Fresh perspectives on Africa — Twitter breakfast meeting broadens notions
The Foreign Ministry’s Twitter breakfast meeting in December focused on Finns’ notions about Africa. According to the participants, the public discussion on Africa in Finland continues to focus on dire conditions and conflicts. The discussion highlighted African countries’ diversity, rich culture, active youth, and growing economic potential and innovations.
The discussion was facilitated by Liselott Lindström, Africa Correspondent at the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. The participants were Ramses Malaty, Director of the Unit for Administrative and Legal Development Cooperation Matters at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Olli Löytty, Researcher and Non-fiction Writer, and Yacine Samb, Entrepreneur, Public Speaker and Leader at Google.
The participants shared their experiences and views about African countries. In her capacity as a journalist, Lindström shared news and events from eastern and southern Africa. Malaty, who was born in Libya, has lived for the past eight years in Egypt and Kenya. Löytty was born in Namibia and wrote his doctoral dissertation on missionary work in Africa. Samb, who grew up in Côte d'Ivoire, has both Finnish and Senegalese citizenship.
The first theme of discussion was diversity. Africa consists of 54 states, but the public discussion often treats the continent as a single entity. The speakers emphasised that the main reasons for this are ignorance and the fact that in the western world, Africa is described from the colonial perspective. They went on to say that unfortunately, the Finnish media often portrays Africa in a way that is very one-sided.
“Stereotypical images are still widespread. Many people are not necessarily aware of the role that missionaries have played in the formation of Finns’ notions of Africa. Western countries continue to consider African culture exotic,” Löytty said.
“The media easily focuses on negative issues, such as the recent war in Ethiopia and cyclone in Mozambique. Many people would be interested in learning more about everyday life in Africa, but these stories rarely make it into the news,” Lindström said.
Africa is the continent of the future
The discussion underlined the importance of improving knowledge about different African countries and cultures among Finns. Emphasis was placed on technological advances and the young population, of which more than 70 per cent are younger than 30 years of age.
“I’m interested in the huge technological development ongoing in Africa. For example, mobile payments are considerably more common in African countries than in Europe,” Samb said.
“I attended a startup event in Nairobi where I realised how ingenuously people come up with technological solutions to really big problems. Western countries are much more advanced in their development, and healthcare and education are taken care of by the authorities, so we don’t need innovations to resolve problems in those areas,” Lindström said.
Africa has commercial potential
The discussion also stressed the great potential for building trade relations. According to Malaty, Africa will be at the vanguard of economic growth in the coming decades.
“Finnish trade with Africa is still small-scale business, but it’s really no more difficult than trade with our eastern neighbour. Similar rules and principles apply: you need to know the markets, competitors, financial sector and risks. It’s important to find local partners,” Malaty said.
According to Samb, people and companies in Finland are not well enough informed about Africa to unlock its export potential. Malaty advised those interested in exporting to Africa to contact Finnish missions based in Africa and other Finns already active there.
Broaden you perspectives on Africa
The participants also explored ways to broaden Finns’ notions about Africa. Lindström said that young people in Finland are interested in Africa and can easily find related content on social media channels. Samb emphasised the importance of taking responsibility for acquiring information.
“Check your bookshelves at home. Is everything from Finland? Or do you also have books by authors from other countries? Many African content creators upload their work on YouTube. There's plenty of information out there for people looking to expand their horizons,” Samb said.
View the whole discussion in Finnish on Twitter Live at:
Tervetuloa Twitter-aamukahveille keskustelemaan, mitä me suomalaiset ajattelemme Afrikasta! https://t.co/vWsk6gulCY— Ulkoministeriö (@Ulkoministerio) December 11, 2020