The Danger of a Single TED Talk

Africa isn't a brand and we find the clamor for "positive news" from Africa inane and condescending.

Image of Johannesburg's skyline by Babak Fakhamzadeh. Via CC.

The website,, have made a movie that’s going to change the way you think about Africa. If the trailer is any indication of what the film’s about, then we’ve reached only one conclusion: Africa is officially boring. We’ve blogged about this kind of boosterism before, including Vogue Italia’s special “Rebranding Africa” issue earlier this year, which decided UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon should be the continent’s new face, salivated over Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt oil minister, and scrupulously avoided any mention of anything “sad, trashy or poor”.

To cut a long critique short, we’re pretty sure Africa isn’t a brand and we find the clamor for “positive news” from Africa inane and condescending. Plus if’s movie really does go on for an hour, as has been threatened, it’s going to be unbearable.

Who exactly is the audience for this kind of thing? It seems to be about attracting investment, but the style of the film is more likely to appeal to the development crowd — people who likely already consider themselves availed of a “positive” idea of Africa — than to hard-nosed capitalists. It will also appeal to all those Nigerians who were so outraged to see Lagos’ poor turn up on MTV the other day through the offices of Rick Ross, apparently making them look bad.

In the old days we got starving (or sometimes smiling) children and Bono. That was the age of aid. Nowadays it’s all about trade and what you get is this weird neoliberal romance where everybody’s middle class and desperate to show you their mobile phone.

The initiative is very much a project conceived in, and aimed at, the United States (their CEO used to be a Goldman Sachs banker) and I can only think that on some level it arises (belatedly) from an anxiety at the way the Americans have been unceremoniously elbowed aside by the Chinese in recent years when it comes to making money in Africa.

The movie promises the usual “pro-Africa” cast of characters, and of course that means sitting through yet another viewing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”. (It would be nice if Adichie did another one called “The Danger of a Single TED Talk” because the army of online disciples who force everyone to watch “The Danger of a Single Story” over and over again show no sign of letting up in their exuberant rejection of her central argument in that video.)

We also get Nigeria’s neoliberal finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Diezani Allison-Madueke’s invitation to appear in the film must have got lost in the post). Okonjo-Wahala cracks a joke about investment in telecoms, the point being that Nigeria has a lot of investment in telecoms but “nobody” knows about it. The joke isn’t all that funny because actually loads of people already know about Nigeria’s telecoms boom. Even Arsenal FC seem to be aware of it.

No doubt there’s plenty more of this sort of stuff to come, but this “new” way of looking at Africa already feels like it’s out of date.

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.