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Skewed media coverage on Africa impacts FDIs

In the late 1960s, Lloyd Garrison , a New York Times correspondent in Nigeria , filed a story about the West African country. A few days later , he was shocked to the core. By the time the article appeared in The New York Times , his editors in New York had taken it upon themselves to insert a whole paragraph about  how “Primitive” Nigerians were.
Gaspard Safari
Gaspard Safari

In the late 1960s, Lloyd Garrison , a New York Times correspondent in Nigeria , filed a story about the West African country. A few days later , he was shocked to the core. By the time the article appeared in The New York Times , his editors in New York had taken it upon themselves to insert a whole paragraph about  how “Primitive” Nigerians were.

Garrison , believed to have been  a descendant of the famous American abolitionist, wrote to his editors , expressing shock and disappointment, because , he indicated , he had not encountered any of those’ “primitives’’ that his editors were alluding to.

It later emerged , that the editors had  simply made-up , concocted  and manufactured this assertion , to fit into what they wanted.

It is very ironical,  to say the least , that 50 years down the lane , nothing much has changed about how the western media, by and large,   sees and views Africa.There are indications that today, more than 60 percent of all news, opinions and analyses in the Western Media towards Africa is outrightly biased.

In 2005, Boston University published its findings about a survey on  the coverage of Africa  between 1994 to 2004.The ten year survey was conducted  from  some of the most respected newspapers in the US; The New york Times ,  The Washington Post,  Wall Street Journal, USA Today and  Los Angeles Times.

Just like the 1960 Nigeria, the results were equally disturbing; Conflict, wars, famine and disasters dominated. My point of departure is not for anybody, not to cover and report about this, whenever and whereever it is happening, but I find it rather unethical (for lack of a better description), when the reporting tends to be grossly unbalanced and always focused on the negative, giving scant and in most cases, no regard to areas of notable progress, development and achievement.

It’s like there is a desire to maintain an archaic and dire image of Africa. An image which it (western media) helped establish in the minds of its viewers, readers and listeners since pre-slavery times. The Western media continue to have a field day at Africa's expense, doing a great disservice to the efforts of many Africans who have made significant changes and progress in their respective locations.

The media, as we all know, is a very powerful tool in shaping people's opinions and thinking. In my view, its use by the West has done more harm than good, and has given many prospective and potential foreign investors to Africa a skewed perception of the continent and its people. It has discouraged business and tourism to many parts of Africa and has wrongly stigmatised Africans in the eyes of many. 

Writing in the New African magazine , on  June 1, 2008, former South African President , Thabo Mbeki emphasised that it was time Africa took the responsibility for how the continent is portrayed by the Western media.

Mbeki, in one of South Africa’s News papers, The Mercury, on may 23, 2005, underlined the fact that despite the  continent’s sustained efforts to change the lives of its people for the better, the western media had, for years, deliberately ignored this positive trend. 

President Kagame was quoted in The Mercury as telling a congress  of the International Press Institute in Nairobi  that one of the reasons Africa  was not getting enough Foreign Direct Investments(FDI’S) was because of the Western Media’s consistent  negative portrayal of Africa as a racked continent  with nothing else to offer,  but wars  and poverty, and challenged Africans to be the vanguards of their own story.   Both Former president Mbeki and President Kagame are spot on.

In a qualitative  survey conducted by the United States of America’s Chamber of Commerce between January to November 2008, to find out the attitudes toward corporate investment in Africa among leading U.S. corporations, one hitherto,  unexpected revelation   emerged: Corporate America is hesitant and extremely cautious  to Invest in Africa because Western Media constantly caricatures the continent as un stable and violent. This I believe,  is a very serious finding that ought to elicit action from Africa’s development proponents , how much for example , does Africa , or Rwanda , lose in Foreign Direct Investments due to this Negative publicity, food for thought?

It is because of all the above reasons , that when I read stories like the one by one, Anne Applebaum, ‘’Where Economic Ambition meets Reality  in Rwanda, The Washington Post, September , 23, 2011, I find it  very  difficult  not to conclude that  her  callous and  wild assertions that Rwanda is in deficit  in terms of free speech is  best explained  by  borrowing  from the late famous Ugandan Author and writer , Okot P’Bitek, in his book, Africa  in Western scholarship that ;   “Western scholarship sees the world as divided into two types of human society, “one, their own, civilised, great, developed; the other the non-Western peoples, uncivilised, simple, undeveloped. One is modern, the other tribal.” P’Bitek added .

 This is the historical mind set and fixation held by western Journalists and writers when reporting anything African some have referred to it as implicit racism.

Next time you come across stories such as Anne’s, hook, line and sinker at your own peril!

The Writer is The  Managing Director, Great Lakes Communications and Media Center
e-mail; safarigaspard@hotmail.com, safari@glcmc.com

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