African Renaissance Conference  24- 26 May 2018



    The Danger of a Single Story

    Honest assessment, as you well know, dictates that we must be aware of “The Danger of a Single Story” which the bright young Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, explained with her characteristic straight talk:: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

    For far too long we have seen stereotypical and one sided story being used to describe Africa. From the time of the European Renaissance in the fifteenth century, Africa has been portrayed as a place of mystery, a savage wasteland of hideous human culture. Forgotten were the contribution of Africans to the so called age of enlightenment. Tall figures of African descent such as Russian poet Pushkin, French writer Alexander Dumas, Franciscan monk St. Benedict of Palermo, who was born to Ethiopian parents, and many others, contributed in significant ways to the success of the European.

    More recently contemporary literature and art continued to give a one sided and mostly erroneous view of Africa. The legacies of European intellectuals across times such as painter William de Vos, philosopher
    George Hegel or writer Joseph Conrad. Although Hegel never visited Africa he lay down a criticism of the continent upon which most future Western readings, art and music eventually followed. “For it
    (Africa) is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit,” he wrote.

    Even today, many of these beliefs continue to leave an arborous scar on global society. Many current scholars, writers and journalists, continue this farce of mislabeling Africa. It is now time to turn a new page and tell the complete and true stories of our continent. We must look to promote the rich, multiple narratives of the African experience, past and present. Failure to do so will result in the continuation of
    negative and derogatory narratives about Africa that are dictated and written mostly by others, but surprisingly sometimes by Africans as well. Africa’s new narrative must focus on the transformative agenda and the realities of a growing continent.

    Over the past decade, our GDP doubled. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia. With 600 million mobile phone users, Africa has overtaken the US, Europe or India in mobile phone penetration and spread. While Dublin bus drivers have to give change in the form of a paper receipt
    that is redeemable only at the central office, in Nairobi, buses have Near Field Communication technology that wirelessly transfers funds from your mobile phone in seconds: no delay, no
    cash, no change, and you just pay the correct fare.

    Tunisia’s investment in renewable energy through domestic solar market development has resulted in half a million families reducing their Co2 emissions, and the creation of many jobs through the 42 suppliers and 1000 companies that installed the system.

    Cape Verde, in a space of 30 years, has increased its per capita income by a factor of 3.5. The phosphate industry in Morocco has positioned itself in the entire value chain and produces everything
    from fertilizer to phosphoric acid and its derivatives. The same country is now assembling planes. And the stories go on…

    These are the stories we need to tell. This is the Africa we must portray and write about. There is that often repeated proverb that says that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. I am more interested in cheetahs than lions because they are faster, leaner and also more gender sensitive. That is why my blog is called ‘Africa Cheetah Run’. Africans must find the right tools to tell their story and this means having the professionalism and the capacity to report
    accurately and analyse facts. To weave our own narrative, we must have the courage to draw on the best knowledge and expertise generated within the continent. By this I do not mean that African media
    should put a gloss on Africa’s challenges or make a hyperbole of its opportunities, I certainly do not mean we should not write about injustices where it exists or that we should not speak truth to power;
    I simply ask that African media direct the seekers of knowledge to the right sources, and consciously rebrand our continent.

    As the narrative of the continent continues to change, we need to be at the forefront of writing, analysing and recording it, and not just quoting those who observe us from afar. Even if they look nice to us.
    Extracts from the Statement by Mr. Carlos Lopes, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ECA at the Africa Media Leaders Forum 8 November 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Full text