One of the things I admired most of the BBC World Service Trust is that their country offices look like their countries. When working in Nigeria, I was the only person there who was not Nigerian, and the staff represented the many tribes, languages, ethnicities, and religions of Nigeria. Progressive development organizations believe that true and lasting change can only come from within a country’s culture and people and the BBC WST is true to that credo.
I say that with a twinge of irony of course because the BBC WST is not a Nigerian entity; in fact it comes from Nigeria’s former colonizer. Most organizations working in international development do not originate in the countries they are trying to develop. Their money comes from independent non-developing country sources, and this of course leads to the question what agenda are they trying to push?
There are some situations where organizations and governments have clear agendas they do not try to hide and can contradict the opinions of the people they are trying to help. As an American, the organization that immediately comes to mind is USAID. The mission of USAID is to bring democracy to the world, never to question whether or not it works for a country. The not so hidden agenda: democracy generally indicates a country’s stability, which directly implicates their economy and value as a trade partner to the US. So when USAID does governance campaigns, supporting radio and TV programs to encourage youth to vote and own their governments – have they actually considered that maybe the people don’t want it?
Working with educated people of my age in Nigeria, I was shocked by how they generally preferred dictators to democracy. Yes, they understood why democracy was more equal and just in theory. But they also understood that their government was not ready for it and that blatantly, as one colleague said, “they prefer to have roads and electricity provided by a dictatorship because at least you can feel secure.” It’s easy to consider this security false and I pleaded my case often. Each debate ended the same way: “Have you ever lived under a dictatorship? Then you don’t know.”
I do want to make the case for agenda pushing in cases where we do know, and know absolutely. Recently there were controversial subway advertisments in New York City which depicted a Super Size Me soda pouring out with sugar (a 16oz soda contains 12 teaspoons of sugar) and as the soda came out it turned visually into fat. Oozing fat organs of which everyone in the subway just grimaced against – while they threw away their stash. It was disgusting but it worked, and the agenda was neither subtle nor subjective. People often drink their calories without knowing it, and high sugar intakes cause health problems. Plain and simple. We don’t have to be shy about pushing this agenda because we know it’s absolutely true regardless of whom you are.
Personally, I feel this way about religious conflict. We should all be able to agree that violence and conflict are bad, and definitely have both short and long term consequences for the stability and economy of a country. Is it not politically correct to push an agenda that people need to stop embracing religion as a value in which to pursue violence? Indeed there are a lot of organizations that promote peace – but I am looking for a strong media campaign that suggests the violence in Maiduguri, Nigeria and the blasts in Bombay, India are anti-religious and wrong. I want an image of a suicide bomber on a billboard dropping a bomb on their entire country – depicting houses of all ethnicities burnings in flames. Instead of friends don’t let friends drive drunk how about friends don’t let friends become fanatic? Would that even work?
I don’t have a problem with agenda pushing; I just would like us to be pushing some agendas more. We should not be afraid to bring up sensitive issues that are “controversial” and “complicated”. We should be focused more on what we know can make a difference to a country’s long term development not only what will benefit ours. That’s my agenda.