The ITIJ team have been reporting from ITIC MEA 2023 in Abu Dhabi this week (15th May 2023) sharing the discussions that took place at the conference. Read all reports
Dodé Houehounha, started the session by saying that in general, “barriers can be understood as physical or immaterial, and that cultural barriers are immaterial obstacles that block effective communication or interaction between individuals or groups from different cultural backgrounds.” He added that language differences, nonverbal communication, different expectations about appropriate behaviour and different attitudes and values can all be seen as cultural barriers.
Cultural barriers in Africa
In Africa, cultural barriers can arise from the diverse and complex nature of the continent's cultural landscape, Houehounha said. With anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 languages, Africa is home to approximately one-third of the world's languages. He said there are divergent attitudes towards religions and social behaviour and that some cultures have strict religious or cultural practices that people from other cultures may not understand or accept.
Causes of cultural barriers in Africa
Houehounha went on to explain the main causes of cultural barriers in Africa: colonialism; tribalism; traditional beliefs and practices; linguistic diversity; socio-economic disparities; and globalisation.
He said these cultural barriers have had an economic impact, social impact and a political impact. He added that there are also much wider impacts too such as the impact on education and health.
Solutions to overcome the cultural barriers in Africa
Houehounha said that overcoming cultural barriers in Africa requires a multifaceted approach that involves promoting cultural understanding, respect, and effective communication. And that it is important to: promote cultural awareness and sensitivity; encourage multilingualism; develop cross-cultural communication skills: encourage collaboration and partnership; develop inclusive policies; bridge the digital divide; and promote interfaith dialogue.
Houehounha finished his session by saying overall, overcoming cultural barriers in Africa requires a comprehensive approach that involves promoting cultural understanding, respect, and effective communication, and addressing the underlying social and economic issues that contribute to these barriers.
Salome Odhiambo’s session focused on security diversity within Africa. She said they work with over 9,000 companies, and they take great care to ensure the workforce for those companies are protected wherever they travel to and operate in. They identity risks and it’s important this is done correctly as it could put lives at risk.
She said Africa is unique in that it has a wide mixture of low, medium, high and extreme security risks. To access a region, they look at political violence, crime, unrest and sectarian issues. They also look at a country’s susceptibility to natural hazards and cultural risks. Once balanced out and checked against the security services in the area, they can work out the risk rating for certain regions.
Odhaimbo said to really understand a region, you need a nuanced local understanding of an area. She then used examples of Ethiopia and Nigeria and spoke about how, in certain areas in those countries, people would be safe, but by moving not that far away, there could be a risk of piracy, criminality, active demonstrations, rural banditry or suicide bombings, kidnapping, or militancy. Risks vary wildly by location she emphasised. But, she added, it’s also about culture.
In many countries cultural, religious, and social customs can lead to open disapproval, harassment, or contact with law enforcement. This can expose people to direct security risks.
How prepared are travel risk management stakeholders in addressing security risks?
Odhaimbo said some recent research shows:
- 75 per cent have put in place preventative health and safety measures ahead of their employees’ travels
- 77 per cent indicated having access to validated and current analysis on travel risks for the locations their employees travel to
- 54 per cent have clearly identified roles and responsibilities for those involved in travel risk management
- 48 per cent said their employees receive regular training on health and security risks to stay informed when travelling
- 43 per cent test their travel risk management policies, plans and procedures for effectiveness
- 49 per cent have a system in place to ensure their employees are complying with their travel risk management policies and procedures
She finished her session by saying Africa’s security environment is diverse, and that companies’ risk management strategies should be too.
Dr Joseph Lelo’s session covered healthcare in Africa and the challenges and cultural considerations needed. He reminded the audience that Africa consists of 54 countries and 2,000 cultures – therefore there is a lot of diversity. He said that one good change is that there is a lot of acceptance of modern medicine now because people saw good results and they realised that medics had good intentions.
Africa has 11 per cent of the world’s population but carries 24 per cent of the global disease burden, Lelo said, plus there are only 3 per cent of the world’s health workers there. Only one per cent of global health expenditure goes to Africa, and half of the world’s deaths of children under five occur in Africa. Africa also has the highest HIV, TB, and malaria burden. Lelo said there are a lot of discussions about aid to Africa but that there is a lot of political push and pull.
Ethnomedicine and traditional medicine accounts for a substantial proportion of the health care obtained by Africans, he added, and said that culturally we must learn to accept this diversity. Lelo said that typical public healthcare wards are basic, and healthcare workers are few. For most rural Africans, access to modern healthcare means a walk of several kilometres to a small clinic staffed by two or three primary healthcare workers.
But there are some cases, in that only a few miles away, there are some hospitals with very advanced technology and specialists. He emphasised that having good assistance companies is vital so patients will be sent to the right hospitals.
Lelo explained that there is a huge problem with road traffic accidents (RTA) in Africa, and said the 30 to 40 per cent of people they assist have been injured in an RTA. There are three times the amount of road traffic deaths in Africa than in Europe, despite there being much fewer vehicles.
Lelo also pointed out that there can be big infrastructure challenges in certain regions too, and tha good roads are not always the norm. Sometimes the roads may even be washed away overnight. Muddy runways can also be a challenge. He advised to work with good security companies – they will have the intel.