It’s common knowledge that bad news makes the best news. But is this really true? We all like to hear about the good things that have happened to our friends and the achievements they have made. It takes a very bitter person to only take pleasure at misfortune. So why do we all believe that news from Africa has to be bad to be marketable?
What constitutes news is defined by the media corporations of the rich nations. These institutions dominate the creation and production of news to the extent that Africans are now learning about themselves through the eyes of non-Africans. Local Ghanaian media often relies on these international corporations to generate news for them and as this news is almost entirely negative. So where do Ghanaians get to hear about their achievements?
The media corporations do also report negative stories about corruption and poverty in Europe and the USA. But there is a difference. Imagine someone saying this:
“I’m not sure how Americans live. I know they don’t live in trees but do they still live in shacks in the desert and travel about on horse-drawn wagons?”
If the media are equally negative about the rich countries, why is it we all know about their successes and achievements? Why is the above quote ridiculous? We all know about the way people live in the USA – if anything it is an image better than the reality of people’s lives. Yet ask a non-African about the life-styles of Africa and they will say they don’t know (unless they have visited the continent).
Ghana is pretty much a success story. A country launched by a visionary, which maintains stability and peace in stark contrast to its neighbours. It has become a model democracy, has freedom of the press and some of its citizens have become international role models. Despite the fact it is likely to become the modern business hub for the whole of West Africa it has still been able to enshrine some of its traditional structures and customs.
Societies work hard to justify their own existence. The rich countries attempt to convince their citizens, and citizens from other parts of the world, of the superiority of their system. They are steadily winning the battle to convince us that theirs is the only way to live. The need for new homogenised markets is the driving force behind this fiction.
The media corporations often belittle other ways of living, ignoring their own self-destruct mechanisms and failing to point out the benefits of alternative systems. In this context, the denigration of Africa is essential for getting Africa to come into the world-wide market, to persuade Africans to desire every bit of consumerist nonsense produced and to convince the rich country’s own increasingly atomised, individualised citizens, that their work-driven, stressful, isolated lives were the destiny the whole of humanity had been striving towards since we first waddled out of the sea.
There is hope however. Journalists pride themselves on their professionalism and their sense of fairness. Politely writing to the international media can make them think differently. Citizen journalism can have a small effect if they shout loud enough into the abyss.
But I believe it is time for Africa to sing its own praises and to look at the rest of the world through its own eyes. Start to question how we can call a country developed that does not allow its children to look after its elderly. Question how development appears to destroy families by assigning its roles to the state. Why does crime increase resulting in more laws, police and prisons even when they didn’t work before? Discuss how the peculiarly ‘Western’ notion of hoarding wealth increases the gap between rich and poor? And let’s examine their prized system of ‘democracy’ which is really only remote democracy and nothing like the genuine African grass-roots democracy as traditionally practised.
Rather than sit back helplessly, it is time for African governments, its media and its citizens to take the offensive, talk about its achievements and use its own yard-stick to evaluate the rest of the world.