The Media's (mis)Representation of Africa
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Politics and Activism

The Media's (mis)Representation of Africa

Being African means being a citizen of the world, where every piece of it, is inside of you. And as an African I just want people to see what I see. Not the war, the misery and death but the waterfalls, the skyscrapers and smiles on people’s face.

The Media's (mis)Representation of Africa

Before coming to America, I never labelled myself as only African, I labelled myself as Cape Verdean, because I came from a country called Cabo Verde so theoretically I would be categorised as a person from the country I am from, just like how people from Portugal or England would be categorised as Portuguese or English. Coming to America I became “The stereotypical African” and questions like do you “Africans” have electricity? Do You “Africans” live in a hut? How is your English so perfect or Do you “Africans” eat Grasshopper? were constantly asked by my friends. And being asked these questions made me wonder how much of Africa they really knew and how much of that is accurate. Africa is the second largest and most populated continent in the world and considered a “third-world” continent, where the war, hunger, diseases and drought are constantly in the western media, and even though the continent has 54 countries, totally different from each other, with different culture, it is still represented as one country. This is usually how Africa is portraited by the media, but how much of that is true and why is the continent represented that way?

The outside world sees one side of Africa, one stereotype, one single story. Chimamanda Adichie, a well-known African writer, considers herself a storyteller, and in one of her TED talks, she exposed the danger of having a single story, to her “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” She continues by sharing her experience when she first came to the United States, and how her own roommate was already feeling sorry for her being an African without even knowing her. Adichie even goes beyond on explaining how disappointed her roommate was when the roommate asked to hear her “tribal” music and Adichie presented a Mariah Carey’s album. But it wasn’t the roommate’s fault to assume that Adichie didn’t listen to what was considered “pop” music or even know how to work a stove or use the internet. She and many other people around the globe have only one side of the African Continent, the “young scrappy and hungry” side, but how much of this “story” portrayed by the media is true. Adichie says that “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” and the African continent has been deprived of the other side of the story and so, being deprived of their dignity. It is hard for us Africans to see our own continent being denied a voice by the media.

The media is the one that divulges to the world the African ‘History”. But how much of the African history is true. Gill Branston and Roy Stafford, writers of the Media Student’s book, explained that “media gives us ways of imagining particular identities and groups which can have material effects on how people experience the world, and how they get understood or perhaps beaten up in the street by others... (1999, p.15)” they continue by saying that the reason this happens is because the Media has the power to “re-present” as much as they like some identities of a culture while excluding others, so that the culture can seem unfamiliar of even threatening. Given an example of the movies from Hollywood, Africa is represented as this bare, wild, exotic and dangerous “country” where the “black man” has always machines guns, doesn’t smile and is very aggressive. The movie Casino Royale, which the main character is James Bond, introduces to the western population an Africa that is a thief, that makes exotic animal fight with each other, and everyone is starving. And that’s the case of the African continent, where the media portraits it as this “homogenous” and consistent “reality” throughout the entire continent without clarifying that the “country” is a matter of fact a continent that has 54 unique and distinct culture.

Imagine how hard it is to an African to see his own continent represented that way. Walker and Rasamimanana on the book “Popular Media, Democracy and Development in Africa” discussed the same overgeneralization of Africa, they pointed out the fact that people think Africans live in villages and it is always hot and humid, but on the contrary in a lot of countries like Angola, Nigeria, Tunisia and even Cabo Verde most people live in the cities, have a decent house with electricity and drinkable water and the weather is not as extreme as people from outside the continent thinks or what the media “divulges” . In this scenario, the media is not fulfilling its role correctly and instead of being functional, it misleads the general public with incorrect information or “partial truth”.

The objective of this article is not to state that Africa, is this marvelous continent that is where it is now only and solely because of the neo-capitalism and the misconceptions of the media, because like any other continent and countries there are problems needed to be solved. But the main objective is to point out that under all of what it has been publicized, Africa, being a rich and diverse continent has more than what meets the eye and that there is beauty in the middle of the chaos and that “this chaos” portraited by the media is not the entire continent but part of it. And give a little of dignity to my continent.

The misconception of Africa is the lack of knowledge from outsiders (the western countries) and since there isn’t a lot being taught in schools, most of what students, considered the future generation, learns comes from movies and music and other means of communication. Back in my country, we try our best to learn our culture and the culture of the main civilizations scattered throughout time and space, where we would spend years learning different types of culture and try to compare it with ours and not rely only on what it is seen on TV. But unfortunately, in many other countries this strategy is not implemented so, many probably might not know that Africa is a Continent and not a country, has 54 countries and it is the world’s second largest continent, with more than 2000 of spoken languages, and 1.216 billion people covering around 20% of earth’s surface. Previous studies show that the American and European media portray Africa as a poverty-stricken, war-ravaged, and disease-ridden continent, which also reinforce other negative stereotypes (Wallace 2005; Michira 2002). According to Gbemisola Olujobi, author of “The Africa we need to know”, Africa is known for its minerals. Natural beauty, landscape and bodies of water, but if we really evaluate what the media decides to broadcast it will show a different story. Olujobi states that because of the limited news selection reporters cannot provide enough information about how Africa’s mineral boost European and Asian’s economy and how 30 to 60 percent of America ‘s imports come from Africa.

What the media doesn’t publicize much, is how culturally diverse the continent is, or for example, that besides of the more than 2000 spoken languages there are even more dialects originated from Afrikaans, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Arabic and other languages inside the continent, or that there is a wide variety of religious beliefs ranging from African traditional religions (where each tribe had/has their own) to Christianity, Hindu, Islam and many other. When asked, people usually have the excuse of the “country “not being publicized much or not having a lot of books about it, so they “failed” to understand Africa due to lack of resources written about such “exotic place”.

If we take that excuse and put it into a magnifying glass it could easily be debunked, since there a lot of Africans and non-Africans scholars that wrote and it is writing about the continent like Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, poet, and professor who wrote from romance to tragedies, to pollical movements about the African continent which his magnum Opus is “Things Fall Apart”, also from Nigeria there is Chimamanda Adichie who has won many literature prizes and even the Genius Grant and one of her most famous books was turned into a movie, Half of a Yellow Sun, we have Nelson Mandela, who was and still is a symbol of freedom and equality of rights not just in South Africa but in the entire world, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1993, was made movies about him and wrote many books and memoirs like “long walk to Freedom” or one of the last published “ A conversation with myself”. These authors are just a few of the most know but there are more authors writing and publishing books about the diverse continent every day. Maybe, the problem is not the publishing of new material trying to explain the world about our existence but the problem is that the world “doesn’t really care” or “doesn’t really want to know” about the other side of the continent because doesn’t benefit the metropolis. Or maybe it is easier to accept whatever the media says is true without contesting it.

Throughout years the western media has overlooked the economic and social achievements of the African nations, sure that around 60% of the population of the 54 countries are farmers making more than half of the economy subsistence farming but there are innumerous factories and industries boosting the economy. With the economic boost, the wireless system has improved significantly as well, where in the past few years the internet connection has increased more than 20% enabling the “black diamond’ continent to be connected with the rest of world (Harth, 2012), and according to the journal “The Economist” the income growth and the annual GDP has increased 5% in the last 16 years making it the world’s third-fastest growing region, proving that the African continent is not as underdeveloped as the western media divulges, but it is like Trevor Noah, a South-African comedian, said in one of his talk shows, “as an African, I won’t deny that my continent has been having issues with war, political crisis, hunger and diseases” but that doesn’t mean that all the countries in Africa are suffering from the same situation or that we are desperately always asking for help and for the involvement of other countries (maybe sometimes we are) which honestly all countries from all other continents have the same problems as we do, take Ukraine as an example there is war going on in Donbass ,but this armed conflict is just not as “dramatized” as the African continent.

The point here is to demonstrate that the African Continent, has more to offer than just tragedies Yes, there are some countries that do eat insects, so does China, Brazil, USA, Mexico, Thailand and many others across the globe, and there is no shame in that since insects are rich in nutritional values and is also a cultural symbol for many countries. Places like Tunisia, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya and others even have ski resorts and snow accumulating on the top of mountains. And yes, we do get offended when people say we are too “white” to be an African, being an African doesn’t necessary means you have to be “black like the night”, like most books characterize us, there is a ‘white Africa”, where people are as white as a European, where they can have blue eyes like the Americans and as blond as Russians and still be considered Africans. Why? Because being African is not being black or being subject of pity of strangers, being African is loving your country and your continent despite all the bad things the media says about it, it is being proud of your people and its diversity, and not be ashamed of screaming at the top of your lungs that you are from a place where you may or may not get electricity one day, where education, even thou is on the rise, for some kids in some countries is a privilege, not a right, being African means that you know that one day all your hard work will be played off and that every smile you see is a sign that everything will be okay and that someday your continent and your country will be seen not as a failure but as proof of success and determination. Being African means being a citizen of the world, where every piece of it is inside of you. And as an African, I just want people to see what I see. Not the war, the misery and death but the waterfalls, the skyscrapers and smiles on people’s face.

The girl from the unknown paradise

Work Cited:

Ebo, Bosah. 1992. “American Media and African Culture,” p. 15-25. In Africa’s Media Image, edited by

Beverly G. Hawk (1992). Westport, Praeger Publishers.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story ..." TED. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Dolimar, Moja, and Paloma Sitar. "THE USE OF STEREOTYPICAL IMAGES OF AFRICA IN FUNDRAISING ..." European Scientific Journal, Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

Harth, Amy E. "Representations of Africa in the U - Illinois State University." N.p., 2012. Web. 29 Oct. 2016.

Jones, Jeannette Eileen. ―‘In Brightest Africa:‘ Naturalistic Constructions of Africa in the American - Museum of Natural History, 1910-1936.‖ Images of Africa: Stereotypes and Realities. Ed. Daniel Mengara. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2001.

"Top 20 Largest Economies in Africa 2016." Ranking Interesting Facts About Africa. N.p., 11 July 2016. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Society, National Geographic. "Africa: Resources." National Geographic Society. N.p., 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Olujobi, Gbemisola. 2005. “The Africa You Need To Know.” Annenburg School for Communication

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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