I have so many similar posts sitting in my drafts but I felt this topic needed its own quick and fresh response in light of the BBC Africa Debate that took place yesterday in Kampala, Uganda.
Is Africa's international image unjust? Yes.
Should Africa care about their international image? No.
Should Africa rebrand its international image? No.
Well, Africa has an unjust image because the image is not complete. For instance, HIV/AIDS is a terrible disease, it understandably therefore has alot of stigma around it. This stigma is caused by the perpetuation of the notion that HIV/AIDS is a death sentence. HIV/AIDS agencies are always campaigning to remind people that HIV/AIDS will not hinder a normal life.
So you see despite the negatives, positive messages are peddled too in order to allow sufferers of HIV to develop like every other person in the world. But when we apply Africa's international image, we find there's alot of stigma caused by the perpetuation of the notion that Africa is a death sentence either to war, famine or disease. And there are no agencies trying to convince anyone otherwise, in order to allow Africa to develop like every other continent. (by "like every other continent" I don't mean to imply that there is one path for us all to follow).
Should Africa care about their international image? Read Neo-Colonialism by Kwame Nkrumah, please and don't think you know what the argument will be, based on the title.
I was talking to a friend the other day about Africa and its future according to my eyes. I would say the International image doesn't matter because the domestic image is not yet mature. The only people who matter in terms of Africa's image are the African people, especially those still living on the continent but also to an extent those who left in post-independence and their children who are now part of a returning generation.
Remember, when we say Africa's image what is the narrative that we are conforming to? When we try to promote Ghana as a democratic country, what value do we hold for democracy. George Ayittey has always said that our form of accountable government, is governance of consensus - so I ask again what value do we hold for democracy? Is it not a narrative that we promote for the pleasure of others?
When we say Africa is safe for multinationals to come and invest and mine and harvest, where in that narrative are we trying to create our own multinationals that go and invest elsewhere and bring capital back to the continent. Once again - pleasure for others.
I will always argue as I have in an earlier post that our leaders should adopt our culture in their leadership, that includes wearing our attire rather than "international business standard". When we say the African image, we must mean an AFRICAN image not Africa's best simulation of a foreign image. And there is no point trying to convince outsiders when we can't even convince ourselves who experience Africa first hand everyday. Another example - Ghana's oil (or Nigeria's or Angola's) - when the revenues go to the national coffers the IMF/World Bank/ someone says the country has earned/grown 10% from the year prior. But until the money is spent on the people, on domestic infrastructure etc, Ghanaians, Nigerians or Angolans will forever believe their country to be poor. Ghana, Nigeria or Angola could have the most impressive embassies abroad, but will that change the narrative that the people on the ground relay to BBC, CNN or AlJazeera.. no. So it's pointless.
And to end on the media - one man said in the debate yesterday, the international broadcasters will become irrelevant on the continent in 5-7 years. I totally agree, who best to tell our story than ourselves?