Why we need to critically assess the role of communicators in Africa’s development

A call to action for communicators with an expertise/interest in Africa

The narrative surrounding Africa has largely been shaped by people outside her borders. There are so many ways to think about the “African” narrative — however what is always striking is the fact that a continent with 54 countries, thousands of ethnic groups with different languages, different cultures and histories, differing politics is always labelled and represented in a single story. A landmass ten times the size of Europe, with much more diversity is often viewed as one homogenous culture. This is just one of many problematic narratives about Africa.

The point is, as Africa focused communicators, we need to be strategic and intentional about the types of stories we tell. How are we deliberately shaping a narrative that is so vital to the transformation of the continent? Until we clearly understand the impact of these narratives on the socio-economic development of the continent, our relevance and influence as a profession will continue to lack strategic value.

Africa Communications Week aims to convene communications leaders from various backgrounds across the world, to ensure the most authoritative and comprehensive metrics to assess the role of communications in Africa’s development. In partnership with the World Communication Forum Association, Africa Communications Week will host a week-long series of events simultaneously taking place in several countries across Africa and the world.

The objective of these events is to encourage and engage communication professionals across the board to critically assess the role of the communication industry in Africa’s development. As African countries reach key crossroads in their path to growth, development and competitiveness, it is time to find sharper answers to these questions. We all find it hard to imagine a national development and competitiveness process without communication playing a fundamental part.

What’s our impact?

The communications sector generally does a good job of measuring outputs, but seems to struggle when it comes to measuring outcomes — and as the following example shows, they are pretty tangible:

When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March 2014, it actually struck three countries (Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone), i.e. less than 1% of Africa’s economy. According to the World Bank, the subsequent panic and marginalization led to a drop in GDP of almost $400 million in those countries, nearly 5% of their combined GDP. But the reputational and economic impact went way beyond the three nations involved. Furthermore, poor communication and misrepresentation also led to misguided and ineffective policy responses to the health crisis.

Whether you are in an African country or elsewhere, working at a PR agency in Africa or at the communications department of an international institution or a multinational with operations on the African continent, your activities are impacting the so-called “Africa narrative”.

Along with other fields such as economics, agriculture and technology, communications now has the opportunity to position itself and demonstrate its relevance as a real management discipline that contributes significantly to Africa’s socio-economic rise. And this is a collective effort that our industry should lead.

If you would like to join the conversation, feel free to contact us at info@africacommunicationsweek.com