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Rise of the Afropolitan
March 3, 2013 12:25 AM   Subscribe

The stereotypes about Africa/Africans are too many to list here. They’re mostly negative, myopic depictions that focus on war, famine, abject poverty, disease, and corruption. In other oversimplifications, Africans are written up as model immigrants, overachieving geniuses, or displaced chiefs moonlighting as gas station attendants. Outside of these caricatures, many Africans are going to work and school, voting in their local elections, and spending way too much time on Facebook. And they’re over the ignorance that has collectively miscast them. In response, a swelling movement of young Africans are launching concerted efforts to wrest the image of Africa from entities and interests that don’t promote a balanced understanding of the continent.
posted by infini (69 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
"When we run out of bullets, we shoot rocket launchers."
posted by P.o.B. at 1:12 AM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


In other words, real life is exactly the opposite of the movies. I'm guilty of forgetting this on occasion...
posted by fireoyster at 1:27 AM on March 3, 2013


Several years ago I was in a class about "the contemporary Middle East" that was taught by a leading figure in Arabic cultural studies. We spent a couple of weeks at a time readings odds and ends about specific countries: a collection of childhood reminiscences from Turkey, extracts from the history of Egyptian cinema, that sort of thing.

One of the things we read for Iran was the first volume of Persepolis. In it, we learn about the social consequences of the Islamic Revolution through the eyes of a young girl. Except, uh, her favorite book is Dialectic Materialism, her family is directly related to the former emperor, her parents have deep dissident connections, and they smuggle punk rock albums to her from abroad. So, essentially, she is completely un-typical in almost every imaginable way, but oh-so-relatable for the Western reader.

I raised my hand in class and called the book "inauthentic." I got an earful about how if I only wanted "authentic" books, we'd have no first-hand accounts at all. I learned, and keep learning, that "authentic" is a very loaded word. But, with certain emendations, I still stand by my original comment. In measurable ways, many African nations are violent and poor. In many places there are issues with access to food and water, and public health is a shambles. Many African governments are unrepresentative dictatorships, or else they exploit ethnic divisions to whip crowds up into surges of violence.

And, unfortunately, the voices that strive to offer a more nuanced picture of this or that African nation are usually the ones I find most "inauthentic." I realize that it's no one's job in Africa to convince me of their "authenticity." I grant you that. But this is supposed to be a persuasive essay by and about persuasive people, and I think I am within my rights to be skeptical.

On one hand, every country and every place within it has dignity and beauty. But on the other hand, the people who dedicate themselves to positive PR are usually the very elites who stand to gain the most in direct ways from being recognized as equal partners on the global stage.

But that's the thing: you can find urban, college-educated elites who have professional jobs and wear shirts with starched collars in every corner of the globe. Even Haiti. Does that mean that a fuller mental picture of places like Haiti should foreground these elites and their seemingly normal, familiar lives, without any cares for cholera and malnutrition? Is that a fuller picture or a less complete picture? I really don't know, and an article that says "there are tie-wearing professionals in Africa too!" doesn't do much to help me.
posted by Nomyte at 1:51 AM on March 3, 2013 [29 favorites]


Nomyte: this a million times.

It's rather like getting an impression of 1980s South Africa by talking to rich Boers.
posted by jaduncan at 2:04 AM on March 3, 2013


doesn't do much to help me.

Help you with what, exactly?

Most of the images we see of Africa in the media are exclusively of poverty and violence. When they had the recent famine in Somalia there were people on places like Reddit who were completely unaware of the fact that there had never not been a famine there, and were wondering why people would have children in a place like that, and therefore thought it was a bad idea to provide food, since they'd just be starving again later. In fact most people had been able to feed themselves just fine until the famine.

There isn't just a single "authentic" representation of an entire continent. There is poverty here in the US, people die because they don't have health insurance. Would that mean that mean that any media representation of the US that featured wealthy people would be "inauthentic"?

It's completely ridiculous. In order to understand a place, you need to be able to see the various different groups and types of people. There are something like 350 million middle class people in Africa. It's not all violence and poverty.
posted by delmoi at 2:05 AM on March 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


To clarify, it's a part of the story. It's just that relying on only the most able writers (such as the rich Boers) to create stories does tend to make one only listen to the well-educated and rich.

Much the same thing happens in history with the extremely well-reported priorities of monks.
posted by jaduncan at 2:08 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Help you with what, exactly?

I realize that you're probably writing superciliously, but to summarize. My views are evolving and I realize that the situation is deeply nuanced. But I don't think anyone can meaningfully "speak for Africa" or "speak for Africans," no matter how well-intentioned. And I also think it's less than useful to point and say "see, there are middle-class people in Africa too." I really strongly doubt that leading what amounts to a middle-class US or European lifestyle has the same social cachet as it does in the US and Europe, or is meaningful in a similar way.
posted by Nomyte at 2:12 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


But on the other hand, the people who dedicate themselves to positive PR are usually the very elites who stand to gain the most in direct ways from being recognized as equal partners on the global stage.

Here's something to consider; how might I, as an outsider, percieve of a typical, "authentic" American? It's not someone writing quasi-academic screeds on Metafilter. You can pick the stereotype you like and it's probably what I'm thinking of. So should I ignore you, and instead demand cultural explanations from someone more authentic?
posted by Jimbob at 2:13 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


So should I ignore you, and instead demand cultural explanations from someone more authentic?

No, a more authentic representation is going to be either statistical or ethnographic, not autobiographical.
posted by Nomyte at 2:15 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]



No, a more authentic representation is going to be either statistical or ethnographic, not autobiographical.
Oh, that sounds like the kind of thing that would have a big impact on the perceptions of typical (i.e. authentic) westerners.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 AM on March 3, 2013


Oh, that sounds like the kind of thing that would have a big impact on the perceptions of typical (i.e. authentic) westerners.

Your sarcasm is doubtlessly correct, delmoi. This is why nobody pays attention to statistical opinion polls of Western public opinion or official governmental stats on income that give rise to slogans like the 1%.

Congratulations to you.
posted by jaduncan at 2:36 AM on March 3, 2013


But I don't think anyone can meaningfully "speak for Africa" or "speak for Africans," no matter how well-intentioned.

I think they mean that as more of an aspiration though, not necessarily as a statement of fact. I would be surprised if they felt that their depiction of Africa was the most authentic and definitive one there was.
posted by FJT at 2:41 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


... I have to admit, I feel this exact same way about people claiming to speak "For American" or "of Americans."

So... more power to these guys, I suppose. Good for them.
posted by Archelaus at 2:49 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"And, unfortunately, the voices that strive to offer a more nuanced picture of this or that African nation are usually the ones I find most "inauthentic." I realize that it's no one's job in Africa to convince me of their "authenticity." I grant you that. But this is supposed to be a persuasive essay by and about persuasive people, and I think I am within my rights to be skeptical."

"It's rather like getting an impression of 1980s South Africa by talking to rich Boers."
Doing so would certainly be non-representative, but inauthentic? Bullshit. Even the rich Boers were authentically African in their own way and had an authentic perspective of their own small piece of the continent, were they somehow not real?

Aside from how inherently disgusting it is to compare the not even new brand of African professionals we are talking about to the Boers in 1980, the current media perspective on Africa is indeed really really warped. Like getting ones perspective on America exclusively from watching American Psycho and 8 mile. Just because Flint, Michigan is pretty shitty doesn't make middle class programmers outside of Boston somehow inauthentically American. This 'skepticism' baffles me, its almost like there isn't enough room in one's head for more than a small number of kinds of black people in Africa and, sorry, the warlords, starving children, and people shooting rocket launchers at white protagonists for no reason got here first.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:52 AM on March 3, 2013 [29 favorites]


"When we run out of bullets, we shoot rocket launchers."

I like these guys and wish they were my friends.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:58 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb: Sure, that's why I pretty much immediately said "To clarify, it's a part of the story. It's just that relying on only the most able writers (such as the rich Boers) to create stories does tend to make one only listen to the well-educated and rich."

I'm also not sure that universalising a US media landscape is useful; the BBC World Service is a lot better at capturing a fair perspective.
posted by jaduncan at 3:00 AM on March 3, 2013


So, essentially, she is completely un-typical in almost every imaginable way, but oh-so-relatable for the Western reader.

I raised my hand in class and called the book "inauthentic.


Why didn't you raise your hand and call it 'atypical'? Seems less loaded, and would work for the debate here too - it's not whether people suffering from famine are more 'authentically' African than a rich guy in a suit in Nairobi, it's whether they are more typical, no?
posted by jacalata at 3:03 AM on March 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


The Economist this week has a special looking at Africa - The world's fastest growing continent.

Lead section article that links to the other articles.

Africa is taking off.
posted by sien at 3:14 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


To clarify, it's a part of the story. It's just that relying on only the most able writers (such as the rich Boers) to create stories does tend to make one only listen to the well-educated and rich.

Which is still far, far better than relying on the voices of foreign movie producers who want to create scenery chewing, one dimensional villains and fill their movies with explosions to make them exciting to teenage boys. Because at least the 'most able writers' are members of the society that they are talking about and presenting.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:39 AM on March 3, 2013


And, unfortunately, the voices that strive to offer a more nuanced picture of this or that African nation are usually the ones I find most "inauthentic."

Ok, now consider the USA. Whose voices and imagery do you hear describing what it's like to live in the USA? The reality of life for many Americans may be poverty, lack of sanitation, healthcare, education and law and order comparable to that in some African nations - but the version the world (and the USA) gets is of a very affluent place. Are you keen to hear "authentic" American voices as much as you feel suspicious of affluent African ones?
posted by iotic at 3:46 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which is still far, far better than relying on the voices of foreign movie producers who want to create scenery chewing, one dimensional villains and fill their movies with explosions to make them exciting to teenage boys. Because at least the 'most able writers' are members of the society that they are talking about and presenting.

...are these really the only two options you can imagine?
posted by jaduncan at 4:08 AM on March 3, 2013


One of the things that really struck me, not so long ago, was how gigantic Africa is. I never really knew this, because it doesn't look that large on the Mercator projection maps that we all use. But, like all projections of 3D objects onto 2D space, it's inaccurate.

Here's a map showing Africa's true size. If you're a regular MeFite, you've probably seen this, as it's been posted here before. I find it worthwhile to remind myself, though... it just boggles my mind to see that the continent of Africa could swallow up the United States, China, India, most of Europe, the UK, and Japan, and still have a little room left over.

The place, in other words, is huge. Anything you see about it, good or bad, will only apply to the spot where that specific camera was. A tiny distance on a standard map away, which is probably the same as traveling across the entire United States, things are likely to be completely different, with an entirely new country, with a different culture, and a separate set of advantages and/or problems.

It's kind of like looking at images of the Louisiana bayous, and thinking that the whole US looks like that. It's not even that accurate, as Africa is so much larger. Even as homogeneous as the US tends to be, it can be quite difficult to accurately talk in general terms about it. Africa is three times that size, and divided into many different nations and cultures and tribes and geographical areas.

Don't take anything you see or hear as the graven truth about the place. Even these new, more accurate narratives will suffer from the same problem.... while they'll be giving you better pictures of the areas they concern, it'll be like getting accurate pictures of Louisiana. If you want to go to Louisiana, or interact with people living there, that documentary will be super-useful, but it will be much less applicable to Californians, and probably not terribly relevant to Italians or the Japanese.
posted by Malor at 4:19 AM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


No, a more authentic representation is going to be either statistical or ethnographic, not autobiographical.

So much the worse for authenticity.
posted by escabeche at 4:56 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a map showing Africa's true size. If you're a regular MeFite, you've probably seen this, as it's been posted here before.

It's sort of hilarious that a map that is partly meant to suggest to us that Africa is so large it can't possibly be homogenous treats all of Eastern Europe as a single country.

Of course, at 50-odd countries and (according to Wikipedia) 2000+ languages, 'not homogenous' would a safe assumption even if Africa were the size of New Jersey.
posted by hoyland at 6:10 AM on March 3, 2013


It's well worth noting that this isn't entirely a contrast between wealth/middle class and poverty - the stereotypical Africa has little to do with how actual poverty works out in Africa, as well. It's mainly gun-toting warlords, tribal warriors battling lions, and refugees in camps. The majority of poor Africans are farmers and (increasingly) the mass of urban poor who can be found from Washington D.C. to Warsaw to Rio de Janiero to Jacarta as well. The latter are far, far more significant in any picture of actual African poverty than another article about machete-wielding diamond smugglers wandering the jungles of the DRC.

No, a more authentic representation is going to be either statistical or ethnographic, not autobiographical.

It fills in another piece of the picture, and a piece of the picture (middle-class/upper-class elite African society) which is going to have a defining role in the way Africa develops and relates to the rest of the world in the next century. So yes, worth listening to and learning from, and entirely authentic.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:12 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Europe makes a better model for this discussion than the United States. You have a continent that has extremes of poverty and wealth, government stability, infrastructure, short and long term prospects, etc. For most of the last century, at least some part of the area was either preparing for conflict, fighting a conflict, or trying to recover from a conflict, with varying degrees of success. But our* images of Europe are not a war-torn hell hole continuously failing to establish stability and peace -- it's of a generally prosperous and peaceful place where the disruptions are anomalies, not the background state.

*and, yes, that is a problematic pronoun in this discussion

So Africans are not being unreasonable when they want some attention paid to their success. On the other hand, this quote:
“I have to say I hate that phrase, ‘rebranding Africa,’” entrepreneur Owunwanne, 31, expressed. She explains, “You look at people who thought Africa was all about famine, war, AIDS, etcetera; and it’s from their perspective that Africa needs to be rebranded. Now, you look at Afropolitans,” Owunwanne continues, using a term that has referred to young cosmopolitan Africans, “we don’t feel like Africa has to be rebranded. We already know what the brand of Africa is and what the potential is.”
Shows another kind of tension -- who is the audience? Owunwanne seems to want to speak to other Africans, to reinforce her own sense of success and progress. The people discussed earlier in the article seem to want to get the message out to other parts of the world, some out of a sense of pride, some out of a desire to attract attention and market share. And trying to unite those two drives into a single message is as difficult as defining a single "authentic (or typical) voice for Africa." Because whether these voices are authentic to me as a relatively well-off white guy in the United States is a) important or b) presumptuous depends on the intent of those voices.

So, I take Nomyte's point, but I also see the point of the professor -- the vast majority of people do not write their stories for the attention of strangers, so anyone who does so is atypical and inauthentic as an example of the whole populous, but, unless they are fabricating, that narrative should be a reasonably typical and authentic depiction of themselves. To go back to my reading of Nomyte, the problem is that that "themself" is almost certainly skewed toward better educated, wealthier, better connected, etc, which, in its way, skews the story as much as the often-derided "white person goes to a developing country and tells us how it really is" sort of narrative. But, as outsiders (and far outsiders at that, for the most part), if we do not accept these narratives and arguments (taking into account that the narrators, most certainly, have their own agendas and biases), then how can we ever look at Africa? I think the answer has to be understanding that Africa is big and complex and no single narrative is going to "explain it."

So this is just one of (or several of, if you follow all the links) these narratives.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on March 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Couple of thoughts on the interesting turn the conversation has taken.

First, Malor, you make an excellent point there but I'll add a bit of nuance. United States = country; Africa = continent.

But that's the thing: you can find urban, college-educated elites who have professional jobs and wear shirts with starched collars in every corner of the globe. Even Haiti. Does that mean that a fuller mental picture of places like Haiti should foreground these elites and their seemingly normal, familiar lives, without any cares for cholera and malnutrition? Is that a fuller picture or a less complete picture? I really don't know, and an article that says "there are tie-wearing professionals in Africa too!" doesn't do much to help me.


Doing so would certainly be non-representative, but inauthentic? Bullshit. Even the rich Boers were authentically African in their own way and had an authentic perspective of their own small piece of the continent, were they somehow not real?


If you cut me, do I not bleed?

I was born in Calcutta during a famine, to a woman born during a famine. Am I less able to speak on behalf of my countrymen/women than a pavement dweller simply because a twist of fate placed me in a privileged situation?

If the up and coming 'geeks' for eg. don't speak up about what's happening there, there won't be any VC funds because VCs will think as you do, and then there'll be no new businesses, startups and employment for youth etc etc. It was Bangalore's geeks that helped changed the image of India, Thomas Friedman be blessed ;p, among other things... but hey, lets not forget the starving people each and every time we seek to send a satellite into space.

Whatever. As sien has said, Africa is rising whether you choose to believe its authencity or not.
posted by infini at 6:16 AM on March 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just saw this tweet from @tmsruge on the upcoming Kenyan elections tomorrow:

RT @KarenAttiah Foreign Reporters Armed and Ready to Attack #Kenya---nation stocks up on clichés: bit.ly/VmN7jr

A snippet from the linked Nation article that's giggle making rounds of Twitter:


Kenya was braced at the crossroads on Saturday amidst growing concern that the demand for clichés is outstripping supply.

Critical elections loom, say senior diplomats, and there is a pressing need not only for clichés, but for colourful phrases, authentic quotes and fresh sources. Without urgent action, warned a senior taxi driver, this strategic east African nation with close ties to the West, risks being driven to the brink of an uncertain future.

Analysts and observers, however, joined diplomats in dismissing fears that coverage of the forthcoming poll will be threatened by a shortage of clichés.

"Lessons have been learnt,” said a UN spokesman, and a strategic stockpile has been built up since the last time Kenyans went to the ballot box. With the help of an emergency airlift, which includes consignments of anecdotes and first person accounts, both chilling and inspiring, reporters will be able to do justice to a crucial test of democracy/a slow motion tragedy/a land gripped by tension.

"We are now prepared for any eventuality,” said the spokesman. “Our monitors have registered an early demand for 'fears rising', 'key ally', 'strategic partner' and 'ethnic violence', and fresh deliveries will arrive within days.”

“Tribal rivalries’, and ‘ethnic violence’ is also proving popular, the UN official added, as are ‘bloodstained machetes’, ‘pangas and rungus’, and ‘mindless violence’ ‘Bitter memories’ is also in great demand.

But there was “absolutely no chance that reporters will run out of supplies, said the UN official.

Demand for clichés is expected to reach a peak as foreign correspondents fly in to cover the final days of the election campaign.

“We anticipate a run on ‘hotly contested’ and ‘neck and neck’” said an unemployed militant.

Every reporter will be issued with an election package as they step out of the plane and are greeted by the tropical heat of Africa.

Non-government organisations are understood to have teams on standby, ready to supply quotes about rampant corruption, grinding poverty, and soaring unemployment.

“We have prepared for the worst,” said an NGO representative. In the event of a peaceful election, journalists will be able to choose from a range of row-back options, including:

"A nightmarish air of normality hung over the Kenyan capital...; “A fragile peace was holding as election results came in....; “An uneasy calm fell over the tense capital...”

“Kenya confounded its critics...”

Daily briefings will include frequent use of key, major, strategic, vital and critical.

posted by infini at 6:27 AM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


"When we run out of bullets, we shoot rocket launchers."
Man, I was hoping to see a rocket launcher launcher.
posted by Flunkie at 6:34 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the things we read for Iran was the first volume of Persepolis. In it, we learn about the social consequences of the Islamic Revolution through the eyes of a young girl. Except, uh, her favorite book is Dialectic Materialism, her family is directly related to the former emperor, her parents have deep dissident connections, and they smuggle punk rock albums to her from abroad. So, essentially, she is completely un-typical in almost every imaginable way, but oh-so-relatable for the Western reader.

I went to high school with an Iranian girl whose family was much like this. So were their friends' families. Going to their house was such fun because her parents were super liberal and like geniuses or something.
posted by sweetkid at 7:24 AM on March 3, 2013


That's an inauthentic anecdote, sweetkid, cos we're like on Metafilter or something...gotta have a torn sari wrapped around your starving baby while you type or else...
posted by infini at 7:29 AM on March 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Even the rich Boers were authentically African in their own way

Why the past tense? The Afrikaans (not 'Boers', & quite a lot of them aren't rich) didn't somehow cease to exist after 1994.
posted by Flashman at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2013


Afrikaners. Afrikaans is the language they speak.
posted by lullaby at 7:41 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]



That's an inauthentic anecdote, sweetkid, cos we're like on Metafilter or something...gotta have a torn sari wrapped around your starving baby while you type or else...
posted by infini 10 minutes ago


Yeah, reminds me of when I told people in the US I was going to visit family in India, and they were like, "will you have to go to work in the rice fields?" and I was like "uh...they are middle class. Mostly doctors, engineers and teachers."
posted by sweetkid at 7:43 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Why the past tense?"

I was replying to a comment specifically talking about rich Boers, who are not precisely synonymous with the Afrikaners, in the 1980s. Though to be fair even if it were precisely synonymous I would not put it past Die Antwoord to own a time machine.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:45 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work at a company in Beijing that sells digital cable all over Africa and pulls in programming from all over the world. I'm a Euro-American with roots going back on both sides of the family to the days of the Puritans. 24-hours a day in English, French, Hindi, Chinese, and whatever local languages in Africa we can scour from the networks we partner with. Our market in Africa justifies those languages. This is a private company that, 5 years ago, was moribund selling digital cable boxes in the mainland China market, not a state-owned company that functions as an arm of the Chinese government. They can't lay cable fast enough.

Welcome to the new normal, y'all. The world you knew is gone. The Africa you knew is gone. And thanks for this, I'm looking for all the info on African media and trends I can get my hands on. This is awesome stuff.
posted by saysthis at 8:17 AM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yeah, reminds me of when I told people in the US I was going to visit family in India, and they were like, "will you have to go to work in the rice fields?" and I was like "uh...they are middle class. Mostly doctors, engineers and teachers."

So, what's it like to be raised in an inauthentic family? When did you first realize that you weren't actually real?
posted by yoink at 8:20 AM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


saysthis: shameless plug, personally curated, will come back with specific links to media trends and trendspotters - they're very active on Twitter, see hashtag #KOT for example (Kenyans On Twitter)
posted by infini at 8:23 AM on March 3, 2013


Totally hilarious for people who have never lived in the country in question (and Africa is not one country) deciding what's authentic or not.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:33 AM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, reminds me of when I told people in the US I was going to visit family in India, and they were like, "will you have to go to work in the rice fields?" and I was like "uh...they are middle class. Mostly doctors, engineers and teachers."

I have a Swiss friend who lived in the US for a decade or so, and, while her biggest peeve was being asked if she spoke Swedish (because they must speak something that begins "Sw-" right?), she was often annoyed that people thought she kept goats on her roof. And she was once asked "do you have electricity in your country?" Which...

Although the idea of being required to keep goats on your roof by law is sort of charming.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:13 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


An author I like, Teju Cole, has a link to the African Cities Reader on his website. He's a contributor. I haven't read all of it yet, but it's two downloadable PDFs, each with a number of contributions.

About African Cities Reader.
posted by ProtoStar at 9:26 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink: thanks!
posted by saysthis at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2013


'inauthentic africa' :P botswanian heavy metal fans! "A precious rarity for Africa."
posted by kliuless at 10:42 AM on March 3, 2013


In response to Blasdelb, infini, KokuRyu, and others:

Look, I come from eastern Europe, I get an apparently similar array of unpleasant and misinformed questions. My life is also a tangle of contradictions. I did include caveats and scare quotes on "authentic." I realize that it's a loaded term: I said as much in the beginning. Thank you for your callouts. Maybe I should've included quadruple quotes around the word. There was a key point, and I'm sorry I didn't highlight it more clearly: I know how to speak for myself, as do you, and I know how to describe my own weird experience. I don't "speak for eastern Europe" under any circumstances. I know how to use general terms to talk about numbers and trends. I don't know how to use general terms to talk about people and communities. For instance, I can't really answer questions like "what's it like to live in Russia?" or "what are people in Russia like?" (especially given that I wasn't born in Russia).

On the other hand, if the subtext in articles like these is that we must get on the same page with educated urban elites from around Africa so that we can partner with them economically and so they can get VC funding, well, that's something very different and not something I can even really speak about.
posted by Nomyte at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nomyte, I think we took off (perhaps unfairly, but based on what the comments said) on the aspect that the "elites" could not represent the "whole". I think that what's going on here (aside from any particular word choice that the Ebony author may have used) is that Africa, as a concept, has been too heavily publicized in Anglo American media (as well as most EU/OECD) media as "poor, diseased, war ridden" for too long and that local Africans are as fed up of the world thinking they're all poor or that that is the sum total of the African story as Indians were, upto a decade or less ago, at the media story of snake charmers and elephants.

That a well rounded image of a particularly country or region is not just poor or rich, or black or white and that the voice of the regular middle class are rarely heard. Here's a snippet from a regular old opinion piece from a Kenyan writer:

We spent our first two years of married life, 2003 and 2004, in England. I was surprised that whenever a story on Nairobi appeared on television, it was almost always about one big slum or the other. Any news from Africa was famine, war, backwardness.

Every other charity raising money for Africa had a weeping, nose dripping, black child with flies all over the face as a cover poster. A brown child with a cleft lip, tears streaming down their face. Messages such as, “A dollar a day will make a difference,” “Buy a goat and change her life,” were common. People would comment about how lucky I was to be in England, away from all that suffering. Again, being poor at spontaneous response, I seethed at some of the stupid comments and fantasised about coming up with stinging replies. Another waste of the little brain energy left in me.


Perhaps, as many of us, you didn't grow up being bombarded by messages in the media of "poor Africa" and thus the holistic context of this piece may not be making as much sense to you?

Right now, the kenyan elections are due tomorrow but kenyans themselves feel that the international media is hovering like vultures...


On the other hand, if the subtext in articles like these is that we must get on the same page with educated urban elites from around Africa so that we can partner with them economically and so they can get VC funding, well, that's something very different


Yes.
posted by infini at 11:05 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, got it.

Africa: Not homogeneous.
posted by sour cream at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2013


infini: I used to subscribe to a Russian magazine called Snob. When it launched in the US, it ran ads in places like the New Yorker with text to the effect of "ask your Russian friends to read it to you." Pulling an issue off the shelf, I see ads for Alex Soldier jewelry at Saks Fifth Avenue, luxury lofts from DeNiro Group, and Swiss Air. Snob is a magazine about topical issues of the day for "global Russians." I've never seen any mention of the Russian public health problems (infectious hepatitis, HIV, substance abuse, etc.), nor any labor-related issues, nor any regional politics topics. The Snob front page right now, for instance, spotlights the apparently critical issue surrounding the right of the Russian child not to be adopted by monstrous American parents. And I'm sure there are Russians who've spent several years as international professionals living abroad who would be equally upset if sordid topics like public health started appearing in Snob.

So, on one hand, I see your point and obviously realize that all coverage is politicized. That's as true for coverage of Africa as it is for coverage of Putin's Russia. It's best for us, as readers, to think about the complex set of lenses through which something is reported. And that includes both explicit agendas, the perceptions of the readership, and the general set of preexisting ideas about the subject at hand.

But I do also hope that you understand the ambiguity I feel about what I perceive as calls for more coverage like Snob Magazine.
posted by Nomyte at 11:53 AM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Although the idea of being required to keep goats on your roof by law is sort of charming

Charming, but not half as charming as goats in trees.
posted by ambivalentic at 4:02 PM on March 3, 2013


Nomyte: you're from Eastern Europe and you have a computer? And you're chatting on it instead of fighting Serbs or Croatians? How incredibly inauthentic.
posted by happyroach at 4:27 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I M ON UR KOMPUTERZ HAKING IN2 UR GOOGLZ.
posted by Nomyte at 4:32 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


He wrote in to the banking blog saying "You haven't had anything about investment banking in Africa. Have I missed something?"
posted by adamvasco at 4:40 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


'inauthentic africa' :P botswanian heavy metal fans! "A precious rarity for Africa."

Desert sounds – Kalahari metalheads pursue a dream. Botswana's heavy metal bands defy criticism – and heat – in their search for artistic freedom
posted by homunculus at 4:53 PM on March 3, 2013


Although the idea of being required to keep goats on your roof by law is sort of charming

Charming, but not half as charming as goats in trees.


I see your goats in trees, and raise you a goat standing on a cow.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:55 PM on March 3, 2013


My point above is that that there is no one single "authentic" reality for "Africans", even in a single country. There are multiple realities, and multiple points of view, all equally valid (the same can be said for any society in the world).

Also, I would wager that most folks in the countries that make up Africa have middle class aspirations, if they are not middle class already. And why the hell not.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:43 PM on March 3, 2013


Nomyte, I think the nuance this coverage seeks to offer isn't exactly "not everybody in Africa is poor"; it's more along the lines of "not everybody in Africa is desperate." Africans are so often portrayed in American media as passive victims of one catastrophe after another, and to combat that, the people in this article are talking about what it's like to live a daily life there. Right now we're seeing mostly upper-class lives because upper-class people are the ones with the resources to get profiled first in American glossies, but 34% of the continent's population is categorized as middle-class, and this kind of coverage is, if not exactly representative of all of them, a step forward from the waiting-for-the-next-famine type.
posted by ostro at 12:20 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


saysthis: And thanks for this, I'm looking for all the info on African media and trends I can get my hands on. This is awesome stuff.

The largest film festival on the continent, FESPACO, just took place here in Ouagadougou last week. It includes television entries, and I happened to catch the first three episodes of a series called "Waga Love," about two women opening up a marriage matchmaking service. It is hilarious, and if you ever come across it you should watch it. And if that ever happens, please let me know where I can see more! There was woefully little information on the cards they gave out at the showing, just the director's name; the site I linked here says there are 30 episodes, but it doesn't give any information on who (if anyone) is distributing them.

Africa - The world's fastest growing continent.
Geologists baffled.
posted by solotoro at 12:32 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just got a MeMail, pointing out that the map I linked up above there is not very well done. The graphics it uses for country shapes and sizes don't match the countries used in the total area list! So don't use that map for anything serious.

The approximate sizes are still roughly correct, but the hard numbers aren't related to the graphics, sadly. What a shame to put that much work into it, and then mess it all up like that.

Just wanted to add a heads-up.

I'm hosting it in my webspace just to be polite, and not burn someone's bandwidth with a hotlink. I actually got the original here:

How Big Is Africa?
posted by Malor at 5:03 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The government has called on the international media to desist from negative and inciting reporting on Kenya in the run up to the March 4 General Elections.

Information PS Dr Bitange Ndemo said alarmist and irresponsible reporting would affect the peace and cohesion that is prevailing in the country.

Speaking at a press conference at a Nairobi hotel Saturday, he specifically singled out the Cable News network (CNN)for airing a news story alleging that Kenyans were arming themselves and preparing for war, ahead of Monday's historic poll.

The clip aired showed an unnamed militia group preparing to cause mayhem in the Rift Valley in the election period

Dr. Ndemo said that the CNN clip was stage managed adding that the media house did not verify its report with the police or other relevant government agency.

Ndemo warned that stern action will be taken against the international media for spreading false information.

"CNN did not verify its facts. It went to the some bush and stage managed the story," he said adding that the government would investigate the source of the footage and take appropriate action.

The PS said the government will formally write a protest letter to CNN and demand a retraction of the story adding that the story was meant to destroy the country.


Dr. Ndemo said CNN should be on the forefront in championing the best practices in journalism.

Kenyans have reacted angrily at the news story.

posted by infini at 10:26 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dr. Ndemo said that the CNN clip was stage managed adding that the media house did not verify its report with the police or other relevant government agency.

Somebody needs to give autocrats a big boot up the ass when they say shit like this.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:33 AM on March 4, 2013


Dr Ndemo or CNN?

fwiw, I've seen Dr Ndemo speak (from less than 3 meters away) at a conference and he's a genuine rockstar.
posted by infini at 11:59 AM on March 4, 2013


Africa Needs Fewer Humanitarians, More Profit-Seeking Chinese Investors
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:21 PM on March 4, 2013


In no democracy should there be the need to clear news stories with government or the police. From what I know about Kenyan politics (a client has business operations there) the government is corrupt, and some elements of the government use violence to influence elections.

As for CNN, I don't think anyone who knows about my posting history would ever say that I gave any credibility to any western news service reporting about any international affairs.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:09 PM on March 4, 2013


I hear you. I think the issue here was seeking to incite violence by faking news.
posted by infini at 4:55 PM on March 4, 2013


KokuRyu, this is the razor's edge we've all been trying to walk along, isn't it? I mean, you're really just saying that you have insider knowledge about one part of Africa, and so it makes sense for you to make assumptions about corruption and violence and freedom of the press. I hope you'll concur that that's problematic in the context of the conversation we've been having.
posted by Nomyte at 5:23 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Photo of the Day: Kenyans line up to vote well before dawn
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:23 PM on March 4, 2013


Your sarcasm is doubtlessly correct, delmoi. This is why nobody pays attention to statistical opinion polls of Western public opinion or official governmental stats on income that give rise to slogans like the 1%.
What percentage of the western public do you think pays attention to opinion polls unrelated to upcoming elections?

And the reason they care in election isn't because they want to "know america" it's because they want to know how is going to win (which is why people paid more attention to polls in Ohio then California or Texas, despite the fact that those states are just as "authentic" as eachother). No one pays much attention to public opinion polls in China, despite the fact they do exit.
It's sort of hilarious that a map that is partly meant to suggest to us that Africa is so large it can't possibly be homogenous treats all of Eastern Europe as a single country.
And it treats china as two countries, because clearly those blocks are meant to represent countries, and not just, like, large blocks of land or something.
Snob is a magazine about topical issues of the day for "global Russians." I've never seen any mention of the Russian public health problems (infectious hepatitis, HIV, substance abuse, etc.), nor any labor-related issues, nor any regional politics topics. The Snob front page right now, for instance,
Russia has a lot of rich people. They want to talk to each other about stuff that interests them. America has a ton of public health problems too, do you expect them to be discussed in Vouge or Maxim?
Somebody needs to give autocrats a big boot up the ass when they say shit like this.
Yes, all those autocrats pushing for free, fair, and non-violent elections. Terrible people. Need a boot up their ass.

Would a journalist be doing their job if they reported on a bank robbery or other crime without even bothering to check with the police to see if they had any record of it?
In no democracy should there be the need to clear news stories with government or the police.
Why said anything about clearing a story with the government or police? He said they should have verified it. You can still report a story if the government says it didn't happen, but it seems reasonable to at least get a quote.
posted by delmoi at 3:54 AM on March 6, 2013


Someone (else, not me) needs to do an FPP on the Kenyan election, open data and the APIs they're using to directly help with vote counts.
posted by infini at 8:19 AM on March 6, 2013


2013 Kenyan Elections: Post-Election Report
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Since I was in university, I had this passion of magazines and I used to collect a lot of lifestyle magazines in South Africa. Back in Tanzania, I saw a huge gap - we didn't have a lifestyle magazine," she told the BBC's series African Dream.

"We didn't actually have a magazine that showcased the talents, the good things and gave hope to people".

According to her, the only magazine available at the time "was donor-funded and they'd talk about HIV/Aids and show people who are sick and stuff, but it looked like in Tanzania there's no creativity at all".


Mrs Mwamanga says she had no idea how long the magazine would last but was determined to prove that she could make a success of it.

"The first issue that came out was actually a flop. It was a beautiful magazine but, you know, I didn't have the insight or background of working in the media," she told BBC Africa's Tulanana Bohel

posted by infini at 11:32 PM on March 8, 2013


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