Africans Want to Improve Media Image in US

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - A group of former African presidents is discussing ways of improving the continent's image among Americans.

Meeting at Wits University in Johannesburg, the ex-leaders spoke about the need for developing strategies to counter negative media coverage.

Major media outlets should be urged to cover Africa in a more "fair and balanced" way, said former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.

American non-governmental organizations should be encouraged to train Western and African journalists covering Africa, and U.S. journalism schools should be asked "to develop specific tracks" for covering emerging economies and developing democracies, particularly in Africa, Kaunda said.

Melissa Baker, the director of Research International - a public and social research group in Africa - said the continent's image in the U.S. is important to ensure that it enjoys trade, security and other U.S-led initiatives.

Among them is the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which accords more than three dozen selected Africa nations preferential U.S market access for specific exports.

Baker said African leaders were aware that positive publicity in the U.S. about economic and political reforms in Africa helped to attract foreign direct investment.

"Africans want more Americans, for instance, to come to Africa as tourists. African leaders are now aware that publicity marketing means good economic returns."

She noted an emerging trend of African governments committing resources for foreign marketing activities, and the deployment of publicity officers in some African missions abroad, especially in the West.

"It's about preserving [and expanding] the export markets."

Chris Abong'o of the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Studies at the University of Nairobi said the ex-presidents' discussion arose from necessity rather than choice, because "it's the U.S. that now dictates global political, social and economic trends."

Kenyan political researcher and attorney Kingori Choto said the former African leaders were looking in the wrong direction - the main problem with Africa had to do with poor political and economic governance.

"Response to some critical problems by African leaders is too slow," he said. "It took a decade for Africa to respond to HIV/AIDS when the disease had already ravaged millions of people."

Choto said the former political leaders were wasting time, and that some of them had themselves contributed to problems that bring Africa negative media coverage now.

"They are part of the problem. It's like a thief complaining that other thieves are getting bad publicity in the media."

Africa needed genuine political, social and economic reform that would raise living standards and help transform Africa's image in the U.S and elsewhere.

The seven ex-presidents meeting in Johannesburg included former Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi, whose tenure's latter years were marked by serious allegations of corruption and human rights abuse; and Jerry Rawlings, who twice seized power in Ghana unconstitutionally before being elected into office twice during the 1990s.

Other issues discussed by the former presidents included how to attract investments from the U.S.

They also called on African-Americans to play a greater role in African development efforts.

The meeting was held under the auspices of The African Presidential Archives and Research Center, based at Boston University.

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