25 June 2012

Telling a Story of Africa Through Youth and Innovation: 'My Africa Is'

Stories of change within Africa often include a foreigner doing heroic and good work to address a given problem. New York Times journalist Nick Kristof explained in 2010 that such story models connect better with the audience. He said that when he writes stories without a bridge character the response and readership is much lower. Including that character resonates with readers more and gives them the opportunity to connect with the problem at hand.

At the same time, there is a growing movement to tell positive stories about Africa. Years of telling stories that put people in the light of largely suffering are giving way to stories that tell of possibility, innovation and self-reliance. While the stories are changing, the authors are still largely the same. But that is changing as well.

One such example is the collaborative project My Africa is.


My Africa is is a collaborative effort to follow and share the stories of change-makers in 13 cities across sub-Saharan Africa. The eight part series that is scheduled to broadcast in 2013 will travel to Yoff and Dakar in Senegal; Monrovia, Liberia; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Bubusua and Accra in Ghana; Lagos, Nigeria; Luanda, Angola; Johannesburg, South Africa; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya; Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

The founders say they want to share a warts-and-all look into what young people are doing across the continent. " We’re not about hiding real issues or over-hyping good news. We’re more than aware of the challenges, but we also know that we are not helpless," writes the group. "We hustle. We find ways to overcome. We survive. Every day, we are changing our communities – it may be a process, and it may be a little bit at a time, but we’re changing it nonetheless."


To make the project happen, the team has taken to Kickstarter in order to raise money that will cover the cost of the travel and make it so that the series can reach a larger audience. I had the chance to ask Nosarieme Garrick Kathleen Bomani a bit about the project. Check out the discussion below.

Tom: The show is called "My Africa Is." So I have to ask, what is your Africa?
Nosarieme and Kathleen: The ironic thing about the title is that it's hard to define our continent in one word. It is multi-faceted, beautiful, resilient, diverse, and a million other things which you will see in the show.
T: There is a drive to rebrand Africa in a positive light. Do you see this project as a part of that movement?
N and K: When you first look at it, that's what it may sound like. We think the idea of rebranding Africa runs the risk of denying that Africa has problems. We think it's about giving it a more complete profile. What we are saying is that there are other stories that need to be told for people to get a better and deeper understanding of what Africa is like. The stereotypes that permeate the rest of the world about Africa are pretty much negative, and we want to change that. We want to show the world that there is more to Africa than these stereotypes, there is struggle, yes, but there are people living, rising, and bringing their communities out of that struggle.
T: It appears the focus will be on youth and innovation. Why do you think it is important to tell the stories of young Africans?
N and K: The past few years have shown us the power that can come from the youth. Obama relied on the youth vote. Iran's Green revolution, and the Arab spring were both youth led. What was apparent within those movements is the influence members of the same peer group have on each other. The Arab spring actually spread to sub-saharan Africa, but those protests were squashed pretty quickly. 40% of Africa's population is under the age of 15, and they can and will have a huge impact on Africa's development. We want to empower the people we cover by sharing their stories with a larger audience, and giving them a platform.

We want to inspire other African youth on the continent as well to think about how they can address similar situations, and create an opportunity for the youth to learn from one another. We think that by showing their resilience, and how they are innovating, we'll get people to start thinking differently about change, and development.
T: Who is your intended audience? What do you want them to get out of watching the series?
N and K: We are targeting a global audience between the ages of 15-35 year olds. We want to educate them on the African experience. We want them to draw inspiration from the stories of these young people. We also want to open the world's mind up to the potential Africa holds for investment, trade, and tourism.
T: Your show in Abuja is features the photography collaborative Photo Wagon. What drew you to their project and what did you learn from the people involved?
N and K: We liked what Photowagon stood for. They were out to document the reality of their Nigeria, so be it the beauty of traditional weddings, or chaos of anti-government protests, they were capturing these moments, and sharing them with their communities. This is how they expressed themselves. Beyond that there was something to be said about how they served as each others teachers. While some of the members actually had real classroom experience, they mostly learned various techniques from one another during meetings. All the members are from various tribal groups, and their images reflect that, which brought to light how ethnically diverse Nigeria is, and their exhibits were a way of celebrating and encouraging this diversity.
T: What other stories are you looking forward to telling through this series?
N and K: We don't want to give away too much but we'll be covering a TV drama changing the HIV conversation in Kenya that has actually gone viral, We are personal fan of the show, so I'm excited to meet the team behind it. As well as the growth of the youth civil society in Nigeria. Nigeria is going through a turbulent time right now, and it's important to recognize that, but also to recognize what is being done to change it.

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