Urgent: Africa’s Own Global Television Channel,By Adagbo Onoja

Adagbo-OnojaIn the face of overwhelming evidence that every narrative implies its own solution, why is it the case that the African continent has still left the narration of Africa in the hands of others who, no matter how great their solidarity with Africa might be, are constrained by the burden of a cultural ‘geo-graphing’ of the continent? Why is it the case that the Mo Ibrahims and the Aliko Dangotes of Africa (some of the Africans on the Forbes’ list) and their ilk have not challenged Africa by putting down the block sum for Africa’s Aljazeera? Can Africa circumvent (its) own global television channel, ignore the discourse-power nexus and still hope to overcome its depressing status in the world today or even be any credible participant in the on-going negotiation of global power and governance?

Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the scholar-practitioner and ex-UN envoy put his hands on the issue when he stressed the point that the world has come to the end of the era of separate destinies. This, Gambari said in a 1998 Lecture in Nigeria, is the message in what the African character in Chiekh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventure told a French man and which Chinua Achebe echoed in his “African Literature As Celebration” and it goes thus, “we have not had the same past, you and ourselves but we shall have strictly the same future”. The cornerstone of this global future cannot be a monologue but a dialogue of civilisations, a global conversation in which all shades are covered, all fears, hopes and desires negotiated. For this to happen, there must be mutual intelligibility, a process which the media is the unchallenged moderator today. But the media is not one, global as it might be. For, the globality invoked in media globalisation is inherently neoliberal, creatively destructive of semi-industrial societies, cultures and identities, all of which Africa provides the best case study.

An anti-globalisation movement encompassing diverse strands of humanists from every race, culture, religion and classes has sprung up in arms against the global reach of neoliberalism. While that is something great, what appears to be a convergence of interest of rising and global powers in Africa, mainly in the continent’s extractive industries – oil, land, minerals and the forestry has seized the continent uniquely. In making sense of this central feature of post Cold War global politics, some people say it is 21st century ‘Scramble for Africa’ while others insist it is a strategic opportunity for the continent. Many would agree that this convergence can mean anything, depending on how we conceive it. In that sense, the missing link remains the platforms for discourse where the meaning of the convergence can be decided by the way it is constructed, much of which ought to be taking place on Africa’s own global television channel much as they would also be taking place elsewhere. Aljazeera, for instance, has taken up this debate very seriously.

More thoughtful African leaders such as Thabo Mbeki have, and quite correctly too, posted the argument about Africa’s loss of the ownership of the ‘African story’ as long as these stories are edited or framed or packaged in London, Atlanta and Doha. As with all generalisations, this too is problematic in many regards but what is vital here is the kernel of that argument that, non-Africans cannot tell the African story with the same sensitivity as Africans, however problematic the concept of who can be called an African in a world of ‘decomposing sovereignty and overlapping identities’.

Against this background, it is surprising that there is still not an African version of Aljazeera. Aljazeera is singled out here for two reasons even as it is debateable if Aljazeera can ever match BBC’s coverage of Africa, especially BBC’s extremely powerful Hausa and Arabic language services by which the BBC is Africa’s unchallenged media tutor for all time. The first reason is what Aljazeera symbolises: the first non-Western global channel to make it into a domain that has historically been the Westerners’. In this sense, it is Aljazeera more than China, which triggered the on-going global power reconfiguration. The second reason is Aljazeera’s journalism which reflects a more critical geopolitical imagination on the balance. I am referring to issues ranging from the very important question of objectivity to the issue of storylines, the subject matters that are brought up, the voices heard, the pictures seen and the investigations conducted. The Aljazeera phenomenon attains its climax in the piercing interpretations offered by the Marwan Bisharas of this world, if one must exemplify. It is in this sense that the African version of Aljazeera must be the next item on the agenda of Africa’s struggle for freedom, debuting perhaps with a documentary version of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, followed by Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventure, these being the two novels that must constitute the take-off point of Africa’s intervention in the global conversation under reference. The logic here is that understanding trumps all else in the context of the constructivist turn and the primacy of mutual intelligibility.

A recent analysis showed how correctly several of the transnational media outlets actually report Africa but also how these same media still believe, on the whole, that the horrifying scenarios from the continent they captured in detail constitute ‘Africa Rising’. Although the study under reference only covered 2010 to 2014, the contradiction between the scores and the sum here is what problematises the link between the global media and the African condition. That problem is not so much that Africa is so negatively or positively reported, much as that is part of the problem but that there is an overarching narrative to which the stories, ‘negative’ or ‘positive’, end up serving as evidence.

The origin and power of this problematic narrative does not lie with the editors of non-African media concerned but with a politics of otherness that goes down to the claims of the pioneers of Western geopolitical imagination such as Halford Mackinder in the early 1900s. In other words, this is not a problem which modern day editors of the Western dominated transnational media can resolve even as hostile to the ravaging march of neoliberal globalisation as many of them are, by training and ideological orientation. It is beyond them and we see this in the paradox whereby whether the transnational media report Africa or not, they provoke conflict. This is in the sense that if, like in the case of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda when they withdrew into ‘silence’, they become seen as accomplices of violence and genocide. And if they report the continent by their own standards, they are charged with focusing on what are generally believed to be crisis-oriented news, making them accomplices of the kind of negativism which some scholars believe can provoke the first truly civilisational revolt in the twenty-first century.

Those who may challenge this analogy would find how the ‘Africa Rising’ paradigm fits in so perfectly. ‘Africa Rising which is supposed to be a critique of The Economist’s ‘The Hopeless Continent’ has come under fire as everyone is saying it is wrong headed, neoliberal ,imaginary ,since no one sees the benefits of such a rise in fortune trickling downstairs to the poor and the many. So, reporting Africa has reached a stalemate. It is a stalemate that calls to mind Anthony Smith, the Oxford Historian’s magnificent book, The Geopolitics of Information. Although published in 1980, the book is not dated. It remains canonical in this context and ought to be what African political, intellectual and business leaders are reading and reflecting hard upon.

Someone might argue, why the television channel in an age when television is said to be yielding grounds to digital media? Why not Mo Ibrahim’s African Governance Index? After all, isn’t internet based communication changing the disadvantage in media coverage in Africa’s favour? My answer would be that any privileging of a global television channel is a matter of flagship stuff. It doesn’t stop such from being a conglomerate, a combination of publishing in all its ramifications, research and related business engagements. This means that there is not even the need to go into the debate on whether television retains any uniqueness or not.

If we say that governments do not run businesses well, which is very much a fancy claim though, what stops wealthy individuals such as Mo Ibrahim and Aliko Dangote and all those other Africans on Forbes’ list from moving in. In all cases, Africa cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

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