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Africa on YouTube: Musicians, Tourists, Missionaries and Aid Workers

Africa on YouTube: Musicians, Tourists, Missionaries and Aid Workers

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Published by Bunmi Oloruntoba
Africa on YouTube: Musicians, Tourists, Missionaries and Aid Workers
Melissa Wall
Department of Journalism, California State University - Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St, Northridge, CA 91330-8311, USA

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/mcom600/documents
Africa on YouTube: Musicians, Tourists, Missionaries and Aid Workers
Melissa Wall
Department of Journalism, California State University - Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St, Northridge, CA 91330-8311, USA

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/mcom600/documents

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Published by: Bunmi Oloruntoba on Sep 07, 2011
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10/18/2013

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http://gaz.sagepub.com
GazetteInternational Communication
DOI: 10.1177/17480485091049882009; 71; 393
International Communication Gazette 
Melissa Wall
Africa on YouTube: Musicians, Tourists, Missionaries and Aid Workers
http://gaz.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/71/5/393
 
The online version of this article can be found at:
 
Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com
 
can be found at:
International Communication Gazette 
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 at CALIFORNIA ST UNIV NORTHRIDGE on October 5, 2009http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
AFRICA ON YOUTUBE
Musicians, Tourists, Missionaries and Aid Workers
Melissa Wall
Abstract
 / YouTube videos featuring the countries Ghana and Kenya were assessed, finding that thiscitizen media tool is allowing ordinary people to construct representations of African countries butthat these are much more likely to come from westerners. Although these African countries arenot represented as chaotic and violent as has often been the case in the past, they continue to bestereotyped. Africans unaccompanied by westerners are most likely to appear in entertainment,especially music, videos.
Keywords
 / Africa / citizen media / Ghana / Kenya / YouTube
Much has been made of the potential of new technologies to revolutionize the collec-tion and distribution of information. Some enthusiasts claim that these changesmean the world is now ‘flat’ with previous hierarchies disappearing around the globe(Friedman, 2006: 7). Others declare the emergence of a new era, the ‘ConnectedAge’, for example, in which institutions lose power to individuals, and civic lifeblooms due to the spread of technological changes (Benkler, 2006; Fine, 2006). Inline with these claims, the arrival of citizen media is said to have enabled ordinarypeople to create and share narratives, as well as become politically empowered(Garfield, 2006).This article focuses in particular on the ways that citizen media might influenceinternational communication flows by enabling new ways of representing Africa,one of the most misrepresented regions of the world. Specifically of interest here isthe way Kenya and Ghana are represented on YouTube. The video file sharing site,which generates some 20 million visitors per month, is said to be emblematic of thechanges wrought by digital technologies through which ordinary people are nowgiven a voice. YouTube has been identified as revolutionizing foreign policy by pro-viding human rights groups, terrorists and others a place to air their version of realityto a potential global audience of millions (Naim, 2007). Indeed, YouTube contentthat was perceived to threaten regimes has resulted in the site being temporarilyblocked in countries such as Turkey and Thailand. Yet much of the current populardiscourse about these technologies fails to systematically question the claims oftheir promoters that traditional barriers and hierarchies are universally disappearing.
The International Communication Gazette© The Author(s), 2009. Reprints and permissions: http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
the International Communication Gazette
, 1748-0485; Vol. 71(5):393–407;DOI: 10.1177/1748048509104988http://gaz.sagepub.com
 at CALIFORNIA ST UNIV NORTHRIDGE on October 5, 2009http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Examining the images of two African countries on YouTube will take a step towardseeing how true these claims are.
Literature Review
For centuries, the African continent has historically and continues today to be mis-represented and stereotyped. Be it through journalism, film or literature, a ‘processof inscription and appropriation’ by the West has often been the key means ofcreating the dominant images of Africa (Duncan and Gregory, 1999: 3). Such imagesare social constructions supported through labeling, marginalization and other tech-niques to suggest particular ways of reading or interpreting the region. For example,Africans have traditionally been represented as ‘closer to nature, more emotional,sexually uninhibited, more musical, childlike’ (Pieterse, 1992: 11). One of the commonrhetorical devices western writers have employed to create such images is surveil-lance, through which a culture is examined, and therefore ultimately controlled bythe western gaze (Spurr, 1993). Western observers employ their gaze to create anOther tied to the exercise of imperial power (Pratt, 1992; Spurr, 1993). Those viewingthis Other are above or outside of that which they observe. Their gaze, then, is an‘active instrument of construction, order and arrangement’ (Spurr, 1993: 15). West-erners’ dominance of both knowledge and image production has enabled them toexercise dominion over Africa for centuries (Mudimbe, 1988; Pieterse, 1992).Researchers suggest that the imagery created via various genres such as litera-ture or anthropological observations tends to reappear as potent journalistic stereo-types that are widely redistributed through the reach of news outlets. Repetitiveimages are echoed to the point where they become naturalized. In this way, thenews media have contributed to the tropes that we most frequently associate withthe continent (Pires, 2000). Research on news images of Africa consistently confirmsthat the region is portrayed as backward and violent, with warring tribes andextreme poverty (Fair, 1993; Moeller, 1999). The end result is the images becomepermanently embedded in the public’s mind, making it difficult if not impossible tointroduce new ones (Ogundimu, 1994).
Technology and Africa
While it has long been argued that technological advances fail to contribute toimproving Africa’s image (Okigbo, 1995), more recent research suggests this situ-ation may be changing. Harding (2003), for example, argues that more recentlyAfrica has been seen differently within the West via new media formats and genresthat she believes exhibit fewer stereotypes and more open texts, resulting in a morenuanced and complex view. In addition, she argues that as new communicationtechnologies have become more widely available in Africa, Africans themselves arebetter positioned to create and distribute their own representations. This line ofthought is also embodied in what a new generation of African leaders promotes asan ‘African Renaissance’ in which the continent is seen as an emerging investmentopportunity marked by success more than disasters (Hunter-Gault, 2006). They see
394
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION GAZETTE VOL. 71 NO. 5
 at CALIFORNIA ST UNIV NORTHRIDGE on October 5, 2009http://gaz.sagepub.comDownloaded from 

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