It is not a strange thing that my passion for “making head or tail” of issues surrounding development keeps escalating, for I am reading development at the Gambia’s highest academic institution, University of The Gambia (UTG).
I attended an hour-long lecture at the American Corner on Kairaba Avenue with Gibairu Janneh, a development and communications specialist on the topic: The Role of The Media in Good Governance. At the end of the lecture, I said to myself that it would be very unprofessional, that I let go all what I have learned during this “period of enlightenment” from one of my favourite development scholars in the academic world, without putting it on paper. It was on the basis of this that I had to do a recollection of the jottings I was taking during the lecture, and develop this short and substantial essay.
The whole essay comprises quotes and recordings from his lengthy speech, coupled with my one-butut contribution from empirical knowledge. I only hope and pray that I do justice to this paper.
In addition, the reader of this essay may find, herein, some academic terminologies, especially of the development discipline. I wish to apologise for any difficulty that may cause, for some of them might not be explained.
However, I would not mind much about the content and arrangement of this essay, for any error seen herein remains mine.
Dear reader, I now ask for your permission to present this piece in two parts: one & two. The first part ought to explain and contextualise the concept of MEDIA (Gambian Media) and its role in good governance. The second part seeks to explore and explain: What is good governance? And finally tries to explicitly relate the two and see how they are interconnected.
The Media is a tool like any other tool, depending on who uses the tool, and for what reason it is used for. It is a tool that needs to empower society. Empowerment in development discourse, is about creating that space and the enabling environment for people to be able exercise choice and agency. It is about making sure that people take ownership of development programmes; it is about people being able to decide, for themselves, what they want, and how they want that thing to be.
The Media is to ensure that it provides the platform for people to freely express their opinions. It is supposed to be a platform that connects the right-holders to the duty-bearers. In essence, it needs to connect the governors to the governed because it deals with information.
For us to be able to nurture democracy, we should be able to transform information into knowledge and knowledge into culture. So the Gambian Media, particularly, should be able to provide unfiltered information to The Gambian people. The Media should provide information regarding the conduct of the state; information regarding the responsibilities of the citizenship, and information regarding the obligations of the market, and the civil society. So essentially, the Media must serve the general public both as citizens and as consumers. Our civic obligations; our civic rights; our civic responsibilities must become the primary focus of our Media. It should also serve us as consumers in the sense that it should enable us determine choice from both the political and the economic sphere.
Additionally, to better understand the role of the Media, we need to understand the significance of freedom of expression in building, sustaining and expanding the democratic space of this country. J .S. Mills argues that freedom of expression is about allowing opinions contrary to your own to be equally heard.
What is freedom of expression? The whole objective of every state or government is to deliver development to its people. Development today is a contest of ideas. It is about each individual expressing what he/she feels is the right approach to achieve a particular goal, and at the end of the day, we select the most appropriate idea and apply it.
Development is all about improving the lives of people. We cannot improve the lives of people ordinarily. What we can do is to erect and evolve institutions that will adequately respond to the needs and aspirations of the people. So for us to be able to usher in development, the people need to have the space to talk about what they see, feel and/or think. For example, if you want to turn off your AC in your office while sitting with colleagues the best approach is to ask: Hello guys can I turn off this AC? Then you may start seeing different opinions. Now you have to weigh and prioritise the most crucial idea. That is why we said, in the beginning, that development speaks the language of priorities. This could be further understood when we remember that resources are always scarce, thus the need to be used wisely.
Moreover, it is very important to note that citizens or people in a given country need to get their voices heard; they need to be given a voice. In literature, when we say people are voiceless, it does not mean they do not have anything to say; it simply means they are not listened to! So the Media should provide that platform for people to be heard, but that cannot happen if people are not given the space to talk about matters that affect their lives, directly or indirectly.
Essentially, when people are free to express themselves, that enables the Government to understand the needs and aspirations of the people. This enables the Government to formulate policies and programmes that are well informed by the desires and aspirations of the citizenry. This too enables the state to avoid rumours and false information because when you attempt to curtail information, then you are allowing rumour and speculations to become the norm.
More importantly when a government fails to provide the space for people to freely express themselves, such conduct kills the creative instinct of the people, particularly the youths.
Expression does not only stop at writing on the newspaper or speaking over the radio. People can express themselves in different forms. Even music is a form of expression.
The Media has to be understood as a tool for information, and it should be used rightly. The Media should not be monopolised or controlled with the establishment of draconian laws. We need to understand that the Media should serve as an empowerment tool. It should be used to inculcate citizenship, and the ideals of One Nation; One People; One Voice. Our Media should be used to engage those in positions of authority. It is clear that the Media should be used to engage people to freely express themselves, but it is also our duty and responsibility as citizens to inject some level of civility, maturity, purpose and direction in our civic engagement. The growth, development, sustenance and expansion of our democratic space of our country mainly lies in the hands of a responsible and interested press. A media that understand the challenge at hand; a media that understand issues confronting people; a media that seek to empower people to become objects of sovereignty.
So that they can understand circumstances that surround their environment. If only we are able to use the media in this context, we will be able to curb corruption, and keep the Government, especially the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary on their toes. We will be able to enhance youth participation in development.
JP’s famous argument in the Media, that “the Media and the Republic will rise and fall together”, clearly portrays the role of the Media in Good Governance. The role of the Media is not a minor issue. It is about promoting accountability, transparency, and keeping democracy alive. And keeping democracy alive is about citizen voices; it is about citizen participation. No Government can claim legitimacy when its people are disinterested in the affairs of the state!
Democracy comes with responsibility. So the Media may be able to nurture and promote democracy, but it should be guided by the walls of resposibility and maturity. There should be no avenues for hate speech; there should be no avenues for violence. The Media and its people should endeavour to have a broad mind.
The future of our country lies in knowledge! Citizenship itself requires knowledge. Everyone should be aware of their rights and responsibilities. In the final analysis, understanding the very nature of human existence requires knowledge. Once we are able to have knowledge of citizenship, and knowledge of governance, we will come to realise that emotions will give way to objective reality; sentiments will give way to constructive reasoning, and this is what The Gambia needs.
So the Media plays an integral role in informing people of their rights and responsibilities; thus instilling knowledge of citizenship.
Silence kill democracy, and that is why we should be speaking.
What is good? Essentially, ‘good’ connotes something progressive; something meaningful; something useful. So there is a positive image attach to the word ‘good’. What is governance? Governance is different from Government. While there can be governance without Government, there may not be Government without governance. There is a narrow distinction between the two concepts. Government is about the institution of state responsible for governance. In literature, when we talk about governance, we mean the capacity of the state, the market, and the civil society. These are the three actors of the polity. They should be able to sustain themselves under the constitutional setting to achieve the desired goals. They should be able to formulate sound policies, and mobilise resources to that effect.
What is the state? The state is obviously the primary duty-bearer. It includes the government and its institutions.
The Market? This is the economy. It includes the trading systems, the GDP and the production of goods and services. Every economy is sustained by its economy base. So the state cannot achieve anything without the economy.
The civil society: The civil society is that component of the polity that is neither the state nor the market. In fact in development practice, they are called non-state state actors. They include organisations like youth groups; women “Kafoolu” or “Kompins” as locally called in Wolof and Mandinka languages respectively; the NGOs; the Faith-Based organisation like the Gambia Christian Council, The Supreme Islamic Council etc. Together these three actors of society should be able to sustain themselves within a Constitutional setting. This means these three actors of the polity should be able to coordinate, cooperate and organise themselves so that society lives in peace and harmony. They should also have the capacity to formulate policies that are geared towards achieving the ultimate goal (i.e. the collective welfare of people). They need to be able to mobilise resources to be able to achieve that goal because at the end of the day, every nation wants to be judged by the quality of improvements it has ushered to its people.
What is Good Governance? A government is ‘good’ when it is decentralised, fiscally discipline and capable of formulating sound macro-economic policies. In saying macro-economics, we are looking at the overall economy, the bigger picture. We are looking at policies that promote investment; policies that promote an economic environment where business can strive. We mean policies that detach the state from the market so that the principle of free market economics can determine the order of demand and supply. It is about a market-led process where the government serve as a “policeman” and the market regulates itself. To borrow the words of Adam Smith, the market to be controlled by the “invisible hand”.
Moreover, a fiscally disciplined government utilises the budget effectively and efficiently. In a fiscally discipline government, there is no “embezzlement” of funds or “resource misappropriation” or corruption. In this regard, the government that is financially discipline utilises its budget in a way that development speaks the language of priorities.
Decentralisation is when power and authority is shared within all actors in the development process, and not only to a caption. Power should be decentralised so that all actors within the development process will have control and voice over the process of governance.
NOTE: As citizens, we should make sure that we do not settle for sub-standards. We should always demand and continue demanding for the best.
To end, it is very vital that we understand the pivotal role the Media plays in nurturing and establishing good governance.
As clearly explained above, the Media is a tool that creates transparency, promotes accountability, and empower people.
I would say if the government were a “warrior”, the media could be called his “praise singer” that boosts his morals to fight more furiously.
So a good government empowers its citizens by giving them the space and allowing them to freely express themselves and participate in development programmes. A good government respects the fundamental human rights of people.
The author is a trained classroom teacher and a student at UTG
For more information, contact him on 7897182/ 3121942 or Email