When I think about Africa, I see smiling faces, people struggling for a better survival through self-initiative rather than frowning faces, resignation and constant grumbling. I think of a private sector working hard to find African solutions to African problems. – I remember the great musical rhythms, beautiful flora and fauna. I think about more than 54 countries with enormous cultural diversity, abundant natural resources and very young dynamic population ….and you? What images of Africa do crosss your mind? Probably only the half-baked, discrediting African images you get from the media? If your answer is yes – then this piece is for you.
The FIFA World Cup 2010 held in South Africa has shown to many what an African country could offer depite all odds. For one thing, many journalists have the chance to sojourn for so long in South Africa to experience and report (if they wish) not only sports but another Africa: The Africa that nobody reports in western media.
The good news! – An African country has been able to implement well-planned policies to hire new workers to improve highways, construct a new airport [in Durban], expand existing airports, and build new stadia – all accomplished within schedule. There has also been an unprecedented level of international cooperation involving South Africa in the area of security as well as Joint Operation Centers at each World Cup venue location and 56 courts around the country designed to hear and try cases related to the World Cup. This high degree of ingenuity in planning and logistics deserves the attention of the western press. South Africa was chosen to host the World Cup in 2004. Subsequently, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in South Africa has clearly outpaced the performance reported by any other African country for several years. In fDi Magazine’s 2009/10 competition South Africa was named the top African Country of the Future for the third time. The United National Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) World Investment Report for 2008 indicated that South Africa recorded FDI inflows of $9 billion during 2008, compared to $5.7 billion in 2007.
These numbers notwithstanding, there is a significant growing interest in FDI in South Africa. The completion of the first section of the Gautrain, the first high-speed rail line in Africa is a useful case in point. The Gautrain, when completed, will significantly enhance the attractiveness of the industrial corridor between Johannesburg and Pretoria to potential foreign investors. South Africa has also been able to plan and erect venues in which the games are being held, infrastructural support, security, etc. Much of the estimated $40 billion spent on infrastructure for the World Cup was for stadia enhancements and transportation improvements.
Many popular images of Africa are based on stereotypes that present fragmented, inaccurate, and at times fallacious, images or representations of Africa. These images and misrepresentations become the basis of knowledge (or what experts term the prior knowledge) that people get fed with on their general knowledge of Africa. As we know, when individuals are confronted by a continual exposure to a type of image or misrepresentation, these images often congeal to form stereotypes or generalizations which individuals use to bring meaning to the thing or people imaged.
Generalizations and stereotypes often become the basis for explanatory constructs that are used to interpret events or evaluate the behaviors, including the cultural practices, of others. A major multicultural dimension that needs to be addressed in our classrooms is the image the continent of Africa receives in the news media. This image of Africa in the popular press and on television is focused on sensational, mostly negative, events that are often colored with nineteenth century and colonial European bias.
In the West – it seems only the negative, seems to filter through the news bureau; “U.S. Invades Somalia–Fights Cronies of Local Warlord,” “Rwanda Bloodbath as Tribal Warfare Erupts,” “Zulu Warriors Go on Ram- page in South Africa.” Whether through sensationalistic journalism or ethnic bias, the image evoked by this vocabulary has changed little from the nineteenth century yellow journalism of some of the early European and American adventurers in Africa.
For example, Henry M. Stanley wrote In Darkest Africa ( 1890 ): In the afternoon Mazamboni’s warriors, 1,000 strong, joined to celebrate the bloodless victory over Musiri on a phalanx dance. dancing in Africa mainly consists of rude buffoonery, extravagant gestures, leaping and contortions of the body, while one or many drums keep time. There is always an abundance of noise and loud laughter, and it serves the purpose of furnishing amusement to the barbarians, as the dervish-like whirling and pirouetting give to civilized people. ( Stanley 1890 , vol. 1: 436) AGAIN!” A man from one African country runs amok in Reperbahn Hamburg; the caption runs: “Afrikaner Amok gelaufen” (“An African runs amok”). The only news from Africa that is newsworthy must be embezzlement of funds, ebola virus, AIDS, cataclysm, hunger and starvation. Why should news and images of Africa in the mass media always be images of suffering and catastrophe? Why must every African media-picture be images of misery? Why must African news always be treated holistically?
Most people never get bothered when news-agenda setters suddenly turn a continent into a country: When Gambia or Kenya suddenly becomes a synonym or assumes the same weight in meaning for the continental Africa. An example of such news reports that send shock-waves to Africans is a discrediting front-page news in Der Spiegel a (German Weekly) reportage few years ago, with the obnoxious caption: Elends Kontinent – Afrika Rettung durch die Weißen? (Misery Continent Africa, Should the Whites come to rescue?) In this case, it was just a report on the former situation in Somalia and suddenly someone turned with his journalistic pen, Somalia to automatically represent the whole African continent. Many Africans feel very sad seeing the daily media portrayal of Africa as a country. When civil war breaks out in Liberia: The whole Africa is at war! If religious fanatics take control of Kano/Kaduna in Nigeria, the next day’s news caption will read: “AFRICA IN CRISES
In African countries news managers do not just caption stories: “Europe a Continent under fire” because there is a crisis in Bosnia or as a result of trouble fomented by the IRA in Ireland or chaos in Spain from the ETA groups or because of an islamic fundamentalist train bombings in Madrid and UK. As a journalist from an African country, I never read a story captioned 16 die in European School schooting instead of „16 people shot in School WINNENDEN, Germany“ or „School shooting: 18 dead in Erfurt – Germany“) Why do western media do this with African themes and stories?
Africa’s resources, lands, people, and cultures were expropriated. Subjugactive and jingoistic behavior, resulting in not just massive disruption of African people’s cultural norms and values, as well, artificial territorial boundaries (The Scramble for Africa: Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa) across communal lands, forced European acculturation, etc., were sanctioned by every institution in the societies (of Europe).
The press of those early Darwinian years and its successor today, continues a tradition: stereotype and bombast, bias and disdain often are warp and woof of media coverage when Africa is the subject. This holistic approach (reducing African continent to a country) while handling themes on Africa continues in all realms. The advertising industry in the west are the main culprits. Take a look at the recent ads from Tchibo in Germany. Cotton is not made in an African country but now simply becomes “Cotton made in AFRICA“
On reportagen, the events reported in the news about Africa have happened: Troops from the United States did go into Somalia, Rwanda did experience a very violent civil war, South Africa did have a period of violence leading up to national elections. The reporting of these events, however, appears to last only so long as the violence continues. Once the U.S. troops left Somalia, Somalia ceased to be in the news. Once the fighting in Rwanda stopped, so did the news. Once the election violence in South Africa stopped, so did the reporting on South Africa.
The lifeways of approximately 700 million peoples in fifty-four countries representing, for non-Africans, unimaginable multicultural, polyethnic, polyreligious, multipolitical, and megaeconomic groups are perpetually denigrated. Who reports about African top inventors, scientists, top artists and musicians? Africa’s incalculable natural wealth, which is barely available to its indigenous populations, and her ecosystem, are endangered by insatiable Western consumption.
This item goes unnoticed or is ignored by consumers in the metropoles of Europe, Japan, and North America-the U.S. consumes about 60% of the world’s resources but has only a fraction (4.1 %) of the world’s population. With the stroke of a journalist’s pen, the African, her continent, and her descendants are pejoratively reduced instantly to nothing: A bastion of disease, savagery, animism, pestilence, war, famine, despotism, primitivism, poverty, and ubiquitous images of stomach- distended suffering children.
What is neglected or ignored in the reporting on Africa are the issues that have caused these problems for the African nations and the issues which followed thereafter. An in-depth coverage of these issues is what the western media should present to its viewers. In Somalia, the major issue is one of nation building in a country traditionally based on many large extended families. Private enterprise is not just limited to the well-behaved nations. You can’t find a more war-ravaged land than Somalia, which has been without a central government for more than a decade.
The big surprise? Private enterprise is flourishing. Mogadishu has the cheapest cell phone rates on the continent, mostly due to no government intervention. In the northern city of Hargeysa, the markets sell the latest satellite phone technology. When the state collapsed in 1991, the national airline went out of business. Today, there are five private carriers and price wars keep the cost of tickets down. This is not the Somalia you see in the media.. Who reports these aspects? In Rwanda the problem is ethnic hatred and attempted genocide. In South Africa, the real story is the dynamic transformation of a large, formerly racist country into a multiethnic democracy. But Africa is also a land of stock markets, high rises, Internet cafés and a growing middle class. This is the part of Africa that functions. And this Africa also needs media attention, if it’s to have any chance of fully joining the global economy. Africa’s media image comes at a high cost – even, at the extreme, the cost of lives
Consider a few facts. The Ghana Stock Exchange regularly tops the list of the world’s highest-performing stock markets. Botswana, with its A+ credit rating, boasts one of the highest per capita government savings rates in the world, topped only by Singapore and a handful of other fiscally prudent nations. Cell phones are making phenomenal profits on the continent. Brand-name companies like MTN, Coca-Cola, GM, Caterpillar and Targobank have invested in Africa for years and are quite bullish on the future.
Most of the time, Africa is simply not on the map and never listed in agenda. The continent’s booming stock exchange markets are almost never mentioned in newspaper financial pages or in TV Financial reports. For these reporters the World begins with Dow Jones Index – New York Stock Exchange, Euronext, Dax Index – Deutsche Börse and ended with Nikkei Index – Tokyo Stock Exchange. How often is an African country – apart, perhaps, from South Africa, Kenya, Egypt or Morocco – featured in a newspaper travel section? Even the listing of worldwide weather includes only a few African cities.The great online Transfer and Payment company PAYPAL does not even include all African counries in their listing- Even the big giant, oil rich Nigeria, a country of 140 million people is ignored by PAYPAL. European airlines and phone companies have only limited tarif and often with very restricted and exhorbitant prices for African destinations. The result of all these policies and portrait is an Africa the west cannot relate to. It seems so foreign, so different and incomprehensible. Since relationship is lacking ignorance is the result.
Stories about hardship and tragedy aim to tug at our heartstrings, getting us to dig into our pockets or urge Congresses and Parliaments to send more aid. But no country or region ever developed thanks to aid alone. Investment, and the job and wealth creation it generates is the only road to lasting development. That’s how China, India and the Asian Tigers did it. Unless investors see the Africa as worthy of investment, they won’t put their money into it. And that lack of investment translates into job stagnation, continued poverty and limited access to education and health care.
The failure to show this side of Africa creates a one-dimensional caricature of a complex continent. Imagine if the Scene of the school shooting of a teenage gunman who went on a rampage in Leutenbach south-west Germany or the shootings in Tuusula, some 50km north of Helsinki in Finland or worse still, the pictures of 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings were all that the rest of the world knew about Europe and America.
Little is said about Africa’s strategic importance to so called industrialized nations; her indispensability and relevance to world development, global technology, and the wealth of nations, derived from involuntary African largesse, are not acclaimed in the media. Without access to certain raw materials from Africa, Western industrial capacity would simply dry up like „a river bed in the Sahara desert“.
Even less is communicated via the media or anywhere else about the incalculable volume of African stolen art and crafts that end up in private collections and museums: How many millions –worth stolen African works of art are today locked up in many musseums in Europe and America? What about the incalculable volume of royalties accruing from African books, calendars, and artistic publications if any, for Africans creating such works of art? Mega profits are gained by expatriate marketers in royalties, commissions, exhibitions, documentaries, movies, shows, and other niches in the U.S and world art and craft consumer market. African unique textile designs are now bootlegged or blatantly copied by other international economic and globally marketing groups.
Indisputably, much of what is known today, indeed, has its origins and basis in Africa: Kemet (Egypt), as the precursor in all fields of human activity and the world’s foundation upon which subsequent epistemology is based, magnanimously passed on its knowledge to the world: a world that would have developed much slower without the benefit of ancient Kemet’s highly developed and organized dynastic civilizations. Her gifts to the world, intellectually and in all known spheres of human development, is unequivocal: mathematics, science, astrology, architecture, medicine, building, the arts, language, metaphysics, religion, and spirituality.
It is a media fallacy if we report that Africa is well behind the rest of the world in terms of IT- technologies but never report on the original ways Africans are using the little that is available. What approach must be cultivated and level of journalistic professionalism must be achieved in order to have a balanced, objective, and fair reportage on events as they occur anyplace in Africa? This question would be answered in our future conceived EuroAfricaCentral Network Special Seminars and Workshops for Journalists and Media Professionals on Reporting Africa.