You know it’s amazing. Why do people (particularly the West) talk of Africa as if it is one big amorphous mass — the same thing. Why is it that references to Africa are all about war, famine, poverty? Being in London at the We Media conference… this appears to be Westerners’ sole way to relate to Africa.

Jeffrey Sachs is an amazing man. He is a great humanitarian and does alot of good for people in Africa. But why did his speech make me so angry. Why does he not contextualise what he is saying about Africa. As an African at a media innovation conference, I have to sit here and hear this man talk about how terrible this continent is, without balancing it with the very many success stories or contextualising it. He is running my continent down. He is reasserting stereotypes of Africa as a basket case continent by saying this. In many ways although his speech was heartfelt and had the best intentions, but I also found it dangerously paternalistic.

I am not sure how appropriate it was to have Sachs speaking at this conference, a media innovation conference. Maybe that was the problem. Instead of us talking about the positives and pitfalls about new media, internet and blogging in Africa, basically the old worn stereotype of war and famine in Africa were raised by virtue of Sachs’ speech. Wilfred Kiboro, the CEO of Kenya’s multinational The Nation Group who was on the same panel, agreed with me. He was particularly incensed at the pictures that came up introducing our speech — the usual fare of starving children and pictures of animals.

Also stop talking about “Africa” as if its one thing. It is a vast place of more than 50 countries with more than a billion people. There are vast differences between north and South Africa. There are Africans of all religions and there are black and white africans.

I don’t deny there are problems. Big problems in some countries. But is this all Africa is known for? Some countries in Africa are very successful. Is this how the West relates to our continent. Do they know that South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that has sent someone to space (our own Afronaught Mark Shuttleworth)??? Does the US realise that Paypal was invented by a South African, as was Kreepy Krauly — the pool cleaner??? i could go on with countless examples but a great overwhelming wave of tiredness is sweeping over me. It happens whenever I discuss this topic.

I’ve realised more so than ever before: We are fighting an information war.

11 Responses to “Africa: Giraffes, war, famine, blah blah blah”
  1. I really like you site. Keep up good work

  2. […] A while back at the We Media conference in London, I became irritated at what I saw was the stereotyping and patronising of Africa by elements in the West. I had something to say about it in this post Africa: Giraffes, war, famine, blah blah blah. Kenyan Nation Group CEO Wilfred Kiboro who was also at the conference to speak on the Africa panel with myself was also critical. […]

  3. […] A while back at the We Media conference in London, I became irritated at what I saw was the stereotyping and patronising of Africa by elements in the West. I had something to say about it in this post Africa: Giraffes, war, famine, blah blah blah. Kenyan Nation Group CEO Wilfred Kiboro who was also at the conference to speak on the Africa panel with myself was also critical. […]

  4. […] A while back at the We Media conference in London, I became irritated at what I saw was the stereotyping and patronising of Africa by elements in the West. I had something to say about it in this post Africa: Giraffes, war, famine, blah blah blah. Kenyan Nation Group CEO Wilfred Kiboro who was also at the conference to speak on the Africa panel with myself was also critical. […]

  5. […] A while back at the We Media conference in London, the Kenyan Nation Group CEO Wilfred Kiboro criticised the stereotyping and patronising of Africa from the West. I also had something to say about it in this post Africa: Giraffes, war, famine, blah blah blah. […]

  6. I completely agree with you. Everything starts with a poorly formulated conception of what Africa is and what it needs. It’s a concept that is all-encompassing and shallow, and doesn’t allow for Africa’s vastness and deep intricacies. And everything else flows out from this point. Tthis kind of conception leads to stereotypes, as you say, which in turn influence how people react to information about the continent and make their ‘plans of action’ for African development.

  7. Cat: if you think about — to them Africa is more of a concept that a reference to a geographical entity. That I think is the heart of the problem.

  8. Gregor: there were positive discussions, largely led by ourselves on the Africa panel. It was the general frame of reference and use of language that played to the stereotypes of Africa that irritated me. In my panel discussions, i did our best to dispel the stereotypes by making reference to that fact that Africa is a complex continent with many success stories — and I did broadcast those success stories. I guess this is more ignorance of what is going on here in Africa and South Africa than anything else.

  9. I have been travelling around the US and UK quite a bit in the last 6 months and this is the biggest challenge I have come across in talking to people about Africa, and how they relate to it. There is no contextualisation as you say. Africa is one country, with all the same problems, and the people are all the same apparently. It makes me mad, how are Westerners supposed to help out if they don’t even have a basic knowledge of the subtleties in power, religion, culture etc that make up our continent? Should they even get involved? Maybe we should work harder to make sure our solutions come from within and are not based on poorly formulated on Western preconceptions that are ill-fitted to really help us out.

    Shew, nice to get that off my shoulders. Makes me tired too Matt.

  10. Tell him Matt

  11. Is the conference disregarding media development and blogging in Africa in general by using these uber-pessimistic opinions as justifications or are there any positive discussions about the potential of new media development in Africa?

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