Africa has made considerable strides since Live Aid – a concert held in 1985 to raise funds for relief of Ethiopia’s famine – and The Economist’s ‘Africa the hopeless continent’ cover in 2000, both of which came to define the continent’s image across the world.
The prevailing image of Africa in the 2000s, particularly in mainstream global media, was focused on civil wars, unrest, corruption, poverty, poor leadership, violent elections, Ebola and AIDS. Fast forward 21 years and the reality is that the continent’s image in global mainstream media is largely unchanged. There is an argument to be had 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 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.
A recent Future of Media online event, moderated by Siya Sangweni, explored this very topic, questioning just how influential media is in defining Africa’s story.
Africa No Filter is an organisation that supports the development of nuanced and contemporary stories that shift stereotypical and harmful narratives within and about Africa. Executive director Moky Makura, said there is a need for stories that counter the barrage of hard news – and often negative stories – informing the world’s view on Africa.
The Africa No Filter report revealed that western news agencies, specifically AFP, Reuters and the BBC, accounted for over a third of all the African content carried in African media outlets, which begs the question of who is really writing Africa’s story. While most editors interviewed for the report wanted more and better African content they cited lack of funding, lack of advertiser interest and space constraints, said Makura.
African media outlets, she said, need to invest in such quality content that people would ultimately be prepared to pay for it.
Mary Harper, BBC’s Africa editor, pointed out stories out of Africa either reflect Africa’s hopelessness or the idea around Africa rising, neither of which is realistic. Content needs to be better curated to ensure a more balanced perspective. She added that African media should not rely so heavily on international media and should instead take the lead when it comes to generating content, in the process challenging stereotypes.
Marie Mbullu is a 20-year old Tanzanian-American student who is using TikTok to change stereotypical perceptions of Africa. She said it was important, however, that viewers ask questions and look for bias as far as African news stories are concerned given the lack of regulation.
Africa has so many stories to tell, said Sipho King, editorial director at The Continent, and more journalists need to be encouraged to tell its stories which will allow for more viewpoints. In turn, better content will attract more support.