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Who will speak for Africa? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Faridah Ibrahim, Nigeria Feb 10, 2010
Globalization , Media , Technology   Opinions
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(Editor's Note: While this article discusses continental Africa, its observations are just as applicable to Haiti; hence its inclusion in this issue.)

Africa has always had a voice. Or rather, a cacophony of voices, all of them pretty much saying the same thing, although in different tongues and with different instruments. With the Kaakaki, the Bata drum and the Ekwe, we have captivated and delighted visitors from other lands. With Things Fall Apart and Weep Not Child, we have opened their eyes and minds towards understanding us. But in recent times, Africa has often been misreported, thus misinterpreted, hence misunderstood, not only by our developing contemporaries, but also by the developed world. Africa says that the world hates our God-given prize– the black skin. The world says, Africa is the real Peter Pan – a child who has refused to grow up. But would things be said or done differently if Africa was viewed through the eyes of African media, rather than ‘foreign’ media?

The Americans have got CNN, Fox News and many more. Day in, day out, on a 24-hour cycle, these news stations feed the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. Through their lenses, America sees the world, and the world sees America. So it’s no surprise that whatever they say is held close to the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

The British have always had the BBC. Starting as a government agency over 5 decades ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation has built an international reputation for a clean and in-depth news service and has grown to include many radio services in local languages spread in different parts of the world, with the BBC Hausa service having a weekly audience of 50 million listeners in West Africa.

No one covers Arabia like Al Jazeera. With impressive coverage of most Arab nations, Al Jazeera continues to be the bridge linking the social, cultural, economic and religious gap between Arabia and the West. Many other examples abound, such as the German owned Deutsche Welle and many others in the west. So where exactly does that leave Africa?

With no international media house of its own to speak of, Africa is often left in the hands of foreign media. Politics, society, culture, religion, economy, morality, fashion, values, ideas, public and individual opinion... the list is endless. Every single one of these can be understood and influenced by television. The implications of the situation where another society decides our position for us are tremendous. So what is our fate as Africans when we do not have our own voice?

Many Africans argue that this dangerous situation is of no consequence. According to this group of people, henceforth referred to as the antagonists, an international African media house will only be plagued with the tribal and sectarian politics that have divided Africans against themselves. In addition, their argument states that there are insufficient funds to develop and then sustain a broadcasting service of such proportions, considering that some nations cannot even pay their dues to the African union, and that the issue of technical know-how would require the recruitment of foreign experts. How African would such a media house be then?

They also base their argument on many other things– poor infrastructure in most parts of the continent, communication hitches, the diversity of the peoples with respect to languages, the educationally disadvantaged who account for majority of the continents people, and so on. And then they get down to the smaller issues – where will the headquarters of this giant media house be located? Will it be in South Africa, the most economically developed African state? Or will it be in Nigeria, the black nation with the highest population? Or will it be in Sudan, the country with the largest land area?
They go on and on with questions such as– what language would the ‘African voice’ speak in? Would it be English, the language of the colonizers of most of the African continent, would it be it be French or Portuguese, or would the over 1000 African languages have their own individual broadcasts?

Finally, these hopeless antagonists argue that Africa is also tuned to foreign broadcast stations and, considering that many Africans consume whatever they see on TV hook, line and sinker, creating our own will only cause more problems and not solve any.

To defend their case, the protagonists, of whom I am an unrepentant member of, ask some fundamental questions which our pessimistic brothers have forgotten are the major issues. Where lies the danger in allowing foreigners to speak for Africa? Of whose benefit and to whose detriment is this situation? How will our own voice change the current situation of poverty and crippling underdevelopment assisted by the ever-present corruption? Will the world see Africa differently if we begin to speak for ourselves?

My answers will not only uphold my view, but will make you, dear reader, join my crusade. According to the British author Charles Handy, “If there is one general law of communication, it is that we never communicate as effectively as we think we do.” This will definitely get many antagonists uncomfortable in their seats. Pray, if the developed world has still not mastered the art of communicating itself effectively, then what hope is there that Africa will be displayed in a better manner in their media. Beyond this, there lies the danger of misreporting African policies, agendas, initiatives dreams, aspirations, problems and people. The reasons for this misreporting, whether deliberate or otherwise, vary greatly. While some foreign media deliberately misreport Africa to attract more viewers, others do so because they are trying to promote government propaganda which is not in the interest of the African continent.

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Faridah Ibrahim

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R Kahendi | Feb 14th, 2010
This is an interesting argument. I think there's room for optimism. If a regional media network was to take shape in Africa, we wouldn't have to start completely from scratch. After all, we already have national media networks with infrastructure, trained reporters, cameramen etc. What the continent really needs is an institution that will liaison between the different nations, dealing with translation, legal issues etc. It's not impossible if national governments or those behind the media have the will. Additionally, it doesn't have to take shape in one day. It could take shape slowly in the different regions (Norh, East, South, West, Central) and gradually grow to encompass the entire continent.

we a not ready
I will speak for africa by establishing the largest news network in africa.

Kabiru Mohammed Seidu | Feb 27th, 2010
This is a very fair argument,the author took the pains to weigh both sides of the coin.I believe that Africa in the next 50 years will be the center stage of the world because, the present generation of youth are adept and resourceful not to mention the exposure that they are facing.I believe that An african media house will be just a tiny bit of what africa will have to offer in the near future.WE WILL ONE DAY ACHIEVE THE AFRICAN DREAM

Patricia Edet | Mar 2nd, 2010
I am very happy that there are still a few Africans who realize that we are still an anachronistic people, who cannot even speak for themselves, who have left others to speak for them and are still controlled by the rest of the world. We take pleasure in appreciating the Western World and have not realized that the Western World ought to in turn appreciate us. Down to the issue of an indigenous broadcasting station, Africans can make it. When you said that some countries can't afford to pay their levies to the African Union, I had this in mind that it is not because they don't have the means but they rather waste in on unimportant things like building massive houses for Government official and so on. If only African Nations can see the importance of self-expression.Change as they say starts with you and I. If everyone of us can put in our own little effort then this continent will be spoken for not only by one person but by many, in different tongues and through different media

Who will speak for Africa?
Elumelu Uche Chika | Mar 3rd, 2010
Faridah,i admire your sense of approach and strong conviction on this issue.it just goes to show how passionate you are about Africa and her concerns.Keep it up and you have my support on this.Brava!

Salisu Umar | Mar 28th, 2010
I stand to be corrected but something u should realize is that CNN isnt ownd by the American govt, Al-jazeera isnt run, sky isnt run by the british govt, i dont really know much abt the BBC. Your write-up seemed to want a state controlled media giant, probably set up by the AU (who knows?), as a student with a political background you should know state run organizations are those that bring about the frictions you mentioned. Instead the call should be made to private media houses to grow, expand and meet-up with the likes of cnn and bbc.when u take a look at channel O,its not foreign and not controlled by the SA govt, same with supersports. They're both private and pure african even though they MAY have technical partners (even cnn has technical partners). Supersports even beams all sessions of F1 live -practice, qual,main race. It takes a world class org to get a nod frm ecclestone. If these media houses were news agencies it would have been a different story so what we need is a media house -precisely news agency- to follow their steps. The only media house with the equipments and manpower to do this in africa may be nta of nigeria bt we all know its state owned so nothing can be achieved.ait might have the will bt it lacks the guts. Lets hope though that one day we'll have a 24hr news agency beamed worldwide repping africa

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