TIME Magazine and the “Africa is Rising” Meme

TIME Magazine has copied what The Economist did in 2011, and decided “Africa is Rising.” Again. This week’s European edition is taken over by stories on this theme. Alex Perry, who writes for TIME from Cape Town (remember his style) has a piece where, despite the cover title, he does not come to any real conclusion. We’ve written about this meme and its various iterations on film, at TED conferences and on blogs before (it will also be the focus of a–hopefully critical–conference at Harvard next April by super anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff; they’re already teaching a course by the same name) and we are not sure what is gained by all this hot air. Whether it is “Hopeless Continent” or “Africa Rising,” these kinds of totalizing narratives of the continent are banal and outdated. Of course it is easier to write yet another new beginning for the continent (or rebrand it, if you prefer), than to offer substantial engagement with the current situation. Perry and co really to need to beef up on their history if they are to cut it as serious commentators and reporters. Take for example:

As Africa marks half a century since it began to free itself from colonialism, its future lies in the hands of hundreds of millions of young Africans who, like [Kenyan photographer Boniface] Mwangi [featured in Perry’s article], must choose between Africa rising and Africa uprising.

What a choice. If you’re talking about, say, South Africa or Nigeria (and I bet Kenyans would agree), I think we’d take uprising, thank you very much.

Anyway, for it what it’s worth, TIME ran the same headline in 1998, with these tired old lines: “Hope is Africa’s rarest commodity. Yet buried though it is amid the despair that haunts the continent, there is more optimism today than in decades …”

* Elliot Ross did more than co-write this post. H/T How We Made it in Africa.

14 thoughts on “TIME Magazine and the “Africa is Rising” Meme

  1. This piece, and AIAC as whole, are providing extremely valuable critical counterweight to the ‘Africa-rising’ media phenomenon. Thoroughly enjoying it, thanks! And I look eagerly forward to more AIAC coverage on this meme. (and an aside: The Economist does at least cover individual countries, and recently had a cover special on “the sad decline” of South Africa since the end of apartheid…)

    • @Marian: Thanks for the comment. And yes, The Economist does way more detailed coverage of African countries/topics. However, as you allude, The Economist can also get it badly wrong. “The sad decline” of South Africa is a case in point. South African journalism and its elites’ jingoism/nationalism as a response to any criticism aside, a few people have done posts on what was wrong with that decline post; this one’s the best of the bunch:

      • The Reg Rumney MG/Guardian piece is brilliant! And couldn’t agree more about please retiring the tired cliche of crying the beloved country, the Economist usually does better than that with its headings/captions. Thanks for the link!

  2. Can I point out that the ‘tired old lines’ you quote are very old indeed. Dated 2001, to be exact. I’m afraid you’re looking at the wrong piece.

    • @Alex Perry: we made the change and moved the opening lines to where they should have been. Thanks for pointing that out. It turns out the story is actually from 1998, not 2001. That said, it proves our point that Time reruns the same headlines every decade or so for “Africa.”

    • @Alex Perry: As a South African but first and foremost an African, I found that your article failed to have a strong valid point while also lacking width and depth. It is near sighted to simply discuss Africa within an economic mind frame, and a narrow one sided mind frame at that. While certain notions and statements cannot be argued, the tone and message of the article was disrespectfully patronising.

  3. International magazines should really not do “Africa” covers. Their blanket euro-centric narratives are tiresome and unhelpful. My annoyance is always faintly laced with the kind of embarrassment one feels for the fellow human who struts around a room blissfully unaware that their zipper is undone…

  4. It would be interesting to see how many covers Time has done on individual countries in Africa. I did a quick search & got very few results. (Ethiopia: 1930 – Haile Selassie, 1987 – Famine, 2008 – Hunger. Sheesh!) Would be interesting to compare vs. European or Asian countries…

    • Thanks John. This year we’ve done: Senegal; Central Africa Republic/Uganda; and Rwanda. You’re right in thinking we don’t get covers from Africa all that often — and very rarely in the US edition — but when we do, they do tend to be individual countries rather than continental ones. In six years, this week’s is actually my first of the latter kind.

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