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Are we telling the African story?

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Africa is slowly shedding the shackles of its past. Image credit: WhyAfrica

By Leon Louw founder and editor of WhyAfrica

24 July 2021 – Negative perceptions about Africa persist, despite great strides being made in many countries across the continent to warrant more optimism about its growth. The question is: Are we telling the African story?    

The general response, when I enthuse about the great opportunities in Africa, is one of shock and surprise. “But what about corruption, safety, security; and they are in war, aren’t they?” is the standard exclamation.

Negative perceptions about Africa are pervasive. Images of famine, crime, war and mayhem have created an image of Africa that most people around the world still believe to be true.

In some cases, growth in African countries is indeed still hampered by corruption, hunger, nepotism, violence, and warfare. It is also true that in some regions, several countries can still be regarded as fragile, or even failed states.

It is important to remember that there are 54 (some would say 55) countries in Africa, and each one of those have made significant strides in building stronger and more resilient state institutions. Moreover, democracy, in most African states, has won the day.

Yes, I agree, there are huge challenges, especially when it comes to defining democracy in Africa. In countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and even South Africa (to name a few), the same political party, and in some, the same political leaders, have been in power for more than 20 or 30 years.

In many African countries, corruption is rife, there is no accountability, and journalists are persecuted and harassed. Nevertheless, nobody would argue with the fact that at least today we are aware of all these issues, and a lot has been done to remedy the situation.

Most encouraging though, is that African leaders and the new rising middle class and business fraternity are taking charge and forging ahead with building Africa the African way. They are no longer bound by colonial rules and regulations. At the same time though, most realise that their romantic ideologies that worked for African revolutionaries 40 years ago, are outdated.

Across the continent, countries like, amongst others, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, and Botswana, are building a better Africa.

In partnership with the private sector, NGO’s, the development sector, and foreign investment, the massive backlogs in infrastructure development, electricity and water provision, and manufacturing are gradually being addressed. Yes, it is not happening overnight, but slowly the elephant is being eaten.

I often wonder if the naysayers and pessimists have any solutions for the “insurmountable” problems they so often like to highlight, or even create; or have their perceptions been tainted so much by negative stories, that they are unable to even think about solutions.

The crux of the matter is that the world has been fed so many doom and gloom stories about Africa, that it is difficult for them to see the beauty and the opportunities.

This, of course, has a lot to do with how Africa has been portrayed by the international media houses throughout history. That, thankfully, is beginning to change, as more and more independent, credible African based media houses and journalists start spreading the word about the real Africa. The question is: Are we telling the African story?

Africa doesn’t need to rise, as the western media so often like us to believe. Africa rose many centuries ago, way before parts of Europe. They might not have done it the way the West would have liked it to be, but they did it the African way, and they will continue doing it the African way. If you want to do business in Africa, it is something you have to live with and accept. If you do, it will open-up a whole new world, and many opportunities will come your way.

A few weeks ago, Financial Mail ran a fantastic article on the Business Day live website with the title “how influential is media in defining Africa’s story?” which I found relevant to include in my comment. The article appeared on  https://www.businesslive.co.za/redzone/news-insights/2021-07-15-how-influential-is-media-in-defining-africas-story/

Herewith an excerpt from the article (with full credit to Business Day live and Financial Mail, 15 July 2021):

“The image of Africa in the early part of this century, particularly in mainstream global media, was focused on civil wars, unrest, corruption, poverty, poor leadership, violent elections, Ebola and Aids.

”And even after 21 years, the continent’s image in global mainstream media is largely unchanged. There is an argument that Africa’s media has a great amount to answer for, given that it is complicit in reinforcing the persistent narrative that Africa is broken.

Africa may not be perfect, but neither is it broken, and the stereotypical stories of poverty, conflict and disease should not be the only ones we hear about.

“In 2020 the organisation Africa No Filter surveyed 38 African editors and analysed over 300 articles from 60 African news outlets in 15 countries to produce the “How African Media Covers Africa” report.

“The majority of the stories – 81% – were about conflict and crises on the continent, feeding the stereotype of a continent “in flames”, as rock star Bono put it in 2004. It’s no wonder that this is how the world sees Africa – and how Africa sees itself – because we have no other perspectives and no alternative stories.”

Are we telling the African story?

Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.        

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message.


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