cultural society through folk media. Drama has a potential for creating real models that can be used in various contexts to promote development and for change of attitude.

Theatrical events can provide an occasion for the validation of all that is religious, political, economic and social within the community. The development of conflict and resolutions allows drama society to look within and define appropriate solutions to problems starring clear from the violence that could be caused in real-life event. It can be used as a corrective therapy whereby people seeing drama actions reflected on stage, may come to a full realisation of drama situation. It can create self-consciousness and develop a collective ways feeling together or harmonious ways of fealing in among one another in the group or society.
It is a powerful tool for all sorts of things like promoting harmony frustrating war and fostering peace. It is universal and can be used to promote development. Usually classified as part of oral culture, it can be categorised as belonging to the non-formal or informal media of communication.

As an art form and communication drama can be used either as an escapist fantasy including tool packaged to entertain and trill its audience to sleep or as an instrument designed to educate, sensitize and conscentise audience, members for over all cultural, political and socio-economic transformation of the society. It could be used to distract people’s attention from real important issues – from reality of drama situation. For instance, in the apartheid years in South Africa, on one hand, it distracts while on the other, it calls attention back to important issues to map out strategies to overcoming them.

The main characteristics of edutainment is that it requires on going consultation with experts in the field, target audience and the creative team in putting across on technical issues. It is also didactic. Drama usually comes in form of mixed media i.e. drama plus poetry and music, etc. It embraces dance, song and elements of story telling/folk or poetry. It usually develops as apart of historical cultural experience. It often begins by attempting to entertain and progresses to incorporate other elements. Drama usually has a captive audience just like the television because it involves the use of the eyes. Watchers unconsciously imbibes message presented by the presenter or authority.

Drama in the colonial period was used along ordered and planned processes. It was used essentially to approximate norms and values of western society. This changed by the late ‘60s’ as most African nations became independent. Remarkable changes occurred in Botswana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Sierra-Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, etc. In Nigeria, it has a long history. The travelling theatre still exists in East and Central Africa.

Due to these perculair features of entertainment education products, there is the need to enliven it through integration into popular programmes formats i.e. a fussion of indigenous and exogenous to attract target audiences.
Electronic offers near limitless possibilities for extending the reach of edutainment programming. Radio and television edutainment programmes can be broadcast over a large expanse of broadcast space i.e. wherever broadcast signals can be received, such edutainment programmes can also be received. The success of this depends on the judicious use of the exogenous media. The timing of “flighting” is crucial. It is necessary to ascertain the peak periods when audience members will be in tuned to their sets. The use of prime time (the time when the greatest number of people are watching television or listening to the radio and hence the best time to schedule and air a programme) is recommended. The entertainment education product such as drama can be scheduled as news adjacency or in proximity with other popular programmes. Radio can be used in synergy with other media.

Justifying the need for the use of entertainment-education in promoting development, Singhal et al (2004) stated that while the entertainment media has a high potential to educate the public about various social problems such as HIV prevention, maternal and child health, gender equity and child development, little of this potential has been tapped to date. So, national policy-makers, communication experts and international donor agencies in both the developed and developing countries should consider the educational potential of entertainment media in communicating development.

From the various literature consulted, experts such as cultural anthropologists, sociologists, educationists, theatre artists, especially those in folklore and theatre as well as scientists in various disciplines have explored African Communication Systems. Many of these experts have concentrated on using the traditional channels to promote exogenous innovation. Although more effort is needed in this area, development efforts are likely to be less effective if they ignore the communication of information on indigenous knowledge. So, it is crucial to study communication patterns and design interventions that benefit from this knowledge. While each of the fields outlined above has a role to play, it is believed that ethnographic methods would be very useful in discussing the workings of indigenous communication.
Any development strategy based on indigenous knowledge must consider the repositories of that knowledge. So, indigenous experts must be treated as experts in their own right, for that is what they are. They should be used as expert consultants to participate and advise in planning and implementation of development programmes. Training for such specialists should seek to build on their existing knowledge rather than replace it with alien practices.


African popular culture can be facilitative, effective and efficient in development process. They are facilitative and effective because they are culture specific and acceptable to the people. It respects the people’s tradition and utilises traditional structures and so avoid threat of imperialism. However, this module has shown that local initiatives have often been absent or neglected in designing, planning and implementation of development efforts. Tapping indigenous communication channels can help ensure that this initiative is incorporated in the development process. An understanding of indigenous communication improves the chances of true collegial participation by local people and outsiders in development efforts.


The modern mass media cannot serve fully the communication needs of Africa unless they are combined with the traditional modes of communication. So, efforts should be made towards harnessing and developing them to serve our information needs in general.

The issue of whether or not these modes are relevant should not come up, because from our discussion, it is obvious that the development process in African societies still relies on these modes for maximum outcomes.

Self Assessment Exercise

  1.  Discuss the interplay between mass media and popular culture.


Discuss how popular culture can be harnessed and developed to serve Africa’s development information needs?


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