Comedian Lenny Henry has called on Africans in the diaspora to challenge negative stereotypes about Africa in mainstream media.
The comedian who has recently been campaigning for a better representation of black and ethnic minorities in the mainstream media made the comments at a seminar hosted by Comic Relief to celebrate the contribution of Africans in the diaspora to the continent’s development.
The comments came as he shared his experiences while filming to raise awareness of the work done by Comic Relief which has sponsored thousands of initiatives on the continent particularly in the area of alleviating poverty and providing basic amenities in vulnerable communities.
Henry told the conference that rather than sit and complain about the lack of fair representation in the media, the UK ethnic community to take action and tell their own stories even if it means collaborating with big media corporations like the BBC to get their voices heard.
The event tagged Africa In Action took place on the 18th June, at the the Conference Hall in Westminster as part of the charity’s Common Ground Initiative which is co funded by the UK government. It provided an opportunity for Africans in the diaspora to meet and network and share ideas on Africa’s development, challenges and future goals.
Delegates from African countries and their UK representatives, leading African businesses and members of civil society groups and aid agencies, all attended the seminar with the aim of having an in depth discussion on how diasporans can redefine and contribute to the development of Africa.
Diaspora remittances to Africa alone account for a considerable contribution to the continents development and growth and is a vital part of Africa’s economy providing sustenance for families, creating jobs and cash flow.
Rt. Hon the Lord Boateng said that Africans in the diaspora had a ‘vital’ role to play in the pursuit of realising the continent’s potential.
“Africa’s future and the fulfilment of Africa’s destiny does not lie in Westminster or Beijing,” he said. “The realisation of Africa’s potential is in the hands of Africa.”
He tasked Africans in the diaspora to cease the moment and make the best use of opportunities at their disposal to engage governments and policy makers to make sure that their voices are heard.
Lord Boateng also challenged the negative portrayal of Africa in the media saying that “Africa still suffers from the problem of perception, from a view too often that Africa may be rising and be a place of potential.”
“It took a struggle”, he said to get the world to recognise the huge potential and opportunities that the continent presents. and the role it will play in the World today.
“Don’t sit back and let other people tell your stories, make your view known. When you hear something false said about your country, ring in and let them know they’re wrong. We cant allow this perception of Africa as a balance case to continue.”
There was a general consensus that there had to be a shift in focus from ‘doling’ out money to African countries but rather, a more detailed approach in investing in entrepreneurship, businesses and development.
Other solutions proffered at the conference was more funding for the civil organisation both diaspora led and locally in Africa in order to help them deliver and achieve their goals.
Kathleen Newland of the migration Policy Institute pointed out that Africans need to start looking within their own community for funding rather than continue to depend on international and Aid organisations who are often swamped with requests and proposals around the world because Africa needs to start taking the lead in its own development.
There was a united call by all the speakers for Africa to be at the fore front of redefining its own narrative, by challenging it’s leaders and holding them to account to ensure that they deliver on their promises.
Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening reiterated the Department for International Development’s (DFID), committment in partnering with African developmental organisations and charities such as comic relief to bring about development in Africa.
She also stated that the organisation was looking for better ways to engage the African diaspora in delivering change to the continent.