by Charlie Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) Moky Makura (@mokymakura) of multi-partner collaborative #AfricaNoFilter speaks to MarkLives about the challenge of transforming how brands, marketers, the media and Africans themselves tell the land of the Sahara’s story. Home to 1.2bn people, Africa has 3 000 different ethnic groups who speak over 2 000 languages and yet, says Makura, the continent is often oversimplified and cast as monolithic.

Until debt tear us apartTransformers Transform 2020” is a special series produced by MarkLives and HumanInsight and sponsored by the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA), running Jun–Sep 2020. Together with Lebogang Tshetlo, we’ll be profiling remarkable local #Transformers every other Friday until September, featuring Tshetlo’s photography. The objective of this an independently managed, journalism-driven research project is to explore and map new paths for brands and marketers to transform, adapt and build resilience while the world adapts to covid-19 and its resultant social, political and economic toll.

Disrupting the pejorative narrative

In this video interview, Makura discusses:

  • The dominant narratives that exist about Africa, and what can be done to disrupt them
  • Xenophobia, and the stories that Africans believe about other Africans
  • Why myth-busting is critical to reframing prejudices
  • Why pop culture is one of the most-influential ways of changing people’s attitudes
  • The grants that #AfricaNoFilter will be making to local media organisations
  • #AfricaNoFilter’s role as a watchdog that polices reductive reporting
  • Why there are two sides, and a lot of nuance, to the Beyoncé “Black Is King” debate
  • Why story humanises people and creates a deeper understanding of diversity
  • The success of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and how this hasn’t happened overnight
  • Why local advertising agencies need to step up to the plate when it comes to telling Africa’s story
  • Why diverse, nuanced, rich stories about Africa and Africans fuel young dreams and ambitions.

Makura and her team are intent on disrupting the pejorative narrative that undermines this continent. Appointed in February 2020, Makura leads this multi-partner collaborative that seeks to “amplify African voices and reimagine deep-rooted narratives about the African continent”.

“There is no shortage of powerful storytellers and creative voices in Africa, and by making sure these stories are heard, we can help remove barriers to progress, justice and inclusion,” says Makura, who brings 25 years of experience working in the communications industries to her role as executive director of #AfricaNoFilter. Formerly the African Anchor for Carte Blanche, Makura has written one of South Africa’s best-selling books, “Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs”.

Diminishing work

In the year 2000, The Economist — self-described as one of the most widely recognised and well-read current-affairs publications in the world — ran with a cover feature on Africa that declared it a “Hopeless Continent.” Inside the feature opined, “The new millennium has brought more disaster than hope to Africa. Worse, the few candles of hope are flickering weakly.”

Twenty years on, as Africa approaches one million coronavirus cases, the publication is still not doing this continent any favours. In a story headlined “Continental contagion — Africa is woefully ill-equipped to cope with COVID-19”, the piece does more diminishing work: “’In the township people are not worried at all,’ says Lesedi Kgasago, a student from Soweto, Johannesburg. Among his friends ‘corona’ is seen either as something that afflicts white people or a fiction. When life is a struggle it is hard to worry about a threat you cannot see.”

In a single headline and a paragraph Africa is again reduced to the hapless and “hopeless” stereotype — an impoverished ‘dark continent’ defined by ignorance, failure, dependency, incompetence and backwardness. Yet Africa’s problem is not just one of being perpetually misrepresented but also of not being represented at all.

Absence from news agenda

In “Shithole” Countries? The Media’s Portrayal of Africa Reconsidered, Virgil Hawkins explores this phenomenon, and the continent’s absence from the global news agenda: “The first thing to notice about how Africa is portrayed by the media is that it generally is not,” Hawkins writes.

“Studies of major internationally-focused Western (US, UK, French) news outlets (newspapers and TV) have found that Africa tends to account for roughly 6% to 9% of the total amount of international news; in Japanese news, this drops to 2% to 3%. Even if we generously assume that 20% of the news is focused on international events (it rarely rises above 15%), that still means that, at best, less than 2% of coverage in a Western newspaper will be about Africa. That does not leave a lot of room to portray Africa in all its diversity.”

See also


Charlie MathewsAs an entrepreneur, Charlie Mathews (@CharlesLeeZA) has worked in growth teams with Naspers, Microsoft, and (the global prepaid card company). Mathews has also successfully founded and exited two marketing companies. Published in Rolling Stone magazine, Guardian UK, and SA’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, edited by Moky Makura, Mathews wrote for Daily Maverick during the title’s legendary startup era. Today, Mathews is the founder and CEO of HumanInsight, a research, insights and learning company that helps brands better understand, and serve — humans.

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