The Danger of Africa’s Single Story

Posted by Anna Tetteh and James Amoakohene

James: Charle Anna wasup?

Anna: I’m cool ooo, fresh boy. Shieee, AIS eh! Ok, any ideas

James: Honestly I’m out of ideas. The topic is GM foods right?

Anna: GM foods? Me I couldn’t find much about Gabon and GM foods ooo. Why don’t we do Friday’s topic, African Image?

James: Ok…. so what can you say about the African Image?

Anna: Well some time back, a friend who went on an exchange programme to the US mentioned how the Americans asked her questions about Africa, whether we live on trees and if we have wild animals for pets. So I think that these questions reflect Western perception about Africans.

James: Yea that’s true. I also have friends studying abroad who say the same thing. A friend who was playing basketball with his mates was asked how he learnt to play so well because they know that we don’t play such games here. The other questions they asked clearly showed that they thought Africa to be a village. My friend was hurt, but then he understood that they were ignorant. Personally, I think Africa is a place of great opportunity; a place where you can call home and a place where liberty is really felt. Unfortunately our dear brothers and sisters in the western part of the world do not see it from that angle, but see it as a “jungle.” I do not blame them for their misconceptions about this great continent, but rather I believe the western media must shoulder the blame. Now if one should go on the internet to BBC news and should go to the section that gives news on Africa, I can guarantee the first three stories would be on wars, poverty and starvation. I do not dispute the fact that Africa has more than its fair share of problems; but to judge a book by its cover, and not what really is in it, brings a whole lot of issues to the table. With a lack of understanding of the African continent, the western world has a one dimensional view of Africa and may not see Africa as profitable to live in. I think if the media shows some of the luxurious and beautiful cities that we have then Africa will be seen as a place to visit, and not a place full of misery.

Anna: Hm! Well said James, but I disagree with you on some points. Why blame Western media? If there is any blame at all, I think we also have our own share in it. I remember when Atta Mills died in 2012; the radio stations could not carry out their own investigations to give us an accurate report of his death. Most, if not all, were relying on hearsay and BBC News, a foreign media body, to report the news to Ghanaians. I know this for a fact because the following day, Kwame Sefa Kayi held a discussion on Peace fm and mentioned this and how appalling it was that our journalists first heard of the President’s death on BBC. So you see to some extent we have allowed them to report what they think about our issues.
Also, I believe presenting just the luxurious side of Africa is not the way forward. In fact, your mention of the BBC reporting bad news for Africa reminds me of Chimamanda’s TEDTalk video on the Danger of a Single Story. Let’s Google it and see what we can draw from it.

Readers please watch the video while following what ensues in our conversation below.

Video link:

Commenting on 3:00- 4:12 (of the video): about Fide the houseboy and his family.
James: You seee! If people have a negative perception about something created from the negative story they have heard, they would not know of the positive side of the story if they do not dig deep into it.

Commenting on 4:13-5:20: about American room-mate
James: I told you, I told you. What’s your take on this?

Anna: I think everyone, black or white, is in a danger of making opinions based on a single story. Even though our focus is about the single story of negativity being presented by Western media, we, and most Africans, also have a single story about America; that all is rosy in America. Ever hear of the American dream?

James: (while nodding head) Yea…. that’s nice.

Commenting on 6:00 – 6:34
James: I knew she was going to link Fide’s story to the roommate’s story and infer that one must not judge a book by its cover. Until you have read the book, you can’t tell the complete story.

Commenting on 8:20-9:25
Anna: You see the point I was making earlier about everyone being a victim of to the danger of a single story.

Anna & James both laugh at the joke from 10:53-11:33

Commenting on 13:13
Anna: You see. So the effect of a single story is that it creates stereotypes and that is what we have. Africa is being stereotyped in the west as being poor, hungry etc.

Some minutes later
Anna & James both agree about there being an African network that tells balanced stories.

Reaction to 18:32: Anna joins the video audience in clapping

Anna: (looking at the course outline) So, what can we say to conclude? Why have the international media representations of Africa been so negative?

James: I think they have been negative because they do not dig deep into the story by researching about it. They just pick what others say.

Anna: Hmm…true. And just like that game “Chinese whisperers,” when it gets to the final listener (in this case the American), the story’s message is completely distorted. I also think that for media everywhere, bad news sells more than good news. However, consider the fact that it is this negative news that is giving us this foreign aid attention and may also be why Ghana for instance, had its foreign debt cancelled during the Kufuor administration.

James: Yea, what you are saying is very true and it is weird how people want to hear the bad news first.

Anna: (with a skeptical look) are you sure about that?

James asks two people in the class which news they want to hear first and both say the bad.

Anna: (laughing) Ok.

James: But then, on a more serious and final note, at the Literary Art and Social Change talk held here on campus, I asked M.anifest about what strategies musicians can use to break the barriers of how Westerners see Africa, and I side with what he said: that he had stopped thinking about the stories the West is presenting about Africa and is focusing on playing his role to help develop Africa.



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