how the media misrepresents Ghana
The media today is prone to reporting stereotypes about developing countries. This kind of coverage far outnumbers fact-based coverage, making it difficult to filter out false information. Yet the public must rely on the media to provide non-domestic news. Therefore, should the media be tainted with misinformation, the public outlook will also be tainted, and one of the most misrepresented places in the world is Africa’s west coast.

News Reports Do Not Match Personal Experiences

Adrian Heath, a rising senior at Colgate University, recently studied abroad in Ghana during his junior year. In his descriptions of Ghana, it was clear how his perceptions had changed over time. He spoke to The Borgen Project about his mindset before departure: “I had all of the typical stereotypes in my head like poverty and AIDS. I expected to see a lot of beggars.” Heath’s head had been filled with images and stories from how the media misrepresents Ghana and other African nations.

His perception changed upon his arrival country-side. Almost immediately, he realized how skewed his perception had been. “We went out in the city and some parts were so beautiful it really surprised me… It could have been any American city.” His preconceived notions were whisked away with the beauty of Ghanaian life.

He said that there are a lot of “great spots for tourism” in Ghana, a landscape littered with beautiful beaches and resort locations. Accra is a coastal city, perfectly situated to host tourists who are interested in experiencing Ghanaian culture. The irony is that people avoid visiting due to the negative portrayal of Africa, missing out on a chance to have a positive experience in Ghana.

Ghanaians React to How the Media Misrepresents Ghana

Ghanaians are aggrieved by how the media misrepresents Ghana. Ismail Akwei, a journalist for Africa News, analyzed Ghanaian reactions to an article published by CNN. In the article, Ghanaians are portrayed as “struggl[ing] to obtain food and day-to-day services. Rolling blackouts are common and citizens often stand in long line [sic] to obtain products.”

The people of Ghana quickly turned to Twitter to express their disgust at the negligent reporting, utilizing the hashtag #CNNGetItRight. One user, Kafui Dey, tweeted: “Ghanaians are not struggling to obtain food. We are not standing in long lines to obtain products. I know. I live here.” Another Ghanaian, Nana Ama Agyemang, tweeted: “Such lazy coverage of a fantastic story by @CNN. No nuance, just the usual template ‘Africans are suffering’.”

Ghanaians have also been expressing their disdain for their elected officials, who do nothing to reverse how the media misrepresents Ghana. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was elected on a platform of change. In an open letter to the president that was published by Ghana News, Dr. Elvis Asiedu Afram pleaded for the president to enact some of the change he had promised, writing, “Mr. President, nine months after your historic assumption of office, it has become increasingly tedious to defend the change we proudly supported and campaigned for…. What was the change message about if things were to remain the same?”

Change Comes from Within Ghana

The peoples’ cries were heard when the president publicly endorsed a plan to increase Ghana’s domestic commerce, a move that would help gain independence from foreign aid and empower Ghana as a nation. An article on Ghana’s official presidency website quoted the president as saying, “Government is empowering the private sector to create jobs and wealth by working closely with industry and academia to equip young professionals with the skills required to operate competitively in the sector.”

While speaking with The Borgen Project, Heath mirrored the views of President Akufo-Addo, that Ghana needs to establish a means of domestically manufactured income in order to take care of its own and step out from beneath the shadow of colonialism. Heath was enthusiastic in his hope that this would eventually become a reality. His many interactions with emphatic Ghanaians whose love for their way of life give him hope for the future. “[As a foreigner] everyone you meet asks if you liked their country. They want you to appreciate their culture. They want you to see the beauty as they do.” There is much to appreciate about Ghana if the media chooses to shine a light on it.

– Zach Farrin
Photo: Flickr

In Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of Congo, a group of men—gentlemen—always gallantly brighten up the moods of those around them. Meet la Société des Ambienceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (the Society for the Advancement of People of Elegance), abbreviated as La Sape—an apt abbreviation that also happens to mean clothes, or dress, in French. The members of this association are referred to as les sapeurs.

La Sape originated from Dandyism of the 19th century that was brought to Congo by colonialism. Colonial officers wanted their servants—or as they were called during that era “houseboys”—to dress in such a manner that would reflect the status of their masters. Congolese men coming back to their country from France also brought French fashion with them. Thus, among the youth and those who worked for the colonizers, many wanted to emulate and live up to the myth of the Parisian elegance.

However, nowadays, this foreign-influenced fashion has been appropriated and utilized as a uniquely Congolese sartorial expression to defy the harsh reality of everyday poverty and to allow those who partake in this subculture to articulate their art of living and their joie de vivre. In a country where 46.5 percent live at or below the national poverty line, an average person earns $3,240 per year. Nevertheless, today’s sapeurs are willing to pay a fortune for a pair of crocodile shoes, which can cost anywhere between $1,300 and $3,900. That is not to say that the sapeurs are on average wealthier than most Congolese or that they indulge in conspicuous consumerism.

Most members of La Sape have medium-income occupations such as electricians, shopkeepers or marketing agents. Despite their meager incomes, the sapeurs manage to use their creativity to assemble fashionable dresses to turn the streets of Brazzaville into runways. To save money, the sapeurs often buy second hand clothes or obtain them from friends. Besides their à la mode (and perhaps even a little avant-garde) clothing, the sapeurs also uphold—to a near commandment status—certain types of demeanors and manner that are the quintessence of politeness and elegance. Some of these commandments include: “1. To dress oneself here on earth as it is in heaven,” “8 & 9. To not be tribalist, racist, nationalist, or violent” and “ 10. To not display any hesitation in trying to charm all those who are sappophobic.” In Brazzaville, the sapeurs are somewhat celebrities—not unlike reality TV starts. Their presence at weddings, celebrations, parties and even funerals, are appreciated as they so often bring a sense of lightheartedness and stylishness to the occasions.

Although outsiders may see La Sape movement as a direct legacy of colonialism and the European imposition of Western values, the sapeurs in fact defy the stereotypes that are, too, imposed upon the many peoples of Africa by outsiders. In contrast to the usually clichés of a monolithic Africa of famine, wars, and safaris, the sapeurs show that there are more dimensions beyond the clichés. No matter how difficult the circumstance may be for the sapeurs, they nevertheless know how to make the best out of what they possess and in doing so, bring joy to both themselves and those around them. And as for the accusation that the sapeurs are perpetuating the legacy of colonialism, Baudouin Mouanda—a photographer who immortalized the numerous members of La Sape—has once stated, “the Westerners made the dress, but how it is worn was invented in Brazzaville.”

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: Zone Zero, Racialicious, Jeuneafrique, NPR
Photo: Fashion Junkii

Kenya Ivory
An estimated 5,000 Kenyans will receive $4,000 in remunerations from the British government as victims of the Mau Mau Rebellion in the 1950s.

Around 90,000 Kenyans were detained and tortured during British colonial occupation. Only the living survivors of the Mau Mau rebellion are eligible for receiving the financial apology.

In addition to the British recompense, the U.K. will also construct a memorial honoring the victims in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

Up until 2003, Mau Mau veterans were not allowed to address grievances regarding the atrocities they underwent during the rebellion. The Kenyan Human Rights Commission organized the Mau Mau Veterans Association, which fought to gain recognition of the atrocities.

Hiring the UK-based firm, Leigh Day, five individuals of the Veterans Association won a case against the British government and settled with $21 million.

The British government initially claimed that the Veterans Association’s claims were not eligible since the aforementioned atrocities were dealt during colonial times.

Other claims will not be so successful due to legal costs and not enough insurmountable evidence — many colonial files and records were destroyed during the ending period of the British Empire.

Kenya was partitioned by European powers along with the rest of East Africa during the 1885 Berlin Conference. The British entered Kenya in the early 1900s. Without political clout and claims to their own land, a guerilla group called the Mau Mau led an uprising.

Between 1952-1960, a State of Emergency was proclaimed by the British colonists due to an increase in the attack on their people and “property.” Soon the wider Kenyan population became embroiled in the conflict and was sent to detention camps wherein general torture — the castration of two men and sexual assault against women — ensued.

An op-ed criticizes the British government for not doing more to address grievances of the Mau Mau veterans. The postcolonial administration saw the entrance of colonists’ children in high governmental positions—often well-educated in comparison to many Kenyans living in poverty. The author posits that the British government should provide scholarships and higher education opportunities to Mau Mau veteran families.

Whether the British government has or has not done enough to recognize its past atrocities, it is nevertheless a step in acknowledging that the human dignity of many individuals were wrongfully disregarded during Kenya’s colonial history.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC, Daily Mail, The Economist, The International