Reframing the African narrative to change its perception

By Lerato Mpholo, Senior Communications Consultant 

After decades of African progress being overlooked, misunderstood, underexposed and minimised, the time for an honest conversation about the endless economic opportunities in Africa is ripe. Narratives over the past decades have painted a wide range of views which can be split into two perspectives: one belonging to outsiders and the other belonging to Africans themselves. The former speaks to a rising economic power, availability of raw materials and unsaturated markets whereas the latter is that of an imminent threat, famine, a tinderbox of terrorism, poverty, forced migration, and disease. 

The truth about Africa is more nuanced than the negative connotations. The reality is that ancient and modern Africa have been industrious. In prehistoric Egypt, contraptions such as the shadufs were being used in agriculture. The engineering artistry of the Munhumutapa empire can be seen through the Great Zimbabwe Ruins which were built using soapstone and are still standing today, centuries after they were built. The pyramids in Sudan are also a testimony of an obviously unique construction craft that has stood the test of time. The innovations that have been spearheaded by Africa could fill volumes of academic texts. 

In modern day, the ‘Africa in the U.S Media’ report published in 2019 showcases that Africa and Africans barely register on US TV. It says depictions of Africa are broadly negative, and Africa is referenced as a country instead of a continent with 54 countries. Moreover, of the 32 African topics tracked across all TV programming ranging from animals and culture to travel and immigration, only three had more positive than negative mentions: history, music and sports. Business and the economy accounted for just 8% of news coverage about Africa. Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Seychelles, and DRC accounted for almost half (49%) of all mentions of any African nation.

The Afrobarometer report in 2021 published that the continent attracted the attention of economic leaders from all over the world. China is the biggest investor in Africa as indicated by increasing trade volumes which rose from USD 11 billion in the year 2000 to USD 192 billion in 2019. The United States (US) is the continent’s biggest donor while China is the leading partner in infrastructural development. France also maintains an economic relationship with its erstwhile colonies through the funding of projects across Francophone Africa.

Africa inspires positive long-term economic prospects through technological growth, high demand for infrastructure, and rapid urbanisation. According to a global survey by McKinsey, Africans and other regions’ respondents strongly believe that two decades from now the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Africa will be among the fastest growing in the world. The same survey also indicated that pessimism emanated from political instability and corruption. Even with this negative perception, there are many factors that make Africa a worthwhile investment destination. 

High investment returns, digital acceptance, potential workforce, untapped markets, increased aggregate demand, flourishing cultural industries, tourist attractions, efficient financial networks and world class education are some of the reasons why the overall mainstream perception of Africa needs to be scrutinised. The continent has strategic advantages which come with these high investment returns. 

Africa inspires positive long-term economic prospects through technological growth, high demand for infrastructure, and rapid urbanisation.

The technology hub

A recent digital adoption analysis done by  Boston Consulting Group (BCG) revealed that Africa has the highest technological adoption rate than other regions. Digital adoption is the process by which users learn to leverage new technology such as software, apps and websites to its fullest potential while deriving maximum value. High levels of digital adoption indicate that businesses can easily transform or digitise their processes. Change management and stakeholder engagement also very easy when digital adoption rates are high. Additionally, higher digital adoption rates unlock enormous economic potential for investors in the continent. Africa offers rewarding opportunities for digital software and hardware businesses. 

Africa has a large population of young people, making it a potential workforce benefit for investors. Africa’s youthful population is an opportunity for significant economic transformation and growth. The proliferation of technology enabled by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) also creates new employment opportunities for the African youth. 

Education and the talent pool

When it comes to tertiary education, Africa is progressing. The University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa was ranked as one of the top 20 universities in the world. This was followed by Cairo University, Egypt and the University of Makerere, Uganda which schooled some of the continent’s top academics. Statistics from the World Bank are indicative of the fact that collective literacy rates in Africa are on the rise.

Word-class financial institutions

South Africa holds an outstanding role in the African banking and financial industry. What is remarkable to note is that the country was not as affected by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 as its counterparts, because of its watertight and effective National Credit Act. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, South African banks had a strong risk position. The soundness of financial networks and regulations in South Africa is an important factor for investors to be cognisant of. 

Resources untapped

Africa’s untapped resources have the potential to turn around its economy. The business world can therefore benefit from Africa’s unsaturated markets and underused human and natural resources. In Zimbabwe, Invictus, an Australian company set up its natural gas extraction plant which will be fully operating soon. Nigeria, Senegal and Algeria are also taking the lead in the natural gas market exploration. According to the Nigerian Guardian, the continent is endowed with over 800 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The natural gas market is relatively new and has not been fully explored all over the continent. 

The tourism landscapes

The continent is home to some of the world’s biggest tourist attractions. Morocco is Africa’s most visited country. According to World of Wanderlust, Morocco received over 12.3 million visitors in 2019. The historic cities of Marrakesh, Essaouira and Fes attract international visitors who want to connect with the motherland. In Kenya, the Massai Mara has become one of the most popular choices for safari goers. Cape Town and Victoria Falls are some of the African cities frequented by tourists. 

The rise in arts and culture exportation

The African entertainment industry is now on the world stage. One of South Africa’s biggest exports at the moment is its thespians who have been cast in some of Hollywood’s prestigious productions. South Africa and Nigeria also lead the pack in the exportation of music acts in the genres of Amapiano and Afrobeats respectively. Africa is now a significant player in global cultural industries. Netflix has realised this opportunity by providing a platform for content producers. Investors can benefit from a host of entertainment industry power players traveling to Africa for art festivals, galas, workshops and concerts. Africa has renowned artists with credibility from cinema to music, making the continent ideal for a wise and strategic investor.

In conclusion, the information in the above analysis confirms that Africa with its complexities, offers exciting opportunities from within and externally. Thoughtful strategies are needed to harness the continent’s potential. The PR industry in Africa can leverage all the above for good storytelling and drive interest and growth inwards and towards the continent.

Our perception of the continent has to change because in changing our perception, lies the power for the continent to continue rising. Africa could be home to many more large, successful enterprises that earn healthy returns for their shareholders and make a difference in millions of people’s lives.

About Lerato Mpholo MPRCA

Lerato is a senior communications consultant at Opinion & Public BCW and a member of PRCA Africa NextGen Group. She supports an array of multinationals in Francophone Africa delivering corporate communications. She has over a decade’s experience in PR and, communications in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.

LinkedIn: or Lerato (Kiviet) Mpholo.