Africans must change their negative media image


THE standard stereotype of Africa as a place of major natural catastrophes such as floods, volcanic eruptions, droughts, hunger, civil and violent social conflicts has dominated the Western media.
Numerous specific stereotyped representations and images of Africa have accumulated over a long period of time.
Such negative information is seen as knowledge in the Western minds.
In 2009, Lutz Mükke, a German publisher, noted that one journalist covered an average of 33 African countries and all he did was look for easy negative stereotypes because that makes news.
These images in Germany originated in the colonial era and are still being reconfirmed by TV or advertising.
They call it news to inform, educate and entertain Germans and others.
In 1985, we saw a picture of Bob Geldof in Ethiopia with pictures of starving children, flies, sad and skinny people sitting and waiting to die. Then Bob Geldof the whiteman comes towering above everyone else to save the Africans.
Even though poverty does exist, gone are the miserable pictures associated with Ethiopia and Africa as a whole.
The Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina wrote an ironic article mocking the Western writers in his article titled: ‘How to write about Africa’.
He wrote: “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country.
“Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions.
“Africa is big: 54 countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book.”
It is unfortunate that at times there is a silent complicity of African reporters and intellectuals with the Western media.
They want to please the people who pay their salaries so they will say negative information about their own home countries.
In this case, we Africans have ourselves to blame for perpetuating the negative stereotypes.
According to the writer, Mo Ibrahim, “Most of the times, Africans portray themselves as victims of forces they had little control of, finding solace in the narrative of slavery and colonialism in an attempt to exonerate themselves from blame.”
The negative publicity of a country like Zimbabwe ignores the fact that there was massive inequality in land ownership.
As one Zimbabwean writer has noted, “Britain reneged on sponsorship of land reform. The small community of largely European immigrants and their descendants (colonisers) maintained their hold on prime land.
“To ensure the Africans suffer for their ‘uppity’ quest for land, Britain roped in EU and USA to make the economy ‘scream’.”
Like many countries in Europe, Africa also has growing cities, shopping malls, internet cafes and restaurants.
Today Ethiopia hosts the African Union. Africa is the fastest growing continent, with a growing population and an emerging middle class fast consuming goods and services.
The continent is emerging and fully embracing globalisation and confidently speaking back to the former colonisers about the wealth of her soil and minerals.
It is time we reverse the negative trend in the press, radio and television which has resulted in the negative image of Africa, based on assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices.
Indeed, even some prominent people in Europe are acknowledging the need for change.
Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking said: “Oxfam has led the way in drawing attention to the plight of Africa’s most vulnerable people and we aren’t trying to gloss over the problems that still beset so many of them, particularly levels of malnutrition that remain stubbornly high.
“But we’ve come a long way since the 1980s and Band Aid’s Do They Know it’s Christmas?
“We need to shrug off the old stereotypes and celebrate the continent’s diversity and complexity.”
She also added that a negative image of Africa was ‘not the truth about that continent’.
There is needed to show the reality of what is happening in Africa. Recently this writer met a South African journalist working for a European newspaper.
She expressed that after the Zimbabwe elections, it is very hard to ‘sell’ Zimbabwe to the Western media.
We asked her, “Why is that?”
And she went on to explain that news out of Africa have to be negative in order to be news.
Unless elephants are dying and Africans are killing each other with spears, knobkerries and other instruments, there is no interesting news.
AIDS, hunger, poverty, drought, civil wars, corruption and bad governance still makes news.
So she thought that a good story like corruption in Zimbabwe must be a good story.
She filed the story on corruption in Zimbabwe as recorded by Zimbabwe’s media. But her editors in Europe were not impressed.
They did not like the story because they said you cannot make news that shows Africans trying to change their own systems for the better.
To the European editors, Africans making positive changes is not good news.
The Western obsession to portraying a negative image hides the real positive changes and progress being made towards a more secure and prosperous future.
When writing about Africa, we should highlight positive facts.
Seven out of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies today are in Africa, with entrepreneurship and innovation booming.
For example, Nigeria is the 10th largest oil producer in the world, with Gabon being Africa’s third largest oil producer, with an estimated population of 1,5 million inhabitants as of 2010.
For example, Ghana grew by more than 14 percent in 2013 while Mozambique continues to rise and Nigeria has the potential to become a superpower.
If we put all the African countries together, we will see that we have grown faster for much of the past decade than East Asia.
We also have a growing number of young Africans who are innovative and very educated.
Without doubt, Africa is on the rise and it will be like China and India.
It is time to change this narrative of looking at ourselves as victims and focus on self-reflection and telling the true story about Africa.
It is high time that new information about Africa is determined by the Africans themselves.
Mac-Jordan Degadjor, a Ghanaian blogger and activist said: “Africans need to reclaim their agency; they have to speak for themselves.”
The huge advances the continent has made in recent years have yet to be acknowledged by the Western world.
In the modern day of technology, social media and bloggers from Africa speaking the truth about their own countries would make a difference.
This way, the young generation of African leaders writers, academics and others are changing the way Africa is perceived.
They have taken the pen to challenge stereotypes and prejudices.
Overall we Africans have embraced technology and in doing so, we must make it work for us.
The internet through social media like facebook and twitter or blogs can help us speak back and challenge the Western stereotyping of Africa.


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