Old narratives

Issue 94 - spring 2022

According to the Africanist Martin Sturmer, stereotypical images of Africa are based on specific crises.

Martin Sturmer,
Martin Sturmer,
How would you summarize the prevailing image of Africa in this country?

Sturmer: Thomas Seifert from the Wiener Zeitung once said an interesting sentence: “In media theater everyone gets a role. Africa's role is that of the tragic figure who must die in the end.” Africa is the continent that is least trusted. And there is a whole melange of negative images, which can be easily understood using the cover of Time Magazine, for example. Among other things, how Africa was presented as a continent of diseases, keywords AIDS and Ebola. This is the breeding ground on which the Corona reporting then hit. Media around the world have assumed that Africa will be hit by the world's largest Covid catastrophe, with tens of millions dead. These are the expectations that arise from learned stereotypes.

"We know all about how Africans die and we know nothing about how they live," writer Henning Mankell once said. Where does this crisis focus come from?

Sturmer: The reporting pattern of the tragic figure has been ingrained since the end of the colonial era. The tentative optimism that followed the independence of many countries quickly turned into the opposite. The starting point for the negative slope was the Congo crisis from 1960 and the murder of Patrice Lumumba. This then continued through the hunger crisis in Biafra, the reigns of terror of dictators such as Bokassa and Idi Amin, through to the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Narratives about the continent of hunger, despots and brutality are still based on these occasions. At the same time, there is this glorified image of untouched Africa: Some of us don't like to hear that the African Development Bank is propagating the industrialization of the continent. Many would prefer Africa to remain original.

What are the implications of such images in terms of economic relations?

Sturmer: On the one hand, the images increase exporters' and investors' fears of non-payment. On the other hand, Africa is still considered a playground for adventurers. A company asked me if I could accompany an employee who was going to Africa for the first time and was supposed to set up a market there for 26 countries. Without any experience...

Photo: Striker

To the main story

Reframing Africa: Too much black and white

Crises, catastrophes, diseases: Despite all the progress made in recent decades, the prevailing image of Africa in this country still has negative connotations - and does not do justice to the diversity of the continent. Why is that - and what can be done about it?