As a theory of knowledge, perspectivism speaks to the notion that our knowledge and perception of anything is shaped by the interpretation of those observing the occurrence of things. Interestingly, we now have the grace to glean as many perspectives as the number of people observing events. Thanks to the reigning paradigm of public digital communication culture that gives unprecedented liberty and licence to us to publish anything and be damned.
This reality explains the deluge of contestations of ideas in the digital public sphere. It has become a signpost of our landscapes of discourses, and our frequently controversial national debates largely bifurcate us into teams on two extremes of a spectrum, typically the group of patriots and those who are not patriots. Sometimes it is so difficult to process why certain people are labelled as unpatriotic because they constructively critiqued policies and actions of the ruling elites and governments. Why should others be labelled, sometimes demonised for holding different opinions? Why should anyone’s right to free expression be challenged if expressed civilly? Are those who choose to be politically correct, who engage public discourse ‘to win political points for optics’ the only patriotic among us?
Answers to these posers may be found in the perspectives we use to curate our narratives about Nigeria and the Aftican continent. We do not have to be so bitter, caustic, vitriolic, incensed, pessimistic and negative. Equally, as Ali Mafuruki, the late Tanzanian multi-millionaire and founder of Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI) warned, ‘let us not mistake hope for achievement’. In other words, potentials expire, hence we need to move away from romanticising hope and insist that those who lead us should act with a sense of purpose that is sustainable and focused on the common good.
But how do we re-story Africa? The enterprise should come with a sense of duty. A duty to tell it right. Says Ajoritsedere Awosika, Chairman Access Bank, former Federal Permanent Secretary, daughter of Nigeria’s first Minister of Finance, and alumna of University of Bradford where she obtained a doctorate in pharmaceutical technology. Awosika was telling and passionate about the new agenda for re-storying Africa, and she delivered the message so eloquently to a group of PR enthusiasts, students and practitioners recently at EKO Hotels, in a keynote at the 22nd edition of the annual Roundtable organised by Nkechi Ali-Balogun’s NECCIPR Consulting. The focus this year was, THE DANGER OF A SINGLE STORY: COMMUNICATION AND REPUTATIONAL CRISIS IN AFRICA.
Africa faces problems and challenges but we must narrate the episodes in context and never in manners and tenors that denigrate Africa and her people. Scholars, practitioners, communication professionals and PR aficionados, from the South to the East and West regions of Africa speaking as goodwillers, presenters and panellists, amplified Awosika’s voice but there are also contrarians. Just in the manner our ever-contentious national and continental conversations flow. There are those who feel we need to put our acts together, heal our land through empathy, social cohesiveness, and responsible governmental actions rather than take hope and potentials as achievements because the world has evidently left Africa behind.
Like Achebe, Soyinka and their comrades in the pantheon of activistic African writers, the forum agreed that latter day literati, represented by Chimamanda Adichie and her likes, have tried to refute negative curation of Africa by Western scholastic and media enterprises. We have heard great stories about African strides, right from moonlight tales told by our grandparents and and parents, underpinned by lessons of heroism, courage, and why we must eschew pride, greed, selfishness. Unlike what we are fed with by foreign media, the African story is a story of strength, resilience and astonishing accomplishments as emblematised by the sights and sounds of Egypt, where civilisation started, of ancient Gao, Timbuktu and of the Empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Oyo, Benin, Kanem-Bornu, and of course of the amazing civilisations of Ife, Nok, Igbo-Ukwu and Nri.
To move ahead, we need to change our mindsets, refocus on the positives even as we challenge maladministration and misgovernance. No one can stamp upon us storylines of negative stereotypes, labelling and demonisation except we accept such storylines. We need to push our stories about ancient and contemporary strides of Africans, right on the Africa soil and in the diaspora. And more than ever before, we have the infrastructure, channels and media to tell the stories of our achievements. So, the purveyors of words about Africa should speak to our achievements and chronicle our challenges in ways that give hope. Our stories are diverse and however they seem, we can tell them rightly because our lives and bodies carry them, and we must live them wherever we go or live.
Matter-of-factly, we have clear ideas of what is wrong with us but perhaps not what is right with us. The African journalist, even as a scurried chronicler of history, must take charge of telling a balanced story about realities of Africa’s development, with evidence that is true, factual and believable. We may have grown up with negative storylines of TIME, WASHINGTON POST, ECONOMIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES but we have got good stories in Mandela, Nyerere, Nkrumah, Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Trevor, and so many among our folks in Africa and in the African Diasporan community.
Is Sub-Saharan Africa living on the edge? Inflation is doubling, recovery seem stalling, food insecurity is existential (and may get worse with the devastating floods that have tragically taken lives and washed off crops), cost and prices rising, social unrest getting worse and often underwritten by inequalities and avoidable economic unfreedoms. How do we present such realities and give hope? When a diasporan African is successful and he gives back to the community by investing in social infrastructure, schools, libraries, hospitals and so on. How do we re-story this charity in contexts that do not suggest Africa is in dire need of charities, so we do not reinforce the narratives of stereotypes of poverty, corruption and pestilence? A continent of 54 countries may not find it a piece of cake to launch a new strategic narrative of change but we can start from somewhere rather than latch onto existing narratives of pitiable optics and hopeless portrayals.
Are we looking at happenings around the world? For instance, the fact that Japan, China and many leading economies are now marked by aging populations. By the same token, Africa’s huge natural resources, our huge youth population, and their readiness to adopt technology can help us to leapfrog to sustainable growth and development if harnessed strategically and well governed.
The 10 countries with youngest populations are in Africa, funding for start-ups is surging in Africa, Nigeria just signed the Start-up Act 2022, and by 2023 the number of Africans plugging into technology will be the largest from any continent. What advantages do these facts confer? How do we leverage it? The trust in Governments world over, including in Africa, is waning but trust in non-governmental organisations is increasing. The Nigeria-based Africa Polling Institute revealed this recently. Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 just underscored it. How do we take advantage of this reality to organise afresh and remake Nigeria and Africa?
How do we evolve good labour, secured environment, responsible and proactive leadership, and governance structures to make Nigeria great again? Do we believe each of the 774 local councils in Nigeria can make a trillion annually if we are serious about exploring all resources they have instead of focusing only on oil and more recently technology? Do we know that Nigeria is one of the five fastest growing tech-hubs in Africa, and we are also among the five countries in Africa holding 50 percent of Africa’s wealth? How can we be so circumstanced, and our land is peopled by so many out-of-school children and poverty and food crisis so perennial? Why for crying out loud should Nigeria pay a professor 120,000 naira ($150) monthly and expect education to function as an organic enabler of social progress? Do we realise that music and fashion are quite explosive and promising, and Africa is doing so well in those spheres? Can we be more intentional about music and fashion, as well as in agribusiness, especially in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)?
Finally, do we know that we need to explore our comparative advantages? Just five states in the United States put that country in fantastic global economic reckoning but Nigeria has even more states that can spearhead Nigeria and Africa’s transformation. In AFRICA BETRAYED, Prof. George Ayittey reported that Nigeria and Congo Kinshasa (old Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo) have enabling land to grow food that can feed the entire continent of Africa. What have we made of this? We can stop lamenting and start acting by putting our story in contexts that refute narratives of catastrophe and squalor; and in frameworks that make greater meaning about intentional reconstruction and rebirth.
History may not have been kind to Nigeria and Africa but the future may be kind if we consciously embrace a new form of media and information literacy and tell our stories in ways that reposition Africa as the continent of the future.
•Dr Ibietan is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR)