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Creation, negotiation and subversion

This book is about images of Africa; who creates them, how they are manipulated, and what the effects are for African actors and their relationships in the wider world. While the role of image in international politics is taken seriously by practitioners and academics, no one has yet produced a systematic account of the particularly important role it plays in the relationships between Africa and the wider world. This book seeks to do this by focusing on the politics of image and Africa, broadly defined to encompass the way political elites, media organisations and individual writers and artists together construct and project images of the continent. The book explores the dynamic processes of image creation in an imaginative way. First, it brings together different disciplinary approaches. Second, it draws on experiences of a wide range of actors and forms of image, including central governments, traditional authorities, journalists, individual artists and authors. Finally, the book brings together ten researchers currently engaged in fieldwork-based research across Africa who together present an empirically rich, fresh take on an important topic.

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A relational approach
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

This chapter explores theoretical bases of image. For Achille Mbembe, the image is a conduit for outsiders’ fantasies; and yet the image can project power onto the self. For Jean-Francois Bayart, the self creates a false image to project onto the world, but the image ends up shaping the self, often in unexpected ways. Building on these insights, the author suggests that image acts like a contact plate between inner self and the outer observer, the platform on which each negotiates itself in relation to the other. The image is not a passive site of negotiation: once created, it profoundly affects both inner self and outer observer. The chapter explores these ideas by looking at Wole Shonibare’s sculpture, ‘Scramble for Africa’, a life-size depiction of the 1885 Berlin Conference which divided the continent up between the European powers. The sculpture’s headless figures, dressed in Victorian frock-coats made of apparently traditional African prints, challenge and undermine images of Europeans, Africans, and the relationship between them, played out on the map of the continent.

in Images of Africa
From troubled pan-African media to sprawling Nollywood
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

In response to the perceived negative images of Africa, a number of pan-African media have emerged and are attempting to develop an alternative news narrative of the continent. However, faced with myriad challenges – both practical and ideological – most have had only limited success. Using pan-African(ist) media initiatives including the pan-African News Agency (PANA), SABC-Africa and South Africa’s Naspers-owned Multichoice as examples, the chapter addresses questions on why a successful pan-Africanist media project remains a ‘dream deferred’. The chapter challenges the conceptual framework within which some of the media initiatives are anchored. It chapter argues that the failure of pan-African media initiatives to acknowledge the continent’s diversity, even incoherence, undermines attempts to develop counter-narratives capable of telling the ‘African’ stories they claim to be pursuing. The chapter moves on to explore key political, economic and institutional challenges the pan-African media project faces, ranging from the domination of international communication structures by Transnational News Agencies, to the severe financial constraints faced by continental media upstarts. Finally, the chapter suggests ways in which we may re-conceptualise the idea of a pan-African consciousness and the pan-African(ist) media agenda.

in Images of Africa
New storytellers, new narratives?
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

This chapter explores the important role of local national journalists in international news bureaus in Africa, and asks whether their presence is changing how Africa is depicted around the Western world. The analysis is framed by a newsroom ethnography of the Thomson-Reuters bureau in Nairobi, one of the largest producers of international news on Africa; as well as thirty additional interviews with foreign correspondents and local journalists based in Nairobi. The ethnography reveals that local journalists frequently disagree with Western correspondents about what news should be produced – often desiring a more localised, and positive perspective of their region; in particular, they attempt to challenge the emphasis on tribal conflict and humanitarian suffering. This clash of values offers a springboard to explore the potential ability of local-national journalists to challenge Western reporting modes and shape the content of foreign news. The chapter concludes that a difficult synthesis is taking place: while local perspectives are increasingly included in news stories, resulting in more nuanced local coverage, structural and organisational barriers mean the news continues to be dominated by a Western-centric mode of reporting, particularly in times of crises.

in Images of Africa
Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and their donors
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

This chapter explores the importance of ‘image’ in African-donor relations. Focusing on East Africa, it compares the cases of Uganda and Rwanda – long viewed positively and supported by donor officials in spite of their semi-authoritarian tendencies – with that of Kenya, a country which has constantly battled with aid cuts resulting from a poor international image associated with corruption and ethnic strife. In attempting to explain why the three countries (or, at least, their governments) have been viewed so differently by their development partners, the chapter looks particularly at how the administrations of Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki have themselves attempted to manage their international image. Examining these governments’ ‘image management’ strategies involves a threefold investigation: first, into the personal relationships between African and donor officials, second, African uses of US/UK lobbying firms, and third, high-level African engagement with western media houses, think tanks, universities and other ‘knowledge producers’. The chapter ultimately argues that, if suitably skilled, African governments can use these strategies to manage and augment their ‘images’ in donor capitals, resulting in increased international assistance, but that, if implemented poorly, such strategies can have a deleterious effect on regime maintenance.

in Images of Africa
How the government of Ethiopia deploys image
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

This chapter analyses the strategies through which the Ethiopian government projects a specific image of itself and of the country when engaging with the rest of the world, and in particular with Western donor countries. It focuses on three components of the Ethiopian discourse: its pro-democracy stance, its commitment to development and its engagement in the fight against terrorism. These three elements resonate well on the international scene, as they slot into pre-existing, well-established narratives about the desirable objectives for African countries, and the perceived threats to the west that come out of them. The Ethiopian government has been able to successfully instrumentalise the foreign construct of an image of Ethiopia and use it for its own benefit. At the same time, in its engagement with Western donors, the Ethiopian government uses a form of ‘strategic orientalism’ where it plays on the western fear of an Ethiopian ‘Other’ that would be characterised as an African ‘failed’ state. The power of both images juxtaposed – the responsible African state, alongside the potential failed African state – serves as a way to silence the government’s critics.

in Images of Africa
The case of Ker Kwaro Acholi in northern Uganda
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

Across sub-Saharan Africa traditional authorities have gained prominent positions in both state building enterprises and development programmes since the 1990s. In Uganda there has been an emergence of ‘cultural institutions’ such as Ker Kwaro Acholi in northern Uganda, which has taken on particular significance in the context of a protracted conflict in the region and an influx of international development agencies pursuing initiatives for peace and development. This chapter critiques the way images of ‘traditional authorities’ have enabled and conditioned both Ker Kwaro Acholi’s identity as the traditional custodian of Acholi culture and visions of its capacity as an agent of sustainable development. Although Ker Kwaro Acholi’s revival has been facilitated from the start through donor contributions towards funding ceremonial events and the establishment of a Ker Kwaro Acholi secretariat, it has been predominantly driven by ‘local’ actors through opportunistic, savvy and entrepreneurial strategies. As Ker Kwaro Acholi’s self-presentation closely resembles the preconceptions held by organisations such as the World Bank regarding the nature and potential of traditional authorities in northern Uganda, image creation by Ker Kwaro Acholi can be understood in terms of ‘extraversion’; the appropriation and redirection of international symbolic and material resources by local actors.

in Images of Africa
The role of news and online blogs in constructing political personas
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

The Ivoirian Crisis (2002-7) has been accompanied by a media war which has been so virulent that observers have at times labelled Ivoirian media as ‘hate media’. During the recent post-electoral crisis, internet discussion sites became a focal point of the political debate, drawing on the relatively dense internet connectivity throughout Abidjan, a large Ivoirian diaspora community and a concerted effort by the pro-Gbagbo camp La Majorité Présidentielle(LMP) to obtain a strong internet presence through online campaigning. In an attempt to stay in power despite electoral defeat, the LMP construed international news media as partial towards the newly elected president Ouattara, and as part of a plot by the international community, led by the former colonial power France, to install him as a puppet. Websites and blogs linked to the LMP proliferated, interpreting the Ivoirian post-electoral crisis as anti-colonialist and portraying Gbagbo as the last guardian of national sovereignty. In these internet discussion sites, international pressure was transformed into a political opportunity: by casting Laurent Gbagbo as the victim of French neo-colonial aggression, these websites attempted to turn him into a symbol of African resistance. In this manner blogs and websites functioned as a site where the image of Laurent Gbagbo as portrayed by international media, and indeed the interpretation of the entire post-electoral crisis, could be challenged by those Ivorian actors aligned with the LMP.

in Images of Africa
Image management in conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

In spite of recent interest in the international media’s depiction of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), few academics and commentators have considered how gendered discourses have been shaped by local and regional players. Focusing on media discourse generated by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the Congolese and Rwandan governments in the wars in the east of Congo leading up to the end of 2009, this chapter considers how narratives about rape, gender based sexual violence and human rights abuses have been appropriated by all sides to either justify their actions or condemn those of their enemies. The analysis suggests that regional politicians and military operators are not ignorant of the problem of rape in the east of Congo and do not lack awareness of the importance of gender equality within the Great Lakes region. On the contrary, they employ ‘Western’ images of African conflict and international concepts of post-conflict development and democracy in order to gain ground politically and economically.

in Images of Africa
From campaign imagery to contemporary art
Julia Gallagher and V. Y. Mudimbe

The chapter explores the space between campaign imagery and contemporary art in the creation of the image of Ethiopia. By exploring this point of image production and consumption, we can identify the way in which the image of Ethiopia, once married to famine and poverty, is being reframed by contemporary Ethiopian art. From photography to painting, emerging and established artists comment on issues ranging from Ethio-centric nationalism, natural resource management, secession and modernity. The distinct characteristic of artists’ ability to combine sensitivity and objectivity in exploring their locale places them in a key role in commenting on the social realities of their respective environment. The chapter argues that contemporary artists are equipped with the ability to reframe the image of Ethiopia and although a number of hurdles stand in the way, artists are playing a key role in reframing the image of Ethiopia nationally and internationally.

in Images of Africa