Voice of Africa: A vision of hope for the continent – Salim Amin
In 1984 images of the famine in Ethiopia changed the world. They prompted the greatest act of giving in the 20th century. (more…)
In 1984 images of the famine in Ethiopia changed the world. They prompted the greatest act of giving in the 20th century. They changed the way governments and non-government organisations operated in Africa and other developing continents. More importantly, they saved the lives of more than 3 million people.
I grew up with those images. They were taken by my father, Mohamed Amin. He covered this famine, and every other disaster in Africa, for four decades. He died negotiating with terrorists aboard a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed in the Comoros 11 years ago.
My father had to struggle to get his images covered in the international media; a media with no interest in Africa, even in the catastrophic famine and desperation of the Ethiopians. Twenty years ago, when making a speech in the United States while receiving one of his many awards for the famine coverage, he said: “You may find it hard to believe now, but when my first report about the famine in Ethiopia was offered to Europe and America’s broadcasters they turned it down … but when the viewers saw it they proved beyond all question they were not as small-minded as some of the people who run the media.
“The power of television news could not be demonstrated more clearly … but there is a responsibility that goes with that power. We fail in that responsibility if we do not report the often horrendous problems of development facing the people of Africa.
“We must report them courageously, without favour … if we can do that we can then trust the people of the world to see that their governments will take their responsibilities to the Third World seriously.”
Twenty years on, I am asking Africans, and anyone interested in Africa, to take our responsibility to our continent seriously by raising the voice of Africans. I have a vision for the first truly independent pan-African 24-hour news and information channel. To be called A24, it will be a voice for Africa by Africans. This commercial entity that will prove we can set up a successful business model will not only tell the real story of Africa but be a financial success.
The channel will train hundreds of journalists, set a new and balanced African news agenda, communicate relevant information about health care, the environment, business, art, music and other cross-border issues. The channel will be transmitted into rural Africa on a variety of platforms including direct-to-home satellite platforms, the internet, radio and mobile phones.
In a world with perhaps too many 24-hour news channels you may ask: “Why do we need another one?” The answer is that Africa does not have one and we continue to have to rely on the international media to determine what is newsworthy in Africa, to shape our own vision of ourselves. India alone has 32 such 24-hour networks.
Al Jazeera in Qatar changed the way the Middle East saw itself, as well as how the rest of the world viewed the Middle East. It provided a platform and forum for Arabs to tell their own stories and comment on the issues that affected their lives.
There has been much talk about the damaging impact of the stereotypical portrayal of Africa in the media. The photos my father took still represent much of what people think of Africa, reflecting the typical images of Africa that we continue to see on international news channels – starving children with flies in their eyes, executions, genocide.
Overcoming these stereotypes is one of the key challenges that we in Africa face. We can only combat that trend if we have true influence on what is reported, covered and said about Africa.
We are different in each corner of Africa; we have different histories, cultures and many different languages. But we need to talk to each other, we need to understand all these differences, we need to share our successes, and jointly fight our problems and failures – many of which are similar – HIV, malaria, corruption, poverty, human rights and education.
We will empower Africans with the most powerful tool in the world – knowledge. And we hope the channel’s presence and reporting will create an impetus for good governance – both in public life and in commerce. For many Africans for many years it was almost embarrassing to own up to being an African. No more. We are proud of what we have built and achieved.
Salim Amin is a photojournalist and entrepreneur based in Nairobi. A24 is due to be launched next year.