We’re told that sometime around 1978, African ministers of Information met in the Ugandan Capital Kampala, and one of the issues on the agenda was unfair coverage of the continent by the Western media.
They were soul-searching on how best Western media propaganda could be countered. More than three decades down the line, the situation remains pretty much the same.
Thanks, largely to the Western media, the rest of the world continues to view Africa as a continent of disease, hunger and war. This perception is deeply rooted in the concept that has defined the relationship between the West and Africa, over the years.
The billions of dollars spent on Africa through bilateral and multilateral assistance programmes were donated out of this sense of pity on the part of Western governments. To them, Africans had little or no say on how this money would be used.
These donors, ‘because they were generous enough to come to the rescue of the poor Africans’ felt they had all the right and moral authority to decide for the recipient African country, how and when to spend their funds. The principle was simple: Because you are so poor and only preoccupied with burying the victims of hunger, you have no capacity to tell what is good for your people. In some countries, donors were calling the shots and controlling the state from their own capitals.
Back to the then OAU ministerial meeting in Kampala. Although, I could not find adequate information about that meeting, I understand one of the decisions reached was to develop a common mechanism of telling the truth about the continent to the rest of the world.
Since then, thousands of African media outlets have been born, although many have since disappeared. Some have of course stood the test of time, but most of them can only afford to operate within their respective countries, and continue to rely heavily on the Western media, with regard to what is happening in other African countries. Many, if not all, African media outlets have actually become conduits for the Western media propaganda on Africa.
A newspaper in Mali will automatically republish an RFI or BBC story on Rwanda, and vice versa. The impact is that, an ordinary reader or listener in Mali or Rwanda will swallow the same poison on African matters as his/her colleague in Europe. They will both be as ignorant on African issues.
The proliferation of media outlets in Africa has served the Western media more than the African cause. Yet, I am under no illusion that this trend will end anytime soon, since African media generally lack the capacity to cross their borders to report issues in other countries.
However, if African media owners and journalists realized the harm they are causing to their own continent by continuing to serve as conduits for the Western media to mislead the Africans on African issues, they can easily reverse this unfortunate trend. Its time African media realizes that every negative story on any African nation has far-reaching consequences on the continent, not only in terms of Foreign Direct Investments (thus affecting education, health, agriculture, etc, programmes) and other forms of international financing, but also on the continent’s standing on the international scene.
African media need to stop partaking in a campaign of smearing and discrediting its own continent and people, a trend whose roots could be traced in the days of colonialism.
In this day and age where many newspapers are published online, it’s so easy to access, download and run a story by newspapers anywhere on the continent, than any time before. The internet has connected us all, and the African media need to take full advantage of it, wisely. The African media need to engage with each other with an aim of sharing content in the interest of the African people.
Why on earth should The East African, which is published in the region, prefer to run a story by AFP (a European-based agency) on Rwanda? By relying on a foreign-based publication to inform Kenyans about what is happening in next door Rwanda, The East African risks misleading its readers, from the names of people, place, etc, to the accuracy of the story, more than if it had relied on a Rwanda-based publication.
Therefore, while Africans tend to accuse the Western media of misrepresenting and distorting our issues, it is time for the African media to take the centre stage and report on African issues the way they see them.
As we celebrate the African Day of Information, due tomorrow, the African media should understand that its time they ceased being partners in crime with the Western media.
The writer is a training editor with The New Times and the 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ)