Europe's Misconception of Africa – Andrew Onalenna Sesinyi
Andrew Onalenna Sesinyi is the Secretary General of the Union of National Radio and Television Organizations of Africa (URTNA). URTNA boasts more than 48 active member organizations which are all dedicated to the development of broadcasting in Africa. The organization seeks to empower the African people to tell the real stories of Africa, and to give a voice to African points of view in global politics, social affairs, and legal matters. Hailing from Botswana, Sesinyi has played an integral role in the empowerment of Africans in the media. The following is an excerpt from a speech he delivered at the World Electronic Media Forum in Geneva in December of 2003.
During my several travels around the world, no memory has remained as deeply engraved in my mind as the expressions of incredulity in the developed world countries I visited, whenever I showed excitement on the eve of my return home to Africa. To these well meaning people, some of them would be my hosts, the return to Africa for an African represents my reconciliation with poverty, hunger, disease and death. Many would actually express that they thought my clothes were bought in their countries and that the façade of my physical well being had been enhanced by their local food. These nice people, God-fearing and non-racist people, would have watched their cable television networks and viewed an African story that would invariably feature a continent of conflict, self-inflicted suffering, cannibalism, rampant corruption, misery and death. Many a times they would have already referred to me several times as "different" and asked me with disbelief how I came to speak the English language so well. I haven't mastered my French yet but I'm getting there and I know questions await me. How then can this so-called different African be excited about returning to purgatory? Some have actually politely accused me of putting on an act to minimise the daunting prospects of returning to the hell on earth called Africa.
All these people are products of, victims of, and faithful believers of the power of the New Media to bring the truth- nothing else but the truth- to their living rooms. What a wonderful world, this Digital Age!
There, in front of them, and with digital excellence, their television sets and the silky voice of their African correspondent loaded with an amazing repertoire of vaccinations in the blood, would have told them an African story. At times the child in me overcomes my old age and silently asks me a bemused question: if they think there is no life in Africa, how come they believe there is death? Even going back decades, one asks: if these Africans have been dying in such multitudes, how in the world do we still have millions of them?
The real questions to be asked by a mature, well informed and a fair judge of information and communication processes would be: Is that an African story? Just because your TV set has shown Africa and the Africans, does it make it an African story? Has the African story been told? The other question is: who is telling the story?
A true African story would and should not be in denial. We are dying of poverty, hunger, disease and conflict; but the African story would carry some explanations or give some insight into the illogical scenarios of armed gangs with sophisticated weapons in regions where you cannot even get an aspirin. An African story would put into perspective the fact that not all of Africa in conflict is conflict-diamond sponsored, and would ask: how in the world do these New Age weapons of destruction leave the efficient contours and shores of the developed world? Who are the real sponsors?
An African story would reveal how self-proclaimed environmentalists with more money than information run endless campaigns designed to perpetuate ignorance in Africa and convert people into wildlife species for the tourist pleasures of the developed world; and also for the pseudo-environmentalists, just to prove that Africa is wild and has to stay wild. Yet, with most of our real wildlife species still in tact, we represent the best conservationists in the world. An African story would question where the abundant wildlife species of the developed world has gone to: rare bird species shot for sport and target practice, buffalo decimated, forests razed down. Who is the expert here on conservation?
An African story would reveal how in 1994, when Nelson Mandela exchanged hats with F.W. de Klerk in an atmosphere of peace, security, tranquility and amazing decorum, western journalists packed their bags, unplugged their New Age media technology, and publicly complained that the Pretoria ceremony was a non-story; and that they were heading for the Great Lakes Region where once again, Africans were killing each other. The inauguration of President Nelson Mandela had been speculated to be an event fraught with danger and almost certain violence. The Developed World media was disappointed at what they felt was an unreal African story.
The full story, the real story; the comprehensive story about Africa and the Africans can best be told through concerted efforts to develop local content and ensure that it is disseminated in the broadest manner possible. In Africa, traditional broadcasting remains the most potent tool for the dissemination of information, communication and education. The advent of new technologies has not, however, been used to strengthen the supply of local content. I say the supply because local content does exist but it is predominantly a raw material that requires refinement and subsequent dissemination.
Several philanthropic organisations, individuals and countries of the developed world have rushed to Africa's side and assisted in a number of ways. They have relentlessly been engaged in anti-poverty schemes and campaigns against diseases including the current pandemic: HIV/AIDS. We are eternally grateful. But problem solving methods, mechanisms and solutions arising there from are not interacted even though the problems are virtually identical. The successes of one region are inefficiently shared around the continent resulting in recidivism of problems.
My Organisation wishes to enter the sphere of broadcasting and collaborate with others towards the strengthening of interactive broadcasting in Africa. Simply put, we wish to enhance local content development and content-sharing either through simultaneous transmissions or delayed broadcasts. Information is a cure for many ills in our society and just like the successful medication, the information distribution system of Africa should be improved, strengthened and modernised in order to spread messages cost-effectively and efficiently. That would have the impact of sustaining the strength of our supporters and enhancing our chances to be an active part of the global village.