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How the Media reports Africa

Chief curator: António Pinto Ribeiro

Coordinator: Fátima Proença

24 Nov 2012 - 10:00 – 18:00

Auditorium 3 of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Free admission

The media’s treatment of African news tends to be dominated by a ‘single story’ perspective, as elucidated by the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie. This 3rd Africa and Latin America Observatory, organized jointly with ACEP, has been designed to accommodate many different stories, to question old stereotypes and to bring fresh approaches and new projects into contact with each other: signs of new relationships?

Fátima Proença, coordinator of the 3rd edition and director of ACEP.

ACEP Bissau 2011

(Photo: Ana Filipa Oliveira/ACEP, "Bissau", 2011)

10 am – Opening by the Programmer, António Pinto Ribeiro

Moderator: Fátima Proença

"In the field and on the ground", by António Pinto Ribeiro

Richard Kapuscinski was a Polish journalist who pioneered efforts to produce a different type of information about African countries. He travelled to Africa from 1957 onwards, following routes and by-ways that had little to do with the official itineraries, and over 40 years wrote dozens of texts about the people, countries, flora, fauna, wars, soldiers, frontiers, etc… He looked on as many of these countries consolidated their independence and witnessed the widespread disappointment these processes brought to many peoples. He did this sometimes with enormous imagination, as his biography has recently confirmed, and yet his writing never ceases to be ambivalent. On the one hand he is a journalist ‘in the field’, a journalist ‘on the ground’, and because of this, or in spite of this, his legacy is also that of a European observer describing a continent fall into ruin during the late twentieth century. But then we read, “Above all it’s the luminous quality that hits you. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere. Sunlight everywhere.” The opening words of his Ebony offer a unique affirmation of Africa.

The illusion of our knowledge of Africa, by Elísio Macamo

The idea will be to suggest that the image of Africa as brought to us not just by the media, but also by a significant portion of the academic community and the ‘development industry’ has all the traits of an illusion. The veracity of what is said about Africa is based more on plausibility (which draws on common sense, stereotypes and unverified arguments of authority) than on sound factual knowledge. It is easier, for instance, to gain approval for an assertion that explains the failure of a development project by citing corruption (because it is common knowledge that corruption is rife in Africa) than to awaken interest in a discussion of the limits of this ‘explanation’. My interest in this topic grew out of observation of the methodological limitations of research in African studies, which in recent years has relied heavily on plausibility.

11 am – 11:20 am Coffee/tea break

Africa is not a country, by Lola Huete Machado

Africa is a topic in the media among the overall population. The average reader looks for stereotypes. And we give it on a silver plate. The African continent, our neighbor, is an imaginary place where we only put catastrophes, poverty, sadistic dictators, obscure men that arrive on fragile ships on our shores to still us, exotic women and, sometimes, some musicians full of rhythm that put everybody dancing.  Either makes us feel sorry or we ignore it. An unfortunate reductionism, that we, the journalists also have our share – and that the writer Binyavanga Wainaina evoked on his famous article “How to write about Africa” – hardly surmountable over the next decades. Because, as it is obvious, Africa is all this and a lot more. In the West, in general, it has never been interested in treating equally a continent with thousands of millions of inhabitants, which yesterday was still a colony. And, in Europe, we still face them and treat them that way. In addition, so far Africans have lacked means or channels of mass communication that allows them to tell their own story and to deny or sprinkle of others. But things have changed in the last decade: the internet, mobile phones and social networks rock. The new technologies allow a communication easier and faster, more horizontal and equal. The Africans want to tell their own story. Having a voice in a global world. And launched to this path passionately. Suddenly, the label Africa is changing its visual.

12:20 pm – 12:30 Discussion

12:30 pm – 2:30 pm Lunch break

Moderator: António Pinto Ribeiro

What Africas do the images tell us about? by Fátima Proença

 “In the modern way of knowing, there have to be images for something to become ‘real’” (Sontag). Turn this idea around, and everything that reaches us in images can automatically enjoy the status of being ‘real’. And by analogy, or mere common sense, it passes into the category of “truth”.

We take for granted the right to quality information, as an essential element of the relationship we establish with the unknown world. These fragments of ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ are accordingly incorporated into what we “know” about others – people, places, cultures, countries. In this context, the topic proposed for reflection is the suggestion that the debate on the social function of the media – in the age of the information market and the image as spectacle – is another way of looking at the debate on public service and global citizenship.

Governmental and entrepreneurial influences on the production of news in Africa, by José Gonçalves

The production of news in a large number of African countries remains marked by the imposed rules during the periods of one political party; it’s a reinforced fact on the cases of large imbalances among social-political forces. Such rules did not apply by commissions of censorship like in European or American-Latin dictatorships, but by the limitation of the number of social communication bodies and by the selection of journalists, according to the criteria of fidelity to power. The verified political openings, since the decade of 1990, changed several profiles, remaining a climate of pressure in countries where to mention corruption in the “higher echelons” or to present unfavorable news of State Chiefs, is still a risk, either by the intimidation or financial threat. The number of cases out of this context however widens. Countries like South Africa, Namibia, Senegal, Benin, Ghana are examples of freedom of speech with direct reflections on the production of news according to criteria that are universally accepted.

3:30 pm – 3:50 pm Coffee/tea break

Éditions Barzakh, by Sophiane Hadjadj

My everyday work consists of making sense of the world, of reality, by publishing essays and novels in Algiers. In an agitated political, economic and social context – from the widely vaunted “Arab Spring” to the various conflicts being played out in Africa – where freedom is in scarce supply. And I never stop wondering whether what I do has any point. I am constantly compelled to justify my actions: what is the use of publishing books? And what books? Writing and publishing are for me two forms of resistance to a world in disarray, ways of resisting prohibition, resisting exploitation and resisting despair.

But the essential question for me is: what ideas do we want to advance, what stories do we want to tell, here in Algeria, that is to say, in North Africa, which is also the Arab world? And when I ask ‘do we want’ I also mean ‘are we able’.

Thought and fiction are not neutral. Ideas and stories bear witness to what we are, to how we live, they bear witness to our imagination, to our ability to free ourselves from ideological straitjackets and to run towards the open horizon.

But for the moment, with the recent upheavals, I’m trying to reflect on what new ideas and new narratives could tell a different story of Africa, the Arab world, as far removed as possible from the clichés of terrorism, poverty and women’s issues; on how to live at this crossroads of so many influences (Mediterranean, Sahara, Europe, Islam...) and how to dream new dreams.

AtWork, by Katia Anguelova

The incipit of AtWork is the expression of a willingness to create a project about Africa, which comes from lettera27, a non-profit foundation: a project able to reflect our relationship with the territory and with the Other, and to open up new spaces for thinking that may contribute to evoking a different imagery of Africa. Since there is no centralised logic in Africa, but only a series of micro-logics that together constitute the social fabric of the country, the activities promoted by AtWork follow a similar trajectory. Starting with a collection of “art notebooks”, unique works of art created in Moleskine notebooks by different artists available under a “free” and shared license (CC BY-SA) and presented in an online exhibition (, it becomes a vehicle for the circulation of knowledge. AtWork develops into a process that follows different strategies and multiple formats (workshops, exhibitions, meetings), in an attempt to create a “contact zone”, a meeting place. AtWork aims to develop into different chapters written in the African continent, following an in vivo experience that evolves according to the narrator and that, at every step, builds on what has been accomplished before. It is an ever-changing process shaped by the experiences of the people who “write” it, and resulting in an instrument that does not intend to define a story, but to propose dynamic systems of interaction with the public.

4:40 pm – 5 pm Discussion

5 pm – 6 pm Final conclusions

Initiative in collaboration with: