100 articles – ‘How to write about Africa’

14 May 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘How to write about Africa’ by Binyavanga Wainaina

News media in rich countries don’t show much of developing countries. When they do, it’s pretty much the same story every time: war, famine and disasters. But the way these stories get reported is bad news in itself. You would think by now we learnt to avoid most misconceptions and stereotypes, but no. ‘They’ are poor and in need of help, and ‘we’ are the good guys. Nothing about international politics, the unfair world economy or what was happening in those countries before the reporters landed. TV reports still show white aid workers among crying black people. That ‘frame’ persists even when most aid is provided by their own government and local professionals.

Binyavanga Wainaina makes fun of stereotypes in Western writing in his satirical essay ‘How to Write about Africa’. Written in 2005, it is already considered a classic by many. By summing them up, Wainaina shows how accustomed we have become to many clichés.

In addition, everyone should watch this speech by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. Her talk is very smart and funny, but the most important is the advice she gives: never tell a single story. If we tell ourselves the same single story about countries or people over and over again, we end up with a skewed, incomplete image of the world.

Jaap Meijers is a Dutch freelance journalist. He writes about economy, technology and international development issues.