What if we were to believe in the value of our narrative? What if we start investing and owning the production and distribution of these narratives?
I recently read ‘The Business In Africa Narrative Report’ published by Africa No Filter about the current narrative of business in Africa. Every single issue that the report raised highlighted the fact that storytelling is a major driver of commerce and contributor to our respective GDPs.
How the world…actually, forget the world; how we as Africans living on the continent understand or view the economic prospects of our continent is completely different to what the globe knows and hears. When we see a headline that says South Africa and Nigeria are not the only viable countries worthy of investing in it probably doesn’t shock us but sadly it does shock the rest of the world because we are not the ones leading the charge in telling our narratives.
According to Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, Africa needs to desperately make a concerted effort in changing the current narrative and perspective on Africa to increase foreign investment.
For far too long our people’s historic and economic narratives have been twisted, skewed, and thoroughly whitewashed – diluting and robbing us of our full cultural inheritances. It’s time we not only lead the charge in rewriting history, but we desperately need to grasp the urgency of also assuming the responsibility of capturing our current narratives and ensuring that they are told with integrity.
Stories are what have helped educate, shape, inform and define culture and women from all walks of life must be empowered to lead the charge in documenting and telling our current and future narratives. Far too many people who have no skin in the game are profiting off of our blood, sweat, and tears.
What Do We Need To Know?
Despite women and youth being the most underrepresented, Africa sits in the top three Mastercard Index for the highest concentration of women business owners in the world and we have the youngest population globally. “In fact, online news coverage of young people has declined since 2017, falling from 12.5% of articles referencing young people in 2017 to 8.1% in 2021.”
The Business Africa Narrative Report also highlights that the largest free trade area in the entire world is the African Continental Free Trade Area. I’m not going to lie, while seeing this in print is affirming it is equally as angering considering how for decades Africa has been presented as this wasteland pillaged of all its natural resources and investment opportunities. The Business Africa Narrative Report also noted that 54 of the participating countries have access to a combined Gross Domestic Product of $3.4 trillion. Sadly this narrative makes up less than 1% of the business news and analysis globally but perhaps more sadly in African media.
What Are We Being Sold?
- The same old tired stories about the role of governments, foreign powers, and an overemphasis on the viability of larger African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria.
- A minimizing of the significant role and need of young people, women, entrepreneurs, creative businesses, smaller successful African states and the truth about Africa’s future potential.
- Our worth can only be defined by the west – data from the report shows that “70% of international coverage about business in Africa is dominated by references to foreign powers like China, the USA, Russia, France and the UK.”
- Negative headlines such as the one published by leading international business newspaper The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), November 2021, “Military Coups in Africa at Highest Level Since End of Colonialism: Attempted or successful coups in Africa are occurring more frequently as democratic states buckle under pressure from COVID-19’. The fact is international media coverage is more likely to frame issues that impact Africa in a negative light and African media contributes to the narrative by continuously framing our narratives around corruption. In fact, data shows that African media is twice as likely to report corruption in their business as opposed to their international counterparts.
- When coverage is positive the narrative solely focuses on South Africa and Nigeria completely omitting African business stars such as Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, or Seychelles.
There is no doubt that both foreign and national media overemphasis the role of foreign powers, governments (government, policy and regulations dominating around 54.5% of business news), and larger African countries while grossly underplaying the role of their smaller counterparts, women, youth, entrepreneurs, and the creative industry serves a purpose, but whose?
Ultimately what The Business In Africa Narrative Report highlights is the fact that if we do not immediately assume the role of shifting perceptions of Africa’s economic viability the top 1% will continue to reap the profits of our resources. Our stories create powerful perceptions that are far-reaching and how these stories are framed doesn’t just impact our GDP but our local communities and our dreams and motivation of being the entrepreneurs, business leaders that we are.