By Dagny Zenovia
Africa has been under the thumb of external forces since the beginning of colonialism. Recently, the tug-of-war over whose voice holds influence over Africa continues between China and Western media, specifically British and American media. As these world powers shuffle to engage Africa’s population, there is opportunity for Africa to leverage these interests and further establish a foundation for its own voice.
Foreign Media Presence in Africa
Regarding China’s media presence in Africa, China Global Television Network (CGTN) opened its continental headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya in 2012. At the time, China’s President Xi Jinping instructed Chinese state media organizations to tell compelling Chinese narratives and communicate China’s message to the world. Since then, China’s media presence has increased with 28 bureaus across Africa and stands as a regular contributor of stories to local newspapers and websites across Africa. The majority of accusations against Chinese media over surveillance and propaganda are reported by British or American media outlets. On the contrary, a Kenyan senior assistant director of news at CGTN explained in a report by The Elephant that the managing editor is Chinese, but all other substantive editors are international staff. CGTN does control news that covers Chinese interests and foreign policy, but all other topics are open to staff to produce as they choose to.
Even though China’s news media presence is growing in Africa, it’s number in staff and popularity does not compare to established foreign media, like BBC, CNN, and VOA. In 2016, BBC expanded its office in Kenya and allegedly lured some of CGTN’s staff through hiked salaries and remunerations. At the time, BBC’s message for expanding was to further its reach by training more Africans in journalism. General consensus emphasizes that the fact that BBC might be “Africanising” its platform, “only the stories that are palatable and acceptable to the British ruling class” are actually told. On the other hand, CNN and VOA, which are both American news platforms, are not focused on positioning a larger presence in Africa. There is still an assumption that American journalists consider being assigned in Africa as a downgrade.
Where Is Africa’s Voice
The journalism industry across Africa has room for more quality content, perspectives, and financial incentives. Even though these foreign media platforms are providing training and publishing, if the stories must appeal to a foreign lens, where can Africa’s voice be authentic? If local TV, radio, and newspapers stick to certain topics, how can African stories extend its reach and depth?
This is where a variety of opportunities can be created. Taking full advantage of the training and resources made available by these foreign media platforms can enhance the quality of local news content. Learning the business side of journalism from these platforms is also important to help better understand how to monetize local platforms and build a supportive infrastructure for local media. Develop strategic independent partnerships to further position the African voice at the center of the conversation. For example, Revolt TV is producing an unscripted series “What’s Good Africa” with Kenya’s What’s Good Studios. The series will explore different aspects of hip hop culture throughout the continent.
As this develops, the goal should be to establish a deeper foundation for African voices reporting African stories to balance out the foreign lens in Africa.