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Trade in Africa: why positive stories should be valued

A report by Africa No Filter reveals the extent of the issue of stereotypical media coverage of trade in Africa. We must value positive stories that are not highlighted, writes Moky Makura, executive director of the NGO.

You may remember the story of these two shoe sellers who traveled to Africa at the beginning of the XNUMXth century to find new markets… A few days after their arrival, the first seller decided that there had no potential for selling shoes because everyone was barefoot. However, his partner concluded that since no one seemed to be wearing shoes, there was a huge untapped market to tap into.

This story reminds me of how the world continues to underestimate Africa and opt for the “no need for shoes here, thank you” point of view. This situation is due, to some extent, to the way affairs in Africa are portrayed by the media.

We have recently published a report analyzing local and international media stories, keywords and portrayals. This highlighted that what the media tells us does not accurately reflect the business reality on the ground.

Young Africans see themselves as empowered people

For example, Africa has the youngest population in the world – 70% of sub-Saharan Africans are under the age of 30, yet their stories go unrepresented in the media. According to a 2020 youth survey conducted by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, young Africans see themselves as empowered people. Three-quarters of them plan to start their own business in the next five years, and if given $100, 50% would invest in their own business. Two out of three people said they already had an idea for starting a business. Yet media coverage hardly reflects this activity and optimism.

Google Trends data confirms this: we looked at what people were looking for in Africa and highlighted the dimension of entrepreneurship on the continent. We found that Africa has eight of the top ten countries in the world with populations researching business and six of the top ten countries with populations researching entrepreneurship in 2021. The data shows a story different that goes against the narrative that young Africans are passive, lack autonomy and wait for their governments to provide them with jobs or for development organizations to rescue them.

African women absent from business stories

It's not just young people who are absent from business stories. This is also the case for African women. The discourse on the minor role of African women in a patriarchal Africa must be reviewed. The continent ranks first in the world in terms of female entrepreneurs, and they represent 58% of the continent's self-employed population. The 2020 MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs ranked Uganda, Botswana and Ghana as the top three economies in the world with the most women entrepreneurs. Yet their voices, like those of young people, are underrepresented in media coverage of the cases.

Africa has received many accolades that begin with the words “fastest growing,” which often means rapid change at a steady pace. But many of these trends are not picked up and unpacked by the media. Agriculture and tourism are good examples. Africa has the fastest growing agricultural sector of any continent in 2019 and the second fastest growing tourism market in the world. It is evident that increased tourism and food stability create an environment conducive to business and investment. Yet, when we look at business coverage on the continent, we find that little or no attempt is made to dissect this data and highlight the opportunities that exist.

The same is true when looking at the coverage of the technology and innovation sectors on the continent, which, although widely covered, is often focused on international equity investors. risk and foreign investment, without paying much attention to the local individuals behind the ecosystem of tech start-ups in Africa.

These African companies that do not attract the attention of the media

Information about the activities of local companies disappears behind the stories of international brands setting up shop or expanding in Africa. When Twitter opened its first continental office in Ghana, it made headlines as hundreds of tech startups in Ghana's thriving tech ecosystem continue to be ignored.

In fact, there are over 400 African companies that have annual sales of $XNUMX billion or more that don't get enough media attention because there's always this obsession with brands. companies doing business in Africa to the detriment of African companies. It is hardly surprising, and not without irony, that the most admired brands in Africa are Nike, Adidas, Samsung and even Coca-Cola. Foreign brands dominate the ranking.

European companies account for almost half of entries, followed by North American companies (30%), Asian companies (16%), while African companies unfortunately only represent 13%.

We are also witnessing a similar scenario when it comes to African trade. Trade on the continent increased by 300% over the past decade, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is the largest free trade area in the world, is undoubtedly one of the continent's most important trade initiatives. Despite this, it is one of the continent's darkest secrets, judging by the lack of media interest. AfCFTA-related stories make up less than 1% of business news and analysis on African business published in international and African media. Who will reveal the opportunities offered to entrepreneurs, businessmen and traders if not the media?

Ultimately, there is a lot missing in business coverage in Africa: the voices of young people, women, entrepreneurs, creative businesses and successful small African countries. The focus is on international brands, foreign players, governments and major economies like Nigeria and South Africa.

Business and investment are essential to the inclusive and sustainable development of the continent, and the media plays a crucial role in highlighting what is there. It's time to spread awareness of the possibilities offered by the continent, because we don't want to be the ones who regret not having invested in footwear.

Moky Makura is the Executive Director of Africa No Filter, which is a collaborative donor initiative working to change harmful stereotypes and narratives about and within Africa. For this purpose, ANF conducts research, outreach, community development, and grantmaking to storytellers and media platforms.

You can follow her on Twitter @mokymakura.

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