Is the news media killing American investment in Africa? Perhaps. But the tide’s turning. Africans have long complained about the media’s negative bias towards their continent, and a quick Google search of top stories out of Africa lately confirms the thesis that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Ebola, Boko Haram, and ethnic violence in South Sudan and Central African Republic dominate current international coverage of the continent.
Bad press may well scare away investors, but booming economies in countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Ghana are changing the paradigm and attracting foreign investors. Africa now has eight of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies.
“The opportunities in Africa are amazing,” said Dr. Mima Nedelcovych, president of the Initiative for Global Development (IGD) at a recent Voice of America (VOA) newsmaker event. Nedelcovych pointed out that Americans stand to lose potential economic opportunities by failing to invest in Africa.
To address some of the misconception about doing business in Africa, IGD, a Washington-DC-based NGO, has launched a series of videos, entitled “Changing Perceptions”, on investment in Africa.
A Sea Change in African Journalism
Having grown up in Africa and worked as a journalist and project manager on the continent, it’s difficult to convey just how revolutionary changes in African communications truly are. The level of access to information is astounding in light of the near impossibility of communication in Africa just three or four decades in the past. The explosion in information access means Africans are taking coverage of the continent’s affairs into their own hands. Increasingly, Africans are interacting with people across the continent and abroad, exchanging information and ideas via radio, television, and social media and partnering on co-productions. AllAfrica.com and Nunnovation are prime examples of a news source developed by Africans, for Africans.
In addition, the fact practically all of the continent’s major newspapers are online allows for connections with the diaspora population. Now, a Tanzanian in Washington or a Ugandan in Minneapolis can read their local African newspaper even when far from home.
VOA has been eager to support this information revolution. In the past two years, VOA’s parent U.S. Government agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, has signed agreements to put FM radio stations in Bamako, Mali; Bangui, Central African Republic; Juba, South Sudan, and N’Djamena, Chad. Perhaps most excitingly, we are witnessing increased interest among women and young people in covering Africa’s news. Expanded woman and youth participation are providing African journalism with a breath of fresh air.
But on the investment front, the United States still has a ways to go.
U.S. investments in Africa have fallen behind in relation to China and other countries, according to a recent article in the Financial Times. And while U.S.-Africa trade stood at about $110 billion in 2013, China was Africa’s largest trading partner with about $200 billion, the paper reported. Given that backdrop, Secretary of State John Kerry toured several African countries in May, urging Americans to get in the game. “We want more American companies to be here, to invest here – both to unleash the power of the private sector in Africa and to create more jobs in America,” he said. One of the hottest market sectors in Africa is communications. According to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to approximately 650 million mobile phone subscribers, a number that surpasses the United States and European Union.
“More people have access to Internet in Africa than they do to clean water, or even sanitation,” says the World Bank’s Samia Melhem, the World Bank’s Regional Coordinator for Information and Communications Technologies for Africa.
And technology hubs are springing up across the continent: “Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; Lagos, Nigeria; and even Kigali, Rwanda are quickly becoming centers of innovation and entrepreneurship, catching the world’s attention,” the Huffington Post recently wrote. Still, challenges remain for doing business. Corruption, repression, and the lack of basic press freedoms can all scare investors away.
But as more people travel to Africa, work with Africans and better understand the continent, the news stories are sure to change.
Analysis by: Joan Mower
Courtesy of AllAfrica.com