Media and Africa

Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision of writer Jamaica Kincaid. Iweala, born in 1982, hails from Washington, D.C. and Nigeria. Beasts of No Nation, which depicts a child soldier in an unnamed African country,was published in 2005 to considerable critical acclaim. In 2007, Iweala was named one of Granta magazine's 20 best young American novelists. Iweala's mother, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is the former Finance Minister and Foreign Minister of Nigeria. Iweala is now a medical student at Columbia University.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How can the media improve its coverage of Africa?

Uzodinma Iweala: I mean I think one is allowing more African voices, first of all. I mean I think there are . . . there are . . . there is a perspective on events that you’ll get from somebody who is from that place, or who is rooted in that place in a way that a reporter isn’t. If that person has the journalistic skills obviously necessary to tell the story, I think you get a certain . . . You’ll get a different perspective. You might get a more nuanced perspective; one that will . . . will step away from the broad strokes. This is a . . . you know and everybody loves the word “tribal conflict”. This is a tribal conflict. This is, you know, just people killing each other within . . . Like you’ll be able to understand like, “No, no, no, no wait. This is over this.” Like if this is . . . if this is the root cause, right, maybe we need to address this as opposed to just saying that, you know, these people are . . . this problem is unsolvable; it’s just . . . they just like to kill each other. I think that with more voices that say that, right . . . with more voices that bring . . . bring that perspective out, I think you’ll have a very different understanding of what it means to be involved in different issues on the continent. Also with more stories that focus on the positive, right . . . I mean I . . . we’ve talked about the negative because, you know, in a sense you do have to . . . you do have to address that because that’s the predominant way that people view this place. But at the same time like, you know, you talk about, for example, that 18 or 19 year old kid who’s doing that . . . All sorts of stories exist all over the place. You talk about . . . talking about those, bringing out those stories rather than focusing on creating, in whatever stories you write, a climate of fear, uncertainty, and despair, is there a way to work at also creating a climate of hope, right? Or creating an atmosphere of hope in what you write? And I think that’s really important. I mean I think both stories . . . both sets of . . . of situations need to be addressed. And I’m not one who’s gonna say, “Look. Don’t talk about the bad. Let’s just talk about the good.” That is useless. But the bottom line is like the good never gets talked about. The bad is always talked about. And I think that we really need to focus on how we can . . . how we can do that. What kind of stories can we tell that show that . . . that people aren’t creating; that people are living; that people are enjoying the lives that they live? That yes, people are living . . . that it gets hard to live in certain places, and there are certain things that are bothering people; but that doesn’t stop them from being humans and wanting more for themselves. And it’s that wanting more for yourself that allows you to better the place that you live in. You know and I think when people see that image – when people see that these people . . . this is a set of people who are working for and wanting . . . who want more and are working for that more that they want – I think that allows you to relate to that person as a human being. Versus the other image which is, you know, this is a person . . . this person has given up. No one can really relate to somebody who has given up entirely.

Recorded on: 10/7/07

 


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