BY OLUWATOYIN MAGBEGBEOLA
The depiction of Africa through the centuries has not changed considerably. In the past Africa was depicted as the dark continent. Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad wrote the “Heart of Darkness,”which depicted the continent in unflattering terms. So it’s the same as ever before. Still, nothing has changed. Africa has been stereotyped by the Western media as a continent of wars, famine, hunger and disease. In their reporting they seem to say that nothing good can come out Africa.
On the other hand, the exploitation and expropriation of both natural and mineral resources by the Western countries had affected the continent negatively. It is a paradox that a resource rich continent like Africa is poor and its citizens struggling with existential challenges on a day-to-day basis. Yet the western media hardly highlight the roles of their governments and Western multinationals in the exploitation of Africa.
For Africa it’s double jeopardy in the sense that those who keep Africa down are also the same people who malign the continent and also dish out false and negative information on the continent. Not only is the information wrong, but the fact that they would rather stress the negative instead of reporting about the slow but steady progress being made in the continent. This should baffle any right thinking person. For me it smacks of an ulterior motive.
In the 50s or 60s, it was reported that Nigeria, China, and India were on the same level of development and progress. Although, Nigeria may have its own peculiar challenges, but today the country has made its mark as one of the powerhouses in Africa, and the world. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and democracy has taken firm roots in the country. Nigeria’s contribution to regional peace in West Africa and other parts of the continent is widely acknowledged. Besides, many Nigerians in the diaspora are making valuable contributions in their host countries.
Naturally most of those who are not Africans or are ignorant of the continent believe what they’ve heard or read about the continent from information gathered from the western media. Of course, they trust and rely on their media for news and reports. But truth is they were grossly misled. If you ask an average American or European to create or paint a picture of Africa in their mind, what you will get from them is that; Africa is a jungle, Africans are uncivilized, uneducated, and many more.
As a result of these stereotypes, it becomes easy to remain uninformed and ignorant of every tribe or culture in Africa by grouping these cultures into one image, forgetting that the continent is home to 54 countries, with over two thousand languages, multiple ethnicities and religions, economy and political systems. The grouping of countries in Africa into one is a disservice and patent disregard for the sensibilities of Africans, for it fails to recognize and respect the unique individuality of the African countries and people.
In addition, there was a time that the Western media played the big brother role in acting as a voice of Africa. Western celebrities were pressed into service to take part in the scene while trying to act as leaders in the development discourse about the continent. Moreover, in the early 2000s, Hollywood actors and actresses were given a role to play in raising awareness on the continent’s poverty, starvation, diseases, and many other negativities.
These Hollywood personalities acted as intermediaries for the collection of donations, that is, “one dollar to feed an African child”to be sent to Africa. They turned themselves into heroes that will save the continent, by spreading false images and narratives about Africa. There’s no denying the fact that there is poverty in Africa, but the truth is that there is poverty everywhere in the world. But why make the continent of Africa the face of starvation and poverty?.
If there is a need to help the continent, it’s better to bring in investments, and also champion skills development for the youths as well as financing for health, water and education development in the continent. Also a check on Politically Exposed Persons who loot their countries only to stash such loots in Europe and United States ought to top on the agenda of the Western countries. Besides, the West ought to enact legislations to discourage the offshore transfer of loots from Africa.
Obviously, the lack of empathy and disdain for Africa is reflected in the way Western media continuously portray the continent. On one hand, they’ll write on how “Africans are uneducated, uncivilized, poor, and barbaric,” but on the other, they will choose to depict wildlife in Africa to be majestic, brave, and pure.”
Furthermore, Africa has been mistreated by the West in light of the global pandemic with restrictions placed in the path of Africans travelling across the globe. It seems Africa has been unjustly singled out for no other reason than ethnocentrism.
Beyond that, Western media propaganda and diffusion of information in the continent is an example of new cultural imperialism. This explains why the British government spends 600 million euros annually on the BBC world service. And every week this broadcast network service reaches 96 million people in Africa, the channel’s largest audience.
The question is why would the British government spend 600 million euros every year to inform African people? Why would the French government spend €243 million every year to inform the African people? The answer is for the simple but grand purpose of the manipulation of the minds of Africans.
As they say a man without culture and tradition is a man without roots. And Africans are gradually losing their roots because of massive propaganda coming from the Western media. Also, the brainwashing is complete because Africans have replaced their mother tongue with the language of the colonizers. Thus most official communication in Africa is done via English, French and Portuguese.
As George Orwell said; “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and destroy their own understanding of their history”. In short, it is to corrupt our understanding of ourselves, our realities, and our world by implanting in the minds of our young people ideas and concepts that are alien to us. The logic behind the huge media domination in Africa by these western powers is to prepare Africans for a subservient role in this world. It is a process of subtle debasement of the minds of Africans, by making our language and culture inferior.
Overall the negative behaviour of the Western media has been brought to the fore in the ongoing Ethiopian crisis. A media survey has indicated that some western media outlets have intensified false propaganda against Ethiopia over the past months in an attempt to fuel their hidden agenda in destabilizing the country.
The media outlets have been spreading false information and false narrative about Ethiopia. Media organisations such as CNN, BBC, Al-jazeera, and France 24, have been reporting extensively on Ethiopia over the past days. The reports are presented in the form of news, analysis, discussion, supported by animation, compilation of photos, and graphics.
These contents are all about creating insecurity among the people of the country. These media organisations are said to be working to control the news market by transmitting such contents as part of the coordinated campaign against Ethiopia in order to achieve their goal by misrepresenting the reality in Ethiopia. Of course, both the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed and Ethiopians in diaspora have condemned the Western media for their bias and misrepresentation.
No wonder, foremost African novelist Chinua Achebe once said; “Until the lion tells his own side of the story the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” In this regard, it is important that the citizens of the continent will have to start telling their own story to the world through African media and other channels as well as through the entertainment industry.
In fact, Nollywood has a huge role to play in this, being the biggest movie industry in Africa. This can be done by promoting our tradition and presenting our culture on the screen for the world to see. African intellectuals must step out of their comfort zone and join the frontline in the battle to free Africa from cultural imperialism.
Today, Africans are still fighting to be portrayed in good light. Which is why the western media need to stop the false narrative and misrepresentation of the continent to the world. Africans are not pawns. Africa has a rich heritage and culture and with stories to tell. It’s only Africans that can tell stories about the continent to the world. Enough of the lies and exploitation that’s the stock-in-trade of the Western media. Africans should take charge and support one another.
The watchword should be unity in diversity. In the words of American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., “We must either stand together as brothers or perish together as fools.” That’s the only way to beat the pressure from outside.
Finally, Africans hold the key to the solution of misrepresentation by the Western media. To change the narrative of the West, there should be a conscious effort in the continent to build infrastructural interconnectivity as well as removal of all barriers that hinder free flow of people across the continent. Indeed, this will help remove the lack of knowledge of one another. Besides, it is incumbent on Africa to ensure political stability and also foster socio-economic integration.