Africa News blog

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At last: a positive look at Africa on U.S. TV

March 30, 2009

American television audiences were treated on Sunday night for the first time to the show “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”, which is based on the best-selling series of novels set in Botswana by Alexander McCall Smith.

The series, being aired in the United States by HBO, has already been broadcast by the BBC in Britain. Like the novels, it follows the light-hearted adventures of Precious Ramotswe as she seeks to solve mysteries with her keen intuition and big heart.

My colleague Rebekah Kebede did an advance story on the U.S. premier which you can read here.

I have read most of the novels, and the TV premier seems to stick to the spirit of the books. African problems, such as AIDS or the use of body parts from kidnapped children to make traditional medicine, or “muti,” are not swept under the carpet. But many of the tales woven by McCall Smith are uplifting or deal with profound ethical dilemmas that his intrepid lady detective always resolves.

And it takes place in Botswana, a sparsely-populated land of great beauty and spectacular wilderness — I’ve seen elephant herds crossing the highway there — long regarded as a beacon of good governance and democracy in Africa.

It provides a pleasant change from the entertainment industry’s often negative portrayal of Africa. For example, the current season of the Fox thriller “24″ features terrorists from a genocidal African state taking over the White House and threatening the U.S. president.

Recent movies set in Africa, including “Blood Diamond” and “Hotel Rwanda,” also have dwelled on the sadder parts of the continent’s history.

Botswana, whose economy relies heavily on extensive diamond deposits, no doubt hopes to get a tourism boost from the series’ run in America. A global economic slowdown has slashed demand for diamonds, leading to output cuts in Botswana, the world’s biggest producer of the precious stones, and shrinking government revenues.

What do you think? Is it high time that Africa was shown in a better light? Or do “sunny” treatments of the continent need to be balanced with depictions of its grimmer realities?

(Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein, courtesy of HBO)


It is in the interest of the world cultural wealth that evey people way of life is preserved and regarded rightly. I am overwhelmed that the movie has been gained international exposure. I believe that service sector, which none existent in Africa will be soon explored and commercialised worldwide in the effort to diversify its economy that is heavily dependent on natural resources.


The title of this article was great. I watched the show and was pleased. A show about Africa that makes you smile is rare. Thanks for the article!


McCall Smiths Botswana is a positive place. The real Botswan is just as positive. Best to see for yourself.

Posted by Ragtime | Report as abusive

The article next to this one is about foreign mining companies cheating on their taxes in Africa! Unfortunately good governance in african countries is lacking so these companies get away with it. Loved the books and have found living in Africa my whole life a wonderful experience most people I know are caring- Ubuntu is our word for this.

Posted by chantal | Report as abusive

I may subscribe to HBO just for this show. I have heard much about the books from my girlfriend who is in a book club that has read the entire series. As for the image of Africa in US media, I seek out my own first hand sources of information and understanding as often as possible using the power of the internet to balance a non-African institutional or media interpretation of the world. Having attended Morehouse College with many students from the African continent and Caribbean I know first hand there is a very different world than what we have been told.

Posted by alphonso whitfield | Report as abusive

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