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Image To counter the negative images of Africans, Philippe Sibelly has created a new photographic exhibition designed to show the normal face of Africa.


Philippe Sibelly is the creator of The Other Africa, a photographic project aiming at fighting the "deficit of image" suffered by the continent. The first African exhibition of the work in development started in Accra in March and Sibelly has been invited by the African Union to exhibit during their next summit in Malabo.

In this article, Philippe shares his story and explains what inspired him to start this project.

Afro-Pessimism Hiding the Good News

“Troops in Mauritania oust the government”, “Guinea turmoil threatens lucrative mining deal”, “Dumped computers cause toxic concerns in Ghana”, “ANC supporters warn of blood in the streets”, “The Niger Delta: The curse of the black gold”… another normal day in Africa, viewed from the Western Media. Africa suffers from a ‘deficit of image’: where Africans see the West mostly through Hollywood movies and we, in the West, only hear about Africa through depressing media headlines.

Image There is no denying that Africa faces many issues, but all the positives coming from the Continent are never reported on. This Afro-pessimism hides many encouraging news stories. African economies grow at rates far higher than in the West, boosted by high commodity prices. Many countries (France and the UK, the two main former colonial powers, the United States, but more importantly India and China) have a renewed interest in these lands.

In 2004, some Senegalese friends visiting the UK asked me why there was so much negativity and pessimism about Africa in the local media. As I grew up with this negativity I have always taken it for granted. I never questioned it: Africa simply is a dangerous place where you are not really supposed to go. It is always at war and its people die of famine or diseases. People even organised mega concerts to help the continent, singing “give them a chance”!

My Senegalese friends (definitely not malnourished) insisted I visit them in Dakar and my vision of Africa has been changed forever since. I discovered Africans living in a very similar way as mine: getting up early in the morning, defying rush hour traffic on their way to work and planning their weekend over dinner with their family.

My Senegalese friends (definitely not malnourished) insisted I visit them in Dakar and my vision of Africa has been changed forever since.


Having had the chance to travel to many other African countries after that, I realised they were not alone; they were not exceptional. All across the continent, African professionals live very similar lives to the Western middle classes. I decided to document this emerging African middle class and other aspects of this African 'normality' as the story of Africa I learnt from the Western media was not complete.

The Other Africa

Image There is no denying the continent faces many issues but none of the positives are ever reported. The continent suffers from a deficit of image: we see Africa through depressing news headlines, Africa sees the West through Hollywood productions (neither being an accurate reflection of the truth).

Not only does this misrepresentation restrain people from investing in Africa but it also encourages young African talent to leave the continent in search of the Western dream, often turning into a nightmare.

The West has been treating Africa in a post-colonial manner for the past 50 years, never really coming to terms with the fact Africa was independent. The former colonial powers (mostly France and the UK) have also used the most hypocritical of approaches, officially refusing to deal with newly independent countries where human rights were not respected but, at the same time, being involved in various murky deals over mining, oil or arms. The Aid 'trade' has also been a way for the West to keep Africa 'dependent'.

Not only does this misrepresentation restrain people from investing in Africa but it also encourages young African talent to leave the continent in search of the Western dream.


The Other Africa is a photographic project aiming at giving a new vision of the continent. The project is articulated around three main themes: portraits of African workers from the emerging middle class, cityscapes at night, and portraits of radio DJs.

My ultimate aim is to visit all 54 countries in Africa (including Somaliland), in order to create an exhaustive body of work following these three themes and to produce a photographic exhibition of 54 images.

I developed this project alone, with help from various sponsors and partners. The images are at the frontier between documentary and art photography and resolutely modern. The work evolves with each trip to Africa and as new photos from more countries are added to the document.

I have so far photographed in seven African countries: Algeria, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Senegal, Cameroon, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. I am planning to visit Ghana, Togo, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia in 2011.

This project is visual and conceptual and its aim is to balance out the deficit of image suffered by Africa. I spend a long time researching and creating contacts before each trip to be able to photograph as quickly as possible once in Africa. 'Middle class' is a generic term quite difficult to define precisely but I take great care in choosing my models as I have to identify Africans enjoying lifestyles close to the ones of the European middle class i.e. work, family, holidays, etc.

A Different Image of Africa

Image Today others are turning to Africa. India and China are investing heavily in the continent in return for much needed commodities. These huge investments in infrastructure will, in turn, help the middle class to grow: better roads, better health, better education, better productivity.

The West only knows African extremes: wars, diseases and famine or the obscene wealth of a few. The Other Africa wants to concentrate on an African average (the middle class translates in French as the average class). All these changes will take time... generations; but the time has already come to promote this ‘other’ Africa.

The first African exhibition of the work in development will start on March 11 at the Alliance Française d'Accra with images of the first seven countries visited: Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Gabon and Cameroon.

I am hoping to see the exhibition tour in as many African countries as possible after that.

Philippe Sibelly was born in Marseille, France and moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1991 in search of adventure. After seven years, he moved to Dublin, Ireland in 1988, making the entire journey overland. In Ireland he completed a degree in photography at DLIADT (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Arts, Design and Technology). In 2004 I moved to London where I completed a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) in Art and design to become a secondary art teacher. He has photographed in over 60 countries and now lives in South London with my Irish partner and two children. Visit the project's website (www.theotherafrica.eu) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/theotherafrica) for updates.
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