Bharti Airtel, MTV Africa and Corporate Social Irresponsibility


Zain (now Bharti Airtel) and MTV Networks Africa, are the perpetrators of a bizarre crime against the collective African identity.

‘Giving Africa a Voice’ is the slogan of the MTV Africa Music Awards, sponsored by Bharti Airtel. The Awards are MTV’s signature continent-specific annual music awards event, which is held annually in celebration of musical achievement around the world.

The MTV platform is recognised globally, and Africa was proud in 2008, when the first ever MAMA was held in Abuja, Nigeria. Zain has been the official sponsor since then, and still remains the official sponsor as Bharti Airtel.

The establishment of the MAMA’s is a great opportunity for the achievement of African musicians to be celebrated on a global stage, and a number of artists including Kenya’s Nameless and Nigeria’s M.I., have won the coveted award in different categories.

Patronising slogan

Fantastic as the opportunity created by the MAMA’s is for African music, the claim they are making through the slogan is absurd and a slap on the face of an entire continent. How can a platform established in 2008 claim to have given ‘voice’ to a continent which over the centuries has been distinctly heard through great men and women who have been her voice within her borders and beyond?

Mariam Makeba, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Daddy Showkey, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and even the great Nelson Mandela, are all celebrated African voices. Not to mention those I have never heard about who have been voices for Africa in their respective life endeavours. Were all these people given their voices by the MAMA’s?

An individual’s ‘voice’ goes beyond the audible expression we hear in music, poetry or in everyday communication. Your ‘voice’ is who you are. It is that unique expression of your passion, your beliefs and your values. It is what distinguishes you from everybody else. It is also possible to have a collective voice as a nation, institution or a family. Corporate bodies have voices. Bharti Airtel has a voice, and so does MTV.

It is worthy of note that the MTV Awards platforms, in other continents of the world do not have such a claim attached to them. Why can they get away with this open deception and patronising statement, only here in Africa?

Negative impact on youth

As a volunteer teacher in a public secondary school in Lagos, I was blessed to be acquainted with the most delightful set of children I have ever known. I taught Literature to students in SS1-SS3, aged 14-17.

However, it was also a very challenging experience in terms of getting them to find and express their own opinions and ideas about themselves, their environment and the world at large. You might ask why that was so difficult for these kids, and I’ll tell you: they have been made to believe they have no ‘voice’.

The ‘Giving Africa a Voice’ slogan of the MAMA ignites the coal of identity dysfunction present among African youth. The endorsement of such an absurd statement by a trusted telecommunications brand, is one of those ‘only in Nigeria’ occurrences.

Zain/Bharti Airtel primarily targets the youth with their products. One of the claims Zain makes in its Corporate Social Responsibility Mission Statement, is ‘to produce a positive impact on society and our stakeholders, now and in the future.’ Everyone knows that the youth are the prime stakeholders for the future of every nation, so by endorsing the MAMA slogan, Zain/Bharti Airtel has failed tragically in her CSR Mission.

Little white lie

On August 17, 2010, I published an article on my Blog, TARIERE, titled ‘MTV Africa Music Awards: the Little White Lie’ which raised the alarm on the lie being propagated by these corporate giants. My readers were enlightened, and reacted with the expected angst and disappointment at the level of corporate irresponsibility.

I went further to write an online petition asking MTV Networks Africa and Zain to change the slogan and take responsibility for the damage caused to the psyche of African youth, by creating new content which will bring a re-orientation to the minds of their young audience.

The petition currently bears the signatures of young Africans at home and in the Diaspora, and more are still supporting the cause by signing. On September 2, we sent letters to key officers within Zain/Bharti Airtel and MTV Networks Africa, explaining the implication of the slogan on society and politely asking them to do the right thing by changing it. We also informed them about the petition. We have received no response to our letter till this day, even though we have acknowledgement of receipt.

Therefore, we have brought this case to the court of public opinion, raising our voices against the injustices being perpetrated by these powerful giants who claim to have given us the ‘voices’ in the first place.

Thus I come to you, asking you to consider this matter in your wisdom and fairness. Please pass your fair judgment. Raise your voice in deciding this matter and let your opinion about it be heard.

All we ask is this one thing: Bharti Airtel and MTV Networks Africa please do the right thing: Change the Slogan. It is your Corporate Social Responsibility.

Tari Ekiyor writes from Lagos

Source: Next