Stakes

Reconstruction, democratization and the role of independent media in Afghanistan

Tuesday 7 February 2006, by Feroz Mehdi

More than twenty years of war, repeated drought and chronic poverty have exhausted Afghanistan. Decades of fighting and suffering have exacerbated ethnic strife. The humanitarian repercussions are disastrous. The Taliban regime that seized control of Kabul in 1996 aggravated the destruction of Afghanistan’s social fabric and forcefully dissolved most political, social and economic institutions. Today, the country’s infrastructure is completely devastated. The communication network is one of the least developed on the planet. But most important is the social devastation left behind. The UNDP estimates Afghan life expectancy at about 44 years, and the rate of infant mortality one of the highest in the world: 165 per 1000 live births. One in four children die before the age of five, and 15,000 women die every year from pregnancy related problems. Whatever measure of human welfare one chooses, life expectancy, mortality of women and children, health, literacy, access to clean water or nutrition, Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of the human family. Afghanistan has been destroyed several times over, at times funded by foreign powers. “Statistics are few and far between, but one study estimated that "excess mortality," in the demographer’s phrase, had amounted to nearly one tenth of Afghanistan’s population between 1979 and 1987” (Barnet Rubin, New York University).

Afghanistan also faces a challenge in the information sector. The problem is two-fold. While the dissemination of information is limited and weak, the generation of information about the society, which can be used to govern the country in a democratic manner, is lacking. “Above all, the crisis of human security in Afghanistan is due to the destruction of institutions of legitimate governance. It is as much an institutional emergency as a humanitarian emergency. Accountable governance institutions that use information to design policies to build the human capital of their citizens and support their citizens’ economic and social efforts, and that allow others to monitor them through free exchange of information, are the keys to human security”.

Members of the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) and the Afghanistan National Co-ordination Bureau (ANCB) stated in year 2002 that NGOs have implemented many programmes in both rural and urban areas of Afghanistan and that there is a need for “longer term funding in a context of reconstruction that will permit agencies to better incorporate community priorities, to engage in well planned programmes, to increase the impact and quality of our programmes in measured ways, and to spend more of our time serving the Afghan people.”

The existing constraints of ethnic tensions and discrimination, war lords control over large parts of the country, dependence on opium cultivation which is felt necessary to get money in order to buy food through winters, can only be tackled through transformation of programmes towards real social issues of rights and livelihood. The point in Afghanistan is not simply resolution of conflict but its transformation.

The objectives here are to build the capacity of independent media to enhance and increase participation in the democratic process. Building an independent alternative media within civil society organizations will guarantees the production of print and audio-visual media material on social issues which are of relevance in the reconstruction of society in Afghanistan. Strengthening of the existing independent media and facilitating their involvement in issues including human rights, gender equality, education and health, which this action aims to achieve, further strengthens the capacity of the media to address social issues of relevance to the reconstruction and good governance of the society.

Many specialists and political analysts have stressed that Afghans themselves, with the help of the international community, must manage the reconstruction and democratization process. To achieve this, it is necessary to provide the population with access to impartial and quality information. In other words, the role of the media is essential to secure the social and political development of the country. A wider use of the media by members of Afghan civil society and a closer collaboration between community groups and local media can benefit the democratization process and bring forth genuine Afghan perspectives.

Through this program, we will develop and enhance the skills of civil society organizations in order to publicize the real issues affecting the process of democratization in Afghanistan at the same time promoting each organisation’s activities in order to strengthen a culture of peace, dialogue and respect. The media program will advocate good governance, gender equality, and human rights.

The media programme will also help create cohesion between partner organisations, well after the end of the project. It will serve as an open window to the rest of the country and the entire region.

The proposed project focuses on enhancing the skills of independent media practitioners in order to increase their ability to report on social issues essential for peace, reconstruction and democratization of Afghanistan. Democracy in any society needs awareness of realities of the world around them and understanding of basic rights. Over two decades of war and destruction has had its toll in the regions. A lot needs to be done to make the public aware of issues at stake and encourage them in participating in the process of reconstruction. Democratic elections are necessary but not sufficient to strengthen democracy in Afghanistan. The foundation of democratic norms placed by the Bonn Accord followed by its second phase of Presidential elections held in 2004 should be taken as the basis for building a democratic culture in the Afghan civil society. Reporting and packaging of information on social issues in the regions is an important element of the proposed project. Given the vast rural majority of the country and limited mobility of the people living there, it becomes important that electronic and print form of reporting reaches all parts of the country. Such national reporting of local issues will act as a cohesive force and give a national character to the country divided on ethnical lines.

À propos de Feroz Mehdi

General Secretary, Alternatives International *

Feroz Mehdi is one of the founder member of Alternatives. He has been working on projects related to the countries in South Asia. He has also been working in education programs in Quebec and Canada organizing conferences and contributing to publication of newsletters and other documents of analysis and information.

Since 2007 he has taken the job as General Secretary of Alternatives International. The federation of AlterInter has 9 member organizations from Canada, France, Brazil, Israel, Palestine, South Africa, Niger, India and Morocco and its Secretariat is in Montreal.

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