Out of Africa: BBC goes on a sub-Saharan trip to counter the stereotypes

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The Independent Online

Africa has long been seen in the eyes of British television viewers as a continent blighted by famine, poverty and disease, or the backdrop to the adventures of white heroes.

Africa has long been seen in the eyes of British television viewers as a continent blighted by famine, poverty and disease, or the backdrop to the adventures of white heroes.

This summer, the BBC hopes to counter those stereotypes by devoting a week of programming on its main channel to show Africa in a more positive light. For the week in July regular BBC1 shows ranging from Question Time to Rolf on Art,as well as the news bulletins, will go to sub-Saharan Africa.

In yet another spin-off of its most successful entertainment format, the channel is also launching Strictly Come Dancing Africa, in which five celebrities of African origin learn a traditional dance.

Sir Bob Geldof is spearheading the project, timed to coincide with the year of the G8 conference, the Commission for Africa and the 20th anniversary of Live Aid. He will front a six-part series, Geldof In Africa, in which he travels from Ghana, Benin and Mali in the west, through the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda to Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somalia in the east.

The writer of Love, Actually, Richard Curtis, has written a one-off drama for the season. The Girl in the Café, starring Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald is the tale of a civil servant who takes a girl he has met in a café in Whitehall to the G8 summit.

Lorraine Heggessey, the outgoing controller of BBC1, said: "Africa has been portrayed as a place of hunger and death. The BBC will show there is more to Africa than war, poverty, famine and Aids. It's terrifically important to portray Africa in all its magnificence and optimism." She denied that the BBC was milking the Strictly Come Dancing format, saying: "This is a fantastic opportunity to display one of the things that happens to define Africa as a continent - dance. We have the ideal format in which to do that."

Hugh Quarshie, who plays Dr Ric Griffin in Holby City, is returning to his home country of Ghana to film a special episode. He said: "The image of Africa I've grown up with is one of an exotic landscape where white protagonists work out their psychodramas. So it seemed a timely twist to have a black character work out his psychodrama."

The actor Kwame Kwei-Armah, who has filmed a Songs of Praise in South Africa, agreed: "I had grown up with images of Tarzan swinging through the jungle. The image of Africa was so different - to see craftsmen at work, to see the history, the literature - I was taken aback."

Other programmes in BBC1's Africa week include Worlds Apart, in which a family of five gives up Western comforts to live with the Himba tribe in northern Namibia. The final edition of the garden show Ground Force will see Charlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh team up with the Eden Project to create a garden of African plants in the forecourt of the British Museum.

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