16 August 2018

Southern Africa: SADC Internal Communications Under-Resourced

The internal communications system, cohesion and support to national communication structures of SADC remain challenged.

This statement of fact is contained in the revised SADC Communications and Promotional Strategy 2016-2020, which is an amendment of the 2005 SADC Communications and Promotional Strategy.

The document has revealed the communication and public relations unit at the SADC Secretariat is inadequately resourced and structured to fulfil the organisation's communications mandate.

It shows that immense opportunities to communicate exist, as evidenced by interest among the region's population to be informed of successes and interventions supported by SADC.

"Communications infrastructure and technologies have grown and improved and the secretariat is now able to communicate to citizens in the three SADC official working languages. Without effective communication, SADC will continue to be misunderstood," the document further says.

Another challenge outlined is that the SADC national media coordinators attest to high levels of awareness within member states, especially in urban areas but with little or no penetration at all in the rural areas.

It shows that there exists a chasm between rural communities' access to information and urban citizens' access.

Weak signals and resources constraints for maintenance of communications infrastructure often exclude rural populations.

Moreover, it highlights that the coverage of SADC news by the region's media has been largely events-based and fragmented, leaving the audiences with an incomplete picture of SADC's development agenda and accomplishments.

"Communication is a two-way process. Until now, SADC has concentrated on disseminating information with very little investment in listening to what people already know and what they want to know. There is need to communicate in ways that speak to the public's interests to ensure that they fully participate in shaping the region's agenda," the document further contends.

It recommends that the desirables can be achieved in part by embracing and upscaling the use of strategic online communication platforms and tools, utilising multimedia and creating video and image content.

Further, it suggests social media and online platforms provide an accessible space to engage the public, allowing for input from audiences to specify what content they want to see.

It further states there is frequent and prolific communication at programme and directorate level, but communication across programmes is inconsistent and unsystematic.

"There is a demand and hunger amongst the media for more information about SADC activities."

Therefore, the revised SADC Communications and Promotional Strategy is aimed to strengthen information channels that enhance public knowledge and consciousness of SADC's vision and achievements in order to attain regional integration and eradicate poverty.

The focus of the revised strategy will be to consolidate awareness levels already established and linking citizens, and strengthen systems for information and knowledge exchange.

Equally, it aims to bolster media engagement efforts, build media capacity to competently report on SADC issues as well as harmonise information policies.

It further aims to improve and strengthen internal communication systems within the SADC Secretariat and with national structures, maintain the SADC corporate image and better manage the organisation brand through the use of its corporate identity manual including cohesive website and social media strategies.

The process to develop this Revised SADC Communications and Promotion Strategy 2016-2020 began in 2012 following a SADC council decision.

The SADC Council of Ministers at their meeting in Maputo in August 2012 directed the secretariat to "convene a meeting of the SADC national media coordinators and members of the regional adjudication committee of the media awards to review the SADC Communications and Promotional Strategy and make recommendations to the council for consideration during its next meeting in February 20103."

The strategy was then produced in response to that council decision in 2012 and was revised in November 2015 to accommodate priority issues outlined in the revised regional indicative strategy development plan 2015-2020, and the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 as well as the restructured SADC Secretariat.

The document indicates that the review of this strategy included thorough consultative processes involving SADC national media coordinators, members of the regional adjudication committee of the SADC media awards, directors of media houses in SADC and, to a limited extent, stakeholders across a broad spectrum of the region's citizens including the SADC Secretariat management and staff.

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