Most stories about Africa are done by others who have managed to project a negative image of Africa. This is problematic. The way Africa is represented really matters in the quest for pan-African solidarity that would lead to Africa’s Unity. Therefore, for Africa to tell her own stories, Africa must decolonise and revive its gnosis or ways of seeing.
News is weighed using a selection criterion determined by its value. Most news values seem to be informed by a Western positionality and ecological reality, and the unchallenged assumption that Euro-North America-centric worldviews and experiences are the best and must therefore be replicated in other geographical locations/cultures especially those in the Global South. Going by the news selection criteria for example, an event has a high threshold value if it is unusual or bizarre. If this criterion is employed, then it would seem that Africa ranks high in disasters and catastrophes judging from the magnitude and frequency with which such events are reported in the continent. Yet, Africa’s reality is more complex than that and cannot be reduced to such events however significant they might be.
Therefore, changing our ways of seeing involves the deconstruction of narratives that heavily relies on stereotypes that distort any meaningful understanding of Africa. Negativity is one of the main features or dimensions of events which are likely to be reported in news media because it increases the chances of inclusion by the Western media. Thus, as long as African news reporters seek to be included in the western media landscape and adopt Eurocentric ways of seeing, it is almost natural that Africa attracts negative representation as a continent ravaged by disease, tribal conflicts, despair and depression.
Indeed, narratives of despair, conflicts, and famine have been dominant in Western media portrayal of the continent, but also in African media, most of which has a colonial trajectory. For African media that has the geographic advantage by virtue of being located in Africa, this should be a shameful reality. It is a reality that underscores how our media is necessarily captured and influenced by Western approaches of news production and, more often, source their stories from Western news agencies such as Agence France Presse, Reuters, and Associated Press which in turn works to sustain a particular power modality that continues to marginalise the continent despite its very well documented potential. This is why Africa needs its own news agency.
The idea of Africa or Africa’s Media Image
So why should African news agencies provide a refreshing alternative towards producing an effective counter narrative to the negativity sustained by Western media? The main reason is that negative portrayal of Africa has largely contributed to the marginalisation of African Affairs in global political economy. Often, such negative portrayal is characterized by stereotypes that journalists use as points of references whenever a new event unfolds in Africa. The lack of symbolic cultural resources by Western journalists about Africa can be singled out as the main reason for the distorted representation when they seek to report about Africa. This being the case, journalists in Africa have also faced various forms of criticism. For instance, “South African journalists have been criticized for giving stories from the frontline nations (nations bordering South Africa) a South African angle which has often been very similar to the American and Western perspective (Euro-North America-centric perspective)”. Therefore, to avoid reproducing western tendency of imposing certain cultural references and worldviews on other societies, African news agencies will have to expand the pool of local journalists in different countries in Africa. For instance, The Central Newsroom of Panafrican News Agency “based in the agency’s headquarters in Dakar, ensures the development and coordination of a network of over 50 correspondents throughout the continent. Managed by professionals, this symbol of African unity and solidarity contributes in taking up the challenge of ensuring high quality news coverage of the continent and its key areas of interest”. It produces content that is accessed by about 5 million users every month. However, this is still not enough for a continent of over 1.2 billion people.
The lack of enough correspondents and other resources is a perennial problem that limits journalistic imagination and deeper contextual understanding of the factors that shape ‘reality’ in other parts of Africa. Moreover, journalists and editors face ideological, systemic and structural challenges in their working environment. Could it merely be that Africa is negatively represented because of these challenges?
Mainstreaming African media through African Languages
The signification of events is what must be struggled over because it is the means through which collective social understanding is created and the means by which consent for particular outcomes can be effectively mobilized. The fact that Africa is represented negatively must be struggled over because it reflects the politics of signification. It is important to note that our struggle can only achieve so much if we continue to shun a significant part of our cultural heritage – our languages. This has contributed to our current predicament, which is that African news agencies have failed to mainstream their activities to the continental level. Even Pan African News Agency, headquartered in Dakar Senegal, has failed to mainstream its activity to the grassroots in African countries despite its heavy investment in satellite and internet technology. So, what should African news agencies who aspire to expand their activities to the continental level do to guarantee their success in the struggle for meaning about the image of Africa going forward?
First and foremost, African news agencies need to rely more on African languages if they are genuine about the spirit of pan-Africanism. It does not help to prioritise colonial languages such as French, English, and Portuguese at the expense of widely spoken African languages such as Swahili in news reporting which is shameful because Swahili has been touted as one of the official languages of the Africa Union and several countries in Africa, including African powerhouses like South Africa, are introducing the language in its school curricula.
Secondly, African news agencies should avoid conflating professionalism with elitism and speak to the common man or native in Africa. This is, in fact, our biggest failure.
Lastly, African news agencies should consider the fact that, after all, news is about agency and those who are closer to news (proximity), Africans that is, are the ones that news matters to the most (urgency).
There is still much work to do if we are genuine about the liberation of Africa and the need to tell our stories.