Africa’s International Image: Justified or Prejudiced?

This will be the theme for today’s #BBCAfricaDebate. It’s bound to be one of the most interesting debates yet. Having been asked to take part in this conversation, I find myself with more questions than I do answers.


via African Digital Art



I am of the conviction that Africa is not poor, just mismanaged. It could be an innocent belief, but one that I believe to be true nonetheless.

Of the African image, she is a continent known more for her woes than her glories. She is one big war-torn,disease-plagued,poverty and conflict-stricken,starving country.

For where she is recognized as a continent, her countries (repeatedly) top the lists on global reports like the Failed States Index, and tails in others like the Prosperity Index

She was colonized to be ‘brought up to speed with the rest of civilization’, and she is yet to shed off the effects of colonialism. She was left dependent on the rest of the world by way of foreign aid, and worst of all, she has been under the leadership of dictators, corrupt elites who are known for declaring themselves ‘presidents for life’.

However, she has those exceptional stories of innovation,exporting great minds to the  rest of the world, finding unique,sustainable solutions to problems that have otherwise seemed close to impossible to do away with.

But her successes are yet to match her problems, especially as far as overall perception goes.

The subject matter of this debate raises some of these questions in my mind:

  • What does the name Africa invoke in we Africans?
  • How do we, Africans, perceive our homeland? Have we believed the ‘international’ narrative?
  • How much do we, as Africans, either perpetrate these perceptions or shed them off, replacing them with the reality of the ground?
  • How effective/feasible is it to do a blanket (re)branding of Africa, a continent of 54 independent, unique states?
  • Who benefits from the current image of Africa?
  • In the era of digital communication, with approximately 140 million internet users on the continent, and with increasing internet penetration across the continent, are we/how can we use this platform to tell the true story about Africa, to ourselves, and to the rest of the world.
  • Do we have/need our own media houses to tell the African story? There have been attempts in the past, what has been the impediment in controlling/owning the media output on matters Africa?
  • The African Union and all other institutions in place ‘by Africa, for Africa’, what role do they play/have they played in portraying Africa’s image to her citizens and to the rest of the world? How do we audit these institutions that claim to work towards ‘making Africa better’?
I cannot purport to have answers to these questions on my own, and I don’t think this is a one-off conversation/debate.  It barely scratches the surface to discuss this matter in its generality.
It will however be interesting to follow what is discussed/raised during this debate, and I hope that it’s not just about raising issues and leaving it at that, but that we can harness the power of collective intelligence to leave our continent better than we found it, not just by way of conversation but more importantly by way of action.
Catch the BBC Africa Debate this evening at 1900 GMT here. Lend your voice to the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (#BBCAfricaDebate being the hashtag for the two latter social networks.)

By Nanjira

Perched at the intersection of tech & governance, media, culture.