Can #changingnarratives change perceptions of Africa?

June 21, 2018

(Image:frayintermedia) From Left to right: Koketso Moeti; Carl Manlan; Michele Ruiters and Paula Fray

 

Can changing narratives in finance support policy change and therefore the lived realities of people on the continent?

 

These are some of the issues considered during a wide-ranging panel discussion facilitated by frayintermedia MD Paula Fray on June, 21 2018 with some top thinkers in finance.

 

The panel included Ecobank Foundation COO Carl Manlan, Amandla.Mobi executive director Koketso Moeti and Development Bank of Southern Africa Research Specialist Dr Michele Ruiters.

 

“Our focus on #changingnarratives… is to recognise that words matter. How we speak about Africa frames what we think about Africa,” said Fray.

 

The panel noted that stories of Africa often lacked nuance and usually vacillated between the extremes of Africa rising or the hopeless continent.

 

“One of the biggest (missing narratives) is how we link our own stories as people to the much bigger systems that are at play,” said Moeti, citing inequality stories as being removed from discussion from anyone benefitting or propping up such a system.

 

Manlan raised the issue of how we discuss the informal economy such as street vendors or even smallholder farmers whose value is not recognised: “The Africa we have, is what we are not talking about. We like to project ourselves into the future but what if focus on what we have now and what does it mean to actually be an African in the midst of change on this continent,” said Manlan who later advocated that those in the informal economy be recognised and allowed to thrive within the current system.

 

“The missing stories that we are not seeing are the ones around agency and development. That often Africa is seen as this case that needs to be assisted that we are always aspiring … always aiming for something like AU Agenda 2063 or SDGS 2030. We are always aspiring and never arriving. The development stories where communities have come together and set up programmes…. those are the stories I want to see,” said Ruiters, citing examples of business that have been assisted or markets that have been financially supported.

 

“Many of the international debates around development are still donor or development partner driven,” she noted even though there is so much more happening on the continent.

 

Noting challenges in health and education, Manlan asked how we balance the priorities of the Africa that we have in order to reach the Africa we want.

 

The panellists noted that while the smart phones could provide access to many voices, most Africans were still using feature phones. There was also consideration that while artificial intelligence might be able to assist in promoting growth there were also challenges around issues of privacy.

 

Ruiters also challenged the overwhelming perception of corruption when assessing risk in Africa.

 

“What annoys me about risk in Africa is that it is the perception of risk. Africa is not riskier than Europe or the US. There is the perception that Africa is risky because of the perception of corruption, the perception of institutional incapacity. There is integrity, we have policies, we have frameworks… and yes some might have a longer way to go but that risk perception needs to be changed,” Ruiters said.

 

Moeti suggested it was time to “rethink, reimagine and recreate the stories about the continent”.

 

The discussion is the first in a series which seeks to relook at the narratives about Africa in various sectors.

 

Fray noted that while journalists and various media were often blamed for narratives about the continent, there was a responsibly of everyone - the storytellers and those whose stories were told - to rethink the way they framed stories about Africa.

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