Africa’s First Story Agency Aims to Change Harmful Narratives about the Continent

Between September and October 2020, Africa No Filter undertook a survey into how African media covers Africa. The outlet analysed the media landscape in 15 African countries, surveyed 60 editors, and held focus groups with 25 international correspondents and editors.

At the end of the survey, it found that one-third of all the news stories used by media outlets in Africa came from foreign sources and that the bulk (81 percent) of these stories were classified as “hard news” such as civil wars, conflicts and crises and were also largely political in nature.

According to a report from the survey which was released in March of last year, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the BBC accounted for a quarter of all the stories about other African countries in monitored outlets while African news agencies contributed minimally.

As a result, stories about Africa continue to be told through the same persistent and negative stereotypes of poverty, disease, poor leadership, corruption, political violence, civil unrest, armed conflict, and humanitarian issues.

Africa No Filter wants to change this. In July, the non-profit launched bird, Africa’s first story agency to counter the negative stories often celebrated in foreign media.

Moky Makura, the Executive Director of the outlet, said the story agency was established to create compelling multimedia content for African media outlets that’s more reflective of a vibrant, energetic, and highly creative continent.

“We believed that the time had come for us to disrupt, #takebackthepen and write the stories we want to see about the continent,” she said. “We identified a clear need for more human interest and feature style stories to counter the barrage of hard news – often negative – stories that are shaping how the world sees Africa and how Africa sees itself.”

Makura explained that bird’s operating model is like that of most global news agencies with the difference that it doesn’t charge its media clients for use of its stories. “[B]ird’s mission is to create a home for these stories and make them accessible to media outlets.”

Africa No Filter, which is a donor collaborative funded by the Ford Foundation, Bloomberg, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Luminate, Open Society Foundations, Comic Relief, the Conrad Hilton Foundation, and the British Council, funds the creation of the content through a network of contributors, which the team at bird edits and fact-checks, before delivering to its digital platform for its clients.

By dwelling on stories around the arts, culture, creativity, tech, innovation, and human-interest content, the outlet is sending a clear message that something good could come out of Africa and that it is not all about negativities.

In June, bird started on-boarding African content creators and digital storytellers who will benefit from paid work and training opportunities. These content creators are expected to be passionate about finding and sharing stories that present a different perspective about their country and community to join its contributor network of creators from around Africa.

“We’re looking to sign up more media partnerships and bring on more content creators and mobile journalists who are passionate about profiling ordinary people, places, and topics that celebrate the continent,” Makura explained.

So far, over 30 stories have been published, including a story which looked at how 13-year-old Kenyan child actress Staycie Waweru is making moves in the film industry, and a story which looked at how African countries are adopting crypto faster than their global counterparts.

“We are very much in start-up mode at bird, but it’s clear the demand for good and simple stories is there,” Makura said. “There couldn’t be a better time – the world is ready for alternative, lighter, more uplifting stories that reflect this dynamic continent and that’s what bird is uniquely bringing to the market.”