The Western Representation of Africa

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Since time immemorial, there are hardly positive western depictions of Africa. Instead, there are always stories of political instabilities, darkness, danger, war, diseases, poverty, violence and hopelessness. Africans have always been portrayed in as uncivilized, intellectually, and culturally inferior thus in a negative light. Therefore, the Western depiction of Africa does not tell us more about Africans because the western representation of Africa is misleading as it only focuses on the negative representation of Africa. Since colonization, several things have changed in Africa from the political, economic, and cultural levels.

The European colonial powers created negative images about the African continent to justify their domination of Africa. As a result, these negative facts have persisted in the western world as these images have continued to be disseminated by the Western media[1]. In fact, most western media outlets promote disasters and crises in Africa just to hold the attention of their audiences instead of bringing hope and documenting the positives and successes in Africa. In addition, Keim documents that they do it to appeal their audience and to satisfy their commercial interests without caring about the truth about the African continent and for this reason, there is no way the western depiction of Africa can tell us more about Africa/Africans. Most western media outlets are profit driven and so they will only collect stories that are appealing to their audience while omitting the truth and this is outrageous because they only end up painting a negative image of Africa thus not explaining more about Africa/Africans.

  Africa has always been always represented as a “hopeless content” characterized by poverty, hunger, tribal anarchy, incompetent leadership, political instability, corruption, poverty, hunger, and starvation. While some of these might be facts, the westerners have clearly failed or rather ignored to document the African realities and success stories. The Western media will always cover the outrageous, dramatic images/scenes and negative images just to capture the attention of a vast audience instead of documenting accurate information about Africa and Africans[2]. The Western representation of Africa has failed because it does not document the uniqueness, potentiality, and diversity of the African continent.

 Africa has been stereotyped as a continent with lack of progress and illiterate by the Western media. The Western looks at Africa as a continent that has not evolved or rather developed like the USA and even Europe. Such a stereotype is vague and untrue because Africans are hardworking individuals. For instance, in Time is Cows: Timeless Wisdom of the Maasai, after visiting the Maasai land and Tanzania, Tanya Pergola learned a lot from these people who have always been perceived as illiterate by the westerners[3]. For Tanya, she saw their culture as thoughtful and insightful with their beautiful ceremonies, rituals, and herbal medications.

The western depiction of Africa is that it is a poverty-stricken continent with many people dying of hunger. This stereotype or myth promotes the notion that Africa is a poor and helpless continent that is always in need of help. It is true that there are some countries in Africa that are affected by drought and famine, which promotes hunger in such areas. However, this does not mean that the whole of Africa is poor and helpless as depicted by the western media. Africa is continent with a diverse distribution of resources and wealth making it rich. Despite there being stories of poverty, hunger, and famine, there are several success stories in Africa just like other continents and such stories are untold. For instance, the western depiction of a country like Kenya will always focus on poverty and famine, and it will be impossible to find the Western media mentioning that Kenya is a country that has achievements in financial and health services as well as consumer goods and technology. In addition, in the story Tintin in the Congo, we learn that Congo, which is an African country is rich in diamond something we can never hear from the western depiction of Africa[4]. Hence, the Western depiction of Africa does not tell us more about Africans/Africa because all the Western media does is to document only the negatives or rather Africa’s negative sides instead of focusing on its diversity and potential.

The negative stereotyping of Africa, especially by the Western Media, has persisted for several years now. Africa has always been depicted as poverty-stricken, crisis-ridden, and corruption infested continent by the westerners despite the visible political and economic developments in Africa. Therefore, the Western depiction of Africa does not tell us more about Africans or Africa as a continent. Since colonization, Africa is a country that has grown both politically, culturally, and economically. Even though there are some parts where people suffer from hunger, famine, illiteracy, and political instability, this does not mean that such countries are the face of Africa. Africa is not a “pitiable” Africa as depicted by the westerners, but a continent that has tremendously grown both politically and economically[5]. Poverty, corruption, diseases, famine, and hunger not only happen in Africa. It is witnessed in most parts of the world for instance in the Middle East, Latin America, and even Asia and these regions have never been labeled as poverty-stricken and helpless by the westerners. Therefore, since the western media has always portrayed Africa in a negative light, there is no way the Western depiction of Africa can tell us more about Africans and Africa. The Western media has terribly failed to educate or rather tell the world about the exceptionality, diversity, and the potential present in the African continent by only focusing on the negative images.

   In conclusion, the Western depiction of Africa does not tell us more about Africans and Africa. This is because most Western media outlets create and propagate stereotypes about Africans for profit and just to attract more audience. Africa has been wrongly represented by the western with stereotypical and negative images/ideas that lack truth, analysis, and context. While it is true that there are several horrific events occurring in the African continent, for instance, poverty, famine, war, corruption, and diseases just to mention but a few, these things do not describe Africa in its entirety. Famine, poverty, pestilence, and diseases are facts happening not only in Africa but also in other parts of the world. Hence, this should not be used to define the great continent of Africa something the Western coverage of Africa is doing. In essence, the Western depiction of Africa does not tell us more about Africa and Africans as it has always focused on the negative portrayal of the great African continent that is full of potential, diversity, and uniqueness


Herge, Tintin in the Congo (The Adventures of Tintin). Egmont Books, 2005.

Keim Curtis, Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions in the American Mind, 2014 (2018 reissue). London: Taylor and Francis, 2018.

Pergola Tanya. Time is Cows: Timeless Wisdom of the Maasai.  Oreteti Press, 2013.


Curtis Keim Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions in the American Mind, 2014 (2018 reissue) (London: Taylor and Francis, 2018).


Curtis, 78.


Tanya Pergola. Time is Cows: Timeless Wisdom of the Maasai.  (Oreteti Press, 2013), 22.


Herge, Tintin in the Congo (The Adventures of Tintin). (Egmont Books, 2005) 5-6.

[5] Curtis, 114

November 13, 2023

Culture Sociology World

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Ethnicity African American

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