When you think of Africa two images spring to mind. One is of a Savannah filled with wild animals, like the opening to the Lion King, with maybe a few tribal people having a bop in the background. The second is of a war torn, famine plagued festering shithole. Just type in ‘Africa’ to Google images and see what pops up.
While there are places on the continent that somewhat resemble these two images they are largely untrue.
This huge and diverse continent with a massive population is cast as one country in disarray in the minds of too many people, including the former President of America (George Bush).
The question remains then why do we think of Africa this way if it’s not true?
We simply have to look at how Africa is portrayed by the media.
Shaping Our Perceptions
Like most I had the Trocaire box in my house over Easter and never really thought much about it. A few coppers here or there is gonna help feed the starving babies in Africa. But the images on the front helped shape what I thought Africa was like.
If you don’t believe me, remember that Christmas belter ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ from Band Aid. Think about the lyrics, they’re ridiculous. The aim was to provide support for the famine in Ethiopia. 1 out of the 54 countries in Africa. Yet when they sing about it they get mixed up and call Ethiopia, Africa. The continent is painted as dystopian nightmare: “where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow“. It’s the most patronising thing that Bob Geldof has done, which is saying a lot. For a lot of people this was the most prominent portrayal of Africa in their lives.
So it’s no surprise that we all think of Africa in this way, because it’s all we’re ever shown. The negative side.
But there’s something missing.
All the messages were told about Africa are coming from people who aren’t African, and in some cases have never even visited the continent. Take Band Aid for example. Can you name any African Artist featured on the track? No? Because there are none. Partly because they weren’t asked and partly because what African person in their right mind would sing this shite?
The fact that Africans have no means of representing themselves to us in the privileged West directly affects the relationship between us. Taking away the right of someone to tell their own story lets others manipulate it to justify their own ends. We see this all the time in the marketing of NGOs. We’re shown images of people in terrible conditions and are lead to believe that donating some money will help save Africa. A few quid here or there will feed the emaciated child on the cover of the Trocaire box. Calling up Band Aid to donate will save Africa (or fuel Geldof’s ego). But it won’t.
These messages perpetuate the story of the White Saviour. Those in the West sweeping in to help feed and save the barbaric and savage Africans, who can’t be left to their own devices for a second.
This is all bullshit. It’s extremely condescending and just wrong.
Africa is a continent not a country. It has the most countries out of all the continents and the second most people. It’s extremely diverse, from huge industrial cities to small farms.
Here’s a few pics of what Africa that you might not get from the media:
Coast of Djibouti
Women in Nigeria
If you want to find out more about the positives in Africa visit: