Africa Matters Initiative Wants to Change the Way You Think of Africans in Media
I first heard of Africa Matters Initiative (AMI) when I watched a Ted Talk presented in South Africa. Farai Mubawai gave an inspiring speech on the dichotomy of being an African and a being a woman. I was instantly inspired. She spoke on the experiences of being an African woman and the frustration of her narrative being held captive by people who do not look like her. I felt that. We spoke with her co-founder, Reanne Oliver, to get more insight into their movement.
AMI is the brainchild of Farai Mubawai and Reanne Oliver. They noticed the lack of depth and range in the media representation of African people, so they created Africa Matters to remedy that problem. In April 2015, Ferai and Reanne created this organization after being frustrated that the African lives weren’t properly documented in the media. Specifically when there was a great deal of media coverage on the terrorist attack in Paris, France in January 2015. Many people expressed their solidarity with France using the hashtags like; #JeSuisCharlie. But, the next day, similar tragedy stuck in Nigeria when a terrorist attack occurred in Baga, but the newsroom was much quieter. Reanne says “Our mission has gone through several changes within the past three years. When we were conceptualized, we were a movement. It was a retaliation against the notion that Western bodies had more of an importance than African bodies.” She said, “ As time has gone on, we actually realized that changing the narrative for Africans to matter was something that many people resonated with. We didn’t realize how important it was for African youth to actually hear that.” Reanne added “Our current mission looks at empowering young Africans to change the African narrative through leadership skills, capacity building, and community impact projects”.
Once Farai and Reanne heard about the news in Nigeria, that was enough for them to push for a better narrative. Because Reanne is Haitian-American, she said she was initially a bit apprehensive to accept the responsibility of shifting the gaze on how African people should be viewed. But, Farai believed that her passion and dedication for learning more about African people was enough to push this movement.
Because of the need for organizations like AMI, they’ve gotten the attention of so many. It’s partly because they’ve targeted African youth. The current political climate reflects the lack of youth involvement in order to evolve the lives of Africans. Farai and Reanne noticed that shortage in efforts and constructed AMI to encourage young Africans to be more involved, “...I think it’s time for us to take control of the mandate and to push ourselves forward”. They started with hosting workshops, collaborating with universities and bringing in African experts who are in the think tanks to really drive the mission and spread the movement. To infiltrate the continent with their work, the Africa Matters Initiative Ambassador program was established.
The Africa Matters Initiative Ambassador Program is filled with educators, politicians and many more spreading from across the continent. Along with pushing the AMI’s mission, participants of this program receive training to better deliver the purpose of the movement, “The first 7 months [is] an online training where we [have] different topics of African leadership, African history, African feminism and social entrepreneurship. We have very basic training on how to write a resume and how to write a budget. We also [have] a networking session as well.” she said, “We also try to build networks for [African Matters Initiative Ambassadors] by providing them with well-established mentors who are within the continent.”
If you are interested in being an ambassador, visit the website for more info!
There are some challenges when trying to progress forward. There’s pushback from older generations when the youth are trying to take part in the conversation of African civilization. It’s the idea of traditional vs. liberal. “It’s a difficult challenge to get [youths] into [governmental power] because most of the African countries gained independence through the liberation movement, they feel as though they need to continuously play that role; [they feel as though the] youth don't’ really know what it took to get out of colonization or to build a government. But, I mean, there are schools for goodness sakes”. Even though AMI is still trying to maneuver through this resistance, there is still support coming from the some elders. As of now, they are focusing on training the youth to be confident to show up and demand more opportunities to take office.
Another challenge they’ve faced is making sure they represent as much of Africa as possible. Especially since Africa is a (huge) continent and there are nuances. Aside from creating the ambassador program, AMI taught African history beyond what is taught in school, “They went to South African schools to teach African history. “We started [with the] basic and taught them geography. If you don’t know where things are, you basically won’t know where history started. You won’t understand why there is division, you won’t understand why there [are] territories. And through that elevation of geography, we started targeting other countries.” She said, “We did a 51 day campaign where, each day, we highlighted an African country and their history. We would provide info graphics, a lot of photos and even videos of different cultures, but then also providing cultural context of how they formed their history.” Any program that AMI does, history is incorporated. Whether it’s discussing African feminism or any other topic.
In the future, Reanne hopes to see Africa be more progressive and tap into the power that we have, but are constantly told that we don’t have power. “I would love for Africa to take control of their exploration, of their currencies, of their politics, of international resources. Anything.” She also says that she would hope for younger generations to take more leadership roles and for countries to be more accepting to a democratic leadership. “There are a lot of youth from America, or from the UK, moving back to their home and building establishments and creating more of an economy for their country.” The hope is that this movement continues to grow and develop into a manifested vision of Africans owning their narrative.