African Public Relations practitioners expressed determination to change the stereotype perceptions of the world towards Africa through
the demonstration of the actual image of the rising Africa.
At the three-day long 1st All Africa Public Relations and Strategic Communication Summit held with the theme “The Rising Africa: The Imperative of Communication”, the damages of the unfair perception of the world’s population towards Africa [and its states] were thoroughly discussed. The resolution reached at the summit held from 8 to 10 May here in Addis Ababa, was the imperative need of narrating Africa’s story by its own people and media so as to show the true images of the rising Africa. The event was organized by the African Public Relations Association (APRA), an organization that succeeded the Federation of African Public Relations Association (FAPRA) that was inaugurated in 1975 in Nairobi, Kenya.
International [especially western] perception towards Africa
Africa, the world’s second-largest continent with 30.2 million km2 landmass and the second most populous continent with about 1.2 billion people, has been suffering from unfair perceptions by the rest of the world as solely a place of conflict, coups d’état, and deadly diseases.
“Africa is described in very unflattering terms such as ‘the dark continent’, ‘the heart of darkness’, ‘a scar on the conscience of the world’ and ‘a hopeless basket case’. Africa has been the object of scorn and derision at one level and the butt of cruel jokes at another, and also the object of pity and condescension at yet another level, in international discourse for several years,” John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana, who is also a former member of APRA, stated through his representative at the event. “From the time of its so called ‘discovery’ by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century, the continent has been synonymous with war, famine, dictatorships, disease and death,” said Mahama Ayariga, Minister of Information and Media Relations of Ghana, as he read the president’s keynote speech.
“When we think of Africa, images of famine, poverty, sickness and war are embedded in our Western minds. AIDS”, tribal warfare” and chaos are the associative key terms that remain in our thoughts,” Jamie B. Wallace, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of Oxford wrote in an article published in 2010 under the title ’American Perceptions of Africa Based on Media Representations’. “The majority of the American population has never visited Africa and most likely will not. Therefore, any information that is received about Africa is taken for granted, as there are no means for contestation. Textbooks, classrooms, news, media, entertainment, museums, internet, and religious missionaries are the formats for which the American public learns about Africa,” he stated.
Apart from rapacious colonizers and exploiters who have always maintained an inordinate interest in Africa, the continent has always held great fascination for botanists, zoologists, archeologists, paleontologists, etc, who have invariably demonstrated great interest in the continent’s past but little or no interest in its present or future, according to the president. “They have restricted their interests to Africa’s role in the evolution of mankind and the genealogy of our fauna and flora. Despite the unanimity of views in respect of Africa’s unique position as the cradle of mankind, the continent was, until recently, dismissed as a disease-engulfed basket case not worth the attention of the business movers and shakers of the world,” the young and good-looking minister said as he read on the president’s inspiring speech.
Bereket Simon, Minister of Government Communications Affairs, who represented PM Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also the current Chairperson of the African Union (AU), also agreed with the stereotype perceptions the world has towards Africa. “We Ethiopians have been victims of negative publicity as all our African compatriots,” he said. “We also feel the pain many African countries are going through as a result of Africa bashing. It is because of this, that speaking in one voice is vital, if Africa is to recover from the damage it sustained for years and years.”
Making a fuss really matters
African countries that have failed to heed the clarion call to liberate their communication environment, have invariably denied themselves the opportunity to harness the enormous intellectual and entrepreneurial capital of their people, according to the Ghanaian president. “Respect from our peers and co-inhabitants of the earth will not come unless and until we demonstrate a certain behavior and attitude which command and attract respect,” the president stated. “Leadership cannot flourish without developing relationships and engaging communities; the oil that lubricates sustainable relationships is communication,” he added.
President Mahama believes that, if Africans can rise to the challenges of communication, no obstacle placed in the way of Africa’s accelerated economic development will succeed. “The rise of Africa is already manifesting itself in the rapid growth of our communities and our national economies. This growth will definitely enjoy a further boost if we wake up to the benefits of communications and resolve to facilitate the rise of communication in Africa.”
Bulus Paul Lolo, Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia, who has spoken on behalf of the Foreign Minister of Nigeria, conveyed the message that with the role of the media, Africans can change the narrative on Africa which has been told by others in their own words and in their own context. “If Africa is rising, let Africa continue to rise and tell that story,” he told African PR practitioners and media people gathered at the summit. ““But now we have an opportunity to change all of that.” Bereket consolidated this concept by saying that the fact that Ethiopia has posted double-digit growth for the last ten consecutive years underscores our success in rallying the people around the ideals of democratic ‘developmentalism’.
Africa is rising. Today, Africa is the only frontier in the globe where opportunities for direct investment abound, according to Peter Mutie, President of APRA. “Indeed, it is in Africa where new resources are getting discovered. The oil deposits in Uganda and Kenya, the natural gas in Tanzania, are among naturally occurring resources discovered on this continent today,” he said.
Ambassador Lolo agreed with Mutie. “Five countries, if not more, have positioned themselves among the fastest growing economies in the world,” he said. “If you stretch the statistics a little further, you will see that in the last ten years perhaps Africa is the only continent that has been able to grow consistently despite the economic woes we experienced a few years back.” He stated that Africa is the cradle of civilization. “Science and technology cannot be beyond us. Let the limit be our imagination and not our capacity.” Mahama is thankful that the negative perception of the continent has begun to change dramatically because of the pace at which our continent is being re-furbished to assume its rightful place in the living room of our global village. “A region once bedeviled by economic stagnation, political disasters and social disintegration is currently posting some of the most impressive economic growth rates in the world,” Mahama said
Ambassador Lolo said African development might not be perfect. “When you rise, it doesn’t mean you don’t falter. You can miss you steps, but you continue to climb,” he said. Mahama attributes Africa’s rise to effective communication.
In spite of the developmental path the continent is treading, international media still have stereotype perceptions of Africa and the information they disseminate throughout the world has a negative impact on direct investment, which will play a vital role in sustaining the continent’s enormous development. According to participants, investors might be influenced by this stereotype perception and retreat from investing on the continent. The country is also paying a lot of money for expensive insurances caused by this misconception, they said.
Public relations and communication professionals therefore play a vital role in changing this image as they are the ones who determine what is to be said, write speeches and give advice on various communications channels. “They have a central role in the noble venture of changing the African narrative,” said Mutie.