Opinionista Oluwaseun Tella 27 May 2020

Beyond the narratives of Africa’s doom and gloom

Africa has recorded successes on many levels which are often ignored by global media — and we need to embrace and celebrate our unique contribution to the world.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has once again revealed global perceptions of Africa. A report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) stated that between 300,000 and 3.3 million Africans could lose their lives due to Covid-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted 190,000 deaths.

So far, Africa has proved the doomsayers wrong and shown that the fact that North America and Europe have struggled to combat the pandemic does not in any way signify a looming Armageddon on the continent. Beyond the narratives of doom and gloom, Africa has recorded successes on many levels which are often ignored by global media.  

Despite the impediments to democratisation in Africa, there are positive signs. For example, although countries like Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius are small, they command respect in the international arena, evident in various indices such as the Democracy Index, Freedom House and the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index that measure good governance. These states thus have the moral authority to promote democracy and human rights on the continent and beyond.

South Africa and Rwanda are already role models in terms of the Constitution and gender equality in politics, respectively. Indeed, South Africa’s 1996 Constitution is considered as one of the most liberal in the world and this has garnered the country significant international prestige. The South African experience could well serve as a template for other African countries, and Pretoria is well placed to offer the world lessons on constitutional order and human rights.

The case of Rwanda is also instructive. Women occupy more than 60% of the seats in this East African country’s lower house of parliament, the highest level in the world. It is worth noting that most countries, including those in Europe and the Americas, have struggled to meet the United Nations’s threshold of 30%. Rwanda has taken advantage of the benefits that accrue to it in this regard. It has hosted many global events on women’s issues such as the 2014 Women in Parliament (WIP) Global Summit and the 2017 Advancing Women in Leadership Forum in Africa and Asia. Thus, Rwanda provides a template for the world in respect of gender equality and justice.

Ubuntu represents the African philosophy that advocates humanistic values such as reciprocity, humanness, caring and forgiveness. It places primacy on the community rather than on an individual. This contradicts the Western culture that privileges the individual. Thus, Africa possesses human values to offer the world and the West in particular where there seems to be a moral vacuum. This implies that Africa could well serve as a model in terms of humanness and placing community over individualism.

Only when African values and culture begin to make a significant impact on the positive portrayal of Africa in the hearts and minds of people across the world will one begin to appreciate the continent’s relevance.

Despite the fact that South Africa is often characterised as a violent state (ranging from high levels of domestic violence to violent service delivery protests, xenophobic and racial attacks), it demonstrated the principle of Ubuntu in its post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which apartheid administration offenders were forgiven for their gross violation of the human rights of the black majority.

In terms of entertainment, Africa has continued to make its presence felt globally. Due to the extent of its reach, Nollywood has provided the platform for Africans to transmit their culture across the globe and tell their own stories. It attracts significant numbers of viewers from Africa and further afield (to a lesser extent) in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Caribbean countries. As the second-largest producer of movies in the world, Nollywood is well placed to provide a pan-African cinema that celebrates African heritage and achievement and counteracts negative perceptions of the continent. African music has also been making waves globally. Popular African artists in the Diaspora such as Senegalese Akon and Nigerian Jidenna have identified with their respective countries.

In the realm of fashion, there has been growing demand for African apparel in recent years. This has enhanced the popularity of African designers such as Ghanaian Oswald Boateng, South African David Tlale and Nigerian Lisa Folawiyo who have gained followers in Europe and America. Western designers such as Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Paul Smith draw inspiration from African textiles for some of their designs, and celebrities and personalities like Michelle Obama, Beyonce Knowles, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj wear African prints.

However, it is important to ensure that African values and cultural exports not only are driven by the need to achieve targets – such as 15% of global cultural output envisaged in Aspiration 5 of the African Union Agenda 2063 – but are also motivated by the desire to transmit African culture and values across the globe with the ultimate objective of counteracting negative perceptions of the continent.

Only when African values and culture begin to make a significant impact on the positive portrayal of Africa in the hearts and minds of people across the world will one begin to appreciate the continent’s relevance. For Africa to make a meaningful contribution, Africans must own and appreciate their heritage, values and culture.

As Africans, we must learn to appreciate and showcase authentic African values, languages and culture. DM

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