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Monday, January 3, 2011

Stereotype and the Influence of Media on African Books

By Monica Ivanov


I have always been a reader; at first a school book borrower and now a book collector. What I was reading…?

I had a list of books called classical universal literature. In reality, the only Universal thing about it was that we all had to read it. These books were a collection of only Western authors so little related with our identity but to which we all dreamed to belong. Probably this is the reason I never questioned myself back then if Western actually means Universal. Today I call them religious, political, social and psychological meticulously brushed books, carefully selected to fit the education purpose of the youth and successfully making us see the world through a tiny key hole.

Fast forward...…>>> Today I have no more lists of books. Or at least this is how I fooled myself to believe. There is a huge book industry available nowadays from 3-4 floors high book stores to online shops like The question remains how do you pick your book? This is the moment when we get drowned between Bestsellers, Manager's picks, Celebrity Book Clubs, Advertising and the most notorious bias creator; the Media etc. Yes, we are back to the list but a more dangerous one.

If you find yourself in one of the biggest book stores in New York, don't be surprised to discover that the only two African literary pieces available to read are those of Uwem Akpan and Ishmael Beah. Why are they bestsellers? The facts are simple to understand; they write things the Western (including her media and publishing houses) want to read and promote about Africa. In Uwen Akapan's "Say You Are One of Them", the stories are the same Western fondled tales of children poverty, inter ethnic conflicts and child traffic. Ishmael Beah follows in this stead too in his book, "A Long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier", which describes to details the ordeals from child-soldiering, UNICEF, rap music, African wars, violence, etc.

It is true conflicts and violence is part of the African reality but only in few countries from the 53 other nations of the continent. Orphan-hood, Education and Health issues require a lot of work but Africa is not the only place which could do better. According to United Nations 2009 literacy report, United States ranks 21 while Cuba and Palestine rank number 2 on the statistics; World Health Organization scores United States number 72 on health, which is worse than the levels Iran, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt are placed on. When infant mortality rate in US is compared with the data of Cuba, Cuba's pale in comparison with the US. These are just some of the few examples to show that a stereotyped story is not the complete stories of what a place or nation is known for.

So how do the Western-adored stories about Africa end up defining the African brand and the bestseller books?

Books are mirrors into the soul of a nation and the danger of a single story creates stereotypes for both readers and frustration for writers who especially find themselves turned down by publishers because their works don't rise to the market demands of crafting the gory and depreciating African stories to the reading public.

This is the time we must remember the African wisdom; "Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters" and write the other side of story.


African stories must not be defined by any measure or yardstick of sufferings and violence. There is always a good story to be told about any place.



·         This article was contributed by Monica Ivanov, a literary and facebook friend. She lives in New York. She could be reached on Facebook through her mail:

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