At this year’s Africa youth connect held in Kigali, Rwanda, international hip-hop singer and song writer, AKON, touched on the need for Africa to rebrand. This is what he had to say,
“This world is all about branding and marketing. The number one branders in the universe is the United States, they make the United States seem like it is the best place in the world to be – it is the land of the free, home of the brave, I go there to finally chase my dreams. We have to be able to tell our own stories – directors, film makers, entertainers and the press, it’s going to be your job to redefine how people think about Africa. Because you are here, you see what is going on, you clearly can see in the picture the good, the bad and the ugly.
What you choose to put out there is what the world is going to get, because I can tell you right now in Chicago alone, there are more people dying than there was in the war in Iraq but you will never see that. There are a lot of things happening in the US that you will never see because they choose to show you what they want you to see. It is about country integrity- you have a certain reputation you have to keep. No one puts their family business out in the streets.
One of the problems we have in Africa is that, when something happens, the press is quick to put out negative energy and quick to put out a negative story and then that story goes onto the internet and other broadcasting systems and they post it. So when you look at places like Kenya for instance, did I know of like two terrorist attacks, but it was everywhere. So now people are afraid to go to Kenya because somebody shot up the mall, but then when you look online, there were over 25,000 attacks in the US but you only know about maybe 5 or 6. So we have to really rebrand and when you look at how the world perceives Africa, they are right, you know? You only see Zebras, Lions, Tigers, Bears etc. you get to a point where you think Africa is just a big jungle. The images they are showing of Africa is historical images – way before civilization. This is when they were still battling with spears like times of ”shakazulu.” But then when you look at the US, they are showing Superman, Batman – where is our Superman? “shakazulu” should be a superhero today. So we have to tell our own stories, I mean even Jesus is white and you believe it, but it’s ok because how you are trained. If you were taught something from the day you were born and your mother taught you that and your father taught you that it’s real. You never look at your mom and your dad as liars. But their mother and father taught them the same thing because that is the kind of history that is put out there for them to believe.
All history books in the US is all white – American history – culture that has been borrowed from other nations. Africa has to teach the same, history of our ancestors, the great things they have accomplished and it is going to be the job of directors like yourself, film makers to narrate that story – how do we want to be perceived? How do we want that story to be narrated to the rest of the world? This younger generation kind of figured it out, because, now when you look at hip-hop in America, every rapper is rich – gold chains, Bentleys, nice girls by the pool in bathing suits and a big mansion- and when the video is done, they get on their phones and call an Uber, they don’t even come in the Bentley you saw in the TV. But you go to Nigeria, we got Wizkid, Davido, p square, all these guys driving Bentleys, Mercedes – they actually own those cars, that’s the difference, but if we don’t translate that, they will never know. They think we are going to leave the shoot and go home on horses or zebras because that’s what they know. This is why African Americans are so afraid of Africa, you mention Africa, they start shaking with so much fear – they don’t know how to translate that. It was just recently that people are now saying, “yeah, you know man, I rock with Africans. I wanna do some collaborations man.” But before they were saying, “I don’t know that dude, I’m not putting him on my record.” So the younger generation is slowly understanding how you have to rebrand the culture because the culture has adapted. They actually took everything that we have created and made it look better. They made a superstar look like a superstar.
When I look on TV and see our entertainers, they don’t look like stars. That is why you can’t really respect the entertainer. If a politician saw a singer, he is just a local singer, but if he goes to that local singer’s performance, he may sell out the stadium because he has a huge influence but the image is not there. So we have to take the image as a huge accountability for ourselves and realize that, Africa really does have a reputation but if we allow our stories to be told, our stories will be told according to their agenda, on what they need to be able to benefit from Africa. So we have to tell our story so we can be able to understand how we can utilize that story to benefit our agenda.
So in closing, this job is for the entertainers, the film makers, the reporters and anyone that creates content, we have to rebrand and we have to rebrand in a way that we see it and tell the story that they can understand it, feel comfortable and want to come here and invest.”