The Guardian columnist, Ian Birrell, recently remarked that the Western’s media image of Africa is “hopelessly obsolete”. Ian Birrell went on to say that the news about economic growth, an advantageous surge in young populations and technological innovation, are, in his words, “failing to filter through to the west, where too many people remain locked into stale narratives of Africa as a land of suffering in need of our salvation.” Birrell’s contribution added to the growing stream of articles that advocate for a balanced reporting of news and events from the continent.
Recently conversations on the portrayal of Africa have intensified, partly from the response to Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign. Most colleges in the United States, including my school held forum discussions in response to the campaign. Most people have expressed their concerns explaining that narratives such as the one used by the Kony 2012 campaign are intended to cater for a domestic, Western audience, and are fuelled by editors as much as writers and bloggers.
Earlier this year, Invisible Children’s thirty minute viral video launched to promote the arrest of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, brought western stereotypes of Africa harshly into the spotlight, with trenchant critiques from diasporan bloggers all over the world. Clearly diaspora journalists have as much to offer African journalism as they do to Western, and if we really want to change the headlines and report on Africa differently we have to change more than just the subject matter or the slant we give to articles; utilizing those who have a real knowledge of African politics and business will implicitly deepen understanding, adding nuance to a continent that is still too often generalized.
When Birell asked a Nigeria analyst for Think Africa Press, based in London, whether he felt and obligation to tackle or counter western media’s portrayal of Africa, the analyst replied: “I find myself taking on Africans themselves, rather than fight Western perception. It seems to me that the level of journalistic development in Nigeria is still far away in terms of concise analysis. That’s what defeats a negative perception, yet Nigerian journalism seems to prefer sensationalism and gossip, hence my focus is to help all groups understand the issues in a straightforward manner… The Nigerian media must clean up their act before they start complaining about CNN or the BBC’s slant on certain issues.”
If as author Ben Rawlence said, the dominant media voices on Africa are mainly aimed at a non-African western audience, perhaps diaspora Africans are uniquely poised to pioneer new perceptions about Africa; often straddling two or more cultures, it could be those from the diaspora who are able to most effectively offer analysis on the continent. The Internet has aided the growth of Diaspora news networks that often offer detailed analysis and perspectives on African business, government and politics that evades much of the mainstream media. Such news coverage and analysis is offered by regionally oriented and Pan-African organizations such as Kenya London News and broadcasters like Vox Africa.
Africa is vast, deep, enchanted, vibrant, pleasant, smart, precious, faithful, bright, hopeful, young, energetic, creative, and rising.