Communicating about Africa: what’s the right narrative?

Now, let’s talk about Africa. By this I mean Sub-Saharan Africa. That definition in itself is problematic but that’s a topic for another time. For this article, I will refer to Sub-Saharan Africa – this collection of 1 billion people (soon to be 2 billion people…depending on how soon you consider 2050 to be) in 49 countries across East, West and Southern Africa – as Africa.

Over the years we have heard several narratives about Africa in the media – usually leaning quite extremely to one side. For the longest, the world focused on the ‘flies in their eyes’ narrative, as some would describe it. This is the one used by development agencies and well-meaning charities or NGOs trying to attract aid to Africa. Also made popular by the 1985 multi-platinum, award-winning track by USA for Africa We are the World that followed the UK’s contribution, Band Aid’s Do They Know it’s Christmas?

We also heard very clearly ‘the hopeless continent’ narrative (I bet the Economist couldn’t have imagined just how infamous its May 2000 magazine cover would be). This narrative shows economic issues, military coups, conflict, corruption.


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