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The way in which Africa is conceived, conceptualised and imagined in the Western world remain a touchy subject of discussion among scholars, journalists and political leaders across the world. The general conceptualisation of Africa is essentially stereotypic and is based on mere conceptual constructs. This situation is not likely to get better any time soon due to the unpopular negative reportage of Africa by the Western media. Indeed, the trend is one that is characterised by a Western media that is entirely obsessed and fascinated by negative news relating to the continent. This tendency is as rife as it was when Africa was under Western colonial rule. This presentation will discuss the problematic ways in which the continent has been conceptualised and conceived by the West, and will also assess the dangers of perceiving Africa from stereotypical dimensions.
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Historically, Africa has been badly misunderstood by the western world. In the West, Africa is interpreted as the 'dark continent'. This is perhaps an attempt to set the inhabitants of the continent apart from other people in the world. The above phrase is heavily steeped in double meaning. This phrase does not seem to only point at the thick equatorial forests, the depths of the continent's tropical shadows, the darkness of African skin, or even to the extensive lack of knowledge about the continent. Essentially, the 'dark continent' tag represents Africa as the continent where an atypical kind of darkness resides- the darkness of humanity. When the continent is viewed along the lines of this context, Africa then becomes a place where people do awful things. This is not for the reason that the capacity for such conduct is a universal characteristic that is applicable to all human beings. The reason is that Africa is thought to be innately barbaric and not as civilised as the Western world is.
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The western media, particularly, has been at the centre of shaping the stereotypic views about the continent. In fact, there exists extensive literature on how the African image is misshapen by the western media. It is the media that facilitates the framing of negative concepts regarding the continent. Some journalists, scholars, and editors of the western media have constantly dismissed the complaints that are levelled against them, pertaining to their wicked misrepresentation and rampant stereotyping of the continent. They consider these complaints to be a growing tendency in Africa, of unnecessarily bashing the journalistic practices of the western world. Despite the western media enthusiastically dismissing these complaints, evidence from research reveals that the western media's reportage on Africa comprises of a diet of negative coverage and stereotypes embellished with preposterous western-made sauces.
This is attributed to various reasons, some of which are external to Africa. Others are clearly home-nurtured. The western media's enthrallment by negative news is probably the most unswerving reason why undesirable news about the continent makes for tasty news in western newsrooms. What can be concluded from western media's misrepresentation of the continent is the refusal by their journalists to comprehend and communicate the most primary facts about Africa. The facts are manifest; that the continent is a vast land mass comprising of 54 sovereign states with a population of almost 1 billion people who communicate in over 1500 languages. Furthermore, these states differ tremendously in as far as their cultural, economic and political structures are concerned. Unfortunately, the differences that underlie the different countries in the continent are not put into consideration when the western media report about Africa. The reportage effectively depicts Africa as a single country. All this has helped to give rise to the negative ways in which the continent is imagined and conceptualised by the western world.
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The negative presentation of Africa in the western media has brought about quite unfortunate consequences. It has resulted in awful generalisations that depict the continent as one that is devastated by political instability, endemic famine and starvation, abject poverty, economic backwardness, widespread diseases and culturally archaic and barbaric ways of life. It is true, to some extent, that social and economic development in Africa have been hindered by some of these constraints. However, the western world has failed to consider the contextual backgrounds of these problems. The analysis of these problems by the West is essentially incomplete because there is no consideration of how the harsh external economic environment and the historical relationship between the continent and the West have undermined development in Africa.
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The negative conceptualization and conception of the continent has been wrongfully blamed on several hazards that hinder the endeavours of the western journalists to properly cover all the aspects of the continent. Such hazards, the West says, include reluctance on the part of some sources to give information for fear of their own safety, inefficient communication infrastructure that hampers the transmission of information, tough travel conditions and censorship. However, this is not a suitable justification because these hazards are not at all different from the ones that the same journalists confront while covering the so called developed world.
There are dangers that go with stereotyping the continent. This trend has resulted in the placing of Africa at the lowest level on the international scale. It is considered as one of the worst places on earth. This idea is perpetuated and propagated constantly with images and language, racism and misinformation and negative attention. Hardly do the western media present their audience with positive news about the continent and the events occurring there. The negative result of this is the alienation of a whole continent from the rest of the world. The interaction between the continent and the rest of the world becomes uneven. The interactions cannot take place on equal footing because people in the rest of the world have already developed negative perceptions about the continent that depicts its people and practices as inferior an uncivilised. This may result in unwillingness by the two sides from actively participating in mutually beneficial activities that every country needs for it to survive; economically, socially and politically, in the world.
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Thinking about the continent of Africa in stereotypical terms can easily result in the danger of discrimination of its members in the Diaspora. It can also result in hate crimes against people who originate in the continent. One example of the potential and real dangers of stereotyping is portrayed in laws and rules that may be designed in such a way that benefits some people while at the same time discriminates others from accessing the same benefits. Jim Crow's laws of the south are an example in point. The blacks were viewed as inferior people. The stereotype that brings about that type of thinking is enough. However, the results of such discrimination could be devastating.
Another danger of thinking about the continent in a stereotypic way is that it could lead to the decimation of the entire culture of the African continent. The west views its culture as being superior to that in the African continent. The negative portrayal of the existing cultures across the continent by the west could result in the people of the continent succumbing to the pressure imposed on them by the west to change the alleged primitive aspects.
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In summary, the western media has played a great role in shaping the way in which the African continent is conceptualised and imagined on the international stage. The western media has, most of the times, largely portrayed Africa in a negative light. While some of its depictions of the continent might be true to some extent, there is however a lot of ignorance and lack of understanding of the realities of the continent. Consequently, the stereotyping impacts negatively on the continent.