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The Seven Narratives We Must Change About Africa

The Seven Narratives We Must Change About Africa

This article was originally published on Qazini.com

Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter. African Proverb


There’s a bias in how African business stories are told, both locally and globally. The
Business In Africa Report
, published by Africa No Filter in collaboration with AKAS,
records that despite the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) being the
largest free trade area globally with a Gross Domestic Product of over $3 trillion, it’s
coverage in business news in Africa and worldwide is below 1%. The disappointing fact
is that the majority of African business stories that get into the media are tainted.
How different storytellers present business stories in Africa matters because stories
collectively form narratives that in turn shape perceptions about Africa. The impressions
people have about business on the African continent has an effect on how much
investment goes into the African economy. Through an analysis of over 700 million
stories published on both African and non-African sites, this report indicates how the
media, academia, and storytellers have formed various narratives about business in
Africa. These seven narratives are highlighted here:

  • The duo representing Africa
    Africa has 54 countries, yet academic publications, research and the media tend to
    focus more on South Africa and Nigeria. The report shows that between 2017 and 2021
    mentions of the two countries in business news within and outside the continent
    increased from 36% to 50%. Whereas the duo continue to make headlines, other
    African nations remain unrecognized even though they are performing similarly well, if
    not better (Top 20 richest countries in Africa).

  • Dominance of non-Africans in African news
    If you were writing a story about yourself then somewhere along the way you go off on a
    tangent and write only about: the short stay visitors to your house, the worker planting a
    kei apple fence around your house, the road works team fixing the main road, etc. This
    would mean you have totally shifted the focus of the story, and it is no longer about you,
    but about everyone else around you. At some point, the details of the other people
    around you overshadow your story and become the story. This is exactly what the
    media is doing while telling African business stories. These stories told are about other
    countries doing business in Africa like China, USA, Russia, France or the UK.
    Additionally, when featuring top consumer brands in Africa, focus is more on foreign
    brands like Google, Apple, and Nike. The story is no longer about Africans doing
    business in Africa; but non-Africans doing business in Africa.

  • Technology has the lion’s share
    Opportunities in the technology industry are gaining coverage whereas the creative
    industry continues to lag behind. It is a good thing that the technology narrative is told.
    Thing is, it’s not the only industry story in Africa. Start-ups and creative industries are
    thriving and are least covered, but not like technology. Africa’s youth want to start their
    own businesses in the next 5 years – and African countries top Google searches for
    business ideas, plans globally. Africa has a thriving start-ups landscape. On creativity,
    consider that Nollywood, the world’s 2 nd largest film industry isn’t profiled like Hollywood,
    or Spanish tele-novellas are profiled in Africa. The future of jobs is intellectual
    capitalism,
    which is embodied in the creative industry and is thriving on the continent,
    but the story is not well told.

  • Exclusion of youth and women
    Africa tops the Mastercard Index of highest concentration of women business owners
    globally. It is the continent with the largest and youngest populations in the world (and
    growing). One would imagine that these two impressive facts are reasons enough for
    the media to place youth and women at the center of business stories. Unfortunately,
    issues concerning youth and matters of gender equality and women generally, are given
    lesser attention. Additionally, youth in Africa are mostly depicted in a negative way in
    global news —-often times linked with violence and crime. The media are marginalising
    African youth and women and their significant and positive contribution to Africa’s
    business landscape.

  • Limited coverage of AfCFTA
    Organisations like the World Bank, African Union and the African Development Bank
    commended AfCFTA – after all, it is the world’s largest free trade area, and the largest
    intra-continental prosperity opportunity. It was a monumental leap for all African
    countries and opens up intra-African trade. But, still AfCFTA is almost invisible in media
    coverage. This silence is worrisome. The slience also means that a big portion of the
    public are unaware and uniformed about the AfCFTA. Yet among the public, are key
    stakeholders to the free trade area including businesses, consumers and entrepreneurs.
    Being unaware means people are don’t contribute and participate in the AfCFTA and
    related matters.

  • Unleashing only the dark side
    African media is likely to portray African businesses in a negative way, with a
    prevalence of corruption. Yet there is so much more to business in Africa than that.
    Former US President Donald Trump said’ If you say something long enough, hard
    enough, often enough; people will start to believe it. When majority of the stories about Africa are detrimental and negative, what do we expect Africans, non-Africans, investors to believe about business in Africa?
  • Too much mention of the government
    The government plays a central role in shaping Africa’s economy, but business are
    particularly SMEs are the drivers of Africa’s economies. Despite this, governments get
    more than half of media coverage about business in Africa both locally and
    internationally. The question however is, if is about business in Africa or the economy,
    shouldn’t the focus be more on business, entrepreneurship, SMEs or at minimum a
    relevant mix of both?

    Call to Action – Create a balanced narrative
    It’s time for communicators, consultants, storytellers, journalists, scholars and
    researchers to rethink how they present Africa’s business narratives. Make AfCFTA
    visible to the world, balance between positive and negative stories, amplify voices of
    youth and women, lift bias off South Africa and Nigeria and start covering other African
    countries as well, break the ‘government monologue’ in your content by speaking about
    start-ups and SMEs too, highlight other industries beyond tech. Perhaps most of all,
    make it about Africa because Africa is our ‘business.’
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