The Middlemen Part Four: “Poor Africans”

Posted by | September 07, 2016 | Academic, Blog_Post, Cultural Commentary | One Comment

The power to represent Kibera residents has been exercised by various agents within the international and local media spaces for many years. In some cases, even Kiberans have exercised this power over each other. The media representation attracts attention that leads to vast monetary contributions and financial gain for some residents and organisations within Kibera. However, the same representation has led many Kenyans outside Kibera to distance themselves from the negative media image.

Despite vast international media attention and financial aid, poverty still persists in the lives of many residents. Additionally, a large number of non-residents drawn from Kenya’s middle to upper classes are ashamed of the area because they are inadvertently associated with the images that emanate from Kibera. In select middle to upper class circles, it is often argued that the images of poverty from areas like Kibera are preventing people from other countries and continents to invest in long-term business ventures in the continent. Also, the images give the impression that everyone in the continent is poor and needy. Destination branding experts argue that the pervasive media imagery of poverty and unrest affects how and where people invest financially in Kenya. Even worse, this further isolates lower income residents into their own social networks of poverty.

Many who have studied and lived abroad can attest to the fact that a good number of  Westerners and foreigners assume almost all Africans are poor and struggling. It takes some time for them to understand that Africa is varied, with people drawn from all walks of life. I once sat through a class where a young Asian American lady asked me (with a very serious tone) if the black naked children covered with flies on an international NGO brochure were my brothers and sisters. I also met so many do-gooders who had travelled to Africa on saving missions in remote areas I have never been to. The latter was impressive but troubling when I realised that many foreigners didn’t want to discuss Sub-Saharan Africa as more than a place to do virtuous things like donate teaching assistance, clothes, food, medical aid and technology for the marginalised. Once I shifted the topic from charity or development based work they would lose interest. Others would politely remind me, “Yes, Africa has opportunities but it’s so corrupt and so poor, they really need so much help out there! We have so much here in the West that we don’t appreciate, we can help.” The few foreigners who had managed to travel for safaris would quickly follow up their tales of magical safaris with how much need and poverty they witnessed.  After a safari and beach trip in Kenya, one middle aged receptionist cried, “It was horrifying, we literally gave those poor people the clothes we had on our backs, they had nothing and begged us constantly. I am working class and I am not rich but those poor people!”

For the few I met who are willing and able to invest financially, they are preoccupied with investments with a charitable intention. It has to be an investment that is developmental and assists a community or a group to achieve some charitable good. Rarely is it an investment that is focused on plain and simple business sense, “large profits and many jobs for the most youthful and able continent in the world.”

I would challenge them, “I don’t think your super power countries are built on charity, there has to be a better way.”

Some sources:

Anholt, S. (2016). Places: Identity, image and reputation. Springer.

Ekdale, B. (2014a). Slum discourse, media representations and maisha mtaani in Kibera, Kenya. Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 35(1), 92-108.

Hawk, B. G. (Ed.). (1992). Africa’s media image. Praeger Publishers.

Kibere, F. N. (2016). The Capability of Mobility in Kibera ‘Slum’, Kenya: An Ethnographic Study of How Young People Use and Appropriate New Media and ICTs (Doctoral dissertation, Department of Media and Communication)

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One Comment

  • JOB says:

    “I once sat through a class where a young Asian American lady asked me (with a very serious tone) if the black naked children covered with flies on an international NGO brochure were my brothers and sisters. ” HOW I WISH THERE COULD BE AN INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN MEDIA NETWORK TO TELL OUR GOOD STORIES TO THE WORLD.