August 2017 has been a shocking month that saw three continents affected by three independent disasters. The USA experienced the riots in Charlottesville, Europe was hit by terrorism in Barcelona, and Africa was devastated by the floods in Freetown. All three of these events, unfortunately, resulted in the loss of life; 1 in Virginia, 13 in Spain and (over) 450 in Sierra Leone. Quite fairly media coverage focused on local news, despite the logarithmic difference in the numbers affected. Although the causes of these events vary, we are inclined to note the significance of an event by the number of lives affected.
Being West African, I, unfortunately, relate mostly to the events in Sierra Leone as these strike closest to my heart, however, I appreciate the loss of life irrespective of where it occurs. The dark thought that crosses my mind is; should the numbers have been reversed, worldwide coverage would drop all local events to report such a large death toll in a ‘developed’ country. I cannot help but feel a failure in appreciation for this significant event that will forever mar the history of Sierra Leone. Where is the breaking news? Where are the minute-by-minute reports? Where are the interviews with government officials and victims?
The story so far is joining a trove of African events brushed aside as barely significant, due to disproportional representation. Perhaps it is time for a new method to disseminate information. The age of social media has modernised ‘Chinese whispers’ in a way that supports the flow of knowledge. Does this symbolise the death of traditional news outlets? News outlets are plagued by tales of governmental control and biased reporting, however, the information is thoroughly researched and so still relied upon. This thorough research fails to improve the reliability of the information we are provided yet we continue to depend on it.
Perhaps the long-lost way of the town crier can be revived. Harnessing the power of social media, we can mobilise multiple criers simultaneously. This way African news can finally be represented the way it deserves.
We can receive up-to-date information about our families when we need it. Europeans prioritise European news, Americans prioritise American news, it is time for Africans to stand together and prioritise African news. We would still need representation of the statistics, which I propose should be the new role of traditional news outlets. After-all, individuals could never compete with organisations at gathering information, and governments cannot be relied upon to report accurately. It is more difficult to misrepresent raw statistics.
Building on the numbers they provide, we can spread the word of events. The more people discussing a specific issue, the more coverage that issue is bound to receive. Utilising the ‘trending tools’ and ‘hashtags’ provided by social media, we may be able to ‘reproportionalise’ representation.
Our First Step
As a people, we should stand together and stop waiting for others to tell our stories. We should stand together and stop waiting for others to come to our aid. Let us help ourselves.
CheckoutAfrica will do what it can, but we depend on you to be our mouths and feet.
We have taken the first step by starting a GoFundMe campaign. Show your support for our family in Sierra Leone and donate today. Spread the word; if we can’t trust ourselves, who can we trust?
Also published on Medium.