Posted by: Home Strange Home | June 11, 2009

See Africa Differently

I first saw this website advertised on the London Underground and, with no description of what it was about, I visited to satisfy my curiosity.  It turns out it is funded and produced by the charity Comic Relief with the goal of promoting a more positive image of Africa to western society, instead of the usual “doom and gloom” we hear on the news.  It aims to report positive news from Africa, highlight the progress that has been made, and change peoples perceptions so they “see Africa differently.” 

The website is peppered with factoids, such as “Across Africa there are at least 18 countries whose economies have been growing at an average of 5.5% per year over the past 10 years. One third of all Africans live in these countries,” or “10 million more people have access to safe drinking water in South Africa since 1994.” It also has a list of links to positive news stories from different sources, such as TIME, The Independent, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and Jeffrey Sachs.  However, aside from that, the website contains little content and seems to recycle the same sound bites over and over again. 

While it sounds good on the surface, I must admit I don’t like the website.  It contains a number of “comedy” videos poking fun at negative perceptions of Africa, but they are, in my opinion, distasteful, condescending, and not even funny.  Moreover, the positive progress it chooses to report is awfully flimsy – for example, “Since 2003, 29 million more African children have started primary school.”  But if fails to mention the population of Africa is nearly 1 billion and growing at a fast rate due to high levels of poverty-induced fertility.  For less than 3% more children to have started primary school in the past 6 years is hardly encouraging. 

I think the idea is great and the intentions are good, but it strikes me as an overly simplistic treatment of “good news from Africa” that risks being misleading and even harmful.  Perhaps the simplicity is intentional, to make the “good news” accessible to the general public.  But I hardly think most people are this stupid, even people with only a passing interest in Africa.  I really hope that positive news from Africa can be transmitted in ways that are much richer and more robust than this.        



  1. It’s not so much that people are this stupid, but in a world as full of information as this, the obvious thing to do is ignore all of it until something strikes our attention. And even then, we focus mainly on trying to make sense of what’s happening and labelling the situation. Most of us only have time for clearcut black and whites, not shades of gray.

    So all the causes fight fiercely for a share of spotlight, which is tough and causes most of them to exacerbate the tragedies or wonders of the causes they hold.

    Think of any major breaking news that has touched the world and consider how many of us are worrying about it now. Sri Lanka, East Timor, illegal immigrants dying off the coast of the Canary islands, Sichuan earthquake.

    It’s perhaps not surprising that even the initiatives with the best of intentions fall into demagogy to try and promote their causes.

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