Western reporting on Africa is often fraught with factual errors, incomplete analysis, and stereotyping. However, these problems are tolerated and, in some cases, celebrated.
We African are sometimes desperate to see more coverage of stories from our beautiful continent. Yet when we get that coverage, it tends to make us cringe.The only coverage we get is based primarily on the negatives:War,famine,floods,diseases,illegal immigrants & nothing to showcase the other side of our beauty,diversity,heritage & culture.They remain keen to taint the continent on the rise as a dark continent.
Take, for instance, the violence in northern Mali. The situation is by far the worst unfolding humanitarian crisis in the world today, but compared with say, Syria or Afghanistan, you probably haven’t heard much about it.
Or consider the flurry of coverage of Central Africa that followed March’s Kony 2012 phenomenon. First of all, it is frustrating that it takes a viral internet video or the involvement of Hollywood celebrities to bring attention to the depredations of groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Even worse, many Africa correspondents file stories that fall prey to pernicious stereotypes and tropes that dehumanise Africans. Mainstream news outlets frequently run stories under headlines like ‘Land of Mangoes and Joseph Kony’, seemingly without thinking how condescending and racist such framing sounds.
To Africa-watchers, there is a clear double standard for journalistic quality, integrity, and ethics when it comes to reporting on the continent. Why is there so much bad reporting on Africa? Part of the problem has to do with the limited number of journalists assigned to cover the continent.
Many major western media outlets assign one correspondent for the entire continent — more than 11 million square miles. He or she will be based in Johannesburg or Nairobi, but be expected to parachute into Niger, Somalia, or wherever the next crisis is unfolding, on a moment’s notice.
Lack of correspondents
This is insane. Africa is a continent of 54 distinct states, all with multiple languages and ethnic groups and unique political dynamics. Nowhere else in the world would one person be expected to report on so many complicated situations.
Twenty years ago, most major western media outlets also only had one to three Africa correspondents. Very little has changed. There is an easy solution to this problem: Hire local reporters. Rather than relegating them to second-tier or co-author status, why not hire Africans as country or regional correspondents?
A reporter does not have to be Caucasian to provide objective and well-written reporting from the continent, and in many cases, this reporting is more nuanced than that of an international correspondent who spends five days reporting a story. Hiring local reporters also addresses the problem of language barriers, another key reason so much reporting on Africa is so bad.
This is evident in the Anglophone-Francophone divide: Coverage of the Mali crisis by outlets such as Agence France-Presse and France 24 has been considerably better than that of much of the English-language media. They had the best information from the battlefront and were able to interview non-Anglophone Malians with ease.
The problem is not simply that reporters cannot be expected to speak all of Africa’s 3,000-plus languages; it is that foreign correspondents tend to rely on the same small group of fixers to arrange interviews, interpret, and manage logistics. Yet fixers tend to take reporters to talk to the same subjects, over and over and over again.
As Karen Rothmyer noted in a Columbia Journalism Review article, many reporters working on Africa rely “heavily, and uncritically, on aid organisations for statistics, subjects, stories, and sources”. It is thus no wonder that much reporting on Africa is so heavily focused on crises and that many pieces read like little more than NGO promotional materials.
Another major issue is the lack of journalistic ethics employed by some reporters working in Africa. Standards for the depiction and identification of victims of conflict, rape and child abuse are frequently handled very differently from how they would be were the victims American or European.
It is very common to see pictures of starving children or rape victims in the pages of western newspapers. The most egregious example was Nicholas Kristof’s 2010 identification of a 9-year-old Congolese girl who had been gang-raped.
The New York Times printed the girl’s real name along with a facial photograph and even a video of her online. After a firestorm of controversy, Kristof blogged a response in which he promised not to do it again.
It is hard to imagine a situation in which any editor would have let such a ‘slip’ occur had the story been about a western child-rape victim. Such a story never would — or should — have made it to the publication stage without changing the name to an alias, removing the photograph, or replacing it with a non-identifiable shot.
It is precisely these kinds of double standards that infuriate Africa-watchers and those who care about the ethics of reporting on victims of violence. Yet such abuses are too often tolerated in the western media when it comes to Africa.
The International Criminal Court was set up to “exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern” when national criminal jurisdictions are not doing the job. It is focused on genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. It claims “In all of its activities, the ICC observes the highest standards of fairness and due process.”
The British foreign secretary Robin Cook said at the time, that the International Criminal Court was not set up to bring to book Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom or Presidents of the United States. Had someone other than a Western leader said those fateful words, the word ‘impunity’ would have been thrown at them with an emphatic alacrity.
An American senator serving on the foreign relations committee echoed the British sentiments and said, “Our concern is that this is a court that is irreparably flawed, that is created with an independent prosecutor, with no checks and balances on his power, answerable to no state institution, and that this court is going to be used for politicized prosecutions.”
The understanding of the States which subscribed to the Treaty in good faith was two-fold. First, that world powers were hesitant to a process that might make them accountable for such spectacularly criminal international adventures as the wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and other places, and such hideous enterprises as renditions and torture.
Such states did not, therefore, consider such warnings as applicable to pacific and friendly parties. Secondly, it was the understanding of good-faith subscribers that the ICC would administer and secure justice in a fair, impartial and independent manner and, as an international court, bring accountability to situations and perpetrators everywhere in the world. As well, it was hoped that the ICC would set the highest standards of justice and judicial processes. As has been demonstrated quite thoroughly over the past decade, the good-faith subscribers had fallen prey to their high-mindedness and idealism.Close to 70 per cent of the Court’s annual budget is funded by the European Union.
The threat of prosecution usually suffices to have pliant countries execute policies favourable to these countries.
Through it, regime-change sleights of hand have been attempted in Africa. A number of them have succeeded.
Take Kenya for instance, The Office of the Prosecutor made certain categorical pronouncements regarding eligibility for leadership of candidates in Kenya’s last general election. Only a fortnight ago, the Prosecutor proposed undemocratic and unconstitutional adjustments to the Kenyan Presidency.
These interventions go beyond interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign State. They constitute a fetid insult to Kenya and Africa. African sovereignty means nothing to the ICC and its patrons. They also dovetail altogether too conveniently with the warnings given to Kenyans just before the last elections: choices have consequences.
This chorus was led by the USA, Britain, EU, and certain eminent persons in global affairs. It was a threat made to Kenyans against electing his Government. Uhuru Kenyatta Government’s decisive election must be seen as a categorical rebuke by the people of Kenya of those who wished to interfere with our internal affairs and infringe Kenyans sovereignty.
Kenya’s president has been requesting as President to be allowed to execute his constitutional obligations as the forensic side of things is handled by his lawyers.Yet the gratuitous libel and prejudice he has encountered at the instance of the Prosecution seeks to present him as a fugitive from justice who is guilty as charged.
America and Britain do not have to worry about accountability for international crimes. Although certain norms of international law are deemed peremptory, this only applies to non-Western states. Otherwise, they are inert. It is this double standard and the overt politicisation of the ICC that should be of concern to us here today.
It is the fact that this court performs on the cue of European and American governments against the sovereignty of African States and peoples that should outrage us. People have termed this situation “race-hunting”. I find great difficulty adjudging them wrong.
What is the fate of International Justice? I daresay that it has lost support owing to the subversive machinations of its key proponents. Cynicism has no place in justice. Yet it takes no mean amount of selfish and malevolent calculation to mutate a quest for accountability on the basis of truth, into a hunger for dramatic sacrifices to advance geopolitical ends.
The ICC has been reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime, a travesty that adds insult to the injury of victims. It stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining
This is the circumstance which today compels us to agree with the reasons US, China, Israel, India and other non-signatory States hold for abstaining from the Rome Treaty. All of them declined to ratify the Treaty, or withdrew somewhere along the way, citing several compelling grounds.In particular, the very accurate observations of John R Bolton who said, “For numerous reasons, the United States decided that the ICC had unacceptable consequences for our national sovereignty. Specifically, the ICC is an organization that runs contrary to fundamental American precepts and basic constitutional principles of popular sovereignty, checks and balances and national independence.”
Africa is not a third-rate territory of second-class peoples. We are not a project, or experiment of outsiders. It was always impossible for us to uncritically internalise notions of justice implanted through that most unjust of institutions: colonialism.
The West sees no irony in preaching justice to a people they have disenfranchised, exploited, taxed and brutalised.
Our history serves us well: we must distrust the blandishments of those who have drunk out of the poisoned fountain of imperialism.
The spirit of African pride and sovereignty has withstood centuries of severe tribulation. It’s time we invoked that spirit of freedom and unity amongst us. It is a spirit with a voice that rings through all generations of human history. It is the eternal voice of a majestic spirit which will never die.The philosophy of divide-and rule, which worked against us all those years before, cannot shackle us to the ground in our Season of Renaissance. Our individual and collective sovereignty requires us to take charge of our destiny, and fashion African solutions to African problems.
Yet Africa is not the only continent where international crimes are being committed. Out of over 30 cases before the court, NONE relates to a situation outside Africa. All the people indicted before that court, ever since its founding have been Africans.Having all its cases against one continent does not necessarily mean the institution is racist but it does look rather suspicious.
To argue my case,In 2003, a war was waged on Iraq by the US government under the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Yet, no weapons of mass destruction were found and s country was torn apart by the war. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan later declared it “an illegal war”. How is it that till today, not one single indictment has been recorded for the millions of people that lost their lives during that war in Iraq under the hands of the US and British government? Is that not under the ICC mandate? Or does the ICC choose to turn a blind eye because the atrocities were not carried out by Africans? Yet this is a crime of aggression. Unfortunately the ICC does not get jurisdiction over this crime until 2017 so that there have been illegal wars before this date wont matter for prosecutions.In my view this court is a toothless bulldog.Its failure to hold some countries responsible for crimes against humanity is a proof that,the law it purports to protect are not above the west,its financiers!
The founding fathers of African Unity were conscious that structural colonialism takes many forms, some blatant and extreme, like apartheid, while others are subtler and deceptively innocuous, like some forms of development assistance.
It has been necessary, therefore, for African leaders to constantly watch out against threats to our peoples’ sovereignty and unity.
In our generation, we have to honour our fathers’ legacies by guaranteeing that through the African Union, our countries and our people shall achieve greater unity, and that the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of our States shall not be trifled with.
More than ever, our destiny is in our hands. Yet at the same time, more than ever, it is imperative for us to be vigilant against the persistent machinations of outsiders who desire to control that destiny. We know what this does to our nations and people: subjugation and suffering.
The philosophies, ideologies, structures and institutions that visited misery upon millions for centuries ultimately harm their perpetrators. Thus the imperial exploiter crashes into the pits of penury. The arrogant world police is crippled by shambolic domestic dysfunction.
These are the spectacles of Western decline we are witnessing today. At the same time, other nations and continents rise and prosper. Africa and Asia continue to thrive, with their promise growing every passing day.”As our strength multiplies, and our unity gets deeper, those who want to control and exploit us become more desperate. Therefore, they abuse whatever power remains in their control.”President Uhuru Kenyatta
Even though there is exactly the same number of countries qualifying,(Africa has 52 countries, Europe has 53 countries and Europe normally has 14 to 16 teams in the finals), CAF has less than half the places allocated to UEFA,5 to be precise. This makes no sense. While Africa has to go through 3 rounds of qualifying, with only the winners in the final round progressing, Europe gets to have a play-off between 8 of the nine second placed countries in the qualifying groups. Why? What is the reason that these countries get a last gasp chance to qualify for what can only be deemed as fluff places designed to make up the numbers. The point of the world cup is for each continent to put on display the BEST they have to offer but facts don’t lie,Many European teams continually fail to get beyond the first phase of the competition.In Africa however, one or more of the continents “best” possible representatives misses out simply due to the lack of space. In 2010, Egypt, who had won the African Cup of Nations 3 times in a row (record), 7 in total (record), and were ranked 12th in the world missed out. We should get at least half of that number. Must we pressure for what’s rightfully deserved? Its clearly open injustice and one can be forgiven for questioning whether its really a world cup or an European event where Africa only makes an appearance.Based on the overall performances of African teams in recent years in many competitions, Africa really deserves more!
The pernicious trade imbalance to the persistent Africa’s chronic underdevelopment and increased poverty of the majority of its people.Africa in general, over 85 percent of its formal sector goods and services is purchased and sold to and from non-African countries.This is what prompts some economists to say that “underdeveloped peoples are people who consume what they do not produce and produce what they do not consume,” In such conditions, WE may never be in full control of their economy because as most economists will agree, a country’s economy essentially depends on the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.
In the end Africa continues to be on the receiving end of relations with its key trade partners.Credibility of the World Trading organisation has long been eroded.WTO does not manage the global economy impartially, but in its operation has a systematic bias toward rich countries and multinational corporations, harming smaller countries which have less negotiation power. Some suggested examples of this bias are:
1.Rich countries are able to maintain high import duties and quotas in certain products, blocking imports from developing countries (e.g. clothing);
2.The increase in non-tariff barriers such as anti-dumping measures allowed against developing countries;
3.The maintenance of high protection of agriculture in developed countries while developing ones are pressed to open their markets;
4.Many developing countries do not have the capacity to follow the negotiations and participate actively
The WTO supposedly operates on a consensus basis, with equal decision-making power for all. In reality, many important decisions get made in a process whereby poor countries’ negotiators are not even invited to closed door meetings – and then ‘agreements’ are announced that poor countries didn’t even know were being discussed. Many countries do not even have enough trade personnel to participate in all the negotiations or to even have a permanent representative at the WTO. This severely disadvantages poor countries from representing their interests. Likewise, many countries are too poor to defend themselves from WTO challenges from the rich countries, and change their laws rather than pay for their own defense.In a nutshell,the WTO Hurts Poor, Small Countries in Favor of Rich Powerful Nations.
The “Green room” discussions in the WTO are unrepresentative and non-inclusive; more active participants, representing more diverse interests and objectives, have complicated WTO decision-making, and the process of “consensus-building” has broken down. Results of green room discussions are presented to the rest of the WTO which may vote on the result. They have thus proposed the establishment of a small, informal steering committee (a “consultative board”) that can be delegated responsibility for developing consensus on trade issues among the member countries. The Third World Network has called the WTO “the most non-transparent of international organisations”, because “the vast majority of developing countries have very little real say in the WTO system.
The lack of transparency is often seen as a problem for democracy. Politicians can negotiate for regulations that would not be possible or accepted in a democratic process in their own nations.Some countries are notorious for Policy Laudering whereby they push for certain regulatory standards in international bodies and then bring those regulations home under the requirement of harmonization and the guise of multilateralism.
Therefore, fellow africans we need to be more united than ever.Africa is on trial and we can’t afford to fall prey to divide and rule tactics again.Till the world views us as equals its “Aluta continua”