Who should speak for Africa?

Afrocentric media and key notable African figures such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Binyavanga Wainaina , Ngugi wa Thiong’o have written and spoken about maintaining the dignity of the African continent, its culture and  its people through dispelling  western depictions that  often solely focus on negative aspects such as economic strife, conflict and poverty.

These portrayals’ that have received heavy backlash have often stemmed from Western media and aid organisations. Journalists have been criticised for only covering outbreaks of diseases and conflict while completely ignoring the continents diverse culture and economic and political successes.  The consequences of these portrayals lead to stereotyping and misconceptions that affect how states beyond Africa interact with and aid the continent.

African states certainly are not free of conflict and strife. At present, from war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe’s failing economy to continued power struggles in North Africa, the continent is full of stories that are perfect for feeding negative narratives.  On the other side there are many positives to the continent that many are proud to call home. Beyond beautiful landscapes and animals, African states have positively contributed to our modern world. The history of modern mathematical systems has been traced back to Egypt, the DRC is among the world largest producers of cobalt which is used to build lithium-ion batteries that are found in mobile technology. African states have also been home to notable leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara that have been looked up to the world over as examples of what good leadership means.

When it comes to media and entertainment in 2019 alone African stars have received global attention for their talents.  Nigerian musicians Burna Boy and Mr Eazi performed at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival which is one of the world’s most famous and profitable music festivals and Nigerien singer-song writer and guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar became the first person from Niger to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

With many individuals and groups fighting for the need for African voices to be heard and to tell their own stories, something to think about is whose duty it is to tell these stories and whether there is a right or wrong way to do so.

As someone born and raised in Zambia, I know that my country and continent in general lacks independent media. I also know that we live in a culture of silence and repression that inhibits us from discussing key issues. Our colonial background and Western paternalism also means that to the world, we are less than. We have to be spoken for and mostly in a negative light.  For this reason, I value the importance of those brave enough to share their talents to speak up about key issues. With the rise of social media and individuals slowly speaking up more and more, Africa is slowly telling its own story. Everything that we are as Africans is rich and through diverse history, voices and talents this richness and beauty can be shown to the world.

My idealistic and perhaps naive conclusion is that we can all speak as one African or non-African. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, those that live the African experience and have been born in it have a unique lens to tell their stories and should be allowed to freely do so. For media outlets and individuals that choose to paint Africa solely in a negative light, it is not right for them to decide that they alone have the duty and ability to speak for Africa.


Featured image | Mpumelelo Macu | Unsplash

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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