Apr 26, 2010

Owning our Story

As I was reading the NY Times last week I came across an opinion editorial written by Africa’s Crusader, I mean, Bono and found myself very irritated. The source of my irritation wasn’t necessarily content related but rather author related. I let it go, and went on with things…until this past weekend. I noticed a new World Cup ad on the sports channel, and turned up the volume. Only to hear Bono’s voice over and some U2 song in the background, going on about how this is Africa’s moment on the centre stage for the world’s biggest sporting event, yada yada yada.

So, if this is Africa’s moment, when did Bono or U2 for that matter become representative of that occasion?
I am sure Bono has noble intentions in his advocacy work but I am absolutely fed up of celebrities and their media counterparts co-opting a story that isn’t their own. Stop drowning out the voices that can tell the story in their own authentic manner!

Africa has many narratives, and all are rich and diverse. We need to take ownership of these narratives and tell the complete story. As Zambia tackles Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), mineral and property rights, access to healthcare, etc, I want to hear Zambian voices in mix. I believe it’s critical to give a balanced view of Zambia by Zambians, of Africa by Africans.

It’s not all about corruption, inefficiencies and poverty. Let us re-write the story and move beyond the stereotype of being a voiceless people to be pitied and aided.


Okay, I'm a little nervous to write this as I cannot speak with the authentic voice and personal knowledge that you offer, Bwalya. And I completely understand that Bono cannot be a spokesperson for Africa simply because he's famous and has taken a few trips there.

But isn't it also true that his notoriety has introduced and framed the entire idea of Africa for a generation of self-absorbed, fame-obsessed Americans who wouldn't pay any attention to authentic Zambian voices but will perk up their ears for the lead singer of U2? In this way, isn't his work a good thing? What do you think?

No need to be nervous, you know I value your opinion. Thanks for posting. :-)

You’re right about Bono raising awareness for many people that otherwise wouldn’t pay much attention to what happens in Africa; and that’s a good thing. Even I can’t fault that.

However, my gripe is about how his voice and a few select others tend to be loudest and most revered (for lack of a better term) on some very serious matters. Of course part of that is due to his fame (which unavoidable), and the other part is the general paternalistic attitude towards developing countries.

I would like him and other celebrities to stick to their advocacy work and stay out of the policy issues. Listen to voices of reason, and don’t drown out what Africans are saying. With that said African governments, intellectuals, etc, need to wake up and articulate their points of view and re-frame our mental models. If they do not, then anyone can jump in and become the face of Africa, and our spokesperson.

Okay, yeah, that's a really good point. Indeed, perhaps Bono should take it upon his activist self to shine the light on the African individuals who are best equipped to deal with policy.
Lovin' the blog, Bwalya! Keep it up!

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