The Problem With Thisday’s ‘Africa Rising’

January 13, 2024
5 mins read

By Yrsa Daley-Ward
Wednesday, November 19, 2008.
When a friend suggested that we attend last month’s Africa Rising Show at London’s Albert Hall, I assumed that we’d be in for an evening of cultural discovery and significance. In theory, all the ingredients were there to create an inspiring and memorable event. The music and fashion festival was the brainchild of Nduka Obaigbena (middle in main picture with Oswald Boateng and Naomi Campbell), the multi-millionaire Nigerian media mogul, and his African media corporation, THISDAY Media.
It was set to be the grand finale of other Africa Rising events which have already taken place in Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, and Washington DC, USA, with a view to increasing awareness of positive elements surrounding and arising from Africa.
We are all too often exposed to the continent’s many negative images and associations. The event was to serve as a showcase of African talent that was intended to challenge the way in which people view Africa and present its potential as a powerful and fast-developing continent.
THISDAY’s other principle was to focus on finding sustainable solutions to the current issues affecting the continent’s growth, rather than on the problems occurring as a result of them.
With tickets priced at a steep £55-£185, it did beg the question as to what type of audience the organisers were aiming at and whether the show would warrant the ticket price. Looking around, I noted the crowd – many black people had attended, although the night’s audience appeared to be mostly white, middle class and British.
The place was only a third full to begin with and the evening kicked off with a welcome from an uncomfortable looking Trevor Nelson, who assured us that it would fill up in no time. So on they pressed – and certainly after the first act the hall was getting fuller.
The guest speaker for the evening was the former American Secretary of State General Colin Powell, who delivered a somewhat vague speech, entitled ‘The Future of Africa,’ during which he cited Africa as a continent which will prosper and rise, with ‘hard work’ and ‘foreign investment.’ He was fairly well-received and then later got up on stage to dance to some Nigerian hip hop.
Convincing? Well, not really. It was quite gimmicky. (Especially since the very song he was dancing and singing along with glorifies the lifestyles of Nigerian internet scammers in Yoruba).
There was a general feeling of lack of substance. Sure enough, the majority of the artists were of varying African backgrounds which was probably a good place to start, but I couldn’t help feeling that they’d missed the mark a little with their choice of headlining act. Christina Aguilera undoubtedly has mass commercial appeal and can potentially draw in a large crowd, but wasn’t the aim of the whole event to promote positive images of Africa?
Perhaps it would have been a much more constructive choice to feature an artist of African heritage at top billing, or an international artist with a track record in keeping up to date with African issues and at very least a genuine and proven interest in promoting change.
This seemed to bring about shades of proceedings at Live 8 or similar events, when many artists jump on the charity bandwagon whilst at the same time releasing a new album, making a comeback, or going back on tour after a period away from the limelight. Often, acts of African heritage are hardly (if at all) featured, and negative images of Africa consequently reinforced.
It is a matter of interest as to why these events are so often marketed in this way. There seems to be a feeling between organisers of wanting to appeal to a large and mainstream audience. After all, this is England. But one has to worry about intention and why it seems to be that certain things are brought to light and certain things aren’t.
We often learn of the sheer amount that Bob Geldof, for example, does in terms of raising awareness of famine, but we never hear so much about what African people do for themselves. Artists of African heritage who do a lot for their countries simply do not have the profiles to become global symbols and figureheads for the fight against famine and civil war.
The media simply doesn’t choose to focus on these people. The symbolism here appears to be amiss. Surely by now, the time for Africa to be re-branded is long overdue. Images of a self-sufficient continent that is being reclaimed and Africans who are helping themselves just don’t appear to be the ones that the media is particularly interested in promoting because they refuse to tie in with standard liberal propaganda.
And so, will this depiction of Africa as an ill and failing continent continue to be exploited as a method to enable so-called activists to look and feel better? Letting people feel that they have made a difference is, after all, great PR.
Recently Princes William and Harry undertook the Endure Africa motorcycle ride through 1500 kilometers of terrain in Africa on Honda CRF 230cc motorcycles. Their aim was to raise somewhere around £300,000 for child orphans and victims of AIDS. While I would not be in a hurry to undermine anything done to raise money for these children, one does have to wonder and take certain factors into account, such as the money spent on such a jaunt. The princes had armed police protection officers with them throughout the entire trip and were among over 80 additional riders.
Wouldn’t there be a good chance that the expense of the expedition and costs incurred could have exceeded the money raised? So then what was the true purpose of the whole thing other than much needed media buzz for the princes?
We are all very familiar with the whole ‘Save Africa’ attitude encasing the western world, of liberals who want to hand-feed Africa and its starving children, sponsor and adopt African babies, all the while missing the bigger picture – that of the lack of democracy and physical and social infrastructure.
THISDAY’s aim was to lead people to instead explore these issues. There is a need for investment and communication through the link to other countries, also for businesses and commerce, developing legal systems, banking and education. I’m not at all sure that the Africa Rising event achieved its objective completely in terms of showing Africa’s social and political progress, although looking at their mission statement, they were certainly on the right track.
Unfortunately, this event seemed to me to be like so many others. Certainly, it would be refreshing to see these events presented differently in the future with a wealth of authenticity and guests who have taken true political stances on what is going on the continent. It would be positive to see what African people are overcoming for themselves. Africa does need rebranding and there is the outdated imagery that definitely needs to be shaken. Only then will Africa rise.
Yrsa Daley-Ward is with Rice’n’Peas Magazine, where this piece first appeared.
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