After the recent Ghanaian elections, CNN published an article that angered a number of Ghanaians.
In the piece, Ralph Ellis (reporting from Atlanta) and Stephanie Busari (reporting from Lagos) stated, “Oil reserves were discovered off the coast of Ghana in 2007, but Ghanaians struggle to obtain food and day-to-day services. Rolling blackouts are common and citizens often stand in long line to obtain products.” This snippet was immortalized in a screenshot that circulated on social media.
Gary Al-Smith, a Ghanaian journalist, started a hashtag #CNNGetItRight. He tweeted, “My Ghana people. Shall we do something let @CNN know we are tired of their lazy reportage of our election? Tweet them with #CNNGetItRight.”( It was shared 663 times at the time of writing). Prior to the publication of this CNN piece, Ghanaians on social media observed strikingly poor coverage of the elections in international media. The silence over the ‘peaceful’ Ghanaian election was deafening. Critics attributed the low amount of coverage to the fact that the country didn’t devolve into chaos, and as such, there was nothing worthy for these international news outlets to report. I agree, a peaceful election and change of power did not fit into the Global North’s narrative about democracy in Africa.
Let me return to the reactions on social media. Noticeably, people pointed out the errors in the article: the President-elect, Nana Akufo-Addo, did not run for president in 1998; “Ghanains” was spelled wrong; and the most egregious offense was to suggest that we “struggle to obtain food and day-to-day services” (CNN later updated the article with the corrections).
It was obvious that this was just the latest manifestation of Western discourse constructing an image of Ghana that aligned with their prepackaged narratives about the Global South. We must bear in mind that these constructions are posited in order to ensure that Africa remains a place lacking, as space of negation where nothing good can be found (except valuable minerals). We must also view this CNN story within the broader discourse surrounding the (re)production of Africa in such a manner that enables the continuous exploitation of our peoples and resources. The ignorance that surrounds the understanding of Africa in the Global North is not accidental. For we must ask, why is it that people in these well-resourced spaces know (or care to know) so little about Africa and the Global south in general? As others have pointed out, this ignorance is actively produced and maintained. The experiences of others are actively silenced and this ensures unabated exploitation. It is relatively easy for international corporations and governments to exploit peoples and distant places that their citizenry know very little about. For instance, the violence of colonialism partly occurred because distant lands where constructed as either empty wilderness or populated with savages who had to be civilized. Indeed, as Stuart Hall noted, the way a group of people are represented is the way they are treated.
Beyond the obvious ideological slant of the CNN piece, the Ghanaian reactions also revealed an aspect of representation worth highlighting. Those responses on social media were made by people who could read and write English, had access to the internet, and probably living in urban areas. Of course, this CNN narrative did not fit their lived experience in urban centers like Accra where long queue’s at the popular waakye joints were indications of the tastiness of the food. However, the question beckons, what are the narratives of those who are not in such privileged positions? Is their lived experience captured in the distorted CNN piece? The point I seek to make is that just as the CNN piece grossly generalized life in Ghana, some of those reactions also seemed to do the same thing. They appeared to be generalizations largely made from a privileged Ghanaian point of view. Indeed, I do think there are some Ghanaians who struggle to eat every day, I dare say many of them live in urban areas as well, and often these may be people who migrated from rural areas in search of better economic opportunities.
Before concluding, I must make this point, too. Some of the Ghanaian journalists who critiqued the article belong to news organizations that simply repost international media stories on their local websites. Sometimes these international media stories are news events about Ghana and Africa generally. I believe these uncritical repostings essentially serve to reinforce the legitimacy of Western press’ representation of Ghana. Though admittedly, these foreign media outlets are relatively well-resourced and can extend coverage to more places than some of our local news institutions.
At any rate, the function of CNN’s shoddy journalism is all too clear: To maintain the representation of Africa as space of negation, a space always requiring assistance, always in need. This, in turn, allows the Global North to see itself as superior. A disparately needed sense of superiority to assure itself that its way of life is a model we must emulate. These narratives won’t end anytime soon, however, some of the reactions to the story also presented a particular narrative about Ghana that erased the experiences of those on the margins. To be sure, a privileged experience cannot stand in for the experiences of all Ghanaians. Thus, we must critically reflect on the narratives we choose to privilege while we sideline the stories of others. I believe the stories that we are not ‘proud’ of are the ones we need to actively highlight and examine.
By: Nii Kotei Niikoi/Ghana
The writer is pursuing a PhD in Communications Studies focusing on popular culture.
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