Personal Reflection on a Flawed PR Campaign for Mama Africa

The other day I read a story on Huffington Post that really hit home. It brought me back to my postgraduate days in Canada. Three years into obtaining my Bachelors Degree, I realized my career prospects were not progressing as I had expected. I made an ad-hoc decision to enroll in a postgraduate program in International Development studies. In the brochure, it promised to be the gateway to starting a rewarding career in development. I admit, I did not research the program thoroughly or else I might have known what I was getting myself into. One month in, I was disappointed.

All courses were taught by Caucasian teachers who amassed small fortunes as globe trotters, expats. The stories they shared daily made my stomach churn. Their depiction of the developing world, namely Africa-sometimes a country, sometimes a continent-literally drove me mad. Every day I wondered how the program, then in its third year, had built a strong reputation with such a flawed foundation.

 I sat in class day in, day out with my African squad, six gals unified by our African roots. Our unit covered all the regions of the continent, except the North; by way of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.  We took turns rebutting callous statements made in class, fighting through the recurring storm of emotions.  Personal affront boiled into fury which was appeased by confusion and eventually reduced to pity.

They don’t know any better, I thought.  I considered dropping out of the program but my patriotism simply would not let me. I felt walking away would be giving up on my peers.  I was compelled to correct their perception, their view of the developing world. Surely, if I could show them a better version of Africa, I would dispel all the false statements they had been fed in school and through the media.

So, there I was, spearheading my own The Africa the Media Never Shows You campaign, and that’s long before the hash tag. I exhausted a lot of energy trying to share with my classmates all the wonderful tales and images coming out of Rwanda, a country I barely knew. I transitioned from Rwanda and ran a pro bono PR campaign for all of Africa, including the 52 countries I had never stepped foot in. I clung to every story, picture, documentary, article that portrayed the continent in a favorable light. Be as it may, my efforts could not contain the evil force I was battling.

Upon reading Priscilla’s article I deeply questioned my actions. Had I been wrong during those years trying to counter the falsehoods of the continent by sharing a much coated view of Africa? Was the surefire way to influence my classmate’s perception of Africa by sheltering them from the realities of the continent? Was I doing a disservice to the Mphunzis of Africa on my quest to reveal to my peers the Africa the media never shows?

On that, I leave you with a quote from the author, “Telling positive stories can be daunting when they are so rampantly juxtaposed by negative ones. Refraining from telling these stories on the grounds of that difficulty makes for inaccurate understandings of reality”. (http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/8086604)

 

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