On December 11 to 12, 2013, the country held its fifth National Media Dialogue. One of the topics was African story told and informed by Africans.
Panellists included some of the region’s foremost storytellers — Nation Media Group’s Charles Onyango-Obbo, Jenerali Ulimwengu from Tanzania and Andrew Mwenda of The Independent (of Uganda).
The topic was borne out of the age-old frustration, especially among the continent’s leaders and the elite, that, to a large extent, Africa is largely reported negatively by “strangers.”
In most part, that it is sold and regurgitated as a land of ceaseless ethnic and tribal wars, endemic corruption and thieving leaders, dictatorship and disease. This, we are told, marginalises it and steals our collective humanity.
Ulimwengu and Mwenda agreed that Africa is reported negatively, the former asserting that Africans are still a creation of foreigners — species mostly wired to “cut and paste” the White man’s ideas, the latter calling for an intellectual ecosystem to empower Africans to report their own stories.
Not reported enough
Onyango-Obbo reasoned that while it is true Africa is negatively reported, our main concern should be that it is not reported enough — whether “negatively” or positively.
Armed with revealing statistics, he showed that between January 1979 and August 2013, for example, Africa’s appearance in the world’s media constituted a mere 13.4 per cent — mostly from South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Somalia — while “only 0.5 per cent of [the] world’s scientific publications [are] produced by African sources and less than five per cent of content downloaded globally is from Africa.”
This is an indictment not only of how marginal Africa is to the world but also to the scientific community. The most pertinent question then is not whether it is reported negatively by outsiders — since I don’t believe the world’s media owes the continent anything. It is why it does not tell its own story or report itself or contribute to scientific discoveries in significant ways and instead endlessly complains about how others misrepresent it.
I would put the answer to four reasons.
First, most African countries do not have a consensual story but highly contested stories.
Second, our education system does not empower young people to think for themselves and to productively deploy their God-given brains innovatively. Third, we rarely put our money where our mouths are. Finally, for most Africans, thinking is expensive, writing dangerous and life cheap.
It is no lie that many African countries are still torn by tribalism, ethnic chauvinism and fighting over spoils of war. This smallness does not allow the deployment of our minds to big things that would, for instance, lead to the development of consensually defined national interest around which a common story can emerge.
Instead, the African elite spend most of their time arguing and fighting over things such as who is more “visionary” to individually define a people and what is most important to them.