Author: Bridget Boakye
Affiliated organization: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: April 19th, 2021
For centuries, Africa’s narrative in the media has been that of a single story and, often, one with a pessimistic view of the continent. In one recent example, in early 2020, Reuters published an article titled “At least 300,000 Africans expected to die in pandemic: U.N. agency”, citing projections that, in a best-case scenario, Africa would fare far worse than its global counterparts. Such stories, along with other existing media narratives around the “dark continent”, have continued to negatively define Africa to outsiders while being internalised by many Africans. Now, armed with tools to create their own stories and with an audience through social media, African people and governments have begun to create their own narratives, often focusing on stories that celebrate the normalcy of African lives and contributions, working towards an Africa-optimistic future.
Africa’s Social Media Stars
As internet penetration continues to grow across Africa, so has the use of social media. Facebook is the most visited website in Africa and as of December 2020, there were more than 233 million Facebook subscribers in Africa. Through Facebook and other social media platforms, travel bloggers and photographers, in particular, are playing a major role in documenting multiple perspectives and narratives about the African continent. These inspiring creatives are resetting the African narrative and giving voice to a new way for Africans and the world to think about Africa.
Among pioneers in the space of intentionally using social media to broaden perspective about Africa is Everyday Africa. The group of photographers living and working across the continent chronicle the everyday lives of Africans and have amassed 428,000 followers on Instagram and 73,000 followers on Facebook in their mission to “broaden perception of Africa beyond the headlines”.
Similarly, YouTuber Wode Maya, has amassed 752,000 subscribers and more than 100 million views under his mission statement of “Africa to the World: Changing the Narratives”. Maya travels across Africa interviewing inspiring Africans who are contributing their quota to the continent’s development.
Now, armed with tools to create their own stories and with an audience through social media, African people and governments have begun to create their own narratives, often focusing on stories that celebrate the normalcy of African lives and contributions, working towards an Africa-optimistic future
Finally, the visibility and endurance of the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou on social media tell a compelling story about the interest and demand from many Africans in sharing a different narrative about the continent than that which is typically seen in the media.
Quantifying Social Media’s Impact on The African Narrative
While it is clear that social media has brought fame and economic opportunity to many content creators intent on telling their African story, it is near impossible to quantify the total economic and social impact of these new narratives across all social media platforms. Still, there are clear indications that diverse and often optimistic stories of Africa told through new media platforms have tangible benefits on African lives. Ghana’s recent success with its “Year of Return” initiative is indicative of this.
In 2019, Ghana’s president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, launched the country’s “Year of Return” initiative to commemorate the 400th anniversary of enslaved people landing in the U.S. with an invitation for those from the diaspora to return home. The initiative attracted an additional 200,000 visitors and the tourism sector injected about $1.9bn into the economy that year. The CEO of the Ghana Tourism Authority, Akwasi Agyeman, told reporters that Ghana accomplished this public relations and advertising feat primarily through digital marketing – specifically influencer-based marketing via social media.
Amplifying African Stories on Social Media Through Effective Policy
In Africa, governments intent on broadening their tax base have considered social media tax as a promising avenue. But social media taxes hurt internet use, thereby suppressing the use and creation of content about African lives.
Between March and September 2018, Uganda lost nearly 30 per cent of its internet users after its government introduced a daily duty tax of 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) on social media sites. In Tanzania, the government introduced a law requiring all online content creators to pay roughly two million Tanzanian shillings ($860) in registration and licensing fees, which was reported to drive individual and content creators offline. Kenya’s Digital Services Tax, introduced in the Finance Act 2020, is similarly proving burdensome for content creators, influencers, and small tech businesses, rather than effectively capturing larger players.
In Africa, governments intent on broadening their tax base have considered social media tax as a promising avenue. But social media taxes hurt internet use, thereby suppressing the use and creation of content about African lives
Are social media taxes, then, creating more harm than good? The potential impact of social media in Africa is enormous but fragile and could be under assault from social media taxes and restrictions on freedom of expression. African governments must nurture their digital creative sector through effective social media and digital policy to reap its full benefits.
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