An opinion by Paul M. Kanneh
When I joined the development sector as Advocacy, Networking and Communication Expert on a European Union project, my first set of well-written stories were rejected and considered as having less/no information to be communicated. The result of that critique panicked me and put me in a position to think that I needed to still learn more about development reporting. Nonetheless, I was considered one of the best public relations officers among my peers prior to joining the EU project- only to know that I was a nobody passing around claiming to be somebody.
This was the period I heard about project impacts/outcomes, including inputs and outputs. Poor journalists reading miscommunication are placed in a situation he cannot easily handle. Hence, I always got simple and popular feedback that asked the question: and so what? My colleague, Abraham Billy would sit in his corner and laugh at me often. As a smart man, my problems would be over in 3 months following intensive coaching from highly technical communication professionals residing in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Having been convinced that I was now a development communication professional/journalist, I decided to establish my own organization. In 2019, my media entity, Liberia Forest Media Watch was up and running with the support of my international friends.
Again, our first set of investigative stories that I edited were trashed and considered mere media stories. I again went back into my panicked mood and said; well, more is still left to be learned. This time around our international technical consultant feedback and said, nobody is a target in the work you are doing, but information and education on how someone’s action has made an improvement or stalled progress. By that, he said, our stories are bound to trigger action from stakeholders/duty bearers.
Interestingly, after every three months, our donors would ask us to list the impacts/outcomes our stories have made. The first set of outcomes we harvested were thrown in the dustbin and considered a mere statement that had no information to be called impact. Well, this was the final moment I picked up to be a development journalist by practice, as the rest was now a history of praises/recognitions with more donors’ support/funding.
Now to the CDC public engagement campaign team, headed by Cllr. Kanio Bai Gbala, I certainly agree with you that building roads, hospitals, sports parks, offering tuition-free, and harmonizing salaries are all developments. But the changes these activities have triggered or made over the past 6 years are the real development, not the structures. That is why you are finding it hard to defend your development programs, and this is where the opposition is beating you. This is why your message of development is not resonating with the voters.
After an hour of radio appearance, the voters often ask have the roads, public buildings and hospitals changed our miserable lives? They would also ask; has the tuition-free improved quality education, and learning environment? And then they would also ask has salary harmonization increased the purchasing power of civil servants? As for the much-publicized road work, increased in traffic, unhindered supply of basic commodities/services, reduction in traveling times would be used to determine the development level achieved due to the building of roads. In the absence of these, it simply means you have spent time and energy achieving less or nothing.
Reference is made to the Unity Party school building policy across the country. The UP government built schools where they were not needed at the time. Some of those buildings gradually turned into public toilets. The ones that were used did not have trained teachers or textbooks. So the UP school project, on the over, produced less quality education and to some extent, became waste and abused as we are now seen in the case of the Emirate and 14 Military hospitals in Gbarpolu and Montserrado Counties, and other government projects. I tell for you for real, the CDC government would have been relaxed by now if these developments had made significant impacts in the life of the citizens. In short, your campaign messengers would have been the ordinary people, who would be measuring the impacts your developments have had on they and their family lives.
In simple terms, we now have plenty of government employees with less purchasing power. We now also have plenty of hospitals with less equipment, less logistical and financial support, less doctors and no drugs, with patients buying their own drugs, and providing fuel for generators assigned at various health facilities before doctors can work on them. The former US Ambassador can relate.