Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is Africa Depicted Negatively In The Foreign Press?

To the West an African Pornography: Starving girl trying to get to feeding center,in Sudan famine, 1993. Photo by Kevin Carter who committed suicide not long after receiving a Pulitzer for the photo. No one knows if the girl lived. 

Though depicted negatively by foreign media, Africa is not the first continent in the world to suffer. China is awakening giant even after the military aggressiveness of Japan on its population.

Japan itself picked up after the devastating effect of atomic bomb in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Aborigines of Australia were executed and discriminated upon. The Nazi German’s treatment of Non-Aryans (not only Jews) is amongst the most horrific historical event and culminated to WWII.

The mighty USA has its own bag of mysteries. The northern states fought relentlessly with southern conservatives to abolish slave trade. The African-Americans suffered discrimination akin to apartheid with the FBI campaigning to drive The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jnr to suicide. Biological weapons were used to exterminate Red Indians from the Colorado gold rash.

The bottom line is that blood has to be split for nation building. It is a catharsis. The land is turned red mud with blood. The mud then binds the nation together in a common cause like independence, peace (formation of Southern Sudan) and industrial revolution.

War is an opiate to a solution or a break up like former Yugoslavia.

Always the foreign journalists may depict Africa negatively. Their audience and editorial policy may dictate. But at times it borders in sheer ignorance. A bleak nth Africa for the Western world.

Two cases exemplify, firstly Ori Brafman the New York Times intelligence columnist wrote of Al Qaeda job opportunities in African slums. Brafman gave example of Kenyan Mathare and Kibera slums (biggest in Africa after Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa).

“The poverty in those slums-no running water, no electricity, sewerage flowing- is difficult to describe. As a small group of us walked down the street, our guide pointed to some men in an alley ‘See, over there?’ he said almost nonchalantly, ‘that’s is al Qaeda’’ Roots of Extremism (Sunday Nation, March 22nd 2009)

This is far sited; there are organised crimes in Kibera, like in all ghettos similar to Harlem, but the idea of an Al-Qaeda cell nauseate!

I’m a Kenyan, there is Al-Qaeda encroachment in Northern coast at Lamu and around Somali border, but a cell in the capital city in farfetched.

The second case standing out like a sore thumb is Washington Post former Nairobi bureau chief Blaine Harden’s Africa: Dispatches from a fragile continent, (Harper Collins Publishers, 1990)

The book raises the thorny issue on how Africa and Africans are portrayed in the western media. The title dispatches from a fragile continent espouses the idea. The author ‘weeps’ for Africa not out of pity but due to lack of understanding.

Blaine Hardens quips in introduction that people in his home town, Moses Lake in Washington DC die properly. When old or in a car wreck but not by famine, leprosy and cholera like Africa.

While meeting together with other journalists in Addis Ababa at the ‘first world famine watcher’ harden writes: “(we) dined together over discussions of the advisability of repeated shampoos to get germs out of our hair….we warned each other to be careful: keep your fingers away from your mouth while in the camps. The children who want to touch you do not use toilet paper. Their little cute hands carry all kind of disease.”

I wasn’t smiling while reading the lines.

The negative coverage is echoed too by Dr. Kofi Annan, Ms Graca Michel and Mr., Michel Camdessus, members of Africa Progress Panel.

“The remarkable progress that Africa has made in the past decade is not widely recognized. Across the continent, there are numerous success stories. We have seen the spread of free and fair elections, a rise in school enrolment rates, and determined effort to combat malaria…..recently, the Africa Progress Panel, on which we sit, launched its 2009 state of Africa report in Cape Town. We recognize that the root of development crises always begin outside Africa” (

The forth estate illusions

Intellectually how western media cover African news boils down to the fourth estate issue. For the state’s affairs to run smoothly both estates must work with one goal.

The four estates including the media are executive, judiciary and legislature.

In reporting the fourth estate always places the states interest first.

UK Times Martin Meredith in The State of Africa: A history of fifty years of Independence. (Free Press, London. 2006) writes of the ism-schism of capitalism and communism. The elephants- USA and USSR- descended on the African grass for the struggle of world supremacy.

The cold war, Otiose to Africa, was triggered by emergence of sovereign states which could topple the scales at world scene.

At its peak in ‘60s US supported Mobutu Sese Seko to plunder Zaire and aided in usurping Liberia’s resources. American firestone controlling rubber plantations helped prop semi-illiterate Samwel Doe. Liberia and Zaire become the largest information centers for CIA spy information. VOA turned the other way since it was broadcasting from Liberia to Africa without paying a dime!

On the other hand Russia, in association with Cuba, propped Major Mengistu Haile Mariam red terror in Ethiopia and thwarted west influence in Angola against rebel leader Jonas Savimbi in a blood bath.

In his book Blaine Harden gets abrasive at the United States involvement in Zairian crises. The blame is placed on Mobutu Sese Seko. President Eisenhower regarded Patrice Lumumba; Mobutu’s rival a mad dog and personally ordered his assassination. Mobutu answered directly to CIA Kinshasa chief Lawrence Devlin while being on the CIA payroll even when he was the president!

On 20th August 1965 President Eisenhower gave orders to CIA to use

$100,000 to eliminate Lumumba so as to avoid ‘another Cuba.’ Mobutu was thus propped even though Zaire was collapsing. Within 23 years Mobutu’s regime received $860 million aid for the CIA to operate base in Zaire and supply UNITA guerrillas under a one Jonas Savimbi in fighting Marxist forces in Angola.

To digress, the US at this age still hold on the Cuban embargo when they could finance Mobutu, don’t you feel the irony?

The two authors, Meredith and Harden, give insight on the state affair stance when they tackle Sudan civil war.

Meredith treats Sudan with velvet gloves; he argues the war started after the introduction of sharia laws.

This is far from Blaine Harden, placing the problem on British rule. Harden, an American, writes that by the failure to effectively colonize the Muslim North the Britons segregated the Christian South.

The segregation brought two distinct cultures. At independence the ‘suit’ wearing Christian South considered the northern Muslims with suspicion. The Arabs had sold them as slaves.

The passing of sharia laws just exploded a simmering volcano and turned the fissures into a mountain of a problem.

With otiose cultural misgivings Anglo-phone and Franco-phone flex their muscles to neo-colonize their former colonies with devastating effects. French propped and turned against Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic because he was a French soldier during the WWII.

In a bid to suppress the spread of Anglo-phone influence in central Africa, French propped and maintained a genocide regime in Rwanda against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus. The effect was the 1994 Rwandan genocide which spread towards DRC and Northern Uganda causing the fall of two ‘Anglo-phone’ leaders, viz. Mobutu Sese Seko and Milton Obote.

BBC and UK press inclusive of Meredith’s book relished in the coverage of above stories! My gripe with The State of Africa: A history of fifty years of Independence is casting of French as villains in expense of the Britons.

The BBC hardliner stance on Zimbabwe is a state gimmick against the retaking of white farms by the government.

May I not be misunderstood. The foreign press should not be wholesomely criticized for writing negatively on Africa. Impact of a story is what makes news. The foreign media in Africa is always free from influence and threat in news reporting.

This has helped Africans to get news above partisan reporting.

When the Kenyan government during the 2007-08 election crises banned live broadcast, Kenyans got the news from CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and Sky News.

The tribal tension forced people at home, including me, to shun all radio stations and newspapers and gather for the evening Swahili BBC broadcast!

That is why foreign journalists are always banned from some countries. BBC’s John Simpson rubbed Zimbabwe’s government the wrong way by his reports. He was forced during the tension between Robert Mugabe and Morgan to report from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Blain Haden was almost thrown out of Kenya for accurate reporting when the government’s crackdown on the media was rife. Kenyan media houses were forced to self regulate to skirt around the government’s shears.


  1. a sleeper cell in Nairobi is not a farfethced idea Manu, though the location is.
    One of the agendas of a sleeper cell is to lure gullible and disadvantaged persons who might be in dire poverty with the promises of sweet lives before the actual day of reckoning comes. the persons might be from the slums but the sleeper cell may not necessarily be from the slums.

  2. Dear Anonymous (Nov 8)

    Sure i agree if you consider the post was published long before Al-Shabaab treat became real.

    With risk of recruiting of youths it's real.