14 November 2017

African Media Must Shape the Narrative & Tell Africa's Story Responsibly - Ghana President

Photo: Twitter/Mark Bohlund
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana addressing the 2017 Bloomberg Africa Business Media Innovators Event
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Remarks by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana at the 2017 Bloomberg Africa Business Media Innovators Event

I am grateful for the invitation to participate in this year's Africa Business Media Innovators event, which is being held in our capital city of Accra for the first time, on the theme "The Changing Face of Media and New Hybrid Models". Those of you who come from beyond our shores are welcome amongst a people who pride themselves on their sense of hospitality. I know you have been here already for a couple of days, and I hope you are enjoying your stay amongst us. Akwaaba, as you know by now, is our word of welcome.

We are honoured by the decision of Bloomberg to entrust Ghana with the opportunity of ensuring that Africa and beyond converge on the shores of Ghana to a discourse on how best to maintain a flourishing media landscape, and how business and financial journalism can best contribute to sustainable development on the African continent.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has taken us sometime for a consensus to emerge in our country, and, indeed, increasingly in the rest of the continent, that democracy is our preferred form of governance. It has the best prospects of ensuring the rapid and sustainable development of our nations, and putting African countries on the path of progress and prosperity.

Actually, there was a time in Africa, when most countries were one-party states, and everybody had to belong to that party. Not so long ago, all radio and television stations and newspapers were exclusively owned by the government. If you wanted to hear any voice in opposition, any voice other than the official voice, you would probably have to tune in to a foreign radio station like the BBC. Unfortunately, most of our youth are unaware that, until recently, a culture of silence used to reign in most parts of the continent.

We are not quite there yet, but there is far more self-confidence among Africans today than there has been since the very early days of self-government. Today, a new Africa is emerging that is strengthening the determination of Africans to build a new African civilisation, governed by the rule of law, respect for individual liberties and human rights, and the principles of democratic accountability.

But, my friends, it is not enough to hold successful elections every four years or to be able to criticize the government and to have a choice of 100 radio stations. The biggest challenge that we continue to face is widespread poverty and, until we eradicate widespread poverty, Africa cannot really join the international comity of nations on an equal basis.

We, in Africa, have a great battle to fight and win, and that is the battle to provide our people with a good, dignified quality of life. The structure of economies bequeathed to us by colonialism was aimed at servicing its aims, essentially raw material producing and exporting economies. The time is long overdue for us to take a deep look at these structures, and transform our economies to serve better our own needs.

The era of Africa's industrialisation has dawned, so that we can also trade in the world economy, not on the basis of raw materials, but on the basis of things we make. Trade between us in Africa is minimal, and our share of world trade is negligible. We have to improve both substantially.

The good Lord has blessed our lands, and we should exploit our resources to benefit our peoples. Above all, we have to be able to feed ourselves. The 2015 statistics in Ghana, which saw us spending $2.2 billion on food imports, the same amount of money we earned from our cocoa exports, are nothing short of scandalous. We cannot afford to repeat such statistics.

This is where the media, and, indeed, business and financial journalism, can help play important parts.

The media has always been a critical feature of the political, financial and business architecture of Africa, and continues to be so. The time has come for us to harness the full potential of the media, keep it up to pace with technological changes, so it helps define, and, at the same time, contribute to the sustainable development of the African continent.

Over the years, African media practitioners have faced many challenges, ranging from a highly polarised media environment, lack of technological support, limited investment in the sector, poorly paid journalists, threats to their lives, corruption, and lack of requisite training.

These challenges have led to the African media, largely, shirking its responsibility in telling the African story. As a result, the narrative has been shaped and told by foreign journalists through their own lenses and words. The projection of the continent, as a result, has often been about war, disease, poverty and famine.

African journalists, therefore, have a duty to help change the image about Africa, and establish a narrative, which is more positive. The externally generated story of Africa might be hard to take, but, so long as there is widespread poverty and inequality, that will be the image that is going to be portrayed.

This means that you, our writers, our journalists from the continent, the writers of the African story, carry a great responsibility. When you write, what you write, must be about the limitless possibilities on the continent. What is written about Africa by African writers must have the ultimate reference status.

African writers played remarkable roles in the liberation of our continent from imperialism. They set the tone for the discourse about our identity. It is now for you, our business and financial journalists, to set the tone for the economic development and prosperity of Africa.

When our young people do not see a future in their countries, and cross the Sahara desert on foot and drown in the Mediterranean Sea, in a desperate bid to reach the mirage of a better life in Europe, no amount of beautiful lyrics will change our image.

When our economies grow and improve, our young people get educated and are self-confident and full of hope, the world finds its way to our doors, and the language and history of our countries become attractive to our own and foreign universities.

When African economies improve and there is increasing prosperity, we will find that more and more people will become interested to invest in our continent, resulting in thriving economies, and the creation of progressive and prosperous nations.

Undoubtedly, technological advancement and innovations will help change the face of Africa's media. These advancements, with a strong focus on digital media and the use of social media, will ensure that the news and information about our continent, especially about its potential, will become more accessible and readily available. This will present us with even more greater control, as we are now able to tell our own story.

That is why the Bloomberg Media Initiative in Africa (BMI) is a great initiative to help build the capacity of Africa's media. This programme, I am confident, will deepen the capacity of our media, and equip them with the relevant skillset to tell the African story – the story of potential triumph over adversity, economic successes over failures, and initiatives that will lead to the sustainable development of the continent.

For example, through your work, financial and business journalists on the continent need to bring to the attention of governments and decision-makers why the promotion of business-friendly environments, that reward creativity and enterprise and those who play by the rules, is the effective way of sustaining development in Africa.

They need to understand that the way to building that environment is when government and regulatory policies enhance, rather than inhibit or frustrate, trade, commerce and investments. Promoting the rule of law by our governments assures and gives confidence to the investor community that their investments would be safe. When we master the narrative, we can, then, effectively tell the story about the looting of Africa, and the huge amounts of illicit funds that flow from our continent, funds which, if we are able to control, would be available to finance the development of the continent.

The Ghanaian media has been very active in tackling the social ills of our country, and advocating for the investment that will contribute to the sustainable development of the country. This generation of African media practitioners has to be the generation that refuses to be either victim or pawn, and accepts to travel down the path of genuine popular empowerment, which represents the strongest guarantee of our independence and sovereignty. Freedom of expression, encompassing media freedom, is a critical element of that journey, which we must guard jealously at all times.

There is a lot of talk that this will be the Asian century, the Chinese century. But take it from me; the 21st century holds excellent prospects for Africa. This can be Africa's century. We can claim it, if we believe in ourselves.

Once again, I thank Bloomberg Media Initiative for this opportunity, and wish you successful deliberations throughout the course of this event.

Thank you, and may God bless us all, Ghana and Mother Africa.

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