By Mohamed Gibril Sesay
Last week the great boxer, Muhammad Ali died. There were positive stories all about him. That was mainly because he first started telling positive stories about himself. He called himself the GOAT. Small minds may wish that to refer to the four footed bearded animal that we eat as goat pepper soup. But no, Muhammad Ali told us the meaning of GOAT is the ‘Greatest of All Times.’ And the world got used to calling him that. And he became that. He once said that if anyone dreamed that he was not the greatest, then the person should wake up and apologize.
Today the world pays him great respect because he confidently blew his own trumpet. The task of blowing Africa’s trumpet rests with her communicators and commentators. Yes, Africa still has many challenges; we must point those out- the facts and threats of terrorism, piracy, corruption and trans-national crimes. But we must also tell the stories of the many actions we are taking to combat these challenges. We must tell the stories of the many good that is us, that is our people and our continent.
The late Chinua Achebe once said stories or narratives are the most durable of human achievements. The stories you tell will outlive you, so you better tell great stories. As communicators of the story of Africa’s Premier institution, the African Union, how you tell your story is how the Union will be seen by the people of Africa.
For too long we have allowed others to tell our stories, and most of them have told our stories badly, they have said too many bad things and few good things. So much so that many people think only bad things happen in Africa.
But what I see are also stories of good people who love their families, farmers who work hard to feed the continent, women leading the African Union, democracy taking roots, youths taking over their countries’ destiny by being the most technologically proficient Africans ever. Africa is not only about wars and disease and corruption, it is also about resilience, progress, activism, development, and compassion. A continent of neighbors and families helping each other out.
Sierra Leone and the sub-region fought a deadly Ebola disease, and we moving passed it now. It was a hard fight, with many tragic accounts. But it also showed human resilience, charity, love and commitment. We often forget that the disease spread because so many had showed great care for their sick ones and touched them when they should not have touched them. They were not foolish or inhuman, theirs were acts of love and care that turned tragic. But the stories out there are of a diseased people, and not a loving and resilient people. I guessed many people have never heard that the treatment center with the highest survival rates was run by young Sierra Leonean doctors, and that over 90% of the frontline workers were citizens of the sub-region and the wider African continent. We salute the world, but we must also salute our African brothers and sisters. Praises must start at home.
Don’t get me wrong, there are bad stories in Africa, stories about corruption and ignorance and tyrants. But which of the stories should we be telling more? I have not seen other societies and continents telling the bad sides of their stories more than we do. Every continent has its type of mess. But when you concentrate on the mess, you denigrate yourself, you obscure your own goodness and lose confidence. Let us give more writing space, more airtime, more Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram posts to our positive stories. I am not saying stories about bad things should not be told. Hell no. But let us be earnest in telling our good stories, our positive initiatives, the fact that Africans have constructed more roads, built more houses, established more schools, universities, and hospitals in the last fifty something years of Independence than were built in the much longer colonial period. We need to do more, but we must not fail to tell the stories that the AU is a force for good in the continent, and that it is moving forward with a vision for democracy, progress, development, gender equity and stronger African voices in global forums.
The choice of Sierra Leone as host of this workshop on the popularization of Agenda 2063 is remarkable. We need to show case the vision of the African Union to Africans, we need to show that the African Union is a union of African people and not just of states, that it is Union for the common man and woman and not a trade union of Heads of State. This is the vision that is taking root- a union dedicated to ensuring that African rulers obey the voices of their people, uphold the tenets of democracy, protect human rights, foster development.
Our communicators must tell these stories, a people with greater emphases on their positive stories become a very positive people. The Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation lauds the initiative of the pioneers and organizers of this workshop. This landmark effort offers an opportunity to citizens of Africa, especially those outside the Embassies and International Organizations and State Institutions, to have a better understanding of the role of the African Union in promoting peace, stability, economic integration, governance and human rights in the African Continent.
This workshop, will no doubt, maximize the visibility of the actions of the African Union, which hitherto, was confined to the margins of Summits and the Diplomatic Community. We salute the Directorate of Information and Communication of the African Union for thinking it prudent to engage the Press Attachés of Embassies, Focal Persons responsible for communication and Editors in Chief of Africa Media Organs. We applaud the Directorate for pushing for increased outreach at national levels in the popularization of the activities of the African Union.
Concluding, I just want to remind all of us that every minute billions of stories pop out of the various activities of humankind. Let’s hitch the stories we tell to a narrative frame of a confident and rising Africa- an Africa with a Vision 2063, an Africa with an African Parliament that is moving towards being of greater relevance to the voices of Africans, an Africa that is setting precedent of getting dictators to account, as we see in the recent case of Hussein Habre, an Africa that is increasingly holding the cold feet of tyrants to the fires of democracy, an Africa of youthful energy, an Africa of greater faith and acknowledgement in the leadership and contributions of women, an Africa that receives more from its own people in the Diaspora than it does from foreign aid, an Africa that is rising. And remember, the stories you tell ultimately define who we are. Once again, welcome to Sierra Leone. May your deliberations be fruitful.
Editor’s Note: The author is Sierra Leone’s Minister of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The article is from a speech he delivered on the occasion of the Pre-summit Workshop on Engaging Press Attaches and Focal Persons in Communication at the Embassies of African Union members states in the implementation of the African Union Communication Strategy – 2014-2017 at the Bintumani Hotel, Freetown, on 6th-7th June 2016.