There are 54 countries in Africa (islands included) so why does the media continue to portray it like a country? The generalisation of Africa needs to stop. Why? Because it’s creating a misleading representation of Africa and African people which is being accepted by the public audience who watch read or listen to the news. Generalising Africa undermines the essence of its cultural identity – an identity met with little or ignorant understanding.
A woman working in a Catholic school returned from her missionary duties in Kenya. She returned to find angry parents who didn’t want her to teach at the school anymore. Why? Ebola.
As we now know, Liberia is Ebola free. Sierra Leone will be free in ‘a matter of weeks’, according to the UN Ebola chief. Cases have fallen dramatically it’s barely in the news but, let’s remind ourselves that the three countries heavily affected by this virus were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. All are situated in WESTERN Africa. And Kenya? EASTERN Africa. In fact it’s 5900km (3474 miles) away. To put that into perspective that’s further than the distance between England and where I’m from – Ghana.
The distance between Ghana and England? 4994km (3072 miles). See how VAST the continent is? Why could those parents not see this vastness? Pure ignorance. It’s clear they perceive the entire continent to be a place of death and disease. Think about what you see or what you have seen on TV. Is it the same old images of a poor, defenceless, hunger struck Africa, where everyone lives in mud huts?
What about the other side of Africa – its natural beauty, its rich and diverse culture, its buzzing nightlife – yes there are bars, restaurants and clubs in African countries. I don’t deny that there’s famine or disease but this is not the case for all 54 countries in the continent. So why should the media make it seem so?
Freetown, Sierra Leone
The so called ‘lazy labelling’ of Africa by the media is a deliberate way of misleading people into perceiving the continent in a negative light. What is so difficult about specifying the African country of the continent you are reporting about? You might be thinking so what? What’s the big deal? When you combine the fixated images of poor, starving and diseased Africans with little attention paid to specifying the country or countries affected, you at the receiving end, begin to form a biased view of Africa.
A few months ago, Ogechi told me that during her biology lecture, her class were looking at cystic fibrosis, and the lecturer asked, “What environment factors contribute to disease?” One student answered, “Africa, because it has a lot of bacteria….” This is exactly the ignorant perspective of Africa too many people in society have today. How so? Well for starters, cystic fibrosis is a common autosomal recessive disorder usually found in populations of white Caucasian descent, such as those of Europe, North America and Australasia. In other words, it is predominantly a European disease, not African. Ogechi insisted the lecturer made this clear, yet the student still answered with Africa. Why? Because of the same degrading images she sees via the media. This is how she sees Africa. Instead of thinking according to biological fact, she answered based upon the media’s perception of the continent which has then influenced her perception. This is the power the media has over the mind.
Cast your minds back to the Band AID 30 Ebola single. How dare Bob Geldof write such lyrics – ‘There is no peace and joy in west Africa this Christmas’. Excuse me? Again, throughout the crisis there were only THREE countries since February 2014 that were affected. Aside from the eight cases in Nigeria, six in Mali and one in Senegal, the rest of Africa was EBOLA FREE. Now, as we know these countries are clear of the virus.
So why did Geldof write ‘West Africa’? Is the region of West Africa made of three countries? No. Ghana is well within the western region yet it has always been Ebola free, exactly like its neighbors, Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso as well as the other nine countries in the region. Geldof could have written, ‘There will be no peace with Ebola this Christmas’. Simples. I thought of that in 10 seconds flat. Don’t see why he couldn’t. For someone who has always wanted to help the suffering, I’m (still) surprised and disappointed to see that he doesn’t truly understand Africa for what it is. Even he has fallen into the trap of generalization.
Fuse ODG, real name Nana Richard Abiona – a key Afro-beats artist who has bought Ghanaian flavors to the British music scene, turned down the opportunity to sing as part of the charity single. He said,
“I pointed out to Geldof the lyrics I did not agree with, such as the [line]… ‘There is no peace and joy in west Africa this Christmas”…. “For the past four years I have gone to Ghana at Christmas for the sole purpose of peace and joy. So for me to sing these lyrics would simply be a lie.”
Fuse’s answer is the perfect example between the African and the non-African British public being misled by the media. Fuse has been to Ghana, the majority of British non-Africans have not. Perhaps they should go and set foot on African soil, feel the African sun beating down, help themselves to mangoes growing on trees and go SEE for themselves what the media never tries to show them.
“That image of poverty and famine is extremely powerful psychologically” Fuse explained.
“With decades of such imagery being pumped out, the average westerner is likely to donate £2 a month or buy a charity single that gives them a nice warm fuzzy feeling; but they are much less likely to want to go on holiday to, or invest in, Africa. If you are reading this and haven’t been to Africa, ask yourself why.”
Fuse was spot on. What some African countries need is investment not charity. It’s as simple as that. Why is the British public content with donating when they could be investing so maybe one day, they wouldn’t need to donate anymore? Think about it.
It seems to me that we are living in a world where it is choosing to halt Africa from thriving economically and even visually. Look at the video Geldof released with the single. It had a West African woman – again no country specified and she was suffering. She was on her deathbed yet she was still being filmed. If this was England no such thing would occur. When the first white American/British victims (I say white, not to pull out the race card, but to show you the unfair representation between white American/British aid workers and black Africans infected by the virus), were diagnosed with Ebola did you see them on their death beds? No. You saw them all being whisked away in an ambulance and being placed on the first plane back to America or the UK. See the difference?
You might say Geldof allowed for such images to be shown to the public to create sympathy for the victims so they are more likely to donate. What is more important, a person’s dignity and the right to die in dignity or to gain sympathy votes? This was a dying woman not a dying animal. Why is it that they abandoned respect for her but not for the Americans and British who were infected with the virus?
Ask yourself this question. Why is the media trying to influence your thinking of Africa in the ways I have shown you? Why? Don’t be fooled by what you see, for George Orwell once wrote, ‘the people will believe what the media tells them they believe.’
So what do you think? Is society’s perception of Africa and its people influenced by the media?
– Eunice –