Chances are you have heard about, or seen, or both, a BBC report about video of two women and two children being led, at gunpoint, to their deaths by a group of soldiers who, the report says, belong to the Cameroon army in a remote part of that country where government soldiers are fighting against Boko Haram.
The killings were extrajudicial and the government had denied that those captured in the video were its soldiers before backtracking on that earlier statement as evidence mounted to show otherwise.
As that report rightly notes, it is a horrifying video.
This in a country that appears to teeter on the brink of a full blown civil war with separatists in English-speaking regions where the conflict has increasingly become more violent.
Extrajudicial killings are common in countries with armed conflicts in Africa and elsewhere.
Again, chances are you have heard of a story of the “disappearance” of $ 104 million of freshly-minted cash in Liberia where containers loaded with the local currency arrived in that country back in November 2017 and August 2018 with one minister suggesting that the money was not properly declared and another saying that there were no records of the containers being collected from the ports.
While the first story is truly harrowing, the second one, as tragic as it is to Liberia’s taxpayers, it is comedic. In both stories one is more likely to believe that they are watching or heard stories about plots in some Western films which rarely paint a better picture of continent perceived to be hopelessly drowning with endless wars and political mismanagement of those in power. Both present the common case of a post-colonial African state that is either disappearing or losing control of some parts of its territory or a state struggling to control all its territory; a long legacy of vicious civil wars and corruption.
The current political boundaries dividing African countries are largely the legacy of colonialism. From the outset many of the then newly-formed countries struggled to control their territories due to lack of resources to do so, and corruption and disinterest of those who were bequeathed with political power after the colonialists had left. There were armed conflicts in some of these countries as soon as they gained political independence and have never been silent ever since like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan, and in some countries which experienced some moments of guns falling silent before madness descended again like the Central African Republic or Burundi, borders were never secured or entirely covered.
Over the decades since then these depressing and horrible events have defined the kind of stories one hears from this continent. Through a Korean drama or an American film, and the continent is presented as a hopeless case, one which is constantly in dire need of help. It is as if time has stopped in Africa, and these blanket presentations either constantly “forget” that Africa is not a country, or are never bothered to find the details.
The good stories told about the continent are largely about its wildlife and natural wonders from mountains to rivers to moving sands to its deserts.
And of course, the great feats of athletes from some countries.
Countries which have attained certain degree of political stability over the decades rarely make news even within the continent itself. And when they are mentioned by the political powerful in the West, chances are the names will be wrong or something else like Tasmania in Australia for the “unfortunate” Tanzania. Stories of people in different parts of Africa making real progress in their lives, making useful technological inventions useful to their societies like a young Ugandan engineer who invented a malaria testing device which is quick, low cost, and most importantly does not require one to draw their blood, rarely make headlines.
The history of the continent is one of societies which thrived on story-telling.
Today, our stories are told by others, who pick and choose what to tell and what not to tell.
For a continent as diverse as ours, it is very strange that our stories have come to be largely the same; and largely about the same thing: horrors!
We should be defined by more than just bad stories.