Africa has not been covered fairly by Western media. It sounds like deflection from facing home-grown problems: convenient, childish escapism and denial but it is the truth. There is a penchant for screaming headlines that are usually inaccurate. Take for example, “U.S. to Commit Up to 3,000 Troops to Fight Ebola in Africa” by The New York Times and a similarly structured albeit differently worded “U.S. Sends Team to Fight African Ebola Outbreak” by NBC News. During that same period, Fox News’ anchor, Andrea Tantaros said, “In these countries, they do not believe in traditional medical care so someone could get off a flight and seek treatment from a witch doctor that practices santeria. This is a bigger fear.”
In 2015, Africans responded through the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou. Diana Salah who was actively driving the hashtag said, “I got involved because growing up I was made to feel ashamed of my homeland, with negative images that paint Africa as a desolate continent. I used to get questions ranging from ‘were you born in a hut’ to hurtful comments about disease and poverty.”
Feeding self-hate and an inferiority complex
Africa has for long been deemed to be a dark continent. This has been justification of atrocity after atrocity committed in the name of civilising Africans and rescuing them from themselves. Malcom X, an African-American activist could not be hoodwinked into believing the tales of doom and gloom in the media. In a 1965 speech before his assassination, he said, “They always project Africa in a negative light: jungle savages, cannibals, nothing civilised.” This assessment still rings true fifty years later. Malcom X’s argument was that the negative press resulted in African-Americans hating their African identities. It is not a wonder then that some African-Americans call Africans “African booty scratchers”. Due to the negativity surrounding being African, Malcom X said, “Our color became to us a chain—we felt that it was holding us back; our color became to us like a prison which we felt was keeping us confined, not letting us go this way or that way.”
While Western media may not realise it, negative press is persistent disrespect of the state of being African and many have succumbed to the inferiority complex the media feeds. Malcom X captured the results of the negativity: “You know yourself that we have been a people who hated our African characteristics. We hated our heads, we hated the shape of our nose, we wanted one of those long doglike noses, you know; we hated the color of our skin, hated the blood of Africa that was in our veins. And in hating our features and our skin and our blood, why, we had to end up hating ourselves. And we hated ourselves.”
After reading The Economist’s print edition titled The Hopeless Continent in reference to Africa, Africans soon try to dissociate themselves from their home and identity. However, the self-hatred is not even the worst consequence of the negativity surrounding Africa; there are even more progressively sinister motivations driving Western Media. Once Africans are not confident in their continent, identity and abilities, a niche appears for Western saviours to enter and perform all sorts of heroics. These heroics are nothing more than just veiled exploitation.
An Economic Ploy to Ignore the Full Flower
George Alagiah, a BBC correspondent in the 1990s in 1999 said, “I have a gnawing regret that, as a foreign correspondent, I have done Africa a disservice, too often showing the continent at its worst and too rarely showing it in full flower.”
When they do it, they know they are being unfair! However, weightier considerations triumph over conscience. These considerations as identified by Baffour Ankomah in the Global Media Journal are historical baggage, the comfort of Westerners being better off than Africans but the most important is economic control. Ankomah said, “In today’s globalised world, where everybody is fighting for a place in the economic sun, a positive portrayal of Africa in the Western media will mean that Africa, on whose natural resources the Western economies depend, may get more investments and may even dare to use its resources for itself.”
Ankomah also quoted from Paul Kagame who observed, “The constant negative reporting of Africa kills the growth of foreign direct investment. There has even been a suggestion that it is meant to keep Africa in the backyard of the global economy.”
Nothing scares the West more than an African economic awakening. The West pulls all stops to contain African hopes, potential and independence by perpetuating an inexistent gloomy outlook. Africa has its problems but that does not justify its treatment as a monolithic union of irremediable states. This continent has enough positive stories to outweigh all the negative stories churned out thus far.