Jun 27, 2011

Share the positive!

I can’t think of a topic that unifies more Africans than the issue of western media stereotypes. It doesn’t matter which online paper or magazine you’re talking about but more often that not, you’ll find the pictures of half naked children with runny noses playing in rubbish heaps, the forlorn elderly woman caring for her orphaned grandkids…name it, you’ll find it.

We rant and rave – “that’s not the Africa I know. Why doesn’t the BBC ever show Manda Hill in Lusaka which now boasts the capital city’s second operational escalator or the nouveau riche cruising in Lamborghinis to their mini-mansions in gated communities?” I’m not making up this stuff, honest! J

To be quite honest, the west will always have a morbid fascination with the Dark Continent, and the current narrative suits that position.

What I would like to know is why we as African are not more concerned about the stories we share? Why must I always read in the local papers “the president said this, the president said that?” For crying out loud, is the president the only story worth telling? 

With that said, I applaud the efforts of those who are currently making inroads on changing this, such as contributors on Global Voices Online, blogs, Twitter and so forth…but we need to do more. So, the next time you want to bash the CNN for yet another story about decreasing life expectancy south of the Equator, do the same on the local front for those lazy newspaper editors more fascinated with the lunacy on Big Brother Africa than meaningful news stories.


Its not easy being an editor who operates under a budget. Sometimes there's the puppet master, who contols things and pays your bills. Then there is the fake media freedoms. Then you have your own kids to feed. Then you want balance things and keep your head above the water or your kid might not comeback from school. Farfetched? I think its reality. So you end doing a shoddy job because it pays the bills.and yes there's no excuse for that. Then there's the lazybone scribe who will not want to go and get the news.

With the risk to appear unpopular. The Manda Hill or Arcades are a really small part of Zambia. I'm also against broadcasting just the poor areas of zambia, but showing Lusaka is not Zambia, as every other town in Zambia is far below this level, and the bush is a story for itself.

Perhaps it would be interesting to show this big differences.

I agree with you about the importance of sharing human stories in the news. Ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to elevate Africa. I am sick of always reading about politicians and the insults they hurl at each other.

I also agree that there is a lot of positive that deserve to be highlighted, such as the fact that Africa is now being recognised more and more by economists as a brilliant place to invest.

'think!!' is right though, we can't ignore the enormous disparity between the well to do and the poor in our nations. The chasm between development of urban and rural areas is too wide and in a country like Zambia that is so highly urbanised it is easy to forget about people in the provinces who can only dream of living the way some in Lusaka do.

It is this lack of regard for the rest of the country that I believe somewhat underlies the lack of diversification in our economy.

The illustration of Manda Hill and the nouveau riche was exactly my point. People still don't get it. They live their gilded lives in isolation and don't know the stories happening in the greater part of the nation and the continent as a whole.

Now, if we as Africans don't get it why should we expect western journalists to do so?

There are so many stories to be told, and focusing on one microcosm is unjust. This is why I insist we as Africans need to lead the charge in changing the narrative.

@wondermachingura - I can empathise with journalists who are concerned with the welfare of their families and would rather stick with safe stories to avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of those in power. However, I would counter with this - if you're not willing to report on the truth, shouldn't you consider a job in a different field? Journalism, especially in the developing world, is not for the faint at heart. Please note, I'm using "you" in a general terms.

What I'm calling for doesn't mean focusing solely on government exposé stories but stories that do service to all citizens. Let's move away from just highlighting the capital city or politicians bickering like fish wives.

Like Mwanabibi points out development chasms are often fed by ignorance and our lack of understanding of areas outside our urban environs.

Western media's fascination with the "Dark Continent" will persist until Black Africa develops its own Continent-wide "Al-Jazeera". Then, the West will have to take notice, and we Africans will be able to sit back and enjoy watching Africa as it really is.

James, you're on point. Without telling our own stories in the right context we're stuck with the centuries old caricatures.

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