Distortions, exaggerations and untruths come easy when reporting Africa because they build upon a set of common themes in which certain stereotypes are taken for granted. Attitudes to poverty, corruption, crime, etc. provide a foundation on which other narratives are built. These narratives are dominated by a viewpoint from those outside Africa.

Some NGO’s also use this language to raise donor funds as suggested in Hiding the Real Africa. Leftists, in wanting to side with the poor, also fall into the same trap believing they will stoke righteous anger and raise awareness and funding to support poverty or corruption eradication programmes.

The recent report The Sakawa Boys: Inside the Bizarre Criminal World of Ghana’s Cyber-Juju Email Scam Gangs, on motherboard.tv has indeed stirred a righteous anger when republished with an offensive commentary on CNN, but the anger is from Ghanaians and others living in Ghana who have had enough of the falsifications and re-echoing of ‘wrong’ stereotypes that a researcher should be able to easily see-through after a couple of months in Ghana.

Journalists from the socially degenerate nations, such as the USA, often see only a mirror reflection of their own world when they report on socially developed countries such as Ghana. They are often not here long enough to make sense of their observations; instead looking for confirmation of what they already believe, based on the common set of themes. The compliance of Ghanaians in the larger society, often supplies the confirmation they need. Mistaking smiling, nodding and affirmative replies as agreement, they fail to see the dangers anthropologists are aware of.

Hence the journalist, Thomas Morton, mistakenly fell for the stories of a local criminal finding a tenuous link between e-waste, the informal industry surrounding it and general traditional religious rituals, and internet fraud. This brings into question his journalistic research methods.

However, these misrepresentations are not as harmful as the untruths which appeared in the additional commentary on the CNN site, either written by Mr Morton or the result of a CNN editorial.

The fabrications about the environment in Accra, begs the question whether the writer has actually seen for himself or heard second hand.

  • Writing that the President’s “Palace” is surrounded by dirt-roads is a lie.
  • His addition that the “Presidential palace” apparently “gold-columned” is perhaps a code for “rich, fat, corrupt African dictator lives here”.
  • A statement suggesting that 99% of Ghanaians sell ‘pure water’ on the roadside whilst the other 1% languish in luxury in bars with a $50 entrance fee, is an exaggeration that is laughable and inaccurate.
  • The accusation that ‘most’ Ghanaians have to use crime to buy a nice car betrays the obvious reality of Ghanaian life.

For the criminal, Sefa, his stories may have been in return for payment but certainly for acceptance in, and also a distancing from, the criminal world of which he plays a part. Over exaggerating the situation allows him to assume a “big man” identity, making him important enough to speak to the ‘white man’ from the press. The journalist plays along encouraging us to pity Ghanaians whilst romanticising the criminals as heroes fighting the ‘corrupt rich pigs’ living in their “gold-columned presidential palaces”. Neither approach is real or helpful.

The sad reality is that very few Africans have enough influence to be heard within the international media, telling truthful stories from this continent. These media corporations are part of the same structures that reinforce the dominance of the North in the world through misrepresentations about the African continent. We don’t need pity but we do need righteous anger at structural injustice and the lies it generates. We need to keep talking, writing and challenging those journalists whose consciences can be jogged. Africans cannot leave it to others to define who they are but must assert their identities on the world stage and force the world to listen.

Related articles:

Recommended: Ghana gets the VICE treatment
Sign the Petition: End the Substandard and Racist Journalism on Africa
Another Fool Writes on Ghana–Bad Reportage Akwaaba
Motherboard – I am from Ghana and I don’t sell bags of water
…and CNN got Ghanaians upset
CNN Gets Ghana Wrong
Bloggers React to Demeaning and Misleading Article
…why Africans can’t speak for themselves?
Bad News is Good News (especially when it comes to Africa)