This bold, honest and informative insider view on the relationship between African media and identity offers a quick succession of easy-to-read studies presenting African media as a vibrant, flexible and highly interactive communication tool. It assesses challenges and proposes remedies in three parts and 24 short chapters. These were first presented at a seminar on the [End Page 507] media and the construction of identity in Africa held in Nairobi in 2004 – part of a series organized by the International African Institute and funded by the Ford Foundation in East Africa. The unusually wide selection of media considered allows many issues to be brought to the fore. The avowed aim of the 27 contributors, academics and practitioners representing the African continent (14), Europe (3) and the USA (9) is to disseminate knowledge on a changing continent and dispel stereotypes, approaching the issue from the points of view of Cultural Studies, History, Music, Anthropology, Literature, Communications and Education.
The book first denounces the Western media’s coverage of Africa as fraught with stereotypes gathered from explorers’ narratives, yet still dominating the flow of information, thus leading to a deliberate neglect or distorted view of the continent. Authors blame this on the fact that ‘what is news . . . is basically decided by middle-class, middle-aged males’ with little knowledge of African affairs (p. 79). In contrast, the various chapters give a snapshot of the huge variety, creativity, resourcefulness and potential of African media, taking readers from the global – the press, radio, television and the internet – to the local: photographs, cartoons, matatu narratives and clothing, each opening a unique channel of communication within the local culture. Combining historical surveys with recent fieldwork, and reacting to a Western-driven global culture perceived as intrusive, the book gives a glimpse of the African choice of a different way, respectful of local and national cultures and traditions.
The authors consider and assess changes in the African media landscape. They blame the media for blindly joining in a globalization which gradually kills national identities. They lament the fact that so-called ‘mass media’ such as TV and the internet, whose impact and coverage are deemed global, mostly reflect urban life and culture and only reach a tiny minority, with 80 per cent of Africans being excluded from participation in them, and Egypt and South Africa alone providing almost half of the continent’s users. They observe the exponential growth of cellular telephony and the video film industry and denounce the current trend of extreme privatization of African telephony and internet provision regardless of cost, highlighting the huge discrepancies between countries in terms of ICT equipment and access. On a positive note, the book greets the fast development of alternative local media inspired by oral genres, such as video films and matatu truncated narratives, providing ‘new ways of learning and retaining oral genres’ (p. 5), and highlights the growing power of diasporas on the internet. Chapter 3, devoted to the issue of languages and the development of internet sites in African languages, denounces the domination of English and the new hegemony of Kiswahili – the making of some African languages into new ‘instruments of domination’ (p. 43) – while proving that media in local languages are crucial to the fostering of cultural convergence at the regional level and the stabilizing of standardized varieties of African languages. Pentecostal churches and publishing houses are shown as contributing to the expansion of audiovisual and electronic media.
Chapter 7 assesses the African media as having ‘failed to aggressively market an African identity and authenticity to challenge the one imposed by the West’ (p. 90) and pleads with them to resist the fascination of the global and recover their cultural identities. Chapter 8 focuses on the posture of African intellectuals struggling to unveil the truth in the midst of a hostile environment created by foreign-based media deciding ‘what everyone else is to think’ (p. 94), denounces the subjugation of universities, and urges Africans to question this indirect rule and fight back...