The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Category Archives: Development communications

Strategic communication in the foreign policy, development and security arena – what’s that all about?

It’s about contributing to policy and guidance, providing strategic counsel, nurturing linkages and relationships between policy mechanisms, coordinating between national, international and non-governmental entities.

It’s about communicating in a highly charged, ethically challenging, fast moving, traditional and digital, multi-spectral, politically sensitive, conflict-ridden and culturally diverse environment.

It’s about employing media relations, advocacy, lobbying, grassroots activism, de-radicalisation, crisis management, new technologies and old.

It’s about the utility of forums, blogs, twitter, facebook, TV, radio, print, street chatter, posters, networks, crowdsourcing, mobile technology and academic discourse.

It’s about taking part in conversation, dialogue, consultation, education, monitoring, analysis, research, polling, cooperation and collective action.

It’s about understanding narrative, strategy, tactics, messages, identity, objectives, framing, behaviour, attitude, opinion and delivery.

It’s about appreciating sociology, anthropology, history, culture, group dynamics, behavioural ecomonics, organisational theory and psychology.

It’s about engaging with people, publics, stakeholders, governments, activists, opinion leaders, think tanks, NGOs and the military.

It’s about developing media industry, legal infrastructure, free press, media literacy, social activism, technology for development, institutional communications and public affairs.

It’s about managing media liaison, press releases, events, synchronisation, internal communications, spokespeople and social media.

But, simply put, what it’s really all about is bringing all of the above together.

That’s what it’s all about.

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A letter to the Daily Telegraph (22 August 2010) recently caught CB3’s eye:

SIR – The parlous state of the public finances in Britain provides the perfect opportunity for British taxpayers to end their half-century-long experiment with “development aid”, which has, since its inception, stunted growth and subsidised bad governance in Africa.

As Africans, we urge the generous-spirited British to reconsider an aid programme they can ill afford, and which we do not want or need. A real offer from the British people to help our development would consist of the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy, which keeps African agricultural exports out of the European marketplace.

It is that egregious policy, combined with the weight of regulations, bad laws and stifling bureaucracy, subsidised by five decades of development aid, which prevents Africans from lifting themselves out of poverty.

Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, speaks about a “moral imperative” to combat poverty around the world. We could not agree more. The British have a unique opportunity to cut the deficit and help Africa: please, ask your new government to stop your aid.

Andrew Mwenda
Editor, Independent newspaper, Uganda
Franklin Cudjoe

Executive Director, IMANI Center for Policy and Education, Ghana
Kofi Bentil

Lecturer, University of Ghana and Ashesi University, Ghana
Thompson Ayodele
Executive Director, Initiative for Public Policy

Give him a wad of cash or give him a chance?

Now, the notion or concept of free market trade, tariff barriers, CAP, competitive advantage etc do not tend to feature in the public’s eye when considering providing aid and succour to the African continent (or elsewhere for that matter).  Charities, doing sterling work, do concentrate on gaining funding from a variety of donors, but with cries of rampant corruption in aid-receiving nations, an increased desire of the public to see where there hard-earned cash is going and severe cuts in government aid packages, perhaps now is the time to look again at campaigning and lobbying for regulatory change, requiring people’s support, some of their time, but less from their currently beleagured financial coffers.

Of course,the major charities do so already, but is it a time to increase the emphasis on this tack, and tackle what many, including the contributors above, consider, with reasonable justification, the main obstacle to real development?  It’s a difficult sell, but with the current problems of aid funding coupled with the continuing recession, the timing may be prescient.


With recent claims from several quarters of the dangers of aid being mixed  with military operations and the UK’s coalition government, currently putting DfID through a thorough review,  dallying (or not) with bringing the two closer together, it is perhaps worthwhile spending a little time looking back at the short, but important, history of  ‘military humanitarianism’.

The words neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity pepper the pages of the manifestos, mandates and remits of humanitarian organizations and the volumes of academic and government discourse on humanitarianism.  Yet, since the debacle of Rwanda in 1994,  these classical core values have been under threat from a political ideal, that of ‘new humanitarianism’ which focuses upon a rights-based approach, as opposed to a needs-based one, is oriented towards long-term political goals of ‘liberal peace’, places humanitarianism within the ‘grey zone’ of a relief-development continuum, and is increasingly crowded with, supposedly integrated, political actors as it develops into a serious facet of international relations.  The Kosovo crisis exemplified, both good and bad, the practical manifestation of ‘new humanitarianism’, but it remains a feature of contemporary humanitarian relief operations.

However, the post-9/11 environment has encouraged the militarization of ‘new humanitarianism’ towards political and security objectives, further straining the core tenets of humanitarianism.

Three major themes can be identified.  Firstly, the public perception of the threat has changed, which has affected donorship; secondly, there came the ramifications of a new strand of political imperative, namely anti-terrorism and, thirdly, due to the nature of high profile conflicts, the conditions on the ground for humanitarian actors have been transformed, notably through the severe impact upon perceptions of neutrality and the hazards entailed.

Mixed up in more than just peacekeeping?

Generated by a sudden sense of threat, donations to appeals for humanitarian crises were curtailed post 9/11, especially in the US, because of the notion that such funds were in effect aiding populations in which a threat resided.[1] Further, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored the idea that the work of the US administration and humanitarian NGOs together ‘is now perceived to affect the national survival of the US’.[2] Donor security in the minds of the US administration and the public became enmeshed with humanitarianism, encouraging a degree of selectivity as to where or not such aid should be disbursed and consideration of conditionality if seen necessary to bolster that security.  Development aid has suffered a similar conflation.

US foreign policy, being at the forefront of the counter-terrorist agenda, dominated the foreign policy concerns of the West in general and therefore, to varying degrees, the humanitarian stance of the leading global donors.  Policy focused upon the threat of terrorism.  Like Kosovo, the promoters of major conflicts in this war, both the US and Atlanticist Europeans, have not shied from employing a humanitarian raison d’etre, mixing a political crisis with a supposed humanitarian one, motivated by political necessity

But the ‘with us or against us’ approach of such policy has taken the politicization of humanitarian aid, and the overt acknowledgement of it, to new heights.  Impartiality has long been under threat as the aid figures from the mid-to-late 1990s have demonstrated, indicating a strategic skew away from what might be termed ‘forgotten crises’, representing something of a dual-track composed of strategically important crises and those less so.  The very basis of the political imperative, centred on direct threats, has maintained such a strategic skew although shifting policy focus to new zones. This has had further profound implications for humanitarianism, not least for the basic tenets of neutrality and independence.

Afghanistan had long been seen as a protracted humanitarian crisis and therefore the humanitarian imperative could be more easily dovetailed into the political and military response to 9/11.  However, Iraq was much more contentious, with neutrality being compromised early on in the lead up to its invasion.  Many major NGOs, especially European ones, stated their opposition to the forthcoming war, their spokespersons not only commenting upon possible humanitarian scenarios but also their stance towards military action.  The historical tendency for US NGOs mostly to align themselves with the incumbent administration reduced such an anti-war tendency but was indicative of their already lower levels of neutrality.[3] The Europeans had shown that they could support military intervention on humanitarian grounds (see page 23) but their stance over Iraq illustrated their resistance to the conforming of humanitarianism to a political agenda.  However, the availability of massive aid funds and contracts after the war’s end resulted in a reverse swing in terms of effective, or perceived, allegiance. While many NGOs, including US ones, initially declared their unwillingness to receive Coalition funds for work in Iraq, many eventually agreed to accept such ‘partisan’ resources. As such, in Afghanistan and Iraq, many NGOs are no longer seen as independent agencies but rather as subcontractors or, as Colin Powell claimed, ‘force multipliers’[4], in the humanitarian field.[5] This perception enhances the notion of the privatization and militarization of humanitarianism.

Mixed up in more than just humanitarian relief?

The counter-terrorism agenda has raised further some significant questions regarding humanitarian policy.  Many decry the merging of humanitarian policy with international security policy, even though it has been largely recognized that development and security are intertwined, with the former suffering due to a lack of the latter.[6] But the new post 9/11 security environment has led to a much wider interpretation, leading to accusations that the humanitarian motives of donor governments and institutions have been hijacked by the underlying needs of their political and security agendas.

The post 9/11 environment has further encouraged the drive, apparent since the late 1990s, towards an integrated approach to crises, exemplified by the UN’s Brahimi Report of 2000 which formalized a coherent approach to crisis management, endorsing the ‘integration agenda’ whereby diplomatic, military, political and humanitarian elements would work to meet the same objectives.  Further, the use of force, or even a benign military involvement in crisis response, has raised the spectre of humanitarian agencies operating, or being perceived to operate, alongside belligerents, with obvious concerns arising over the security of those humanitarian agencies.

Western governments that are involved in the war on terror agenda are also the main financiers of humanitarian funds.  In this they do have leverage over humanitarian agencies and NGOs, which, at bottom, are resource-driven and compelled to search for funds, and to a degree over humanitarian policy.

Whereas Kosovo exhibited ‘new humanitarianism’ employing extensive military means, the last decade’s counter-terror agenda has been claimed as the harbinger of true ‘military humanitarianism’, on the back of political and security concerns.

Of note is the fact that while discourse around the subject of military humanitarianism was energetic during the first few years of this millenium, sparked by Iraq and Afghanistan, that conversation has waned over the last few years.  But a quick examination of ongoing conflicts involving both military and  humanitarian activities reveals that ‘military humanitarianism’ continues, for good and bad.


[1] http://hwproject.tufts.edu/new/pdf/minear-arden.pfd , p. 4.

[2] Andrew Natsios, USAID administrator, cited in Stoddard, A. Humanitarian NGOs: Challenges and Trends London: Humanitarian Policy Group (Overseas Development Institute), July 2003, p. 5.

[3] Rieff, D. A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis London: Vintage, 2002, pp. 234-5.

[4] And I want you to know that I have made it clear to my staff here and to all our ambassadors around the world that I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team.’ US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, 26 October 2001.

[5] Nickolls, J. Limits to Neutrality in Iraq Humanitarian Exchange No 25, December 2003.  (pp. 7-9)

[6] Duffield, M. Global Governance and the New Wars London: Zed Books, 2001.


Even in these times of economic uncertainty, the public of the rich West will still dig into their pockets to donate funds to charities and NGOs working to alleviate suffering in the most desperate and war-ravaged areas of the planet.  Indeed, whilst Greece burns and threatens livelihoods, many still understand that great swathes of Africa and Asia equally burn, threatening lives.  People still give generously to help those in need.  And NGOs will gladly take this money and pour it into numerous brave and noble development and humanitarian programmes.  Equally these NGOs will ensure that those giving are not only made aware of the needs of those suffering but also of their own tireless and challenging work to relieve that suffering. And it seems like a fair deal – we’ll show you the bad stuff, you give us money, we’ll try and sort out the bad stuff and show you what we’re doing.

However, taking a realist perspective, when the developed world floods a war-ravaged country with funding, the vast majority of it ends up not with those most deserving of it but in the hands of  whichever corrupt elites happen to be fighting for control, and thereby inadvertently financing the conflict’s continuation. Even when money is provided directly to those in need, circumventing corrupt middlemen and warlords, via direct provision of necessary equipment, food, aid etc, local environmental economics kick in.  Sheer poverty gives items such as medecines, medical instruments, shelter material, wheelchairs and the like their own special market value – fetching sums of money which will be more valuable than the actual item themselves. Such items end up back in the economy, providing for those with less need of them.

This reality will come as no surprise to anyone who has been involved in international aid at the business end, especially working with NGOs in the field. However, of those millions of donors who regularly fund these NGOs, the sheer brutal truth of what happens to their money is mostly hidden.  To a degree a conspiracy of silence is maintained lest these donors learn of the ultimate destination of their charitable donations and henceforth refrain from giving.

From a utopian perspective, all aid would be orchestrated by those beyond reproach, guided by their best instincts in implementing programs for those most in need. Each and every one of us would take seriously our accountability to local communities and to the donors providing the wherewithal to get the job done. However, experience reveals that humanitarian programmes, with large amounts of cash flying around in a frantic maelstrom, often encourage fast and loose approaches to inflowing funds. Given the haste with which aid programmes are often thrown together, controls on the use of funds are often a bit less rigorous than in development programming, which can demand more rigour and transparency.

The sad fact is that many conflicts in which huge amounts of donor aid is forthcoming, via a huge  and growing number of charitable NGOs, are often fuelled by, if not engineered to encourage, that very aid and the environment within which this aid is opertating merely provides oxygen for corrupt or lackadaisical accounting.  This moral dilemma becomes a major issue for NGOs who have genuine desire to assist those in need and also for governments, who can hardly remain on the sidelines when the media are handily driving their publics to demand that something be done.

This stuff costs us rebels a lot of money - fortunately nice Western donors help us out

Thus ensues a vicious circle of humanitarian assistance and conflict – one familiar to aid agencies and NGOs.  It provides particular challenges to those working in the field, not least those involved in campaigning and communication.  Ethical questions abound. Knowing the potential attrition rate of aid funding as it approaches its final destination, as vast amounts are hived off by various players, is it morally right to deny this harsh truth to those willing to contribute?  Knowing that $300 is just as likely to end up purchasing thousands of rounds of 7.62mm ammunition as it is supplying stocks of antibiotics, is it morally right to conceal such possibilities from those donating?  Knowing that host nation ‘partners’ often have accounting practices which leave much to be desired, and allow for a lot of creative accounting with donated sums, is it morally right to maintain a façade of successful and efficient partnerships?

But then again, morality may have to be tempered with pragmatism.  Undoubtedly, when it comes down to it, NGOs and aid agencies can only really survive through such pragmatism – a pragmatism that demands that not only do they communicate the need for aid but market themselves as the provider of choice, sell their idea of charity and brand themselves as angels amidst a hell.  All against a backdrop of ethical conundrums.

In truth, communication within the field of international aid is as tough and challenging as it gets – rife with moral dilemmas.  Marketing the iPad, selling the latest BMW 5 series or even campaigning for a political party – all are ethical child’s play in comparison.


The public sphere in Africa and other parts of the developing world is changing rapidly, thanks to “digital leapfrogging”, whereby areas which have had no or limited analogue communication systems are being catapulted into the digital age.  No longer subject to the linear progression of technology, these areas have embraced digital, especially mobile telephone, methods.  People who have never had access to basic communication equipment are making their first telephone calls and text messaging on hand-held devices similar to, or even more advanced than , those available to subscribers in the developed world.

With little infrastructure to build on, entirely new digital communication systems and associated social media networks are springing up.  At the heart of this revolution are dynamic innovators, not least Frontline SMS and Kiwanja.net. CB3 was fortunate to catch up with Ken Banks, one of these pioneers, to find out exactly how this revolution is developing and how technology is changing the communication landscape in the developing world.