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The previous unit discussed African popular culture, mass media and development, delving into the communicatrion strategies and channels used in communicating development in Africa. This unit concludes the discussion on the linkages between African popular culture and development, zeroing in on the interplay between indigenous communication and development. It also focuses on mass media, local media and African, development, delving into the challenges in the use of mass media for communicating developemnt in Africa.


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

  1. Discuss the interplay between indigenous communication and development
  2. Discuss the reach of mass media in Africa
  3. Discuss the challenges in the use of mass media to communicate development in Africa
  4. Argue for a marriage of indigenous and exogenous media in communicating development 


3.1 Indigenous Communication and Development

Social change, social engineering, and education all of which are subjects of development take time and require communication. So is it indigenous or exogenous communication that should be employed?

In looking at the justification that indigenous communication is more effective for development, it is crucial to examine the principles of development communication. Development communication is a social process designed to seek a common understanding or consensus among all participants of a development initiative and leading to a joint action. Communication os required for success and given the fact that indigenous communication forms part of life particularly in the traditional setting. Development communication must take into account the perspectives of the rural people. So, for effective communication to take place, it must listen to consult with and learn from the indigenous (intended) actors or participants (Opubor, 1985b). This justifies the need to discuss indigenous communication and development.

Indigenous communication forms do not mean much on development, except when properly applied to a particular development project either as single or collective entity.

3.2 Effectiveness of Indigenous Communication in Development

Indigenous African communication forms such as festivals, traditional institutions, folklore, drama, music, songs, dance, drums, and poetry amongst others are dominant sources of entertainment, and they inform and reform social, moral and human values of their societies. They also help in curbing inter tribal wars and conflicts among communities, promote peace, understanding, team-spirit and brotherhood among mankind.

To the ruralites, the use of traditional communication to immensely popularise certain government policies whether economic, ideological, cultural and educational is in tandem with their ways of life. This is done particularly through dramatic performances. Often times, on market days, especially those communities with one-day-a-week market day, that gives every community the opportunity of interaction with neigboruing villages and towns, dramatists are invited to market squares to elaborate issues in society by relevant government agencies for the education (or information) of the rural people. These range from drama on issues like voters’ rights during elections, to health issues (e.g. AIDS control), family planning and even agriculture (e.g. fertilizer application to crops, e.t.c.), depending on the development issue at hand.

In fact, the effectiveness of traditional media can be traced to the colonial era, when the colonialists first came to Nigeria. During the colonial period, the colonial masters resorted to the use of indigenous media materials such as drums, gongs and many other traditional methods of communication. Traditional rulers were adequately used to carry out assignments as well, since there were no mass media materials (the kind they were used to), absence of good roads, social and economic infrastructure.

So, for development experts, it is important to note that the traditional media system in people-oriented. The failure of modern media experts to grasp this fact accounts for the seeming failure of modern communication practices as used especially for development in Africa, when majority of the people are considered (Balogun, 1985).

3.3 Mass Communication, Local Media and African Development

According to Opubor (1975), results of various studies on mass media consumption in Africa have shown inter-alia that the mass media at present, can only reach a minority of our people, and that their content are either of foreign origin, or are of questionable relevance to a large number of media consumers in Africa. Given this situation then, one can conveniently say that the mass media as they presently operate in Nigeria, cannot make any meaningful impact on the majority of the people, who are largely non-literate rural dwellers, so long as they do not take into account the social and cultural orientation of these people.

In a study, Wilson (1982) found that, far from being reliable sources of mass information in the rural areas, modern mass communication techniques are insignificant in the process of human communication that takes place in those societies, and that, even, a large number of urban dwellers still remain untouched and unconcerned about mass media environments.

All these points raised above have shown that the mass media system in Nigeria cannot be effectively utilised to reach majority of our people. This issue then is a major challenge to both communication scholars and development experts, particularly in Nigeria and Africa in general, taking cognisance of the fact that most development information is disseminated through the mass media in Nigeria. For instance, enlightenment campaigns about rural health services, sanitation, modern agricultural techniques, child rights, water management, harmful traditional practices, electoral registration, census, family planning, HIV prevention and management are all done through the mass media. According to Wilson (1982), it is sad to know that many of these campaigns have often been ignored because the local people find it difficult to detach their style of presentation from colonial tax drives. Ugboajah (1980) argued that this situation still remains so because the mass media in Nigeria have failed to establish a chain of mutual dependence between the traditional or cultural diameter of the peasant villager and its own new stimuli.

Since the mass media have been proved to be inadequate in meeting the communication needs of our people, there is, therefore, the need for us to find ways of making whatever public news and information available to the people under acceptable systems (Wilson, 1982), against the backdrop of the fact that, modern mass communication has come to stay and as part of our current day-to-

day experience, they are now part of our culture. As Oduko (1987:4) has pointed out,we have a contemporary Nigerian culture… our contemporary culture has its roots firmly in our heritage but its development has been influenced by western culture. Our current day-to-day experience is our culture.

So, since it has been acknowledged that the elements of local media may continue to manifest for quite a long time to come, what is needed is perhaps a blend of the modern and local media in form of retaining and increasing modern communication hardwares – radio, television, newspapers, telephones, fax, etc, and in a way of restructuring the significance of communication that it has traditional appeals. In addition to increasing the communication instruments, they should be made to disseminate information to the rural populace in the language understandable by them. This might account for why Nwuneli (1983) proposed the use of acceptable language understandable by the people, consideration of the information and social reality to the people, use of acceptable channels that is mass oriented and dissemination of information that requires individual participation of the people and communication that is of structural relevance to the people. The next unit will throw more light on this issue.

In this regard Ugboajah (1977), proposed a linkage of the traditional media with the mass media for an adequate promotion of developmental changes. He believes that mass media alone cannot bring about behavioural change and that there should be a multi-media approach. This perhaps explains why Arinze (1986) suggested that the town crier is now an acceptably more efficient factor to the fulfilment of the community information needs. Rather than using the gong, a Land Rover fitted with microphone and loudspeaker will do a better job in those communities that still make little use of radio.


Successful development communication calls for a well defined strategy, systematic planning and rigorous management. Broad based integrated communication strategy using all possible channels – indigenous or exogenous combined in an appropriate manner to give a good outcome is necessary, rather than relying on only indigenous or exogenous. In fact the discourse revealed that the rich cultural heritage of Africa in the area of communication should be tied to current realities in communicating development. It concludes that for effective communication for development in Africa, both indigenous and exogenous media be adopted jointly where and when necessary.


This unit discussed the interplay between indigenous communication and development. It also highlighted the effectiveness of indigenous communiocation in development. Furthermore, it explored the reach of mass media in Africa and highlighted the challenges in the use of the mass media to communicate development in Africa. It argued for a marriage of the indigenous and exogenous media in communicating development programmes in Africa, especially to the ruralites.

Self Assessment Exercise

  1.  Identify any development programme that employed indigenous communication in information dissemination and assess its effectiveness.
  2.  Discuss the reach of mass media in African.


  1. Discuss the interplay between indigenous communication and development.i i. What are the challenges in the use of the mass media for communicating development in Africa?


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