27 August 2012

Are We Ignoring the Story of Africa's Emergence?

To Ian Birrell, the answer points to yes. His Sunday article in the Guardian garnered quite a bit of attention (and by the number of tweets, support) soon after it was published online. His overall thesis is that African countries are getting better, but stories are not reflecting he change.
Unfortunately, this message is failing to filter through to the west, where too many people remain locked into stale narratives of Africa as a land of suffering in need of our salvation. This is to our long-term detriment, especially in Britain, with such strong historic ties, a common language in many countries and the soft power strength of pop music and Premier League football. Twenty years ago, there was virtual economic dependence on Europe; today, half of Africa's trade is with other developing nations – and not just China. 
The continent is on the edge of economic takeoff similar to those seen so dramatically in China and India. For all the problems that still exist, a recent survey found investors in Africa are overwhelmingly positive, while those not there are unfailingly negative. These anachronistic attitudes reflect the west's myopic view, but we cannot afford to cling on to them in a world changing so fast. It is time to recognise the emergence of the new Africa.
Many will remember that The Economist devoted a recent issue to Africa rising this summer. While I agree that the majority of the stories are stuck in the Live Aid paradigm, the stories are slowly changing to reflect what is happening on the continent. An important indicator is that more articles are being published that discuss the very problem of how Africa is portrayed.

Articles have now appeared in GlobalPost, Foreign Policy, the Boston Review and now The Guardian about the issue. Criticisms to Kony 2012 were provided space in CNN and featured heavily in a segment on Al Jazeera's The Stream.

If anything, news outlets are keenly aware of the problem. It has also allowed criticisms of journalists like Nick Kristof's style of reporting to move from social media shouting to long form articles. What remains in question is how NGOs and donors have shifted their discussions about recipients of aid. That appears to be the place that is slightly lagging and it matters because NGOs are an important link to providing news and information to journalists.

What is becoming clear is that more and more people are unhappy with the way that Africa is being portrayed. They are talking about the problem, but I am now interested in how stories are shifting. That will be the tipping point for the problem. When more reporting like Tristan McConnell's on Mogadishu can become a regular happenstance the scale will quickly shift in the right direction.