RTV is going about things the wrong way

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day… Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day… Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

The Chinese nation has given many things to the world. They’ve given us gunpowder, rocket science, cheap electronics and my personal favourite, Chinese food.

Theirs is the only nation that can vie with the Athenians where the field of philosophy is concerned. The idiom that I’ve used to begin this weeks column is one that is attributed to probably the greatest Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, Father of Taoism; someone who is only rivalled by Confucius, another granddaddy of Oriental philosophy.

The concept of teaching a man to fish instead of merely giving him a fish to eat is so simple that one wonders why it isn’t applied by all and sundry.

The fact of the matter is this, giving a person sustenance for a small period of time isn’t going to remove his/her need. It shall merely push that problem forward.

At the end of the day the poor fellow shall still lack the same thing. However, if you teach him/her to ‘fish’ you are transferring a skill that will sustain that person for the rest of his/her life. That brings me to this weeks gripe.

The good folks at Rwanda Television (RTV) have been the target of people’s ire for many a year now but I have tried to be as fair as possible.

For you see I’ve been an avid viewer of this channel since its early days post-1994. I can still remember when it broadcast only two times a week, from 6-10pm. Now it’s a 24 hour a day television and it’s actually worth watching once in awhile.

However, the one thing that hasn’t changed since those early days is its lack of local content other than the news, a few features and interviews.

There used to be a few locally produced sitcoms, but they’ve largely disappeared. Instead, we have tonnes of English, French and Nigerian programmes.

I like them so I’m not really complaining. But I wonder, do I like them so much because I genuinely like foreign productions, or is it because I don’t have much choice?

Last week, one of this publications journalists reported that the Japanese government had given Rwanda Television a grant of 46.1 million Japanese Yen (approx $0.5m). When I read the first paragraph of the news report I was extremely excited.

After all, 500,000 dollars isn’t a sum to be sniffed at. I’m sure that that could buy a few television cameras, microphones and maybe train a few journalists and producers.

I felt that with that kind of investment television viewers like me were going to see an immediate improvement. Sadly my excitement was misplaced.

As I continued to read the article it came to my knowledge that this money wasn’t going to help us produce more local content. I found out that, and I quote The New Times, “…Through the Project, a total of 458 Japanese TV programmes, ranging from Japanese culture, education and business to science and technology will be contributed to the Rwanda Office of Information (ORINFOR) to be broadcast in English across the nation.”

Now I shall go back to Lao Tzu. I’m sure that I, and many Rwandans, shall enjoy the programmes. The Japanese have a vibrant cinematic culture so I’m pretty sure we’re in quite a treat.

And if the KIST students watch some of the documentaries on technology, they will surely learn something that they can apply right here in Rwanda (and even if that isn’t possible, they shall have a taste of what is possible).

But the question that I want to ask those who are in position to answer is this, “how will this ‘grant’ help the embryonic local producers”?

We are getting grant money from the Japanese, giving it back to them and taking their programmes to boot. I’m not an expert in international relations and such, however, this deal that the RTV has made sounds quite nonsensical.

Not only has RTV cracked the worst kind of deal I’ve heard of in my twenty-odd years on earth, they have chosen to take the easy way out. It’s obviously harder to produce 400-plus local features and whatnot, but it’s more rewarding.

Local television viewers will watch programmes that they can identify with and therefore take more to heart. Look at NTV of Uganda.

It’s the most watched television channel in the country and why? Because it’s dominated by local content. People want to watch things about themselves made by themselves.
Now imagine what a visitor to our country will think if he/she switches on the television and sees a programme about Japanese rice farmers.

While I’m pretty sure that that person will enjoy the programme, they’ll rightly ask themselves, “doesn’t Rwanda have rice farmers too”?