Thought Leadership by Idris Elba on Africa Day -The Power of Storytelling in Uniting Africa

Thursday, 25th May 2023 – Since the origin of speech, storytelling has been used to bring people together – for good or ill. To propagate ideas, to educate, to camouflage, stories have always been the core of identity expression. While stories were once used as propaganda to erase the history of achievement in Africa, now is the time to reclaim our narratives.

The theme for Africa Day this year is “Our Africa, Our Future”, with the African Union asking its member countries to tell the story of the journey of the continent. It recognises that the media – and other prominent storytellers – have an important role to play in shaping the narrative of Africa rising and occupying our rightful position as a key player on the international scene.

So many of our stories are about trauma – rightfully so considering our complex history – but that’s not all there is. The global narrative of the continent is often framed as “the suffering of Africa”, complete with negative portrayals of a poverty-stricken, corruption-driven, and divided continent. Or worse still, fuelled by the misunderstanding that Africa is a homogenised set of countries, failing to recognise our vast, diverse cultural landscape.

Yet there are incredibly talented people across the continent who want to tell authentic, diverse, and positive stories. My heritage is half Sierra Leonean and half Ghanaian, so why shouldn’t we have a romantic comedy about a farmer from one of my home countries? Or an action film centred around a local hero?

When these stories are told, they start to shift negative international perceptions of people on the continent, and help others realise the opportunity that Africa holds. Even more importantly, these stories unite the diaspora who have made their way across the globe – inspiring them to invest in their home countries.

I’ve always believed Africa can become a global superpower, but only when we, as Africans, begin investing in its vast potential. The African Continental Free Trade Area is progressive legislation that is likely to unlock economic integration for the 1.3 billion people across the continent. By creating a single market for goods and services, signatories to the agreement can pool resources and transform their respective trade capabilities – both within Africa and overseas.

Bolstering trade is a vital part of building Africa into a global player, as well as investing in infrastructure. This has been key to my recent work in developing Sherbro Island City, working in conjunction with the government of Sierra Leone. This city will one day be home to a thriving economy, creating thousands of jobs, strong institutions, and world-class infrastructure – powered by cutting edge green technology. We hope it will be a shining example of African potential, and show that investment in Africa is a sound, sustainable business strategy.

But to attract investment into such ambitious projects, we must continue telling uniquely African stories, showing the unification and success that serve as an invite to Africa.

I’m trying to do my part by building a more diverse media landscape across the continent, one that represents the voices and experiences of Africa and its diaspora. Recently, my production company, Green Door Pictures, announced our partnership with EbonyLife Media, Nigeria’s foremost media group.

Through collaboration with EbonyLife – and the incredibly talented, savvy, and philanthropy-focused Mo Abudu – we aim to increase authentic African representation in global film and television. As Mo recently told Forbes: “If you don’t know who I am, if you don’t know my history, if you don’t know that culture, how are you going to respect me or know anything about me? My stories are just as important as yours, and they must be told.”

Africa Day is a great opportunity for the world to recognise that even in adversity, the countries of Africa still have the most growth potential in the world. Regardless of what’s been taken from us – from slavery to the seizing of our resources – we still have more to give, but on our terms. We’ve had the conflicts, the famines, the health crises, but we are a continent of people who want to thrive.