Appearances are everything, or so the saying goes, and as Africa continues its walk from poverty to prosperity, there’s been a rejiggering of its image. “Africa Rising” has become the catchphrase of a counter-movement, meant to rebrand Africa as a continent experiencing a come-up—safe for foreign investors and open to investment over aid.
This is different from the usual picture of Africa, painted for the rest of the world by billboards and commercials (still ubiquitous in Europe) that advertise a general African poverty and despair. Still, there’s confusion, a struggle for supremacy between the prevailing perception of Africa and the new global branding, particularly within African communities. There’s resistance to the Gospel of Africa rising; critics warn such claims overstate growth and are just a short-term result of China’s entrée.
But as the concept of Africa rising grows somewhat stale, there are entrepreneurs who have moved to add nuance to the conversation. So the early carving of the African media landscape has begun.
In the past five years, a number of networks have launched in or entered Africa, including Trace Africa, Arise TV, NN24 and Nickelodeon. And while networks like CNN and France 24 keep their hands in the pot and extend their coverage of the continent directed at continental Africans, a few African media heavyweights have themselves launched networks looking to capture an African audience and speak to the rest of the world in the process.
Mo Abudu and EbonyLifeTV
Nigerian media mogul Mo Abudu has long been called Nigeria’s answer to Oprah Winfrey and after her network EbonyLife TV launched last summer. To much excitement, the comparison was cemented. With EbonyLife, Abudu believes that if she’s able to reach and entertain the continent’s youth with its own stories, she’ll have the formula for capturing the rest of the world.
“We wanted to build a platform we could take to the world, so that people would better understand who we are as Africans,” she says. “We’re talking about love, relationships, careers. We’re talking about fashion, about all of the things that are important to people, all people.”
Abudu recounted the story of an interview on the BBC, when she was asked whether an African remake of ABC’s former hit Desperate Housewives will work.
“My response was, ‘the same passion, the same aspirations that everyone has globally are the same aspirations that we have in Nigeria, that we have in Africa. So when you see our version of Desperate Housewives, it will be representative of the Africa of today, of now.’ And that’s what we need to keep reinforcing globally.”
Ubiznews TV commercial
Amobé Mévégue and Ubiznews
After more than 20 years in French broadcasting, Amobé Mévégue launched Ubiznews in Paris, with visions of a pan-African panacea for African representations in Western media. The plan was to start in Francophone countries— which tend to be underserved in the overall African media landscape—and spread from there.
“The youth of Africa consumes Western content, mostly from our African-American brothers,” Mévégue says. “But we as Africans need to know about Kwaito from South Africa, about Katanga music, to talk about what’s going on with the designers and musicians coming out of Nigeria. We need to take charge and begin telling our own stories.”
Indeed, EbonyLife presenter Tosin Odunfa seconds Mévégue’s push for Afrocentric content.
“While Western media has its allure, we are drawn like magnets to people who look and sound like us on our TV screens,” he says.
Mévégue insists this is the beginning of a new era of a less potent Western media, presaged to a certain extent by the explosive popularity of African music, which has surely eclipsed the once wildly popular Western music.
“Sometimes we’re so open, we forget who we are. We need to get back to our roots but still appreciate what’s out there in the world,” Mévégue says. “And it doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the rest of the world. But it’s time for internal reflection.”
Mévégue hopes his network will create an environment that fosters a creativity that’s been begging for release across Africa. Mo Abudu neatly sums up the aim for most all-African media moguls:
“I want [the world] to appreciate Africa,” she says. “There’s a generation that’s aspirational and ambitious, and I want this to be a platform for them to be understood and appreciated around the world.”
Bolanle Omisore is a freelance journalist who covers business, energy and environment news from the African continent. Follow her on Twitter @venerableladyB.