We all know about #BlackLivesMatter and the countless other hashtags calling for support and solidarity of the western and European countries crippled by terrorist attacks in the last few months. These hashtags, although well-meaning, overshadow what is happening in other African countries (#PrayForGhana). This problem is exacerbated by South African media’s lack of coverage of issues related to other African countries besides our own.
It has been claimed that violence has increased in America. Events which are characterised as being violent, involve a perpetrator who is oftentimes a person of colour. An event becomes framed as an act of terrorism when the perpetrator is suspected to have ties with insurgent organizations such as Isis. When the perpetrator is a white male, they get a slap on the wrist and are humanized as victims of mental illness. Instances of gun violence raise questions around gun control, racism, and homophobia. Many people have died and yet their lives become memorialized through a hashtag. In my opinion, it makes no sense that the US government has been probed for so long to reissue the federal assault weapon injunction yet nothing has happened. The trending hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has been circulating on the internet, alongside the protests and marches and calls from celebrities. People have the audacity to counterclaim that #AllLivesMatter. What needs to be understood is that America’s current prison-industrial complex has resulted in the deaths of many African-American and Latino people. It is insensitive to claim that #AllLivesMatter when not all lives are subjected to the same punishment under the American legal system.
I have gotten information on these recent events through the media, be it newspapers, television or social media. Social media have given me more of an unfiltered lens, as opposed to the traditional media outlets that are trusted by many South Africans. There are dominant stories which make the headlines whilst other stories are marginalised. As South Africans, we claim to value freedom of speech but we restrict our narratives on Africa. Until recently, I was ignorant on the relevance of #PrayForGhana. Through the transparency afforded by social media, I gained more knowledge on the floods which have negatively affected Ghana.
In a lot of African countries, freedom of speech is not valued. Investigative journalism is not cultivated because of the harsh penalties for those who do not adhere to politically-motivated guidelines for good journalism. Political figures are often uncomfortable on the prospect of having their dirty laundry aired. There is the belief that negative news will tarnish the images of their countries and chasing away potential investors. This results in journalists and other media-workers becoming the lapdogs of the authorities. In Nigeria, journalists working for the Al-Mizan newspaper were detained and threatened over investigative reports about Boko Haram insurgent group. In South African media there has been little to no coverage about what happens in African countries. News coverage largely follows African stories being picked up by the western press. This is problematic as the western press tend to portray Africa in a negative manner. I have recently learnt of the Akon electricity project in Africa. This is a positive story, yet there is very little media coverage on it.
I believe that the time has come for Africans to tell their stories from their own perspectives, to echo the sentiments of Thomas Bwire, news editor of Pamoja in Nairobi. The rest of the world has such narrow minded opinions about us and we are partly to blame for that. For, how long are we going to sit around and not take ownership of our countries, our stories, our art and our resources? Social media have become quite a powerful weapon to effect change and it is up to us to use it to our benefit.