The Ugly Truth Behind BET’s African Award Ceremony

The mood was celebratory and spirits were high as Janet Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Sam Smith scooped up some of the most prestigious prizes at this year’s BET award ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday. But one crucial aspect seemed to be missing at the ceremony: where were all the African artists?

For years now BET have hosted its African award ceremony ahead of the main event in front of empty halls. To almost anyone this would seem downright discriminatory and even offensive, but to BET International Acts Adjudicator and Ghanaian broadcaster Kwasi Kyie Darkwah (KKD), this is completely normal.

“BET is a huge American brand so their audience is Americans or people living in America,” KKD told in 2014. “They have a responsibility to their audience, to generate income, pay taxes to the government…and to be competitive in their market.”

Ghanaian broadcaster KKD, who was recently suspected, but found not guilty of rape.

Ghanaian broadcaster KKD, who was recently suspected, but found not guilty of raping a 19-year-old student.

KKD went on to state that, despite receiving awards at a separate ceremony, African artists still benefit from the BET awards.

“BET may create opportunities for Africans by giving us nominations or awards, recognize us for our culture or learn from them, but they do not see us as superior over theirs,” he said, claiming that African artists should not expect the same praise as British or American artists.

“We see artists in U.K. or America as bigger than our own, so the point, in as much as we don’t see the greatness in our own; we shouldn’t expect other to see them as such.”

Ghanian Afropop artist Stonebwoy who was awarded this year's International Act: Africa BET award.

Ghanian Afropop artist Stonebwoy was awarded this year’s International Act: Africa BET award.

But why is it that western acts should naturally be considered better and more deserving of recognition? Doesn’t KKD’s assertion reflect a neo-colonialist view of the world; in which African artists should simply be happy to be invited to these great western gatherings that are really only meant to celebrate western artists?

“I’ve raised concerns on this issue before at BET’s jury meeting many times. I hope the status quo may change someday,” is KKD’s response.

Sorry, KKD, but even if you claim to occasionally address “concerns on this issue,” we here at KenyanVibe are of the opinion that assuming western superiority can impossibly be a progressive way of countering the status quo.

Originally from Sweden, Chris is a journalist with an extensive interest for African culture and the arts.