For years, the western news media has portrayed Africa in a bad way. Images of potbellied, terrified children facing starvation and terror, dying of HIV/AIDS and being carried along dusty roads with thousands of refugees escaping persecution at the hands of the most brutal tyrants and thugs have become standard fare.
This kind of coverage has created a backlash from activists who say Africa is not as dark as it is cut out to be.
One of the people who have expressed worry about this is renowned Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo, whose international best-seller, ‘Dead Aid’, has received critical acclaim for arguing that aid has not worked for Africa.
In 2009, TIME magazine included Moyo in that year’s special annual edition of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Locally, Billy Kokorwe is one activist who has since 2011 sounded the reform drum for the western media to reshape its news coverage of Africa. Kokorwe has, over the last two years, taken his project, the Positive Africa Image Campaign (PAIC) to the hallowed streets of London, Washington, Paris, Amsterdam and other European capitals.
PAIC has been advocating for a positive image of Africa in the western media “through balanced all encompassing, factual, non-stereotypical, unbiased portrayal of Africa, particularly on television as the strongest medium of communication”, says Kokorwe, who is, among other things, also a local film producer.
In a bid to get the western media to experience a paradigm shift in its coverage of Africa, PAIC will this year transform into an international NGO, says Kokorwe. “PAIC is set to claim its place in the international civil society arena,” he says.
The new direction follows “extensive research, wide spread consultations and encouragement from supporters and stakeholders across the world, particularly the United Kingdom”.
The INGO will first register as a fully fledged INGO in the UK and the USA. Kokorwe says he will go to these countries for the purpose of setting up a board of directors to carry the process forward.
“We have many supporters,” he says. “Most of them are drawn from people with extensive contacts in Africa, especially Botswana. These are people in fashion, people with massive experience in the aid industry, people with financial muscle.”
He says during the last two years of travelling across Europe, many organisations have wondered how PAIC would achieve its objective without funding.
“It’s a competitive situation out there in terms of funding,” he says. “Everyone has a cause.”
As INGO, PAIC would start from ground zero in Botswana, and fan out to trouble spots like Sudan. It will also encourage countries that are doing well on the democratic and human rights score card.
“Africa is dynamic,” says Kokorwe. “Its problems can be sorted out.”
Like Dambisa Moyo, Kokorwe warns against Africa’s eternal begging bowl syndrome. “You walk into the streets of Amsterdam and you sense a tiredness about the issues of Africa. You get reactions like ‘Why don’t you people sort your mess out’.”
Since its founding, PAIC has breezed through five European countries and the US, doing video surveys, random interviews in major cosmopolitan cities of Washington D.C., New York, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Paris.
“The vox pop orientated study focused on general perceptions about Africa in the west is perpetuated by their local television station’s constant bombardment of negative images of the continent such as war, famine and general despair,” he says.
As an international NGO, PAIC will focus on grassroots advocacy for the promotion of a better image of Africa and more positive understanding of the continent.