We bemoan the negative representation of Africa in the media, but Africans must realize that the source through which negative messaging is disseminated about Africa is through fundraising for humanitarian aid.
Here are two ways it works.
If I am an international NGO in Nigeria and my mandate is food security, I must prove that Nigeria has a food crisis, near famine conditions and malnutrition to remain relevant, and to continue to be based in Nigeria. I must sound the alarm through the media with the worst-case projections and scenarios to advocate for urgent funding from Western-based humanitarian and development donors. After a few months, years and decades of doing this, the world, Nigeria and Nigerians will come to accept this messaging as normal i.e. the worst-case scenario is taken globally as the reality.
The funds raised to address the food crisis in Nigeria are raised by international and multilateral organizations. These funds are administered by international agencies that raised them, yes, they raised the funds on Nigeria’s name, but it will be spent on Nigeria’s behalf. Please Nigeria - its peoples and government - humanitarian funding is not spent through national authorities or citizens. It is spent by international actors on behalf of the affected peoples.
Another case in point, if I want humanitarian funding for drought in Ethiopia, one way of doing this is to show worsening and harrowing drought conditions. If I choose to organize and facilitate a donor mission to see evidence of drought to advocate for funding, I will ensure that I take the international donors to the one place and perhaps only place a life stock may have died. As preparation for the mission, we would have sent out internal and public information on the drought where we give figures on how many people are food insecure, our strategy would be, the higher the figure the better for fundraising, we hope.
The livestock does not need to have died due to drought, and it does not matter that most of Ethiopia has lush greenery and with appropriate food logistics and transportation the whole country would be food secure. All these does not matter, what is important is that we show ‘impact’ of drought and promote this through the media. Now the donor mission does not need to see 8 million drought affected people which we would have promoted through the year as affected by drought prior to the mission, the dead livestock will suffice, this is taken as evidence. Our `exaggeration’ to raise funds for a humanitarian response is now received as fact and a data for the country.
Such data affect the economic and development growth and projections of the country. The western media reports these as facts and Africa’s media quote the Western media data or the report from the mandated international agency whose messaging is targeted to raise funds for its programmes. This is the story of many countries in Africa today.
If we need funds to solve a crisis, we must promote that crisis, and these are the main sources of negative and stereotypical representations of Africa and its peoples. To put it succinctly; `Africa, you want humanitarian assistance? then let us tell the world how bad your countries are and how incapable your governments are: these are the conditions under which we raise funds for humanitarian action and assistance. It comes with a price tag, your reputation!’ (Choice Ufuoma Okoro)
I have tried so hard for the last decade to alert Africa’s authorities that going to the international community to appeal for humanitarian funding does not guarantee that the funding would come, and raising these funds is at the expense of the reputation of the country. I have done this at the expense, many times, of my career advancement and growth within international and multilateral organizations. I will continue because I believe it is the right thing to do.
African countries have entangled themselves in a drowning web of humanitarian and development aid dependency that has stalled the economic growth of many nations in the continent. I will be hanging around to contribute to ending this until the Good Lord takes me home. Hopefully, more Africans and Western-friends and allies of the continent will join me on this journey.