ITL #503   Changing a tired narrative: Africa’s brain drain ambassadors

1 year, 6 months ago

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Wherever we go in the world, we all have a responsibility to tell Africa’s positive stories. By Chris Genasi.



Over the last few months, a number of the most talented people I have worked with across Africa, have moved to either the US or the UK for a better life. More money, better quality education, better healthcare, a higher standard of living and a stable environment are all valid reasons to leave the continent that are hard to resist.

 

While this self-improvement is good at a personal level, the impact for Africa is far from positive. It is regrettable so many of the most entrepreneurial, talented and motivated people are regularly leaving for a better life. This brain drain of human capital extracts the added value these individuals would have contributed towards their national economies; and reduces tax revenues for African nations as higher earning individuals leave and pay taxes overseas. In addition, the money the diaspora sends home can distort local economies suppressing local wage rates, which is one of the main drivers of migration to the US, Europe and the Gulf.

 

Which is why it was very heart-warming to read a post from one of my colleagues recently, who proudly asserted her determination to stay and join the list of high achievers that her region of Kenya has produced. Sadly, though, my colleague is in the minority and social media is dominated by stories of far more leavers than stayers.

 

One upside of this flow of African talent to the global north is the opportunity it provides to create a positive reputation for the continent and to change the tired, one-dimensional narrative of Africa as broken, corrupt, and struggling to advance, that still dominates much of the media’s portrayal.

 

I spend part of the year in Scotland, one of the strongest nation brands globally. This positive image of Scotland in the world has been largely created by the high-profile Scots who have made it big outside Scotland. From industrial titan Andrew Carnegie to world famous actor Sean Connery, there are countless Scottish people who have helped establish a positive image of Scotland around the world.

 

This soft power is amplified by the Scottish Government that activity promotes Scotland’s image to the world and celebrates stories of returning Scots who invest in their homeland, often encouraged by government assistance. Africa of course is not a single country and no one entity is responsible for brand Africa globally. Until such a much-needed body is formed, it is Africa’s export of many of its brightest and best which are the continent’s front-line ambassadors and tellers of Africa’s positive stories.

 

Incentivising talent to stay

African governments could take a leaf out of Scotland’s book and look at policies and incentives to retain talented human capital; and incentivise its return. I am sure that if they could, most leavers would stay, but this will only be possible when the benefits of staying outweigh the benefits to be gained overseas. Africa has a long way to go before this parity is achieved, and with every talented person that leaves, that gap becomes even wider.

 

But whether you stay or whether you go, we all have a responsibility to shape Africa’s reputation in the world. We can give the world a rounded view of Africa that is balanced and authentically positive rather than biased and relentlessly negative. 

 

As communicators we need to play our part and tell Africa’s positive narrative of hope, of innovation, creativity, opportunity, success and growth. This narrative can enhance Africa’s global competitiveness, attract investment, boost tourism and stimulate international trade.

 

We cannot rely on the media to tell this more balanced story. Research from Africa No Filter, an NGO which agitates for balanced media reporting of Africa, shows that one-third of all African stories in news outlets on the continent are sourced from foreign news services. In addition, 33% of all coverage on Africa was from non-African sources, with AFP and BBC accounting for a quarter of all stories about African countries.

 

Africa No Filter talked to 38 African editors and analysed content across 60 African news outlets in 15 countries (Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Egypt, Tunisia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal) in the period September to October 2020. The NGO also held four facilitated focus groups with 25 editors of African media, editors of Pan African outlets and international correspondents that cover Africa.

 

The report’s findings show that the sources for news gathering on African countries are few and are predominated by an emphasis on recirculating and reinforcing negative stereotypes.  For example, when it comes to topics covered, 81% of stories focused on “hard news”, e.g. political violence, civil unrest, armed conflict or familiar negative tropes such as poverty, disease, poor leadership and corruption.

 

Reporting stuck in a colonial mindset

The issue is compounded by shrinking newsrooms and limited resource and ability of local journalists to run more nuanced and contextualized stories. Reporting of Africa is often still stuck in a colonial mindset that would be completely unacceptable in other areas. This view of the continent as broken and in need of outside help is often perpetrated by foundations, NGOs, state aid bodies and multi-lateral actors outside Africa, in a lockstep relationship with the media that serves both their agendas.

 

The media need to recognise the harm they are doing by presenting this biased view.  Nobody wants the media to stop reporting the serious challenges and issues, as they would for any other region. However, an open mind to give airtime to stories that tell the other, more positive side is essential to change stereotypical thinking of journalists, editors and advertisers, that in turn will change attitudes of those consuming the media.

 

Few African and even fewer international media outlets seem able or willing to commit to change. Which is why Africa’s communicators need to pick up this load and use our creative storytelling and sophisticated communications expertise to open people’s eyes to the full, glorious picture.

 

We can also learn from other nations and regions that have invested in the soft power of national and regional brand building. Africa too can highlight stories of stability, innovation and opportunity that will attract investment and stimulate the economic growth that will render redundant the need to leave.

 

As Africa No Filter puts it: “It takes a village to build a continent. You can play a role in helping us shift narratives about Africa because until lions learn to write, hunters will tell their stories for them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Author

Chris Genasi

Chris Genasi is Chairman of Hudson Sandler Africa, a communications consultancy with offices in Lagos, Nairobi and London. A Fellow and former President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, as well as a member of the Public Relations Society of Kenya, he is the author of several books on public relations, including Winning Reputations: How to Be Your Own Spin Doctor and Creative Business.

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