How can we tell the African story, as told by Africans, if most of the media telling these stories is controlled by foreigners? By Kwame Muzawazi
Since 2014, there has been an annual publication titled the African Union Handbook, containing basic information about the AU and its organs. Every January a new edition gets launched in Addis Ababa, where the AU has its HQ. All seems fine until you learn that this guidebook about Africa’s biggest political and social organisation, representing 55 countries and over a billion people, is published from a country that is over 100 times smaller than Africa – New Zealand!
In politics and culture, symbolism and perceptions carry decisive weight. The fact that the most senior African organisation cannot publish information about itself or find an African partner to do so without help from a faraway country is a body blow to the cause of ‘the African story told by the African’.
But this is not an isolated case. A quick survey of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs) shows that publications by these organisations are in fact mostly produced using money or talent from non-African countries.
I assume you have heard of the Zimbabwean liberation movement and the party called Zanu-PF. That’s the party that Robert Mugabe, the ‘celebrated pan-Africanist’, led for almost 40 years. Zanu-PF built and maintains its headquarters on Pennefather Avenue in Harare.
Lt.-Col. Pennefather was the leader of the Pioneer Column that invaded modern-day Zimbabwe to create Rhodesia under the instructions of Cecil John Rhodes. It’s as repulsive as having Mary the mother of Jesus making her home on Judas Avenue. Mugabe wrote fiery pan-African speeches but all it needed was the stroke of a pen to change the name of the street.
The Museum of Black Civilisations that was opened in Senegal in 2018 was built by the Chinese and it resembles typical Chinese architecture. Looking at images from the farcical opening ceremony, the theme looks like “Celebrating black civilisations according to Chinese characters”. I for one will never visit such an insulting tourist attraction.
Go to African schools today to see the textbooks our children are using. Ninety per cent of them are invariably either written by French or British authors, depending on who the former colonial master is.
When it comes to radio and television news consumption in Africa, every day, 200m Africans listen to the BBC’s radio broadcasts or watch its TV programmes. The BBC therefore takes the crown, distantly followed by France24 and CNN.
Global war of information
There are very few continent-wide quality daily news providers and these are web-based. In terms of news analysis, which is becoming essential given the proliferation of shoddy websites that mostly purvey fake news, rumour and innuendo, there are only two major pan-African organisations, IC Publications (whose output includes New African) and the Jeune Afrique stable.
In the ongoing global war of information, the African voice, unless articulated by the above organisations, is as quiet as a church mouse. In fact the big global media organisations have seen this space and created special programmes to make us forget we need our own black voice. The BBC calls theirs Focus on Africa, CGTN has Africa Live, CNN calls theirs Inside Africa/African Voices. The Voice of America, like the BBC, broadcasts news in many African languages.
In 2010, yours truly went on a solo road journey across 21 African countries to study the effects of this most invasive colonial presence in African schools. I was desolated to realise that in the 3,000 interviews that I conducted, 70% of the youths aged between 14 and 24 stated that their greatest goal in life was to emigrate to Paris, London or the US.
Dear New African reader, you have seen and shall continue to see hundreds of young Africans willing to die in the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean Sea on the way to Europe. These are the young people I once interviewed. Forgive them, because back home, back at school, they were ‘educated’ by European authors, by European storytellers.
Africans must come together and formulate a continent-wide policy on curricula, which the various ministries responsible for education and culture will in turn feed off to cultivate local specific flavours. But that must be preceded by a re-writing of the Constitutive Act of the AU in a manner that will grant more powers and autonomy to the AU Commission, so that this body has the power to monitor and enforce policy across the continent. It’s an urgent need! NA