Stories of Participatory Communication
for Social Change
TITLE: Maneno Mengi
MAIN FOCUS: Community development
PLACE: Mtwara, Lindi, Hangai, Zanzibar and others
BENEFICIARIES: Rural and urban communities, fisherfolk
PARTNERS: Rural Integrated Project support, Tanzania (RIPS), TV Zanzibar, Historic Cities Support Programme (HCSP)
FUNDING: Finnish Cooperation, SIDA, Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC)
Consider this scene at the Kilwa fish market, in the Mtwara Region of southeastern Tanzania: the image shows a group of fishermen accusing the district executive director of not sharing the collected tax with the marine environment fund and the village. "This is the truth. Money is collected, but the way they use the money is bad, as you can see. First he does not know himself what he collects, and then we don't know what we should get. That is how they grow big stomachs, while we are becoming very thin".
The discussion goes on as if the camera was not there; people have gotten used to having the camera inside the circle, as another participant. Nobody looks at the camera; nobody modifies the wording or the attitude to please the camera. This is one of the participatory video sessions organised by Maneno Mengi and it is only one step in a long process of using the video tools to help a community better understand a social or economic development initiative.
The final product, "Utuambie Wananchi" is a "video digest", a short report on how the interactive process developed over a period of several months. But this is neither an end result nor the main objective, only a way of sharing with others the process in an encapsulated form. Several months after being released, the video became "a popular account of how villagers fight against corruption".
The real objective of Maneno Mengis work is in the interactive participatory process. The fisherfolk's Association for the Protection of the Marine Environment in Mtwara and Lindi Regions, also known as Shirikisho, requested the support from Maneno Mengi to follow-up on the fish market, which had continuously failed to deliver revenue. Initially, it was decided that 5 percent of the turnover of the market should be collected and shared between the village (20 percent), the district (30 percent) and the Marine Environment Fund (50 percent) in order to finance local development activities. It didn't happen until through the process of participatory video the problem was analysed by all stakeholders.
The evaluation of the performance of the Kilwa fish market was done in front of the camera, in the very fish market. People knew that the camera was an ally, since they had been working with Maneno since 1994 on another issue that also was solved through video evaluation: the struggle to stop dynamite fishing.
Meaning "many words" in Swahili, Maneno Mengi is a small video company that was formed in 1998, after the members had been working with media for communities in Tanzania since 1994. With compact digital cameras and portable editing equipment, this collective consisting of four communicators of different nationalities (Swedish, German, English and Tanzanian), has put into practice one of the most interesting projects of participatory video.
The group members started to develop participatory media when involved with the Rural Integrated Project Support (RIPS) programme funded by Finland in Southern Tanzania. By then, important issues such as dynamite fishing were put aside as too difficult to deal with. Several quick fixes were tried with no success. It wasn't until the issue of community participation was brought into the discussion that they were successful: the only way to deal with the problem in a definite way was by addressing the issues from the community level. Video was then used for the first time as an enabling tool for participation.
The process started by analysing the situation: 28 species of fish had been decreasing, several fishermen lost their hands by accidental explosions, coral reefs were damaged, corruption of authorities prevented them from finding solutions. The video segments included "formulating the claim, linking communities, participatory appraisal, participatory evaluation and mediation". Villagers reviewed rough edits of footage, which were instrumental in revealing the issues when meeting with the ministers, donors and policy makers. The outcome of this process included the intervention of the Navy to stop dynamite fishing, a savings and loan programme, construction of fishmarkets, strengthening the community organisation (Shirikisho) and a national debate. Dynamite fishing eventually disappeared by 1997.
The above shows the kind of interventions used by Maneno Mengi using video as a tool for self-assessment and evaluations, for strengthening local organisations and for providing a loud voice to previously unheard people. "We define participatory video as a scriptless production process, directed by a group of grassroots people, moving forward in iterative cycles of shooting-reviewing. This process aims at creating video narratives that communicate what those who participate in the process really want to communicate, in a way they think is appropriate".
Between 1996/98 Maneno was actively supporting a process of involving villages in the design and management of a proposed forest reserve. Village Natural Resource Committees were formed to enable the dialogue with district officers on decentralising the management of the Hangai forest to the villages. A "digest" reflecting the process was edited: Misitu wa Hangai (The Hangai Forest).
Video was also instrumental during the 1997 campaign to prevent the worsening of cholera outbreaks in Mtwara and Lindi regions. It contributed to building a situation analysis and to support participatory planning. In the end, villages made their own plans of action to prevent cholera. The video "digest" Tukomeza Kipindupindu (Let's Get Rid of Cholera) was produced along with a radio play.
Other interventions included stopping foreign land owners from evicting villagers from Naumbu ward (Our Village Is Being Sold); sharing knowledge about the implications of the Land Bill for villagers in Newala (Conflicts Over Land?); and interventions also contributed to giving a voice to the tenants of Stonetown in Zanzibar, while promoting the preservation of this old city (Barazaa TV series). Only in this last activity were the video products the main output of the process.
At the origin of Maneno Mengi is the Interactive Communication component, one of the three focus areas of the Rural Integrated Project Support programme (RIPS). The objectives aimed to promote regional rural media to provide villagers access to information and to give villagers a voice. Maneno was registered as an independent group in 1998 in order to be able to offer media services all over East Africa. RIPS is now one of their partners in a growing network of rural media centres.
In the context of Tanzania using video technology for the purpose stated above was an important breakthrough, considering that most of what was done in terms of community participation and media in the past related mainly to the use of radio. Though radio is, without a doubt, the most powerful medium in East Africa, it has scarcely been used to give a voice to rural communities. The main social use of radio was as a vehicle to convey messages with social content. Its use as a communication tool in the hands of the community is still far away, though the very RIPS programme was successful in establishing a village radio network (Radio Kijijini) where 12 village groups would record on their own cassette recorders messages that were later aired by the local radio station, part of Radio Tanzania.
Video technology seemed to be an interesting alternative in a context where access to radio is very limited for communities. Within the framework of RIPS, video was viewed as a tool for: a) Negotiating partnerships and mechanisms for local natural resource management; b)Linking participatory research with national policy debate; and c)Participatory learning to improve social service provision.
Maneno Mengi has the advantage of being able to extend the experience of participatory communication and at the same time to develop a serious reflection on its accumulated experience. The entire process of working with various communities has been documented and is considered a sole body of work that goes in one direction.
Social change has been happening in most of the projects where Maneno Mengi has become involved. The results of their interventions on issues such as the dynamite fishing and the fish market in Mtwara, the forest in Hangai, or the renovation of Stonetown in Zanzibar wouldn't have been possible without the changes that occurred inside the empowered communities in terms of: increasing local participation, getting better organised, applying democratic principles to decision-making, and overall, having a clear understanding of the problems. The two strategies, media for claims making and media for mediation, have been successful in the search for solutions.
Video has supported the process and has been used by the community as a learning tool of immense educational value. The video camera acts as a microscope sometimes, and as a collective mirror at other times. It can focus on details or allow the community to self-analyse and self-evaluate. The fact that the community has become in each case so familiar with the video equipment proves that the tool has been accepted and adopted; the next step is the transfer of ownership.
"Access to video", writes Lars Johansson in Participatory Video and PRA "has expanded the process both vertically, through policy dialogue, and horizontally, through mobilising political support for locally articulated causes and claims. Through letting grassroots groups and individuals speak for themselves, participatory video fuels political struggles over democratic rights and power".
The process of interactive use of video is the key element of Maneno Mengis work. The final video product, "digest" in the words of the producers, is only a report on the process, often aimed at showing to other communities and also donors and policymakers, the role of video as a facilitating tool for development.
Digital low-cost video technology has made the difference. If not equipped as it is, Maneno Mengi could not have gone this far in terms of the participatory and interactive processes. The small digital cameras not only guarantee a high quality of images, but also the possibility of easily transferring the technology into the hands of the community. At some point, it is no longer important to know who holds the camera, as the community is involved in the whole process.
But the impressive leap forward is achieved through the use of new editing technology. Up until very recently, editing equipment was chained to editing rooms because of the size and number of the various editing machines needed (monitors, mixers, recorders); but the technology used by Maneno Mengi totally frees editing from being dependent on room, transportation, and even, electricity. The whole editing suite is held in an Apple PowerBook G3 laptop computer, loaded with the Final Cut software and enough memory. In terms of quality there is no difference between these and standard professional formats, but the cost has gone down by twenty-fold.
In spite of this awesome low-cost technology, the process of transferring "ownership" to the community is not simple, considering that the media utilised is so new and that ownership is not just a matter of hardware and property. Maneno acknowledges that the process can take months or even years: "1)A few minutes to learn how to press the buttons; 2)A few days to learn how to get framing,focus and exposure right; 3)A few weeks learning how to tell stories in moving pictures; and 4)A few months or even years to get into helping other people tell their stories".
Information for this chapter was gathered during a visit to Maneno Mengi headquarters in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in March 2000. The author met with Lars Johansson, Verena Knippel, Dominick de Waal and Farida Nyamachumbe, partners in Maneno Mengi
The following Maneno Mengi edited productions or digests were reviewed: The Hangai Forest (1999), Bahari Yetu Hatutaki (1994), Utuambie Wananchi (1998) and Baraza (1999).
The December 1999/January 20 issue of Forest, Trees and People newsletter carries four key articles on the work of Maneno Mengi by the members of the collective.
Additional information can also be found at the Maneno Mengi Web site which includes these papers: a)Travel Report by Kamal Singh (July 1998), b) Communicative Aspects of Participatory Video Projects: An exploratory study by Bernhard Huber, and c)Stonetown Baraza: Participatory TV and Community-Based Rehabilitation in Zanzibar by Verena Knippel and Lars Johansson.