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Adedana Ashebir Headshot

#AfricaSees Lazy Headlines -- and Should Call Them Out in 2014

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UPDATE: I learned as I was posting this that the BBC's Komla Dumor died. Considering what you're about to read, this is a great loss.

I was doing my daily news reading when I came across the headline, "Africa sees violent, deadly start to 2014." ...Deep sigh. I clicked in spite of myself. The article detailed the conflicts in Central African Republic, Congo, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan. Now these conflicts are tragic but five countries do not a continent make. Did the whole Africa see a "violent, deadly start to 2014" or did five countries in Africa see that? Unfortunately because this is an Associated Press story, many outlets (including this one) picked it up. How is this still a legitimate headline in 2014? I was going to comment on each article (I was that annoyed) but then I figured wait- why not a Twitter hashtag instead? I've been both inspired and amused over the past few months by what some call "BlackTwitter." Perhaps it is time for the pan-African version to respond.

Here's my idea: Tweet at the Associated Press using #AfricaSees. You can use photos of the sights rarely seen (i.e. not babies and animals), links to positive news stories not often told or often buried, or my personal favorites, sarcasm, wit, and humor, and judging by the trending topic #AfricanNationsInHighSchool, there is plenty of that to go around. Tweet using #AfricaSees at the outlets and authors of the other shortsighted headlines to come this year that describe "Africa" yet don't reflect the different truths that exist in a continent home to over 50 countries. For those of you in the Arabic, Lusophone, and Francophone sets, translate and spread the word.

Consider this: Would North America's start ever be judged as crazy or criminal by the first week of 2014 in Florida? If you want to judge a continent by a country within it, your best bet is Australia -- but even that is a bad idea. I'll let others who are more qualified explain the conflicts going on. I'll let others delve further into how inaccurate this headline is. I'm here to say that this headline is worse; it is lazy. If you don't know how "lazy" could be worse than "inaccurate," then you haven't been raised by African parents.

Why does this matter in a golden age of web media spaces for Africans by Africans or Africanists? Unfortunately the coverage that these African-focused outlets provide are rarely picked up -- like this AP "Big Story" was -- by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Kansas City Star, The Denver Post, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Sacramento Bee, the Huffington Post (where I first saw it); the list goes on and on. African-minded outlets do a great job of preaching to the choir and some outside it. Many of us who have been to the continent in the past few years have seen the progress made and the journey ahead. We already know about the new music, the stirring films and literature, and the stunning fashion that the rest of the world is getting more hip to, and in some cases is wasting no time in appropriating.

This type of reporting will not change unless we demand accountability. I'm not saying don't report on conflicts. That would be irresponsible. I'm not saying focus on journalists and forget about holding elected (or not so elected) leaders accountable. That would be foolish. I am saying don't report on conflicts under the guise of telling me what is happening in all of Africa. I am saying exercise caution when picking up an article that says "Africa" in the headline, especially if you have a barely-there Africa section to fill.

The article later uses the term "sub-Saharan Africa." While one could argue that is better, five countries do not even a sub-Saharan Africa make. There was no comparably violent, deadly start in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, or Rwanda but the headline wasn't "Africa sees a peaceful, stable start to 2014," was it? Is it easier to use "Africa" in a headline? Of course. The word uses fewer characters; I get it. That being said, this laziness is what continues to perpetuate a single (incomplete) narrative. #AfricaSees and demands better.

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For more nuanced coverage, try the following (and this list is by no means complete nor sponsored by any of these outlets): Africa Is a Country, Think Africa Press, The Africa Report, Another Africa, Africa.com, Applause Africa, Okayafrica, Arise, How We Made It In Africa, Ms.Afropolitan, Naked Chiefs, various titles in English and French from the IC Group. French: Jeune Afrique, RFI, Terangaweb. Portuguese: Africa 21, RTP Africa. In Portuguese, English, and Mandarin, Macauhub. In Arabic, French, Portuguese and English, Panapress. See photography at How-I-View-Africa and Everyday Africa.

Merci/Obrigada to Luci, Joanna, and Hannane for the Franco/Lusophone leads.