Owning the African Narrative
Corruption, disease, illiteracy, poverty, terrorism, war. For a very long time, this has been the narrative the Western media and NGOs peddle to their people about Africa. Undoubtedly, this is good for newspaper sales and for raising funds with which to save the African (a starving kid elicits a haemorrhage of short-lived sympathies and which translates into millions of dollars raised to save him) in the case of the Western NGOs.
Even though this negative perception is slowly changing, due in part because of shifting perception and a new generation of Africans that are not taking these negative messages lying down anymore. In fact, not too long ago, Kenyans on tweeter (famouly known as KOT) bomarbed this cyber space with the hashtag #someonetellCNN, when the international media house referred to Kenya as a hotbed of terror ahead of Barrack Obama’s visit to Kenya.
That said, though they may be an iota of truth in their narrative- replicated in varying degrees the world over- there is another side of Africa that is seldom shown. This facet consists of innovation, self-reliance, beautiful landscapes, the rich culture, heritage and resilience of diverse communities, the proverbial African hospitality and so on.
In the case of innovation, Africans have developed products and services to suit their local needs. These include SavvyLoo- a waterless hygienic toilet for South Africans living in rural and informal settlements- and Mubser, a navigational aid tool for visually impaired people. Mobile apps include M-Pesa, the award winning mobile money transfer service; Mimba Bora, an application that helps expectant mothers closely monitor their pregnancy thus guarantying the safety and security of the mother and the new-born; and Wedding Plandroid, an app that takes out the hassle and haranguing of friends and relatives (in the guise of wedding committees) when a couple decides to tie the knot.
When it comes to matters heritage, we have a plethora of rich cultures waiting to be explored. This include the Konso people of Southern Ethiopia with their walled villages and terraces, the hunter-gatherer Ogieks of Kenya, the Vhavenda of South Africa and their water sprites, and the Tuareg of North Africa who traverse the width and breadth of the unforgiving Sahara Desert. These people have their indigenous knowledge of their customs, food, methods of imparting knowledge that is unique and that can complement Western education for the betterment of society as a whole.
We too have our folklores and heroes as the Greeks have their Jupiter and Achilles, the Nordics have their Odin and Attila the Hun, the British have their Lawrence of Arabia and the American have their Westerns. In the same way that Europeans continue to churn out blockbusters centred on this- entertaining while educating their people on their culture, we too can have our own blockbusters portraying our heroes. Imagine what an epic it would be if Lwanda Magere was graphically turned into a movie with all the razzle and dazzle typical of Hollywood. Or Wangu wa Makeri, Imhotep, Queen Nzinga, Shaka Zulu- told from an African vantage point as opposed to a Euro-centric view that is bound to inadvertently downplay their achievements.
With most African cultures being oral in nature, their too exists opportunities for cultural exhibitions incorporating storytelling, songs, dances and the like. These can be modelled in the likes of literary festivals such as the hay festivals so as to draw a wider audience from around the globe, while still maintaining a distinctive local flavour so as to rope in local audiences too. For benchmarking on this, one only needs to attend the Maralal Camel Derby here in Kenya or The Gnaoua World Music Festival held annually in Essaouira, Morocco.
Ultimately, the onus of telling our stories lies with us Africans- as publishers, as participants and as living embodiment of our rich culture and heritage. Else, our stories, diluted and distorted, will continue to be told by others while being filtered through their biases.