Internally displaced persons in eastern Congo. DRC is still wracked by internal conflicts, mostly sponsored by outside forces to steal its mineral resources. However reports on the country by Western aid organisations and news agencies mask the true causes of the conflicts and ignore local efforts/Photo: IRIN

How to write about Africa

A new handbook recommends eight steps to development and humanitarian organisations to share their work on the continent more ethically.

Africa No Filter, the not-for-profit working on narrative change on the continent, is challenging the development community to adopt more ethical approaches in their storytelling with the launch of its new handbook, How to Write About Africa in 8 Steps: An ethical storytelling handbook.

The handbook was developed to address the rebalancing of the stereotypical narratives about Africa that persist in the development community. Typically, development funders, the media and western storytellers portray themselves as white saviours who heroically rescue Africa from war and hunger, stirring up pity for Africans by leaving out the stories about the agency of communities and individuals to solve their own challenges. Additionally, stories about the continent often create the misconception that Africa is broken, dependent on outsiders and that its people lack agency.

The handbook hopes to educate and change the usual behaviours that lead to biased stories about the continent. The simple guide remedies the usually unintended consequences of unethical practices of donors and western storytellers in just eight steps.

Practical examples of overcoming unethical practices include checking your privilege, being respectful, co-creating stories, checking for bias, gaining meaningful consent, understanding the local context, putting in the time, and employing local people familiar with local contexts.

The handbook is based on interviews with filmmakers, photographers and writers working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They speak about their ethical challenges, including poor conceptualisation, bad hiring and production practices, problems introduced in post-production and failure to return to show production to the communities/people where the stories were sourced to ensure communities and individuals feel comfortable with the stories being shared about them.

Moky Makura, Executive Director of Africa No Filter, says: “We appreciate the development community needs to highlight the issues and share the impact of their projects on the continent, but they also need to be careful that they don’t feed the persistent, stereotypical narratives we have come to expect as they develop their content – especially the ‘Africa is broken and needs fixing’ narrative. The handbook is an intervention aimed at storytellers to help them reconsider how they conceptualise stories, gather materials and edit the final product – and we show you how to do it in this deliberately short and very accessible handbook.”

To launch the handbook, Africa No Filter will be holding a webinar on 29 July at 16h30 CAT entitled How to Write About Africa – reframing storytelling and centering ethics. Panellists are Emily Renshaw-Smith, Head of Content at Comic Relief; Professor Relebohile Moletsane from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who has explored the ethics surrounding the way we tell stories about rural South Africans; land rights activist Dimuna Phiri, who has been involved in creating stories (books and films) about Zambians facing land grabs, and Heba Aly, CEO of The New Humanitarian, which covers forgotten and overlooked crises in the continent.

Download the Ethical Storytelling Handbook HERE

Report distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of African No Filter.

About Africa No Filter
Narrative matters and the prevailing one about Africa as a continent defined by conflict, disease, poor leadership, poverty and corruption is outdated and harmful. It has also become the single story of the continent, crowding out perspectives of Africa that show an equally creative, innovative and progressive place. Africa No Filter is working to shift harmful and stereotypical narratives about and within Africa through research, grant-making and advocacy. We empower narrative change-makers by supporting storytellers, investing in media platforms and driving disruption campaigns. Our goal over time is to leave an empowered narrative change ecosystem and an informed community of storytellers who work more deliberately to shift the narrative. Africa No Filter is a donor collaborative funded by Ford Foundation, Bloomberg, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Luminate, Open Society Foundations, Comic Relief, the Hilton Foundation and the British Council.

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