MAURITIUS—Africa needs to take control of its own narrative in order to build “Brand Africa” in the rest of the world, Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, told the African Public Relations Association meeting in Mauritius this morning, emphasizing the role of PR people in that process.

Mwencha suggested that while Africa has a positive story to tell—from the double-digit economic growth of recent years to increased stability, from the most youthful population on the planet to a fast-growing middle-class—many of the stories in western media focus on problems of poverty and instability, and on an economy that depends on the export of natural resources.

Similar problems exist in Asia, in Latin America, and in many parts of Europe and the US, Mwencha says. The reason that these challenges are the focus of so much Africa coverage is because “Africa’s story is so often told by non-Africans.”

Says Mwencha, “The coverage of Africa is driven by an agenda that is non-African, no matter how well-meaning that agenda might be. For that reason, the story often focuses on Africa blaming its woes on its colonial past, on asking other countries for help. That story reinforces stereotypes and does not tell the full story.

“The only way to tell the full story is to tell your own story…. We must take the initiative, and take charge of our own story, the African story” The role of public relations professionals in that process, he said, could not be overstated.

Speaking on a panel that followed Mwencha’s keynote, Robyn de Villiers, chairman of the Africa region for Burson-Marsteller, suggested that Africa needed to pay more attention to the way it talks about itself. “We tend to talk more about the challenges and less about the opportunities. We have to tell a story from a more positive point of view.”

Peter Mutie, president of APRA, pointed to the association’s own “Campaign Africa,” which is designed to focus on the continent’s brand.