Don’t just complain about the media! Change them!
Use your own networks to speak truthfully about Africa!
Strategies for Speaking Truthfully about Africa: A Few Tips
Start where you are
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy suitable for everyone. Opportunities for speaking and access to information vary. Teachers whose classes allow them to address African and global issues face specific opportunities and challenges, as will be addressed in the US-Africa Network co-sponsored workshop, “Teaching Truthfully about Africa,” which will take place on April 18, 2015 in Chicago.
What is true for all of us, however, is that we can make better use of the opportunities we have. To be effective in changing the media narrative, we must inform ourselves, and be strategic and selective in sharing with our friends.
Seek out reliable sources of information and analysis
It is impossible to devise comprehensive lists of “reliable” and “unreliable” sources of information and analysis. Nor is it possible for any one source to cover the complex realities of multiple issues and countries. The US-Africa Network especially recommends two sources that highlight key continent-wide issues: the electronic publication AfricaFocus Bulletin (http://www.africafocus.org), which also has a Facebook page (http://facebook.com/AfricaFocus); and the US-Africa Network Facebook page (http://facebook.com/USAfricaNetwork.org), which features updates on selected issues.
The richest source of on-line news featuring African news media and other sources is AllAfrica.com (http://allafrica.com). AllAfrica offers users the opportunity to receive headlines on specific topics or countries by email.
The IRIN news service (http://www.irinnews.org/africa) and Inter Press Service (http://www.ipsnews.net/news/regional-categories/africa/) are also generally reliable sources of analysis.
Among prominent global news outlets the BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/world/africa/), has a generally high standard of Africa coverage. Google News is also useful, as it allows users to define a custom news feed for “Africa” or for a specific African country or topic.
Whatever the source, remember that you must bring your own critical judgment. Bring your own critical judgment, based on your experience and on that of people you trust. If you do so, you will find that your friends also trust your judgment when you share material with them.
This means you have to educate yourself. If you are criticizing the media for assuming Kenya is next door to Liberia, you should make sure you learn the map of Africa yourself, and be wary of sweeping generalizations about “Africa,” even if they are well-intentioned. And as you gain knowledge about specific issues, you will find it easier to apply your own “reality checks” to the profusion of diverse sources available on-line.
Choose your medium
Different people are use different media to communicate with their friends. These choices are individual and vary by time available and personal preference, as well as by generation. Whether you prefer to talk with friends and colleagues in the workplace or at social events, on Facebook or Twitter, or by email, do what you are comfortable with—as long as you spread reliable information and analysis when you can.
A Few Examples
(1) Africa is not a country
The ironically named website http://africasacountry is a source of good information, particularly on cultural issues, for those who already know Africa is not a country. But there is also an ongoing need to educate those in the public who really do believe that the entire continent (or at least Sub-Saharan Africa) is all the same. During the height of the Ebola scare in the United States, for example, a map of Africa highlighting the relatively small Ebola-affected regions and the vast and “No Ebola” areas went viral on social media and made its way into the mainstream media (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/11/03/map-the-africa-without-ebola/). The map “The True Size of Africa” (http://kai.subblue.com/en/africa.html) is worth sharing with your friends, colleagues, and students who need to be convinced that Africa is bigger than they think.
(2) The need for Afro-realism
Competing with the traditional “Africans as victims” stereotype is a new simplistic narrative, “Africa Rising,” which focuses only on market-led macroeconomic growth. A more complex view is presented by Kenyan blogger Evans Wandongo in his November 2014 article, “Let’s be Afro-Realistic.” Wandongo notes, “My parents, whose household fits into the middle class, according to the African Development Bank and World Bank, have been teachers in Kenya for over three decades. They earn less than $400 a month now, after numerous raises, but cannot afford medical insurance, a new car, education for my siblings and I in private schools, or even a decent vacation.” The article worth recirculating in response to new attempts to hype private enterprise and the “growing middle class” as the solution to all of Africa’s problems.
(3) Responding to blatant disproportion in media coverage of killings in Africa and in the West
Early in 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which killed 12, and in Baga, northeastern Nigeria, which killed hundreds to as many as 2,000, were followed by radically different levels of media attention. Social media challenges to this disparity fell far short of equalizing the differential coverage by race and place. However, they did contribute to visibly increased mainstream media and policy attention to the deadly challenge of Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries. They also contributed to further discrediting Nigerian President Jonathan, who was ridiculed for condemning terrorism in Paris while remaining silent on terrorism in Baga.