L’Uomo Vogue releases its May 2012 issue dedicated to Africa titled Rebranding Africa, and lo and behold, the press release intro reads, “What does it mean?”
“It means that Africa is a Continent that has countless assets, unexpected possibilities and most of all is a young Continent with a strong desire to assert itself and give dignity to women and men in equal measure. A continent under construction that is constantly evolving and always trying to improve its life conditions. Africa needs to rebuild a new image, far removed from the one the media usually convey reporting on wars and famines that, although actually occurring, are not the only side to show,” the self-congratulatory release answers its own question in the next line.
And yet, somehow, we – those of us who dedicate every single issue to African spirit, strength and solidarity against all odds – are still left wondering… “What does this mean?”
Oh but there is more…
“L’Uomo Vogue decided to underline the positive side of this young continent from all points of view that is showing the willingness to succeed in fields such as the textile and the oil industry,from agriculture to the growing of cotton, coffee, cocoa, to tourism and cinema, as shown by Nollywood in Nigeria that produces 200 films every year. Education and health are the two main points the various governments are founding their battle on, building new schools, universities and well-equipped hospitals,” continues the release.
And this is news because?
“It’s a new representation of Africa – positive, creative and trusting its own assets: this is Africa evolving, that has already brought great changes,” the release continues.
And we are left wondering how this could be a “new representation of Africa” when issue after issue after issue publications such as FAB, New African Woman, Arise – as well as many of our online sisters and brothers – continue to tirelessly bring to you this so-called “new representation of Africa.” Therefore, faced with this statement, lost for words and any resemblance of eloquence I feel like saying, “New, my backside.”
Then they go on to list the contents… “a string of portraits of local personalities: Presidents, First Ladies, Queens, but also artists, singers, musicians, actors, fashion designers, writers, models, always portrayed in a positive, joyful way. They have all accepted to be featured in this issue because conveying a positive image of this Continent means bringing everyone’s attention on a world that so far has been “left out”, with the exception of a few African countries that have become a tourist destination.”
And this is where the knife is twisted in… It’s often these very same first ladies – or their PR pests – who will treat an editorial request in an African publication like some form of nuisance, dragging their feet, giving the long-suffering editors the run around, the same actors/actresses (God bless Rita Dominic and Ramsey Nouah who have gone above and beyond the call of courtesy to grace our covers and all those FAB talented others who make interviewing and photographing them a joy) who ask an African publication how much they are paying for an editorial which will “use their fame to sell the magazine” and the same designers who blissfully forget to send in their lookbooks, delay their answers to interviews and throw a strop when their work is not run in the pages. But when Vogue comes calling… Guess what happens? No drama, no demands, no disrespect – ‘cos really it is Vogue after all and for some, the holy grail of accomplishment as far as magazine features are concerned.
Believe it or not I have dealt with individuals in my time who expect an online feature on FAB as their birthright and shake it off as such when it is published and on the very same day make a song and dance about having their work showcased on Vogue Italia...
I am well aware of the sad truth that some publications are more equal than others, and presumably if I got my work published in The Guardian I would feel the need to make more noise about it than if it were published in the local paper. However, it is this shunning one’s own while screaming “How high?” to a foreign publication which remembers a continent or a race every half a decade with an “All Black” and “All African” issue that does not sit well with me. And let me not start on on the clamourers that go around hugging said publications to their chest as a badge of honour and recognition.
African publications – online and print – bring inspiring stories of talented, successful, fabulous Africans day in day out without a song and dance, then L’Uomo Vogue‘s Africa issue arrives on the scenes to cash in on Africa trending (as the press release acknowledges such: “at a time when more and more people, the fashion industry included, are looking to the continent as a fresh source of inspiration and innovation.”), and we are all on our feet, celebrating.
Fashionista contributor and founder of Africa Style Daily Zandile Blay is also quoted as “From fashion to film to politics, the continent is in the midst of a total makeover so Franca Sozzani and L’Uomo Vogue are right to document it.” Once again, at this point, lost for words, all I can say in response, is “Puuuhlease…”
I do appreciate Franca Sozzani’s efforts in putting Africa on the fashion map, but she does not need a pat on the back for what African publications are doing every single day instead waiting for a once in a blue moon special edition. So I ask you, before you rush to the newsagents and ensure that the Africa issue is sold out like its famous predecessor All Black issue (which inexplicably had only an eighth of the issue dedicated to black models despite its title), please put things into perspective.
Africa is way too rich and diverse to be limited to one issue; let us for a change encourage, support and cheer on those who document and celebrate it every day.