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Journalistic Failure

The Western Media’s False Front When It Comes to Africa

by ILIJA M. TROJANOVIC

Only moments after the Central African Republic’s new interim President Catherine Samba-Panza addressed the country’s armed forces at a humble ceremony in Bangui demanding national unity, a man was stabbed and stomped to death. Suspected of being a former member of the mainly Muslim Seleka militia, troops who had just shaken hands with President Samba-Panza were now clutching knives and stabbing the defenseless man, whose fate was finally sealed when they lynched him.

In light of the slaughter which took place in broad daylight –and is becoming an everyday occurrence rapidly pushing the CAR’s sectarian divide into disrepair– the UN has called for an investigation to hold those government troops involved responsible. The French have also said their troops will now remain on CAR soil for a further 6-months.

The collective Western response is a correct one. The perpetrators should be tried and sentenced for such a gruesome act of violence that is only amplifying further attacks in the volatile landlocked state. Only weeks ago a Banguian named ‘Mad Dog’ made the headlines: a revenge-seeking Christian who has already eaten the legs of two Muslim men after dousing them with accelerant and setting them alight. If there is no intervention, the CAR could meet the same fate its not too distant neighbor Rwanda suffered two decades ago.

Despite the downward spiral in a country that never really had problems, the picture painted by the media is unfair not only to Central Africans, but to all Africans. It has less to do with the media’s accuracy of current events, and more with the method of collectivizing events about a single country on the continent, which boasts 54 in total – the most of any seven continents.

The commonplace images of dead bodies and angry mobs that stations like the BBC, CNN, and AJE broadcast with the operatic precursory note ‘some-viewers-may-find-the-upcoming-images-disturbing message’ only taints the mind of the viewers even more than the original news story. A country where Muslims and Christians lived side by side for many years has overnight become a “lawless jungle…of violence,” according to the Inter Press Service.

It’s not only the all too familiar tale of reporting wars from the world’s largest and perhaps most volatile continent, but the myopia of today’s media attention on Africa even crosses over to social issues, like that of homosexuality in Nigeria. Illegal in the West African country, some areas like Bauchi State can even punish gay Nigerians with death. Uganda is also famous for being a staunch advocate against same-sex relationships. In Europe and even in the United States, the subject of homosexuality is also taboo, but to be punishable by death –or even with jail time– would seem completely absurd.

The homosexuality debate in Nigeria and the dire security situation in the CAR are only two recent windows of opportunity that have allowed journalists without a moral compass to jump right through and denigrate the two African states. War-ridden, retrogressive, primitive, and a bastion of deathly disease and antediluvian savagery, today’s myopic journalism continuously delineates the same story of the struggling continent. Africans are not to blame. To an extent, neither are the journalists, but with the extension of their neocolonial rhetoric, they aren’t making anything better.

Sifting back through the sands of time, King Leopold II of Belgium massacring what’s believed to be 8 to 10 million Africans in the Congo and surrounding areas –which very well may have included the people of the CAR- Africans would have never learned the art of such carnage we see today. Had the Islamic conquest and Christian missionaries not inculcated animist Africans into believing dogmas that deprave homosexuality, radical homophobia wouldn’t exist in Africa.

A 2013 African Studies Review reveals “all the articles criminalizing homosexuality were often copied from laws of the former colonial power…[with] Christian (and Islamic) leaders…often a driving force behind attacks on homosexuality.” The BBC’s special report showing a clip of Nigerians stoning the courthouse where 14 gay men on trial were receiving their sentences is only one example of neocolonial journalism at full tilt. Ironically, the criminalization of homosexuality was installed in Nigeria from British coded law.

Prior to the foreign conquest of Africa, the civilizations of Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, and Nigeria, to name a few, were flourishing. The world’s richest ever person was King Mansa Musa I, a Malian salt and gold baron who, in today’s dollars, racked up a fortune of $700 billion. Even historians are to blame for not disseminating the truth of Africa’s rich and colorful past.

Still, it’s the job of the journalist before anyone else to follow up with current events and inform the global populace about ongoing events in Africa.

Instead, lackluster journalists are tarnishing the image of Africans. What this creates is a worldwide perception of all Africans as sub-human, and generates racist sentiment in places like North America and Europe, which in turn triggers the upsurge in right-wing nationalist groups. The same way journalists won’t bother examining facts before their reports, neither will their viewers.

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish journalist and Africa adventurer, evocatively yet gracefully describes the continent he spent many years corresponding from, saying “Africa is a thousand situations, varied, distinct, even contradictory. Someone will say, ‘There is war there,’ and he will be right. Someone else, ‘It is peaceful there,’ and he too will be correct. Because everything depends on where and when.” A veracious journalist of yesteryears generation, Kapuscinski foresaw in The Shadow of the Sun, his first-hand account of  his excursions across Africa, that:

Emulating these ignoramuses are journalists who unwittingly report about the African continent. With the stroke of the pen or the seconds of a sound bite, they are reducing Africans to nothing, quite an unfair trade for the continent sometimes called the cradle of mankind.

Ilija M. Trojanovic can be reached at: ilija.trojanovic@gmail.com.