To further investigate narratives and how they affect UK-Africa relationships, we commissioned research with M&C Saatchi World Services in 2020. The research reviewed:
- the trajectory of UK-African relations from c.1500 to present;
- where we are today with regards to how young people from the UK and African countries perceive the other's home country/region; and
- opportunities to refine and advance these perceptions in the future
The approach adopted was deliberately innovative, boldly experimental, and iterative. The following methods were employed:
- A historical review of the narrative trajectories, cultural and socio-political themes dominating relations between the countries of Africa and the UK from 1500 to the present;
- An analysis and comparison of how young people in countries of Africa and the UK view each other, using images from popular culture. These images were gathered by narrative scouts and young people across the two regions; and
- Youth discussions with young people from countries of Africa and the UK.
Conversations with young people suggest a dualism with regards to how both the UK and African countries are perceived by the other. Both supporting positive and negative narratives.
From the perspective of young Africans:
The UK embodies a diverse range of positive values and is perceived as a world leader academically, economically, and in terms of football.
At the same time, there are widespread concerns about British racism and elitism and doubts about how accessible the UK is for all but the most wealthy and privileged young people.
These concerns are rooted in young Africans’ knowledge of the UK’s colonial past, reinforced by a diverse range of contemporary instances of British prejudice and discrimination, and reflected in sensitivity to signs of latent neo-colonialism in the UK’s dealings with African countries.
From the perspective of young people in the UK:
UK-African relations are framed through one of two lenses: exploitation and aid. The African continent as a whole is imagined according to two extremes: idealised or demonised.
Decades of images and stories in the news media and by charities highlighting themes including famine, drought, disease, inequality, and instability have contributed to a perception of African countries as impoverished, dangerous, and lagging behind the rest of the world.
Yet, romantic idealisations of Africa as a place of sublime landscapes, beautiful wildlife, ancient peoples, and exotic cultures also mean that, in the minds of young people in the UK, Africa also holds the promise of unique adventures and experiences.