The Danger of a Single TED Talk

Africa isn't a brand and we find the clamor for "positive news" from Africa inane and condescending.

Image of Johannesburg's skyline by Babak Fakhamzadeh. Via Flickr.com CC.

The website, Africa.com, have made a movie that’s going to change the way you think about Africa. If the trailer is any indication of what the film’s about, then we’ve reached only one conclusion: Africa is officially boring. We’ve blogged about this kind of boosterism before, including Vogue Italia’s special “Rebranding Africa” issue earlier this year, which decided UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon should be the continent’s new face, salivated over Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt oil minister, and scrupulously avoided any mention of anything “sad, trashy or poor”.

To cut a long critique short, we’re pretty sure Africa isn’t a brand and we find the clamor for “positive news” from Africa inane and condescending. Plus if Africa.com’s movie really does go on for an hour, as has been threatened, it’s going to be unbearable.

Who exactly is the audience for this kind of thing? It seems to be about attracting investment, but the style of the film is more likely to appeal to the development crowd — people who likely already consider themselves availed of a “positive” idea of Africa — than to hard-nosed capitalists. It will also appeal to all those Nigerians who were so outraged to see Lagos’ poor turn up on MTV the other day through the offices of Rick Ross, apparently making them look bad.

In the old days we got starving (or sometimes smiling) children and Bono. That was the age of aid. Nowadays it’s all about trade and what you get is this weird neoliberal romance where everybody’s middle class and desperate to show you their mobile phone.

The Africa.com initiative is very much a project conceived in, and aimed at, the United States (their CEO used to be a Goldman Sachs banker) and I can only think that on some level it arises (belatedly) from an anxiety at the way the Americans have been unceremoniously elbowed aside by the Chinese in recent years when it comes to making money in Africa.

The movie promises the usual “pro-Africa” cast of characters, and of course that means sitting through yet another viewing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”. (It would be nice if Adichie did another one called “The Danger of a Single TED Talk” because the army of online disciples who force everyone to watch “The Danger of a Single Story” over and over again show no sign of letting up in their exuberant rejection of her central argument in that video.)

We also get Nigeria’s neoliberal finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Diezani Allison-Madueke’s invitation to appear in the film must have got lost in the post). Okonjo-Wahala cracks a joke about investment in telecoms, the point being that Nigeria has a lot of investment in telecoms but “nobody” knows about it. The joke isn’t all that funny because actually loads of people already know about Nigeria’s telecoms boom. Even Arsenal FC seem to be aware of it.

No doubt there’s plenty more of this sort of stuff to come, but this “new” way of looking at Africa already feels like it’s out of date.

Further Reading

The entitlement of Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian presidential candidate’s claim of ’emi lokan’ (it’s my turn) reveals complex ethnic politics and a stagnated democracy. Most responses to it, humor and rumor, reflect how Nigerians enact democratic citizenship.

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Āfrīqāyī

It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.