While searching for a theme and personality for this week’s Ventures Woman column, I came across a provoking article by seasoned journalist and Editor of New African Woman, Regina Jere-Malanda.
Regina is a London-based Zambian who is keen on representing African interests in the diaspora. Her passions are women’s health issues, education, rights and empowerment, particularly for the female child, and she has written widely on a range of issues from beauty and fashion to politics and media freedom/free speech. She has also worked extensively as an international correspondent and her work has been published in many publications and books including “The Mission: Journalism, Ethics and the World”, a text used in the journalism school curriculum for a US university. With someone so experienced in the art of telling a good story, it was astonishing to see a piece of work as simple, deeply honest and reflective as her 2004 article “Confessions of a foreign correspondent”.
Reading through the article feels like reading through the innermost thoughts of one who betrayed her love and is seeking to return. I don’t know how many can relate with her experiences, but I daresay many Africans, at home and in the diaspora, will connect deeply with her words.
As a foreign correspondent for a Western media company in South Africa, Regina competed with other foreign correspondents to find the ‘stories’ that would sell in the West. In her own words, “I now realise that I was not only paid for writing stories that would sell on the Western media market, but for stories that would fit in and be accepted by fellow ‘foreign correspondents’”. A story in itself is neutral, neither good nor bad, but stories that promoted the picture “of a desperate and hopeless Africa” were the stories that sold.
A recent writing competition in a UK newspaper asked journalists to answer the question ‘Why does it take images of starving children for the world to act?’ Perhaps it is because fundraising works in much the same way as foreign correspondence, “good news does not sell”. Regina found that African journalists working for foreign agencies were encouraged to ignore positive developments in African countries in search for ‘real stories’, stories that sadly, reinforced wrong perceptions of Africa as violent, unpredictable and corrupt. In fact, a story’s newsworthiness depended on its ability to reinforce the image that “Africa is a huge, tragic basket case”.
Regina recalls complaining along with other foreign correspondents several years before, about Zimbabwe being one of the ‘driest’ places in terms of “African news”. Yet this was during a time of relative political and economic stability in the country. With so little ‘news’ to feed their foreign agencies, Regina writes “we would go into rural areas to scrounge for stories on witchcraft! We were looking for something dispiriting!” In later years, as the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated, foreign correspondents descended on the country, ready to report.
Regina’s confessions in 2004 were not about blacklisting foreign media or selling out African foreign correspondents. For her, this reflection was a call to action:
“There is another side of Africa that is just as newsworthy as all the depressing accounts of Africa in Western media. African journalists have a duty to rise up and address this wrong. It is not too late to be born again. We can do it.”
Regina Jere-Malanda is one of many thousands, even millions, of Africans who are retelling the African story, not simply with words. Using the powerful tools of entrepreneurship and innovation, education and mentorship, integrity and empowerment, everyone has a chance to retell Africa’s story.
Regina asks, “what is the point of a steady stream overzealously amplified reports of war, famine and disaster?” If indeed the power to change things lies in our hands, what are we waiting for? This is a word of encouragement to all African entrepreneurs and change-makers, whatever your industry: what you do matters! Keep doing what you do well and we will tell your story to the world.
*If you know any great African entrepreneurs working hard to retell Africa’s story, please share with us; we want to know! Do leave your thoughts and comments at the bottom.