We need to counter negative stereotypes and uplift Africa’s image in the world – Adesina

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank Group, has made a fervent call to end negative stereotyping of the continent in the international media and to champion a more positive portrayal of Africa and its development.

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Speaking at the All Africa Media Leaders’ Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, on 9th May, 2024, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank Group has called for a more balanced coverage of Africa in the international media. He was addressing over 300 media owners and practitioners from across the continent.

He said that “despite the significant progress within our continent, the prevailing media narrative often focuses on negative stereotypes, overlooking the substantial advancements and resilience Africa demonstrates”.

Giving examples of several positive developments on the continent, he noted that 11 out of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world in 2023 were African.

A more positive coverage he said, would be significant in addressing the misconceptions about the continent which continue to discourage investment and hamper its progress.

Adesina also referred to the elections in Senegal, which drew international media attention for the challenges that presaged it. The elections, however, were held peacefully with the results accepted by all, including the incumbent President who invited the victorious opposition leaders to the seat of government even before the full results had been announced.

Adesina said he had visited the capital after the elections and was struck by the calm in the streets. “When I queried the head of one of the election observer missions about his assessment of the elections, he remarked, ‘I have monitored elections both within and outside Africa, and I have never witnessed a better-conducted election. Yet, this is Africa!’”

The AfDB itself, he observed, is another example of how positive news about the continent is under-reported or not at all. The bank has maintained its AAA rating for nine years; was named best multilateral development bank in the world by Global Finance and transparent financial institution in the world, Publish What You Fund in 2021 and ranked by the Washington DC-based Center for Global Development as the second best concessional financing institution in the world.

“Just a month ago, the bank launched a landmark hybrid capital for $750 million, which was rated AAA by all three global credit rating agencies and oversubscribed eight times over by investors from around the world.” This was remarkable not just because it was the first by any multilateral development bank, but also because “it was done by an African institution”.

News of this nature, however, barely gets a mention in the global media, which tends to highlight the challenges in the continent, perpetuating negative stereotypes that have a real impact on the continent’s development trajectory.

“The negative imageries, strongly impacts investor confidence, scares capital, raises the risk profiles of countries, and worse, contributes to the so-called Africa risk premium that makes the cost of capital for investment 3–4 times higher than in other parts of the world,” Adesina noted.

This perception, however has no basis in reality. According to a a 14-year survey on cumulative default rates on infrastructure loans in various regions of the world by Moody’s Analytics,  the default rate in Africa, at 1.9%, compares favourably with that of North America (6.6%); Latin America (10%); Eastern Europe (12%); and Western Asia (4.3%).

“So, this year, Africa will pay $74 billion in loan service payments, a rise from $17 billion in 2010. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) found that if African countries were transparently and fairly treated in ratings by credit risk agencies, they would save at least $75 billion in interest payments,” he pointed out.

Countering the negative narratives around the continent, Adesina said, would require indigenous African voices to take the lead in shaping the continent’s image. “We must reshape the narrative about Africa to reflect its true spirit and potential,” he charged.

Call for African media prize

Noting that the majority of stories about Africa are written by foreigners or Africans who have to conform to the preconceptions of the foreign-owned media houses they work for, Adesina called for a grand agenda to support African-owned media to thrive.

“I would therefore like to propose that the African Development Bank, Africa Import-Export Bank, and all regional financial institutions pull resources to support the emergence of a globally respected African media company that will position the news of Africa to the world,” he declared.

Development institutions in Africa, Adesina suggested, must establish a collaborative platform containing verified and standardised stories, videos, and content. This would simplify the process of aggregating and reporting on the successes and progress occurring across Africa. By reducing the search costs for news outlets seeking stories about positive developments on the continent, it would contribute to more balanced media coverage.

He reiterated the AfDB’s commitment to supporting African media institutions and announced that the Bank will work with the relevant stakeholders to create an Annual Africa Media Prize and African Journalists’ and Correspondents’ Fellowships to help strengthen the capacities of journalists reporting on the continent.

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Omar Ben Yedder

Omar is Editor-in-Chief of African Business.