The May 13th 2000 issue of the Economist has become infamous for embodying how the Western media represents Africa to this day. With a cover that earmarked Africa as the “Hopeless Continent,” the lead article insisted: “The new millennium has brought more disaster than hope to Africa. Worse, the few candles of hope are flickering weakly.”
This kind of attitude can be traced back to Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking theory of evolution. In his book, Darwin claimed that Africans were still evolving. Therefore, they did not fall within the ‘favoured races’ category enjoyed by Europeans. Darwin’s commentary on Africa laid the foundation for several European explorers, missionaries, and authors who provided the media images of Africa for the rest of the millennium.
I work on the Kids team in my church. A few Sundays ago, we got the children to imagine what they would do with a billion pounds. Among the Unicorns, mansions and unlimited games, one child said he’d give the money to ‘the children in Africa’. Clearly seeing a problem, another child corrected him ‘But there aren’t any shops in Africa! Where would they buy clothes and food?’
Obviously, this is not correct, and all of the adults in the room knew that. The problem is, none of us said a word. For me, it was a mixture of shock and embarrassment that caused me to hold my tongue. However, that means that that particular myth will live on in that child.
That is one of the primary problems. There are a lot of myths about Africa, most of them untrue.
There are many myths about poverty in Africa. Most of them promote the idea that the majority of Africans are poor and helpless, in desperate need of food and water; except for the corrupt generals and politicians, of course. However, the reality is that Africa has a diverse distribution of wealth. Sure, about 50 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population lives on less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank. But sub-Saharan Africa’s middle class has tripled in the last 30 years, reaching 425.6 million people, or 35 per cent of the population.
Obviously, this is a serious issue. Millions of the African diaspora – that is, Africans outside of Africa – are being unconsciously conditioned to be ashamed and embarrassed by their homeland. The explosive reaction to Black Panther by Africans all over the world shows how starved they have been of stories that we can champion. We need to change the narrative. Africa is a gorgeous continent filled with incredible people with amazing stories to tell. It will be a huge struggle to change the minds of such a large amount of people. Sure, it will be a slow and gradual process. However, I believe that this is an issue that is important enough to fight for.