“I’m going to take us back to the thing that is as old as our continent itself, which is storytelling,” said Vasantha Angamuthu, CEO of African News Agency (ANA) in South Africa, as she prepared to deliver her presentation on the second day of INMA’s Africa Media Summit.
The centuries-old narrative about Africa told beyond the continent’s borders is pervasive and deeply inaccurate. It falls back on themes of enslavement, genocide, colonization, and plunder and clings to tropes of starving children, primitive tribes, corrupt leaders, omnipresent wildlife, and post-colonial ineptitude.
But, as writer Chinua Achebe noted: “If you don't like someone's story, write your own.” ANA is doing just that by actively seeking to change the African narrative through its work.
The common African story, Angamuthu said, “is not the whole story of Africa. Africa has given the world, dare I say it, art and arts, civilization, innovation, discovery, and culture.” It is the birthplace of writing, language, medicine, mining and metallurgy, architecture, clothing, and music. Additionally, it is a continent with declining levels of poverty, increased household consumption, and burgeoning business environments.
“When we talk about changing the narrative, here is how we do it,” Angamuthu said.
The ANA is the continent’s largest turnkey media and publishing house powering Africa’s growth with content. Its Africa-first focus supports growth and embraces collaboration and innovation to tell stories across the continent with nuance and contextual realities through its partner network, which reaches 60 million Africans.
The company embraces a variety of journalism forms, including civic, citizen, and solutions journalism. Its work to change the African narrative includes participating in social good campaigns; holding conversations in the newsroom on history, narrative, and context; reporting on art, culture, and lifestyle; celebrating diaspora success stories; sharing learnings and economic success; challenging prevailing notions of beauty; and promoting start-ups prominently.
“We put people at the center of our storytelling,” Angamuthu said. “We return influence back to Africa, and we remember our history and retell our stories through an African lens.
“We hope through the Africa Partner Network to start a conversation about this, to disembowel the myths that this is ‘sunshine journalism,’” she said. “This is about correcting a narrative and using homegrown tools to do just that.”