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‘Everyday Africa’ Project to shatter African Stereotypes

Everyday Africa, an Instagram community of photographers who strive to capture ordinary moments of life, such as children picking flowers in a field, or girlfriends chatting at a coffee shop.

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Breaking stereotypes, one post on Instagram ,at a time. Pixabay
Breaking stereotypes, one post on Instagram ,at a time. Pixabay
  • ‘Everyday Africa’ is an Instagram project which aims at eliminating African stereotypes.
  • They photograph everyday life of common Africans to succeed in their initiative.
  •  With approximately 370,000 followers, it is one of the biggest visual libraries of a continent.

When schoolchildren in Washington, D.C., are asked to say the first thing that comes to mind about Africa, they use words like hot, desert, sand, poverty, hunger, war and Ebola.

These are all accurate things to say about that part of the world — but they reflect an “incomplete” picture, says writer Austin Merrill, who together with photojournalist Peter DiCampo has set out to document African reality beyond common stereotypes.

They are the founders of Everyday Africa, an Instagram community of photographers who strive to capture ordinary moments of life, such as children picking flowers in a field, or girlfriends chatting at a coffee shop. Their Instagram following has topped 370,000.

Africa is no more the poor country we think it is, it is time to break the stereotypes.
Africa is no more the poor country we think it is, it is time to break the stereotypes.

In addition to the Instagram feed, the book “Everyday Africa, 30 Photographers Re-Picturing the Continent,” recently hit bookstores in Europe, the United States and certain countries on the African continent. The book is filled with images documenting life in Africa that aim to shatter misconceptions often found in Western media.

Readers see a teenager rollerblading in the streets of Dakar, a DJ playing music in Lagos, a couple looking at the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town. The book displays the full diversity and visual richness of African life.

Both DiCampo and Merrill invited a diverse “community of photographers” from all over the continent to contribute to the Instagram project and the book. Some are professionals, while others are skilled amateurs.

Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste prologues the book in an essay focusing on the power of the ordinary. “We sometimes forget that no matter what is happening in our lives, ordinary moments find a way to move forward,” Mengiste writes.

Normality

Peter DiCampo and Austin Merrill, both Americans, met while serving with the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast. In 2012, they received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington to cover the aftermath of Ivory Coast’s civil war.

While they were interviewing refugees and soldiers, Merrill remembers that around them “the vast majority of life was pretty normal, but that wasn’t coming through in the story that we were trying to put together.”

“We were seeing all these other moments, that were many sorts of truer to our daily life experience in that part of the world,” says DiCampo.

So, they took their cellphones and started to photograph what was around them. They felt, says Merrill, that the normal, everyday scenes of life “might be the most important thing we had to tell about that place, about that moment, instead of the crisis story.”

Media organizations tend to focus on breaking news, often triggered by an evolving crisis. Africa has many of those; but, as Di Campo puts it, “It’s quite difficult to have a global understanding when all you see of other parts of the world are really extreme stories.”

This is the gap that the “Everyday Africa” book is trying to fill; to look at the continent from the inside and from different perspectives.

DiCampo and Merrill, with the support of the Pulitzer Center, have also created media workshops that train elementary school students in the United States on how to document their lives and recognize stereotypes.

“We use the story of how we created Everyday Africa,” said DiCampo, “to engage the students in a discussion of how media representation affects them, their lives and their communities and we use our photography to teach basic photography lessons, so that by the end of the workshop, they have an everyday project for their own school or community.”

This social media model has hit a nerve. “The Everyday Africa platform on Instagram may very well be the biggest visual library of the continent,” writes Ghanaian photographer Nana Kofi Acquah.

“To task African photographers with the burden of changing how the continent is perceived, might be overwhelming,” writes Acquah; but, he adds, “a picture of the real Africa” is slowly emerging. VOA

Next Story

No More Schoolgirls Examined For Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya

We are not going to line up all the girls and test them — you can't do that as they can be stigmatized

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. VOA

No schoolgirls in western Kenya are being forced to undergo examinations for female genital mutilation, Kenyan authorities said Tuesday, after a government official sparked outrage by proposing compulsory tests to curb the crime.

George Natembeya, commissioner for Narok County, said on Friday that girls returning to school after the Christmas break were being screened for female genital mutilation (FGM) in order to prosecute their parents and traditional cutters.

Rights groups condemned the move, saying examining the girls — aged between nine and 17 — was demeaning and contravened their right to privacy and dignity.

FGM, Kenya
Maasai girls and a man watch a video on a mobile phone prior to the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board said they had conducted an investigation in Narok after Natembeya’s statement and found no evidence of girls being tested.

“The Board hereby confirms that no girl has been paraded for FGM screening as per allegations that have been circulating in the last few days,” the semi-autonomous government agency said in a statement.

“The Board recognises and appreciates the role played by different stakeholders in complementing the government’s efforts in the FGM campaigns but we want to reiterate that all interventions must uphold the law.”

FGM, which usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is prevalent across parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East — and is seen as necessary for social acceptance and increasing a girl’s marriage prospects.

FGM, Kenya
KAMELI, KENYA – AUGUST 12: A Masaai villager displays the traditional blade used to circumcise young girls August 12, 2007 in Kameli, Kenya. VOA

FGM dangers

It is usually performed by traditional cutters, often with unsterilized blades or knives. In some cases, girls can bleed to death or die from infections. It can also cause lifelong painful conditions such as fistula and fatal childbirth complications.

Kenya criminalized FGM in 2011, but the deep-rooted practice persists. According to the United Nations, one in five Kenyan women and girls aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM.

Natembeya said he had announced the compulsory tests to warn communities not to practice FGM on their daughters, but that there was no intention to force all girls to undergo screening.

Rights groups said the policy was rolled back following outrage.

Also Read: The Risk of FGM Hangs Above British Schoolgirls During Holiday Break

“We are not going to line up all the girls and test them — you can’t do that as they can be stigmatized,” he told Reuters.

“What we are doing is that if we get reports from schools that a girl has undergone FGM, it becomes a police case and the girl is taken to hospital and medically examined. Then the parents or caregivers will be arrested and taken to court.” (VOA)