This CAI paper highlights the positive role public broadcasters might play in spreading social awareness and raising public interest in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by considering the contributions of two South Korean public broadcasters. Specifically, the philosophy of the Moonhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and the work of Arirang TV are discussed.
This paper is the third in a series that considers the positive involvement and effects of Asia in Africa (2) and argues that there are alternatives ways of supporting SSA, beyond the orthodox ‘Western’ way or the direct Chinese way. Since the orthodox Western approach, which encapsulates the idea that if enough money is thrown at a problem the problem will disappear, has failed, more direct Chinese involvement (3) has become increasingly attractive to much of SSA. However, neither approach can truly lead to the emancipation of SSA from grievous poverty and inequality. China is not the only alternative to Western development support. As this paper shows, other Asian countries continue to make meaningful contributions to African countries.
The MBC in Kenya & Zambia: Inspiring capability
From 2009 to 2010, the MBC aired a programme in Kenya and Zambia, titled Danbi.(4) The philosophy of Danbi was to highlight the importance of sharing and volunteering, and advocated that the only way in which we as humans can live in a beautiful society is through sharing with and caring for our fellow human beings.(5) Danbi grabbed the attention of Korean viewers by inviting well-known Korean celebrities to volunteer in poor developing countries around the world,(6) including Kenya and Zambia.(7) Danbi emphasised projects that would facilitate (a) provision of clean water, (b) combating of endemic diseases, (c) sustainable living, and (d) establishment of educational systems.(8) The MBC, through Danbi, often cooperated with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and corporate groups to achieve these goals, all of which aim at sustainable solutions, as opposed to mere one-time charity.(9) Danbi received approximately US$ 540,000 in donations and successfully generated continuous support for these initiatives.(10)
Upon its arrival in Zambia, the Danbi project team realised that it would need to improve the water distribution system in the villages where it was airing the show, with the help of the locals.(11) The drinking water in the aforementioned villages was contaminated and infected due to domestic animal excreta.(12) The Danbi project team and local people subsequently built a complete water distribution system by digging ten wells in the four associated villages.(13)
Following Nussbaum and Sen’s capabilities approach,(14) which holds that substantive freedoms which promote human functioning should be advanced, the Danbi project significantly contributed to Kenyan and Zambian citizens’ freedom. In other words, humans can only really be free and only function productively and in a healthy and virtuous way if the necessary basic infrastructure exists and the MBC contributed to the realisation of such infrastructures through its Danbi projects. Danbi might pale in comparison to other larger projects, but it certainly points in the right direction that promotes a people-centered approach which emphasises the development of capabilities.
Arirang TV – An alternative narrative
Arirang TV, which has close ties with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Korea and the motto ‘Korea for the world, the world for Korea,’ has been pursuing cultural diplomacy through its programme selection since at least the year 2000.(15,16) Arirang TV has been covering a wide variety of stories related to SSA. In 2011, Arirang TV covered the story of Lee Kwang-hee, who, after visiting Sudan, decided to establish an NGO called The Mango Tree of Hope in March 2009, that aimed to “plant mango trees in all areas in Africa.”(17) Arirang TV has furthermore been spreading awareness of opportunities that exist within SSA, by, for instance, telling the story of Beaniam Hong in Ethiopia, who was the first foreigner in Ethiopia allowed to manage a coffee firm within the country;(18,19) as well as the story of Jung Hae-kwang, whose deep love of African art inspired him to open an Africa art museum in Korea.(20) Arirang TV has also been airing a programme with the title Hand in Hand which covers, inter alia, the lives of African migrant workers in Korea.(21,22)
Arirang TV has, to some extent, been offering a positive narrative of SSA, as opposed to the conventional pessimistic one. Arirang TV has been portraying SSA as a continent of opportunity in a very aesthetic sense instead of fixating on the familiar narrative of moral corruption, hopelessness, and fatalism.
Korean public broadcasters have come to write an alternative narrative for SSA, which, to some extent, challenges the conventional, fatalistic one of SSA as a land open to exploitation, condemned to inescapable poverty, and plagued by moral corruption. Neither of these broadcasters have made large monetary contributions, nor have been involved in major infrastructure development projects, but the picture they paint of SSA values the family and community as SSA’s possible saviour.
The Korean approach to Africa often emphasises capacity-building and the involvement of locals in projects, instead of simply catering to the leadership or subscribing to the notion that any problem can disappear if enough money is thrown at it, as Western and Chinese approaches tend to do. The real advantage of the Korean approach is that it is based upon the realisation that SSA can only escape grievous poverty and inequality through transformation at a grassroots level. It is essentially a bottom-up approach focused on the establishment of strong families and communities. Of course this approach to involvement in Africa is not flawless, but its focus on improving people’s lives is very real and desirable.
(1) Contact Casper Hendrik Claassen through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Eyes on Africa Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) The first two papers are Saemaul Undong in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Eradicating rural poverty and Corporate Social Responsibility in sub-Saharan Africa vis-à-vis the MDGs: LG Electronics in Ethiopia and Kenya.
(3) It has been argued that, in general, the infrastructure and construction projects and pandering to SSA leaders are a necessity if China is to gain access to the abundant natural resources of SSA. It has furthermore been argued that China has little regard for the ordinary man or woman, as reflected in its non-existent stance on human rights as well as its non-inclusion of Africans in construction projects and projects in general. Some have argued that Chinese involvement has also proven damaging to the industries of a number of SSA countries. In a sense, Chinese involvement is incapacitating in that it removes capabilities from Africans. The main flaw of the Chinese approach is thus arguably that it is not people-centered. SSA should hence be cautious of seeing China as some kind of savior, or messiah. (See Bond, P., 2006. Looting Africa: The economics of exploitation. London: Zed Books.)
(4) Global Compact Korea Network, 2010. Collective actions of UNGC member companies of Korea in support for MDGs. Seoul Research Centre for the Global Compact, p.8.
(6) The raison d’être for inviting well-known Korean celebrities was probably that inviting celebrities would boost the popularity of the show, especially among the youth. It can be argued that inviting celebrities acted as a huge endorsement for the values that the programme attempted to emphasise.
(7) ‘Global Compact Korea Network, 2010. Collective actions of UNGC member companies of Korea in support for MDGs. Seoul Research Centre for the Global Compact, p.8.
(14) An approach which inspired, to some extent, the development of the Human Development Index (HDI).
(15) The Korea Foundation has also been involved in a similar form of cultural diplomacy in SSA. In 2006, it ensured the airing of “All In” – a Korean drama – in Botswana (see C.U. Cho, ‘Korean TV drama makes notable debut in Africa’, Korea Herald, 13 November 2006). The drama served to challenge Western, Hollywood portrayals of social aspects such as family and life, essentially offering an alternative narrative.
(16) M.H. Kim, ‘Arirang TV pursues cultural diplomacy’, The Korea Herald, 17 March 2008, http://www.asiamedia.ucla.
(17) ‘CEO of Mango Tree of Hope’, Heart to Heart, 31 December 2010, http://arirang.co.kr.
(18) He was inspired to do so after visiting a coffee farm in Ethiopia.
(19) ‘Beaniam in Africa’, Heart to Heart, 8 February 2011, http://www.arirang.co.kr.
(20) ‘The Head of Africarho’, Heart to Heart, 24 January 2011, http://www.arirang.co.kr.
(21) Given the animosity with which African migrant workers have been treated elsewhere, Arirang TV offers a refreshing alternative view of this group of people.
(22) ‘About Hand in Hand’, http://www.arirang.co.kr.