I’ve spent a lot of time in my life thinking about the way Africa is portrayed in western media. A lot of the images of Africa that were shared on my TV screen growing up were that of poverty and disease. Charity adverts would air, showing a poor child somewhere in a faraway land, hungry with a fly on their face, helplessly looking into the camera lens. The overhead voice would ask for viewers to donate money to whichever cause they were advertising. I heard the phrase, “Think about all the poor kids in Africa,” all too often. It would make me cringe and my heart would sink yet again as another person failed to see that there is more to Africa than all the negativity they’re exposed to. And most importantly, Africa isn’t just one country, but a continent made up of 54 uniquely different nations. I’m not oblivious to the fact that all these images highlight some grave issues, but they do not define this great continent.
Earlier this week, I chaired an event at my university with four journalists from Africa and the Caribbean, including Nigerian investigative journalist, Ruona Meyer. We discussed journalism across the diaspora and the continent. Our conversations reminded me that as a journalist in the diaspora, I have a degree of privilege and I need to look at ways in which I can amplify the voices of those on the continent, as well as bringing my own contributions to storytelling and journalism over here myself.
I’ve often wondered what the best way to do this is. One journalist on the panel, a British Nigerian freelancer, Hannah Ajala, who is currently based in Lagos, jokingly said “Go back home.” But as a journalist that made that move last year when she moved from the UK, I know she’s right. Returning to the motherland encourages conversations and can give you new perspectives. If that isn’t a possibility, and the idea seems a little daunting, thankfully due to the rise of social media, the world is even more so connected and in fact smaller. This way, writers and journalists like myself can connect with those back home, and vice versa, just like I do through this column week on week. Social media allows journalists to tap into new narratives and is key for anyone in any industry that wishes to build ties with their peers abroad.
There’s a whole side to Africa that you just never see. International media organisations remain unbalanced and need fresh voices and perspectives to ensure we are portrayed in all our legitimacy. Creating our own opportunities for ourselves and communities to tackle this problem is also another way. We have the power to show the world who we truly are. In the UK, there are several publications that have started as a direct cause of the lack of representation of Black and other minority ethnic people in British media. They have broken barriers and serve as a way for those communities to be authentic and tell their own stories.
As a writer and journalist, I’m all too conscious about the way I write about and portray Africa. I never want to do a disservice to the continent and its people. As a writer, you have the power to shape the way people view an unknown subject. For me, I’ve always wanted to show the positive side, but along my journey, I’ve learnt there’s nothing wrong with also highlighting some of the harsher realities on the continent. But I think with increased collaboration between storytellers in the diaspora and those back home, we can ensure a more authentic portrayal of our countries. Whether that be through starting up our own publications, working together to produce reports and investigations, or linking each other with sources, there’s so many ways we can come together.
The important thing is that there needs to be diversity in the stories that come out of this part of the world. Showing only one side to us skews the way the world views us and discourages authentic portrayal. I hope that more African writers and journalists continue to tell the stories about Africans and Africa that do not make the news, as well as stories that just need to be celebrated that extra bit more.