Mega City: Challenging The Stereotypes

By By Bayo Olupohunda   |   01 May 2010   |   10:00 pm  

LAGOS has recently become the focus of a frenzied and negative and stereotypical blitz by the international media and foreigners, who continue to rubbish the dream of the Nigeria prime commercial centre turning to a mega city.

Not that Lagos has attracted any positive media attention in the past few years but global interest in this city of 18 million inhabitants has assumed new heights given its importance in the global mega city discourse.

The unending image battering of Lagos reached a worrisome point with the release of a rating in February by an international body, which classified itthe fifth worst place to live on earth. And last week, a controversial three-part documentary commissioned by the BBC in April also projected an ugly image of Lagos.

For the international media and especially the BBC, it seems the unwritten policy when reporting Lagos is; if it’s not bad news, then it’s not worth reporting.

But how can a city, which in the early and late 1980s was a tourist haven, come to assume such a damaging perception? What factors are responsible for the growing negative image of this city, which has warranted the issuance of travel warnings by several countries in spite of the remarkable development that has taken place in the last 10 years in tems of infrastructure and amenities? Why have current transformations in the city not rubbed off on visitors’ perception? Is Lagos dangerous than Johannesburg, where an average of 50 deaths occur every day through violent crimes?

How can the state government stem the tide of negative perception of the city given the adverse effect these portrayals have on direct foreign investment and tourism in the state?

On a visit to a European country recently, I was confronted with bizarre and extremely ridiculous questions about Lagos. Really this city is thought of as the pit of hell by ill-informed Westerners who have not ventured out of their places of birth and depend on news from a biased international media.

BBC and the Slums of Europe

That the BBC ignored some of the worst slums of Europe, where minority populations live below poverty line and are not integrated into mainstream society, only to travel thousands of kilometers to film a documentary about the lives of slum dwellers in Lagos conveniently fits into the stereotypes that have long existed when reporting the Third World by the international media. The approach has always been: what nasty news can we scoop out of Lagos this time?

That the BBC commissioned and funded a documentary about Lagos while ignoring some of the worst living conditions of slum dwellers and the increasing incident of violent crimes and xenophobia in Europe reinforces the belief that negative stories about Lagos is a hot sell any day in Europe.

Slum settlements exist in some parts of Western and Eastern Europe and people live in worse conditions in those slums.

For example, I was shocked to see that Lisbon, the European capital of Portugal, is home to some of the worst slums in Europe.

A massive slum, exist in the capital city of that European country that will amaze any visitor that such depressive living condition could exist in the Western world, a phenomenon usually associated with Third World countries. Yet the pictures we see are the glitz and glamour of Lisbon. Reporting that seedy part of town populated by Portugal’s minority population is a taboo in the Western media. Western Europe is one of the wealthiest regions in the world – and it is hard to find slums there. But in Portugal, is the poverty-stricken area of Cova da Moura, which sits on the edge of Lisbon, people live desperate and destitute lives.

Since the 1970s, the area has become home to thousands of people. Another of such slums in Portugal is Santa Philomena, which is the most striking example of such neighborhoods. Drug trafficking, poor conditions of living make it a ghetto and the government wants to resettle the inhabitants so they can demolish it.

In Paris is the slum in the woods of Vincennes, where people live in sheds, huts or tents; and new shantytown in a chic green island in Paris.

The slum dwellers are lost, excluded and at odds with society. These French men, veterans of roomy houses and squats have chosen the forest and not the streets. Most live alone in tents or makeshift shelters, the vegetation hiding them from the passersby on the footpaths nearby. Candles are used for lighting and firewood for cooking. The slum of Vincennes is a rustic existence at the gates of the nations’ capital.

There are also the slums of Serenissima in Padova, Italy; Sivinia in Slovakia; and others in Mexico. But the Dharavi slums in India and those of Portugal are some of the worst known in Europe and other parts of the world.

My point here is that slums are a common place in cities around the world. But what makes a difference is the effort of governments in those cities to alleviate the conditions that lead to slum proliferation. That the BBC commissioned a documentary on the slums of Lagos several kilometers from the UK seems to reinforce the fact the international news network is feeding and reinforcing the stereotype.

LAGOS: From Tourism Destination To Travel Warnings

Lagos has not always been the butts of crude jokes from the international media. If anything, this Atlantic city of 18 million people was in the years past a tourist haven with a large number of Western tourists and foreign visitors that were attracted to the beautiful beaches and the serenity of the lagoon. They so much loived the city that the Europeans created Ikoyi along the banks of the lagoon. Tarkwa Bay, off the coast of Victoria Island in the time past, brimmed with visitors from all parts of Europe; while Badagry was a must visit for African-American visitors and others who are nostalgic about the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

But those attractions are long gone and in the last two decades, a combination of bizarre political and social events have made Lagos the subject of several travel warnings, which governments across the world issue to their citizens.

What went wrong?

Due to economic deprivations, which manifested in massive unemployment, some youths in the city took up cyber crime in which they send scam mails to dupe unsuspecting but gullible foreign victims. Lagos soon assume the infamous tag as the capital of advanced fee fraud known as 419.

A spate of violent robberies, assassinations, population explosions in the face of decayed infrastructures soon cemented Lagos in the global hall of infamy with the international media latching on the stereotypes. But the truth is that Lagos has also been the “fall guy” because it is synonymous with the bad image of the country in general.

Breaking Mega City Stereotype

Every city has its stereotypes, and Lagos is no exception. But it is a fact that what is projected as the ‘image’ of a city, can be more important than the reality of the city itself, in shaping visitors’, investors’, and even its own inhabitants’ opinion of it.

Marketing techniques are often used to help project a city’s transformation into a post-industrial centre of tourism, culture and redevelopment. In addition, urban tourism is playing an increasingly important role in deciding economic development strategies by the local governance authorities.

In the current framework of the globalised economy, competition for attracting tourists is even greater. On this matter, the role of city marketing is crucial. Today it has become a necessity with regard to the processes of global competition of cities, tourist attraction, urban management, city branding and urban governance. For example, many European cities support their competitiveness through cultural and tourism development. In addition, the majority of the implemented city marketing policies relate to culture and tourism. A combination of all these factors will help project Lagos positively.

The government in Lagos should take the concept of city branding as a tool to re shaping the image of the city globally. In re-shaping the future of the city, little details matter. For example, it is very difficult to get information about this city on the internet. At the nation’s international airport, there is no Tourist information Centre or City information centre, where visitors can make enquiries about the city and get printed information such as city map and information brochure for a first time visitor. Tourists’ information centers in places such as the air, land, sea borders of the city with friendly customer service officers will change the image of the city.

More also need to be done to promote the tourism potentials of the city through festivals, international seminars and organizing international expo that will showcase the city’s investment and tourism potentials to international audience. A renewed effort to improve on infrastructural base of the city through constant power supply is also critical to the perception of Lagos in the eyes of visitors. The government has done a lot in the last 10 years to improve the city but these efforts must be intensified.

Documentary about Lagos should be commissioned to counter these negative perceptions and as is done in most cities in the world. Publications about the city will also help in debunking stereotypes. Stereotypes die hard and so it may be difficult to end the negative perception of Lagos but this city can reclaim its glorious years through a sustained city branding and marketing strategies. But the greatest and most effective strategy is a renewed commitment by the state government in its drive to transform the state.



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