While the era of independence gave rise to ideas of peace, freedom, justice, and social progress, building postcolonial nations on colonial foundations has proven problematic FILE PHOTO. © ALEXANDER JOE/AFP

The battle for Africa’s independence cannot be won until Africa has complete and undeniable control over its media, writes Rosalynde Ainslie in her book ‘The Press in Africa’ from the 1960s, one of the first books about the media in Africa.

Already in those times, it was clear that whoever controls the media controls a lot more than just the distribution of information. The media is a powerful weapon – it shapes public opinion, forms a specific worldview, and helps people identify their place in the world. For newly independent African countries, all this was very important.

Soft power

Throughout the 20th century, African countries did not have the opportunity to interact with the rest of the world on an equal cultural and informational footing. They were regarded either as an object of study or as consumers of information. After gaining independence, Africa inherited not only a ‘colonial’ (i.e. one-sided) economy from its colonizers, but also a social infrastructure oriented towards the former metropoles, which is clearly evident from its mass media.

Africa’s mass media changed and developed with time, but the influence exerted by the former colonial powers and the US did not weaken but was merely transformed. In some cases, this influence even increased, and after the collapse of the bipolar world it became almost total.

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The term ‘neocolonialism’ usually refers to a form of economic control aimed at exploiting former colonies after they gain political independence. But apart from economics and politics, this concept exists in the fields of ideology, culture, science, education, and information. In these fields, it achieves the same goals, only by means of other, ‘soft’ methods (the soft power concept did not appear by chance) or by combining them with economic, financial, and military pressure (which is closer to the smart power concept).

The processes that have been taking place in the information sphere closely resemble those described by Professor Ali A. Mazrui in his book ‘Africa, the Next Thirty Years’. “Africa produces what it does not consume and consumes what it does not produce.”

Independence based on old colonial rules

Mass media in Africa was originally an instrument of colonial power. It was supposed to be oriented towards European powers in order to demonstrate colonial supremacy and show the Western world as being advanced and civilized. Since the first years of their independence, African nations have had problems obtaining and distributing information. For example, telephone connection between Africa’s capitals was carried out via Paris, London, or Brussels.

The printing industry was dominated by foreign or European capital, which controlled widely circulated publications. There were few African publishers, and they owned only small newspapers with limited circulation. However, these newspapers were highly influential when it came to political agitation and propaganda.

One of the most popular African newspapers was Nigeria’s The West African Pilot, first published in 1935. Its editor was Nnamdi Azikiwe (who later became the governor general and subsequently, the president of independent Nigeria in 1960). The newspaper’s main goal was to fight against British rule, and its motto was: “Show the light and the people will find the way.” Azikiwe basically created his own corporation, Zik Press Limited, which included several other papers that were occasionally banned by the colonial administration “for the misrepresentation of facts.” However, these papers continued to exist and helped the country fight until its ultimate victory in 1960.


FILE PHOTO. Picture released on November 16, 1955 of first president of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe from 1963 to 1966. © AFP

Another problem was that there were few professional journalists in Africa. Meanwhile, the only journalism courses and programs that existed in Africa were the ones offered by Western institutions.

By the time Africa gained independence, all broadcasting systems were state controlled. Colonial administrations created broadcasting structures that were an extension of imperial (or imperialist, as many believed) policies and a means of ideological control or direct propaganda.

In the early years of Africa’s independence, the state broadcasting systems inherited from the colonial administrations and nationalized served public interests and helped with the development of the newly independent nations. The media promoted healthcare by encouraging immunization and helping the country fight epidemics, and supported literacy programs. All this was extremely effective, but these programs were in need of financial support and wider distribution.

For example, radio broadcasting, which was established in Gambia in 1965, sought to embrace local languages, music, and cultural programming. In Nigeria, the Broadcasting Corporation expanded to cover the whole country, and its educational and outreach programs were very popular.

The era of independence gave rise to many ideas of peace, freedom, justice, and social progress – lofty principles that were at the heart of the fight against colonialism. But, as it turned out, it was quite difficult to build postcolonial nations on a colonial foundation.

Ironically, after gaining independence, most African countries didn’t abandon the colonial laws that were originally adopted against anti-colonial activists, some of whom had by then become the leaders of the newly independent countries.

To this day, African media mostly uses the languages of its former colonizers, and through this, whether willingly or not, supports and ensures the cultural dominance of the West. The situation varies from country to country, but English, French, and Portuguese are still the most popular languages in Africa.

The 1990s and Western dominance

In the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, the mass media industry was liberalized, and this led to dramatic changes in society and to the collapse of public broadcasting in many countries.

Information globalization grew and new broadcasting models erased national borders. An asymmetric, one-sided flow of information and culture between the West and the Global South allowed Western countries to transmit their worldview and ideologies and establish dominance over the rest of the world.

A distinctive feature of the 1990s was the absence of African themes in African media. African news didn’t receive much coverage on radio and television, and people could analyze events in their own countries only through the lens of Western media. TV programs mainly consisted of cheap entertainment content promoting the Western lifestyle and values.

Over time, mainstream media, such as CNN, DW-Radio, Radio France International, BBC Africa, and Voice of America, created regional African divisions (for example, in Tanzania they broadcast content in the Swahili language), and concluded contracts with local media to distribute their own content or get air time.

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“Through the radio, television and the internet, varied information is accessed by Africans which changes their attitude and behavior, hence affecting their life system to fit into the neocolonial one,” Samson Peter Malekela, a scholar from Stella Maris Mtwara University College in Tanzania, told RT.

Neocolonialism today

We spoke to some researchers and asked them how they think neocolonialism manifests itself today. A renowned Africa scholar from India, professor Ajay Dubei from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, believes that the prevalence of channels in the languages of colonial countries is the first sign of neocolonialism. “Second is the problem of foreign-owned media – visual, print, or internet – targeted to specific countries with various content, debates, and a selective depiction of domestic issues, but all guided by neocolonial interests”, he says.

Zelalem Teferra, Associate Professor of Sociology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, believes that “neocolonialism as a contemporary form of domination has multiple faces and comes in a variety of forms.” “As such it is mediated by various media platforms including mainstream media TV, rаdio, print, and digital media platforms. Today, unconventional platforms like social media are also taking center stage in promoting the neocolonial agenda. Western media as a soft tool for promoting neocolonialism is by and large engaged in such activities,” he said.

Abdulaziz Dino, the head of the School of Journalism & Communication at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, believes that neocolonialism in the context of mass media “can be most visible through media financing and content”. He adds: “There are tendencies that state or private media companies would highly depend on foreign loans or support directly or indirectly. This directly or indirectly influences the way they do the media business, and mainly their content production. Thus, the mass media agenda preference and message framing in Africa could be controlled or influenced by the preferences of loan providers and donors.”

Yalew Kebede from Global Black Heritage, Ethiopia, concludes that a neocolonial strategy “is being implemented through carefully designed multimedia platforms.”

Will digital technologies help?

It seems that with the rise of the mobile internet and social media, the situation in Africa should improve. Social media indeed transforms the way people communicate and the content they share, and this influences Africa’s image by giving it the opportunity – perhaps for the first time in its history – to speak for itself on a global level.

However, Africa’s rising social media popularity has also drawn the attention of large corporations. For example, in 2007, the president of Reuters Media, Chris Ahearn, launched an African news portal and started actively using African social media networks. As a result, the number of African “journalists” and sources surged from 2,500 to 24 million.

However, African media experts wonder why Western media giants would create their own news websites about Africa if they can simply link to existing ones. For example, Pambazuka News was established in 2000 and unites the Pan-African community of over 1,200 people including academics, social activists, writers, and analysts. Pambazuka successfully withstands competition from Western media giants and has an audience of 500,000 people in Africa and among the African diaspora.

For global media corporations, using materials by African writers, journalists, or bloggers is a new kind of colonialism – media colonialism. The use of local content is a forced measure which media giants, including internet companies, resort to, since otherwise the size of their audience would decrease, and they would lose profits from advertising. Both Google and Microsoft promote such strategies.

The Big Tech policy in Africa

New technologies have not encouraged a fair cultural and information exchange, but have given rise to new forms of dependence and inequality. Today, ideas, opinions, and knowledge are all mainly shared through the internet. The internet is used to spread specific ideas or form a specific worldview, and preserve the power structures of the global world order. Communication platforms can never be free from ideological influence.


FILE PHOTO. A worker stands in front of a banner for Google Artificial Intelligence (AI) centre Ghana, during the presentation of the first AI centre in Africa on April 10, 2019 at the Marriott hotel in Accra. © CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP

Paul Gilroy, a British sociologist and advocate of the postcolonial theory, argues that the effects of colonialism are evident in mass media: the former colonies and their inhabitants are portrayed as weak, powerless, marginalized, and generally “different” – strange, exotic, or abnormal.

The policy of social media platforms largely depends on their owners, and the headquarters of these multinational online platforms are all located in the US. Connection is established through servers located in the US, Europe, or Bahrain (as we saw during the Arab Spring). This means that there is little difference between these new platforms and the ‘old’ media which was also based in the former metropoles (and whose company the US has now joined).

The Big Tech policy in Africa raises many questions. For example, according to several publications, Facebook cooperates with a NATO-affiliated think tank in order to control information and ensure the “right” outcome of elections.

Meta (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp) has been accused of fueling hatred and violence in Kenya and Ethiopia. In 2021, a corresponding lawsuit was filed by Ethiopian researchers Abraham Meareg and Fisseha Tekle, as well as the Kenyan human rights group Katiba Institute with the support of the non-profit organization Foxglove. Quite recently, the problem of hate speech on social media was again raised in Ethiopia.

In Somalia, networks of human traffickers grow in complexity as they use social media and travel agencies to recruit young and vulnerable victims. “Our young people all have Facebook on their phones and the pictures they see on there can only be described as paradise on earth,” Somaliland’s Immigration Commissioner, Mohamed Ali Yusuf says.

In Uganda, Facebook directly interfered in elections.

Meta blocks accounts that, according to Facebook management, influence elections in African countries, and looks for signs of “Russian influence” all over Africa.

Facebook’s blatant censorship outrages Africans who say that Facebook’s statement about alleged Russian propaganda is a lie directed against the entire African continent and accuse the French media of continuing the colonial policy. People are also concerned about Meta’s plans to lay an underwater cable along the coast of Africa that would encircle Africa and connect its main ports, but not the inland parts. This means that only Africa’s social elites, which already have close ties with the West, would be provided with internet service.

Neocolonial practices in the media

Neocolonialism and racial attitudes manifest themselves in different ways. For example, Facebook has launched an AI program that will make its content accessible in 55 African languages. However, activists noted the use of the term “low-resource” when describing African languages, which means that the number of publications in these languages is minimal. Such “low-resource” (according to Facebook) languages include the Yoruba language (spoken by about 55 million people), as well as the Igbo and Fula languages, spoken by about 30 million and 35 million people, respectively.



A natural question arises: either this is an example of traditional cultural imperialism, which by default considers African languages underdeveloped and unpopular, or else these groups were targeted by Meta for some other, yet unknown, reason.

As history has demonstrated, decolonization was merely a change in the methods of exploitation of the Afro-Asian world. In fact, colonization smoothly transitioned into globalization, and became one of the latter’s prerequisites.

Speaking to RT, Zelalem Teferra also noted neocolonial practices in the information field:

“First, it’s tacitly promoting cultural hegemony. It promotes dominant cultural narratives and values (a sugar coated poison as some express it) that reflect the interest and perspectives of the former colonial powers. The dominant global culture they promote in its turn obviously leads to marginalization or the erasure of indigenous cultures, languages, traditions, and ways of life, reinforcing a sense of inferiority in colonized societies.

“Secondly, economic domination. Mass media can serve as a conduit for promoting consumerism, capitalist values, and economic dependency on powerful nations or corporations. Neocolonial powers often use media platforms to shape consumption patterns, propagate Western products and lifestyles, and maintain economic control over the developing world.

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“Thirdly, mass media often serves as a tool for shaping public opinion, influencing elections, and controlling discourses in ways that benefit dominant interest. Biased reporting, propaganda, misinformation and disinformation can manipulate public perception and support policies that serve the interest of hegemonic and powerful states. Mass media can control the flow of information, shape narratives, and distort reality to maintain neocolonial power structures. Through censorship, selective reporting, and the dissemination of fake news and propaganda, media outlets can manipulate what people know, believe, and value.

“And, finally, development narratives. Mass media can perpetuate narratives of development, progress, and modernization that align with neocolonial agendas, by framing development initiatives, and programs, and international cooperation in ways that prioritize the interest of dominant powers, or global elites, media can perpetuate inequalities and power imbalances,” Teferra concludes.

To overcome the great cultural and informational pressure exerted by Western countries on the African population, the continent needs to promote media literacy, diversify media representation, and challenge dominant narratives. Particular attention should be given to educational programs, and even educational sovereignty.

Yalew Kebede notes that the decolonization of African mass media requires the formulation of an educational policy based on home-grown knowledge. Ajay Dubei adds that local language, local content, and debates of locally-trained experts should be promoted as well, and media ownership should go to local people. Samson Peter Malekela agrees that encouraging local content production and consumption will help, as well as creating awareness campaigns “on the impact of neocolonialism on the nation from the primary level to the higher levels.”

By Veronica Usacheva, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences; Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Science and Mass Communication, Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation