New Report Calls for Shifting Perceptions About Business in Africa

Viewpoint by Moky Makura

The writer is Executive Director of Africa No Filter, a not-for-profit international organisation that supports the development of nuanced and contemporary stories that shift stereotypical and harmful narratives within and about Africa. The following is the executive summary of The Business in Africa Narrative Report, launched recently.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (IDN) — Last year, African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina told his audience of African Ambassadors that a concerted effort to change the narrative on Africa in the United States was necessary to attract increased US investments into the continent.

He is right. Several academic researchers have proved a correlation between media coverage and investment levels, and one study of the stock market in the US showed that media visibility led to more investment than under-investment.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is the largest free trade area in the world, with 54 participating countries and access to a combined Gross Domestic Product of $3.4 trillion. Yet this makes up under 1% of business news and analysis about business in Africa in global and African media.

The absence is glaring. Very few institutions are as powerful as the media. As storytellers to millions, they have the power to shape public perceptions and inform narratives—good and bad—about the investment landscape and opportunities in Africa.

Africa No Filter believes that there has never been a better moment to change the investment narrative on Africa, and in order to do that, we need data.

So we commissioned The Business in Africa Narrative Report because, to date, we have not been able to find any detailed data analysis that unpacks African and international narratives, stories and frames about business in Africa.

Our report fills that gap, providing a comprehensive quantitative analysis of frames and stories about business in Africa yet to be undertaken. We show the keywords, frames, stories and narratives associated with business in Africa are dangerously distorted. 

There is an overemphasis on the role of governments, foreign powers and larger African states alongside an underappreciation of the role of young people, women, entrepreneurs, creative businesses, smaller successful African states and Africa’s future potential.

This report investigates news and content about business in Africa and the impact of perceptions about Africa as a business and investment destination. It also identifies information and news gaps that offer alternative framing for business in Africa.

The report analysed over 750 million stories published between 2017 and 2021 on more than 6,000 African news sites and 183,000 sites outside the continent. Insights were gained using eight research approaches, including analysing trends on Twitter, academic research and literature reviews as well as 22 global business indices.

The report found seven significant frames to stories about business in Africa:

  1. More negative coverage: International media are more likely to negatively frame issues that impact on business in Africa while African media are twice as likely to reference corruption in their coverage of business in Africa compared to international media.
  2. Foreign powers scramble for Africa: 70% of international coverage about business in Africa is dominated by references to foreign powers like China, the USA, Russia, France and the UK.
  3. Africa is two countries: Business in Africa coverage focuses on South Africa and Nigeria while business stars like Mauritius, Botswana, the Seychelles and Namibia get little coverage and research attention.
  4. Silencing creativity, amplifying technology: Despite Nollywood being the world’s second-largest film industry and the growing influence of musical influences like AfroBeats and AmaPiano, creative businesses were only featured in 1% of all articles across African and global media.
  5. Youth and women are underrepresented: Africa claims the top three spots in the Mastercard Index for the highest concentration of women business owners in the world. It also has the youngest population globally. However, youth and women are underrepresented. In fact, online news coverage of young people has declined since 2017, falling from 12.5% of articles referencing young people in 2017 to 8.1% in 2021.
  6. Government, policy and regulations dominate: Around 54.5% of business news in 2021 was framed through government action and policies. Additionally, African media focused more on themes related to government than on those related to entrepreneurship. Yet, African countries make up six of the top 10 countries whose populations were most likely to search for the topic of entrepreneurship in 2021.
  7. Missing Free Trade Area and investment: It makes up 1% of news and academic research, yet the agreement is expected to lift 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and boost the incomes of nearly 68 million others. It’s also projected to boost Africa’s income by $450 billion by 2035 and increase Africa’s exports by $560 billion, mostly in manufacturing.

Stories and the perceptions they create are powerful. Stories about business in Africa—and how they are framed—directly impact individuals’ motivation and desire to set up new businesses and trade with, invest in or finance businesses.

This report shows why it’s critical to shift perceptions about business in Africa and presents over 30 trends that many analysts and business writers miss out on. [IDN-InDepthNews — 05 March 2022]

Image: Cover of The Business in Africa Narrative Report

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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