How do you tell the story of Africa?
Moky Makura's answer is that Africa is not a story. The continent has 54 countries that are home to more than 1.2 billion people. Like the histories, languages, cultures, traditions, politics, and economies of their countries, Africans are as unique as a fingerprint.
Reducing the continent to a story simply isn’t good enough.
Makura has worked as a journalist and producer in a successful career that spans 25 years. She established her public relations company, Red PR, in 1999 and sold it in 2002 to what was then the largest communications agency in South Africa.
One of several shows she’s produced and anchored, African Pioneers, was syndicated in five countries in Africa.
There’s more: she headlined four seasons of the hugely popular drama series Jacob’s Cross and launched one of the first digital platforms to offer authentic African stories and content with Africa Our Africa.
As an international speaker, Makura has been on stages like TEDxEuston. She’s also managed to become an accomplished communications expert, and was called upon when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was looking for the perfect person to build and manage its reputation in Africa.
The common thread in all the hats she wears is her passion for African narratives that defy stereotypes of the continent.
As a result, her career has become a body of work that shows Africa and Africans in a way that’s rarely seen in the media: as a continent that’s creative, inspired, and inspiring — just like Makura.
On Aug. 9, 1956 a group of 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to demand an end to pass laws. Under the apartheid government, Black people were not allowed to vote. They had substandard health care, education, and other services. There were also limitations on where Black people could live and work.
The pass laws made it mandatory for Black people to carry identity documents whenever they were in white residential areas. The Women’s March was a pivotal moment in South Africa’s fight against apartheid.
Too often, history ignores the contributions and achievements of women. They become invisible or lack agency. But by taking to the streets of Pretoria, the women of South Africa wrote themselves into history and left behind a legacy that continues to inspire others today.
Makura has always been an inspired woman. Knowing the significant role played by the media and entertainment industry in shaping attitudes, she wants to use its influence to shift narratives about Africa.
As the executive director at Africa No Filter, a role she took this past March, she’s poised to do just that. The organisation doesn’t just want to tell Africa stories.
Africa No Filter wants to disrupt how stories about Africa are created, using nuanced storytelling to promote investment in African economies, and empower women and young people — a demographic that’s predicted to make up 42% of the global youth population by 2030.
Africa No Filter is using popular culture, research, arts, partnerships, and collaborations to tell African stories in a way that still remains evasive: beyond the lens of poverty, corruption, and conflicts.
Shifting narratives about Africa starts with Africans telling more of their own stories, and doing so on platforms that empower storytellers to disrupt existing narratives about the continent, Makura told Global Citizen.
"It’s something I’ve always been passionate about," she said about changing perceptions.
Makura wants stories about Africa to be as diverse and as rich as the continent. They should also be true to reality.
For instance, while countries like the United States have yet to elect a woman president, Liberia, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Mauritius have had female presidents in Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, Joyce Banda, Sahle-Work Zewde, and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.
Happy Pan African Women’s day! Let's have a little fun - how many women can you identify in the GIF below without reading their names? Don’t cheat! Post your number in the comments section pic.twitter.com/ekPcMjYeaV— Africanofilter (@africanofilter) July 31, 2020
These achievements cut across industries. The Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, is the second largest film industry in the world; sub-Saharan Africa is the only part of the world where more women than men become entrepreneurs; and mobile money was pioneered in Kenya, by a Kenyan.
This spirit of innovation made 13-year-old William Kamkwamba learn how to build a windmill and save his village in Malawi from drought, inspiring the movieThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Makura says that being intentional about how these stories are told helps shape how they ultimately impact perceptions about Africa. Take, for example, findings from the Africa in the Media report.
The report monitored how Africa and Africans were portrayed in American media and entertainment shows. The report analysed 700,000 hours of American television in March 2018 and also monitored Twitter.
It found that the continent was depicted as corrupt and war-torn. African women were nearly invisible, and often hypersexualised.
Because the entertainment industry is so influential, the fictional country of Wakanda from the movie Black Panther is likely more known than real countries in Africa.
Makura has made it a personal and professional mission to ensure that African stories are told in a richer way. Her dream for Africa started taking shape after watching Hotel Rwanda.
The movie is based on the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. In the movie, locals wait on Western government and aid to rescue them from the bloodbath that the country had become. In other words: Africans were waiting to be saved by the West.
"We need to show who we are (in the media). We need to believe in ourselves," Makura said. "That’s why I wrote the book (Africa's Greatest Entrepreneurs)."
The book, which was published in 2010, profiles some of the continent’s pioneering entrepreneurs. It’s on its third print run.
Makura believes that stories about the continent and its people should "trigger a sense of the African dream; to celebrate the continent and invest in it."
She envisions an Africa that funds its own research and develops its own resources; a continent that’s self-sufficient and enabling.
That continent already exists. But it’s rarely seen or celebrated. Makura’s mission of telling African stories beyond the usual stereotypes has become her legacy.