How distorted reporting is aiding new scramble for Africa

Africa is holding the short end of the stick in terms of media coverage on its business environment. The storyline, which is heavily distorted, is about who can best profit from the continent’s business opportunities.

The charge is being led by foreign powers, with 70% of coverage about business in Africa referencing China, the USA, Russia, France, and the UK, according to the newly launched The Business in Africa Narrative Report, by Africa No Filter and AKAS. 

The report shows that the keywords, stories, frames, and narratives associated with business on the continent are dangerously distorted.

There is an overemphasis on the role of governments, foreign powers, and larger African states alongside an underappreciation of the role of young people, women, entrepreneurs, creative businesses, smaller successful African states, and Africa’s future potential. 

Moky Makura, Executive Director at Africa No Filter, said Africa is seen as a high-risk business destination and the cost of money is at a premium.

“Business opportunities on the continent are both underrepresented and misrepresented, and now that we know this, we can work on educating the media and changing the narrative around business in Africa.” 

Richard Addy, report author and co-founder of award-winning international audience strategy consultancy, AKAS, said the report offers a detailed data analysis on the narrative around business in Africa.

“This rigorous research is important because narratives, frames and stories are the lenses through which we perceive and experience Africa. They inform beliefs, behavior and ultimately dictate policy.” 

In addition to the dominance of foreign powers in business stories featured in international media, the report highlighted a number of other key frames dominating dangerous distortions played out in stories, and the underrepresentation of businesses across the continent.

● More negative coverage: International media are more likely to have a negative tone. African media are twice as likely to reference corruption in their coverage of business in Africa compared to international media, with corruption featuring in 10% of African media stories. 

 ● Africa is Nigeria and South Africa: Nearly 50% of articles in global media outlets reference South Africa or Nigeria, crowding out business stars like Mauritius, Namibia, and the Seychelles. Mauritius is the highest-ranking African country in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. 

● Silencing creativity, amplifying technology: Nollywood is the world’s second-largest film industry, and music genres like AfroBeats and AmaPiano are influencing pop culture globally, yet creative businesses were only featured in 1% of all business news articles across African and global media. Additionally, while 22% of Africa’s working-age population started new ventures between 2011 and 2016, the highest rate of any region globally, African start-ups received declined coverage. 

● Youth and women are underrepresented: African countries claim the top three spots in the Mastercard Index for the highest concentration of women business owners globally, but business news and analysis on gender equality issues have declined. Africa also has the youngest population globally. However, youth and women are underrepresented in business stories. In fact, online news coverage of young people has declined between 2017 and 2021. In addition, stories about African youth globally are often framed through negative stereotypes, invoking images of inactivity, violence, and crime. 

 ● Government, policy, and regulations dominate: 54% of business news in 2021 was framed through government action and policies. Additionally, African media focused more on themes related to government than on those related to entrepreneurship. Yet, African countries make up six of the top 10 countries whose populations were most likely to search for the topic of entrepreneurship in 2021. 

 ● Missing Free Trade Area and investment: The African Continental Free Trade Area is the largest free trade area in the world by the number of countries taking part, yet it makes up under 1% of business news and analysis while mentions of Foreign Direct Investment fell from 3.2% in 2017 to an even lower 1.9% of coverage in 2021. 

The Business in Africa Narrative Report is the latest research project by narrative-change organization Africa No Filter and forms part of their work to understand and shift harmful and stereotypical narratives about Africa. 

The report comes at a crucial time for the continent as it recovers from the economic impact of COVID-19. Experts predict that Africa needs an estimated $175 billion per year for 20 years to end extreme poverty, and business will play a critical role. 

Academic researchers have shown a correlation between media representations and investment levels.

One study of the stock market in the US showed that media visibility led to more investment than under-investment and influenced investor trading behavior. In other words, how the media covers business matters. 

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