Africa: The Media As Enduring Agency for Fostering Sino-Africa Ties

Earlier this week, seasoned media practitioners, scholars and government representatives from a number of African countries and China converged in Nairobi for the China-Africa Media Cooperation Forum 2020. In partial fulfilment of the event’s theme, even more participants and speakers followed the proceedings virtually – laying bare the opportunities of fostering Sino-African ties in the digital era.

The event was a milestone in efforts to shape better relations between China and the African continent. The media occupies a uniquely important space as a platform of education, information dissemination and consensus building. Secondly, by bringing together practitioners, regulators and consumers, the Forum further narrowed the China and Africa media divide. The arising networks and impetus are likely to generate traction towards a more constructive and mutually beneficial engagement.

China and Africa have both suffered from discourse hegemony in which their social, cultural and political organising narratives have largely been shaped by external actors. Disinformation and misrepresentation of facts have defined framing of African affairs in the eyes of the dominant international media. China has not been spared the same, as seen from recent re-porting on Beijing’s Covid-19 response.

The media has played a key role in China’s socio-economic transformation and social stability through constructive journalism. By focusing on development stories and other aspects of society including history, culture and values, the Chinese media have significantly shaped the predisposition of the citizenry away from spectacle.

To a large extent, China’s domestic media has grown to tell its story at home and abroad. African media still struggles in this endeavour. It is common to find wire stories placed front-page by local African press even when the story is about domestic affairs.

As many speakers at the forum opined, politics remains the dominant media messaging framework in Africa. In Kenya, which has the most vibrant and professional media footprints in the continent, even the deadly global health crisis is largely reported using political lenses. This is one area where African press can learn from their Chinese counterpart.

African press has very short turnaround time in news processing and dissemination compared to China. African journalists struggle to get feedback and comment from Chinese government officials and other news sources. In the process, nuances are lost; facts are dimmed and impartiality is compromised.

Beyond these seeming differences, both China and African countries have similar development aspirations. In the true spirit of the Chinese traditional philosophical thought Yin-Yang, out of the seemingly incongruent positions of African and Chinese media, therein, is a great opportunity for synergy and progress.

It is time for both sides to actualize strategic partnerships that can facilitate information and technical expertise exchange. China is an expansive civilisational state of 1.4 billion people and a global economic growth engine.

On the other hand, Africa is the next frontier of development with some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Both China and Africa have found practical and pragmatic business case towards shared development and prosperity.

While China has been the largest trading partner of Africa for the last decade, that partnership is now shifting to industrial cooperation. The new arrangement will contribute towards unlocking the continent’s economic potential through expanded industrial base, job creation, technology transfer and global competitiveness. This conversation should be much driven by the media.