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Watching Africa from the inside

New cable channels offer view of diverse continent through Africans’ eyes.

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Mention “Africa” and you’re apt to trigger a litany of associations: poverty, war, starvation, AIDS – maybe a tousled but still lovely Angelina Jolie. Western views of Africa are shaped by a tight range of media images, whether nature documentary, breaking news, or quick-cut coverage of celebrity good deeds.

Now, one cable television station wants to fundamentally reshape those perceptions. The Africa Channel, which debuted on the Time Warner Cable Network in Los Angeles in July and became available in New York last week, aggregates a broad range of English-language TV shows from across Africa and packages them for American audiences. The channel’s varied mix of soap operas, reality television, documentaries, feature films, news, music videos, and talk shows certainly doesn’t shy away from Africa’s many troubles. But it also presents a more nuanced understanding of everyday life in Africa’s 53 countries by allowing Africans to tell their own stories. Overall, the channel aims to shine a light on the “dark continent.”

“What we’re trying to do here is showcase Africa as not just a basket case, but a place of hope, [and] also an incredible opportunity,” says James Makawa, the channel’s cofounder, gesticulating passionately. “The deeper mission here is not just about entertaining people – which is very important – but informing people.”

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