Representations In Development
By Aurore Iradukunda
Discourse, as coined by Michel Foucault, encompasses the body of knowledge produced on a given topic that implies and reinforces certain power relationships. Past discourses of Africa laid the foundations for what was deemed relevant when writing about Africa. From such discourses emerged stereotypical notions of Africa—some of which still influence the current body of knowledge produced about the continent. Primitive Africa –static Africa, the one that has failed to develop; wild and dangerous Africa— the untamed one; exotic Africa—the land of the uncovered and superstitious; unspoiled Africa—the undamaged and untainted by evils of the modern world; utopian Africa –the idealized Africa, the pre-colonial Africa; and finally the broken Africa –land of decay, sickness, state failure and starvation.
Those discourses and tropes have been utilized and reinforced in the earlier stages of development, the starving and dying African child as a great example of many development marketing images of choice. These representations have played a key role in establishing a collective imagery of what “Africa” represented and still represents. Past discourses of Africa have clearly set the limits of our understanding of Africa, using tropes, stereotypes and language to conceive a perceived reality, an “imaginary”, narrow narrative about Africa.
While child mortality, famine and war are still of great concern, misrepresentations of Africa (or “Western inventions” of Africa, as coined by scholar V.Y Mudimbe) set Africa as the opposite of the West, forever cast in “Otherness”. Dominant discourses about Africa have been the continent’s inability to develop or “catch up” with the West due to cultural barriers and inherent “backwardness”. Mainstream media has played a great role in setting such tropes. However, with the rise of alternative media spaces, Africans globally have been able to take back control of their own representation by providing more nuanced perspectives. This is why in my opinion, alternative media platforms such as Visiter l’Afrique are so needed.
This platform revolutionized Africa’s media narrative by being one of the first to depict Africa for what it was, far from stereotypes but also without denying its current challenges. It also shifted perceptions of African tourism, often limited to safaris, resorts and famous locations such as South Africa and Kenya. From busy streets, far away villages, breathtaking beaches, to yummy street food, Visiter l’Afrique provides a vibrant visual catalogue from photographers across the globe. From Gambia, Namibia to Burundi, Visiter l’Afrique boldly affirms that all African countries are worth visiting!
As our internships are coming to an end, we must be aware of the power of our words and how we represent our placement countries to our peers back home. What will we be sharing? What images will we be sharing? How will we depict the people we have worked with? How will we contribute in shaping this collective and mainstream imagery of the Global south?
Aurore Iradukunda is working as a Health Promotion Intern with Nova Scotia Gambia Association in Gambia.