Communication and democracy in Africa.

AuthorMiguda-Attyang', Judith


In modern times, democracy is viewed as the hallmark of good governance, and to be a democratic government is the trend for the nations of the world. For democracy to be understood and accepted by the ordinary citizen, communication is necessary. The media is a powerful means of communication that can be used to pass on the ideals of democracy and good governance to the citizenry. Communication is perceived as the ability to participate in the exchange of ideas, information and opinion. For decades the citizens of African nations have suffered despotic rules that have denied them their rights. A large section of the African population is ignorant of their rights, and even where they are aware of these rights they have no voice to agitate for them. The media has the powerful role providing this voice. This paper, therefore, explores the right to communication and the relationship between these rights and democracy in Africa. It also looks at the role the media should play and what role it has played so far in the Africans' struggle to achieve their rights through struggles for democracy.


Right from primodial times, human beings have, by one means or another, alerted their fellows of their intentions and thoughts; and passed on messages and information. This need to share information, pass on or receive knowledge, no doubt, is still central to human social development. Growth and development of whatever dimension cannot be achieved in the absence of communication.

Modern society has developed the art of communication to very sophisticated levels. Whereas in the very early times there may have been only rudimentary forms and channels of communication, there are now all manner of channels and branches of communication, and communication has acquired varied meanings. In the military, for example, communication is thought of as the army's line of passing on orders and other information, the sociologist will think of communication along the lines of newspapers and broadcasting, the civil engineer on the other hand will think of roads and bridges while an electronic engineer will think of telephones, internet and so on. The human resource manager will, of course, be thinking of letters (Little 1980). A common element in these varied meanings is the idea of connecting of people for the purpose of passing messages and the channels through which these messages are passed. The kind of communication that we are interested in is the kind that takes place between one individual and another and between individuals and the governing authorities, i.e., between the government and the governed. We are also interested in mass communication as can be used to reach the masses with ideas of democracy. Mass communication includes print media such as newspapers, and electronic media such as radio and television.

The concern of this paper is with the communication process in Africa as regards democracy and human rights. Our key concerns, therefore, are with such issues as whether or not the citizens of Africa have been free to express their thoughts, opinions and ideas to each other and to their governments. This concern is not just about the manner in which they are governed, but also in the manner in which they would like to be governed. An informed population is a crucial element of a functional democracy, hence, the question are the citizen of Africa sufficiently informed? How much and in what ways does the media contribute towards this endeavor.


Democracy is a concept that is not as alien to Africa as the western world has had the rest of the world believe. Such strong ancient African kingdoms found in west Africa as Ghana, Mali and Songhay, and those in southern Africa as Ngoni, Zulu and the Sotho were known for their democratic systems. However, the earliest recorded democracy is that of the ancient Greek city-states. The word democracy derives from the Greek words demos (people) and kratein (to rule) therefore, democracy is a government of the people. Hence, a democratic government is one that is set up by the people, for the people with such ingredients as maintenance of law and order, promotion of justice, freedom and equality for all citizens.

As practiced in the Greek city states democracy was defective in that it was highly discriminatory. As Nzomo (1993) points out, the Greek democracy discriminated against women, children and noncitizens. This democracy was also based on an economy whose backbone was slave labour. Modern democracy has borrowed extensively from the ancient Greek concept. The Americans when fighting for their independence, conceived democracy to be a government by the people of the people and for the people. A democracy, therefore, is a government of self-rule, where self-rule means, the people elect their representatives to a government decided on by them. A democratic system is one that recognizes and protects the rights of the individual by encouraging free and voluntary involvement of the people in governance. This, then, means that Human Rights (HR) are an integral part of democracy.

In modern times, Human Rights is a major concern of the world community as expressed through organizations such as the United Nations (UN), Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch and many other HR bodies. Within Africa, in states such as South Africa and Kenya, there exists chapters of some of the international Human Rights watch bodies. There also exists home grown Human Rights watch organizations such as the Kenya Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights referred to here are as found in United Nation's Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights comprise of United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic,...

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