Rebranding Africa: Why we have to rebrand our ‘shithole’ continent

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Rebranding Africa: In the wake of comments made by the US president about Africa being a 'Shithole" continent. The African Perspective Magazine founder details why he started this platform and why we all need to rise up and join the fight to rebrand Africa ************

Rebranding Africa: Why we need to rebrand our ‘shithole’ continent

Wherever I’ve gone over the past four years or so, people have always had one question:  Why was I compelled to start a media platform focused on telling African stories? People seem fascinated by the idea of an African magazine whose sole mission is “rebranding” Africa. Even those who know me personally have said, “Moses, you’re not a journalist, you didn’t go to journalism school. Why did you decide to start this thing”?

In essence, I am an accidental media entrepreneur. I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be a magazine editor; in fact, I don’t remember even reading magazines until I was in university.

For me, this all started when my family and I moved to Canada a few years ago. I had spent almost 15 years living as a refugee, first in the forests of Congo, then in Tanzania, and for an extended period in a Nairobi slum. In Canada, for the first time ever, I had a television at home, and the Internet—I was connected to the whole world! For the first time, I had the opportunity to learn how the world viewed me as an African. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t at all ready for what I was to discover and how it would shape my life.

Let me take you back to my first Sunday in Canada. My family had just returned from church, and  I couldn’t wait to try out our new TV. That moment turned out to be monumental. The first thing I saw was an ad for UNICEF; a beautiful blond white woman was standing in what looked like the world’s most crowded slum, carrying a skin-and-bones African child with a thick cluster  of flies crawling around his mouth.

It was traumatizing, to say the least. As I type this, I can still vividly see that child. His image has remained stuck in my head all the years since. Unfortunately, as I’d come to learn later on, this is how many people see Africa and Africans. This image represents an entire continent for the majority of people in the West.

A week later, my brother and I were enrolled in school, and it would be there that I’d learn, for the first time, that I was black! You see, when you grow up in Africa, you don’t consider yourself black! You are a Luo, a Kikuyu, a Dinka or a Nuel, but ultimately you’re a Kenyan, a Sudanese, and then an African. So here I was, a black man for the first time … subjected to all the stereotypes that young, white high school kids have of black boys. I was supposed to be the DJ at every party I went to; I was supposed to be good at basketball and, after every shower at the gym, I was supposed to walk across the changing room naked because, you know, black men are blessed!

To be honest, it would take me a few more years to fully grasp the stereotypes and epithets that were directed at me and to understand the impact of these things on black boys and men living in this environment.

I was shocked by the reactions of some people I had a chance to connect with and tell my story to. They were surprised that I had just come from Africa and was able to speak English, that I knew how to drive a car, that I could order a meal at a restaurant. These personal experiences and the negative images of Africa and Africans that I’d see on TV and the Internet continued to shock and disturb my psyche.

So why do we need an African Perspective magazine? I mean, here’s a continent of 1.1 billion people, future home to 40% of all human beings, and we still don't really have a media platform to speak for us! Not only can we not defend ourselves against the ignorance of Western leaders, we can't even speak for ourselves!

For folks here, Africa was a country, a poor, starving country where people lived in trees and hunted for dinner beside hyenas and lions! Africa was full of diseases, and Africans were primitive. “How can you drive and you just came from Africa?” was a question I heard frequently,  no matter how much I tried to explain that if you’re capable of driving in Nairobi you can drive anywhere. I quickly realized that the Africa I knew (a gigantic and perhaps most diverse land mass on Earth) was not what people here saw in media—and that this was dangerous.

Having survived the genocide in Rwanda, I had spent years wondering how this horrible event could have happened: How could lifelong neighbours turn against one another? How could family betray other family members to those who would slaughter them? This led me to study the Holocaust and how Hitler’s propaganda was able, in the minds of Germans, to reduce a whole community of people to nothing—to animals. All my reading and research into how the perpetrators of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi accomplished their horrors always brought me to one key ally: the media.

In 1994, the Rwandan government and its Hutu extremist allies used radio as a key tool. For years, they had hammered into ears and minds that Tutsis were animals (cockroaches, to be specific); that they were not to be trusted; they were not human; that they eat people. This is why the average person was able to pick up a panga and wipe out members of his own family who happened to be Tutsi. A few decades earlier in Germany, Hitler had also used radio and print to further his program against Jews and others he hated, using gas, starvation, slave labour and weapons to kill 6 million people. Over these four years, when I’ve struggled to attract support and considered quitting my work with TAP to work on other things, it has been this recognition of the importance of media in counteracting negative messages that has kept me in the fight.

With what I had learned, I knew I had to get up and do something. I had to stop complaining and bashing CNN/BBC and the like on Facebook and Twitter about how they report on Africa, and take ownership of this problem. I had to do what I could to change the way the world views Africa. I had to build a platform that would be dedicated to rebranding Africa. I had to bring to the fore diverse stories from the continent; to reaffirm that the lives of over 1.1 billion people mattered.

Americans make up .4.4 percent of the world population but 22% of the world’s prison inmates.  More than 30,000 people die of gun violence in the U.S. every year, poverty remains rampant, racial conflict and tension are at their highest level in decades, and democracy is arguably in decline. So why is Africa the only “shithole”

Recently, I was again reminded of why an African media platform is needed, of why we need to rebrand Africa, when the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world referred to our entire continent as a “shithole.” Was I surprised? Unfortunately not! Donald Trump’s beliefs and sentiments are shared, consciously and often subconsciously, by many people and institutions in the West.

In the past, my adopted country of Canada, which markets itself as one of the most open, welcoming and liberal nations in the world, has been guilty of the same viewpoint. Until 1976, Canada’s   immigration policy deliberately sought immigrants from countries with people who looked more like Norwegians than Nigerians.

Israel, a country looking to rebuild relationships with the African Union, doesn’t want African immigrants on its soil—so much so that it is paying them to leave its territories. A peace index poll published by the Times of Israel in 2012 found that 52 percent of Jewish Israelis identified with the statement by their Minister of Culture and Sport, MK Miri Regev, that described African migrants as “a cancer in the body” of their nation.

Does Africa have serious issues and problems? Certainly, corruption is still rampant, nepotism is still prevalent. We have a massive demographic of unemployed youth, our education systems are still decades behind, and many of our mothers continue to perish during childbirth. Many of our urban residents continue to leave in unhealthy conditions, and so on. But Africa does not have a monopoly on these problems.

Americans make up .4.4 percent of the world population but 22% of the world’s prison inmates.  More than 30,000 people die of gun violence in the U.S. every year, poverty remains rampant, racial conflict and tension are at their highest level in decades, and democracy is arguably in decline. So why is Africa the only “shithole”? How come Americans don’t think about the children who go to bed hungry, the thousands of teens who have died in gun violence, or all those men and women behind bars, when America is mentioned? This is the argument that Akon was recently making. America knows how to brand itself, when we don’t.

Rebranding Africa - A Call to Action

So why do we need an African Perspective magazine? I mean, here’s a continent of 1.1 billion people, future home to 40% of all human beings, and we still don't really have a media platform to speak for us! Not only can we not defend ourselves against the ignorance of Western leaders, we can't even speak for ourselves! We need a platform that can depict our continent in diverse ways, one that can shape the African narrative on a global scale.

Going back to the comments made in the White House, I say that if we want to do something, then this is the time. This is our chance to insist that people stop saying things like this. To show the world and ourselves that our continent is the most sophisticated place on Earth. This is why TAP continues to push on; this is why we invested over $50,000 USD in African youth last year. This is the time to rebrand Africa.

This is the time for you to join me and the TAP family on this journey. If you’re a business or individual that would like to be part of this challenge to rebrand Africa, please email me directly (mutabaruka@tapmagonline.com), and let’s get the work going. The time is now.

Rebranding Africa

Rebranding Africa

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite African proverbs - “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”.

Amandla...