|The Courier N° 143 - Jan - Feb 1994 Dossier: Fighting Poverty - Country Report : Niger (EC Courier, 1994, 96 p.)|
|Culture and society|
Hubert Ferraton is taking his last leave at the end of more than 30 years of service in the European Community. During the past 20 years, he has been involved in the field of 'communication and development 'within the Commission's information department, latterly heading the unit responsible for this work. Before clearing his desk for the last time, Mr Ferraton speaks frankly to The Courier about the difficulties facing 'development communication' specialists in a world of restricted budgets and competing priorities.
He begins - in response to a question about the changes he has witnessed over the past two decades - on a rather pessimistic note, pointing to a 'deterioration' in the situation in many countries. He speaks regretfully of the 'decomposition' of third world societies' and, referring particularly to Africa, suggests that while people no longer wish 'to be what they are', they have not succeeded in coming up with an alternative model. He refers obliquely to the process whereby old elites are driven out by new ones which then use their privileged position to feather their own nests.
Hubert Ferraton insists that communication is an essential element for both development and democracy. 'And there is another dimension', he adds, 'which is in cooperation at a regional or intercontinental level. How', he asks pointedly, 'can you cooperate with someone with whom you can't communicate ?'
Despite this self-evident assertion, the former Community official suggests that development agencies have traditionally devoted insufficient resources to communication as a component of cooperation policy, although recently, he says, he has seen some signs of improvement. He points out that the sums of money required are not enormous. He particularly favours local radio, with a significant input from local people, citing tests carried out by NGOs showing that this kind of approach could be very successful.
The problem, in his view, is that 'actors' in the development arena seldom make proper provision for communication. 'A need clearly exists, and some of those involved can see this, but it is always difficult to get funding for projects because you cannot rely on communication being recognised as a priority.'
He continues: 'We in the development organisations have tended to mistrust communication to some extent: both because we don't really know much about it, and because it is a politically delicate area.'
Ferraton argues passionately in favour of a better overall framework for communication policy, to replace what he sees as the current ad hoc approach which relies heavily on the enthusiasm or persistence of particular individuals, whether ministers or officials. He acknowledges recent improvements in this area but appears to doubt whether those working for development in the public sector - ambassadors and other civil servants - have the appropriate 'communication reflex'. On a more positive note, he sees hope for progress in the many countries which are now governed by democratically elected regimes. There is a new 'dynamism' there, he agrees but he adds a caveat: the people concerned still have 'very limited means . and perhaps not enough political security and stability to fly the flag from the mast.'
Hubert Ferraton admits, in conclusion, that 'things never go as fast or as far as one would like', but as he takes his well-earned retirement, he may take some satisfaction from his own unstinting efforts to fly the flag of 'communication'. Just as secrecy and misinformation are the hallmarks of totalitarian systems, democracy depends on communication and knowledge to prosper. And in a world of emerging (and renewing) democracies, his dream to see his chosen professional field higher on the agenda may now stand a better chance of coming true.
Interview by Stuart YOUNG