I doff my hat to Mr. Uche Nworah on his recent treatise, Global Media Imbalance, which centers on western media bias towards Africa and Africans. Such biases are not new. Before and since independence in and around 1960, media report about Africa has not only been careless and irresponsible, it has been injurious and exploitative. Nothing good, it seems, can come out of the continent; and so the western media rarely paint Africa and her people in good and positive light. For most western media therefore, Africans are children or childlike, always needing guidance and counsel and unable to navigate the vagaries of life and the international political and economic landscape.
As lopsided, unfair and unjust as most of these reports might be, it is my contention that Africans themselves are not helping matters. In other words, we share in some of the blames. As Africans we are not in the habit of writing our own story and history. We wait for or allow the west to write our narratives; we allow the west to interpret our plays and music and history; we allow the west to define us. We allow the west to tell us who we are, and allow them to validate our achievements. In every sphere of our national life, unless the west gave the go-ahead or the nod, we don’t feel good about ourselves.
For instance, most African artists do not feel that he or she “has arrived” until and unless he or she is given some dubious award in New York, London or Paris. Most Nigerian journalists are about the same way, waiting and wanting to be validated by their peers in the west. If critically examined, we also see that the actions and pronouncements of our leaders and elites also give rise to western contempt for Africa and Africans. For instance, the President of Senegal had to come to New York to be crowned the best of heavens knows what. He most likely would have refused to go to Burkina Faso, Mali or Botswana to be so crowned.
If we allow others to validate and praise us, we also give them the unalloyed right to condemn us, call us names and dismiss us. The intellectuals are also of no help in this regard — refusing to write critical and important books; refusing to engage in scholarly research and then publish such within the continent. They’d rather spend their resources scrambling for one fellowship after another just to make it to the west. In the end, their findings and conclusions have to mirror or concur with Eurocentric scholarship or western view of the African situation (even when such is false).
How many African scholars have I met who quotes Karl Max, Engel, Antonio Gramsci, Jurgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Claus Offe, HH Gerth and C Wright Mills and hundred others without an understanding of Africa ideas, economics and philosophy or even of their immediate community. These scholars interpret African problems using western lenses. A UNIBADAN, MAKERERE, or UNILAG trained social scientist attempting to solve African problems using western model?
True, some problems and theories have universal application and remedies, but most of our intellectual won’t even attempt Africanizing the problems and solutions. Therefore, if the solution is not western-based, they think it has no application to the African society.
According to Uche, “Not all Africans are criminals, rapists and savages…Not all Africans live in slums; neither do they all scavenge rubbish heaps for food.” Of course, Mr. Nworah is correct. No one is going to doubt or argue with him on this and other points. But the fact is that millions of Africans live in slums and scavenge food from the rubbish heap. In addition, one too many African leaders are thieves and vagabonds and rapists. What do you make of a president accusing his deputy of theft and unprofessional conduct? What do you make of a vice-president accusing the president of theft and abuse of office? What do you make of Nigeria where more than 95% of the state governors are alleged thieves?
What do you make of a continent characterized by inter and intra ethnic wars, inter-state wars, prolonged famine, ethnic cleansings, and where close to 45% of the presidents are presidents for life? What do you make of a continent where there is very little regard for human life and human dignity? What do you make of a continent where eradicated diseases are still rampant, and with very high infant mortality rate? A continent where the vast majority of the people live in abject poverty? We seem to forget that, Nigeria for instance, is more that 80% slum! We have a continent where more than 60% of the populace has no access to health care and nutritious meal. None of these are figment of the western media imagination. These are real everyday African reality. It is sad but true!
Because it is true, the western media has to report what they see. They have to report the reality on the ground. It would be unethical for them to sugarcoat their report, just as it would be unethical to exaggerate their findings. Ethics aside, an American or Europe-based African journalist on assignment in Monrovia, Mogadishu, Lagos, Soweto or Freetown will give about the same report as their local counterparts which may not be vastly different from their German or Norwegian counterparts. The spin, nuance and interpretation may vary in coloration, but the experienced-reality is likely to be the same: a poor and poorly managed continent.
Five to eight countries in the southern and eastern region of the continent may be at the lower end of the corruption scale; otherwise, the continent is manned by men and women whose way of life is corruption and greed of the highest order.
The actions and pronouncement of these leaders make Africa a laughing stock. We have a continent with jokers and functional illiterates running around as leaders, why won’t the world laugh at us. Every where you go, you see and experience poverty and extreme want, violation of human rights, abuse and subjugation of women, ritual killings, modern-day slavery and behaviors that would make any normal human being cringe and throw up. The continent is a jungle, the strong preying upon the weak and the downtrodden. And who does not know that most of the continent is a festering wound, with maggots and flies hovering around it? These are some of the things the western media see, and report. Yes, there are some exaggerations and scorn involved, but the western media reports are mostly true! I take no umbrage at their report of our collective backwardness.
However goes Nigeria goes sub-Saharan Africa. And Nigeria has been on the same continuum: institutional failure, grand theft, and abuse of office and of moral, spiritual and mental decadence. In these and other regards therefore, the western media didn’t not invent or imagine such grand foolishness. The African problems have roots in both exogenous and endogenous factors — with the exogenous factors having a more telling effect. I am not denying that. But when it is all said and done, Africans have been their own worst enemy. Most Africans hate and despise other Africans as much as they hate and despise themselves. Most Nigerians are no exceptions. The sooner they rape and plunder their own country, the better they will feel. Is that normal, humane and right?
When it comes to reporting about Africa, Africans rely on the western news media, i.e. BBC, CNN, VOA and the rest. Media houses in the continent merely repeat or publish whatever is being dished out by their western counterpart. Since its inception, what role has the Pan African News Agency (PANA) played in reporting events around the continent and around the world? What role does the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and her counterpart, Radio Nigeria, play in the development of the country? These organizations are nothing but government mouth piece. So, I won’t entirely blame the western press for defining us in unsavory light.
This and subsequent gener
ations in African can turn things around for the better. For instance, we have to do whatever is needed in terms of leadership in a continent that cannot boast of five first-rate presidents. We must invest in political goods and services, especially quality education; we must make strong our institutions, especially our political and economic institutions; we must pull the vast majority of our people out of poverty; we must work on our self esteem in a continent where most people still view the White man as superior; we must retool our culture — a culture that can sometimes be subjugating and paralyzing.
We must do these and many other things before we can stand on equal footing with players on the international landscape. This journey will take time, but we can get there. May be not in our life time; but I expect my grandchildren and their children to have a better life in a much improved continent so long as we start the struggle today.
We may be angry at the western media for depicting us in bad and sorry light — and we have the right to be — but let us, individually and collectively, help tackle some of the misconceptions and truths about us. We can do so by starting to refuse to participate in or perpetuate corrupt practices, ethnic politics, and extralegal activities. First thing first: we must start by loving ourselves, loving our children, and then our neighbors. In other words, we must start by loving our country and our continent.