Sunday, August 10, 2008

African reader's feedback

In addition to coverage of developments in Burma, Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, I am increasingly expanding the blog's scope to include crisis situations across the globe. Accordingly, you may have noticed more posts about Africa at Jotman. An African reader recently wrote:
. . . here's a reader impression that jumped out: the choice of African articles you feature seem classically, stereotypically like those chosen by the mainstream media for being almost exclusively about disaster and dysfunctionality!

We are accustomed to this treatment by the Western media, but somehow it was more startling on your blog because of a vague expectation that a blogger with a reputation for being edgy would offer a different, more holistic view of the world.
I think the African reader makes an important point. When coverage of the continent is mainly negative, it reinforces the public impression that Africans are helpless, passive victims. This may lead the West to view solutions to Africa's problems in terms of what we can do for them, at the expense of recognizing and supporting African ingenuity.

Another difficulty is that when the Western media focuses entirely on a disaster, Westerners may become fearful to engage Africa in its aftermath. For example, following the crisis in Kenya, safari tourism dropped off precipitously (In fact, the rioting did not take place in the area of the Kenya usually visited by safari tourists). Nevertheless, as I discussed in this post, this perception not only caused damage to an important segment of Kenya's economy, but put Kenyan wildlife in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, I believe the greater scandal is not the omission of the positive, but the Western media's wholesale avoidance of Africa's truly disturbing stories. For an example of what I'm talking about, check out this obscure report.

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