Coronavirus and a Western Media that is Helpless in the Absence of African Tragedy

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When there is no tragedy in Africa, the Western media is helpless. They stammer badly and it shows. A malevolent cloud of imperialist condescension and the good old stereotypes are never too far away from the headline.

Of course, we see them. We may have grown accustomed to them, but that does not mean we turn a blind eye to them. In the Coronavirus crisis, Africa lags behind, just catching up with rest of the world, and it is driving local bureau Chiefs crazy. Because the situation is dire out there, Italy for instance, than any African country. 

They never look for hope in Africa, it sneaks up on them while they are busy with their head buried in;  yaws, guts, viruses, and genocide and they are like.

Expected Story of Despair 

A story about Africa-the country, not the continent- is always an easy deadline for CNN, BBC and of course the “Failing New York Times”- as the most presidential president call them.  Africa, according to Binyavanga-bless his rebellious gay soul- how dare he? is a place of misery, war, and disease. Unless of course, you are a western journalist saving the country by exposing the evil-only the evil mind you-happenings, ungodliness and strife we have to go through to scrape by on a dollar a day. Now at 109 shillings. [Side note-We are fucked!].  

There has almost been no single global tragedy or catastrophe in post-colonial Africa that has not made us the butt of; AID and western-style salvation, discrimination, stereotyping and the classic humiliation in any visa application interview. 

“How do I know (despite having 3 kids 2 wives and 10 acres of land and a middle-class job) that you will come back to your country?” (after 2 weeks freezing your cojones to the size of peas in a wintry London).

“ Sir this is for a summit on African studies and the impact of a post-colonial hangover on African culture and values, I am the Keynote speaker and see here (you dig under the 30-centimeter folder of the documents you had carried with you. Beneath your grandfather’s baptism card, and your great grandfathers “Kipande” showing he had permission to travel to Nairobi from Kangema in 1954 you pull out the vital document) here is an invitation from Her Majesty’s Government through the institute of culture”. The gentleman smiles and scans the letter of the 3rd time and places it aside. He looks at you in the eye and smiles again and says,

“ Ok Mr. N-jo-row-gay, my associate will get back to you.”

And so forth and of course you will only get the Visa on the 3rd (payment not refundable) approach having used the same documents.

I digressed.  Where were we?

Yes, we have suffered collectively as a country, oops! A continent.  From terrorism, which ironically has nothing to do with us. Kenya has never attacked any middle eastern country until our recent tiff with the al-Shabab who to be honest were taking some bold liberties kidnapping white tourists forcing us to go to war?  Ebola was mostly an African affair and because of it, we got numerous travel bans put out in seconds against Kenya, a province of Africa that is more flying hours from the UK than Liberia. HIV made us subject to innumerable experiments, dehumanising stereotypes and somehow we are still reeling from it. The war against terror has probably killed more Kenyans than British and American Civilians (Pre-911). However a whiff about an attack on local soil, and the foreign consulates fire off politely worded travel advisories.

“Our citizens are advised to avoid …any tourist hotels in the central business district and we cannot guarantee their security…” Please go back home or die.  When Paris was attacked -Charlie Hebdo-instead of European leaders sending travel advisories, the actually went there in person to march in solidarity! -I am not saying it was wrong, but how many tons of minerals will we have to “sell” to the west to be treated similarly?  We get back our tourism industry and the western media send their harbingers of death (read New York Times et al) to croon tunes of despair and subtle threats back home. They do serious credit to the institution of war journalism. This is a direct quote from an actual job advert for the Nairobi Bureau Chief by none other than the new York times. 

“Our Nairobi bureau Chief has a tremendous opportunity to dive into news and enterprise across a wide range of countries, from the deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and the shores of Tanzania … and unexpected stories of hope”

Anywho, like everything else these days, this article was about Corona. Let us get it there.  

Another white New York times Bureau Chief who can’t wait for Corona to get here already

Ruth Maclean, the West African Bureau Chief for the New York Times wrote a paper headlined,Africa Braces for Corona, but slowly  Here is another quote from her about Bukina Faso-another province of Africa .“But the country is not in panic mode. Not yet”  Notice anything about her words. She is essentially writing good news but she just can’t help her true self pinning for the bad.

“…I am not saying don’t have a foreign press, just ensure it has adult supervision.”

Both quotes are a sign of why western media should never write about Africa at all. When there is no death or crisis to write about. They struggle with words. They do not understand how to navigate the new maze of writing about normal stuff in Africa and living people. For every positive thing they say, their default settings tug them back and whisper “But things could be worse, why not hedge the bet so when shit hits the fan- as it often does -we can say you had “predicted”” Yes Africa is getting ready… but slowly.  Yes, “we are not in a panic. YET! 

I looked up this writer to see if these are exceptions but as our highschool english teachers would say, “I was in for a shock” -not really. Ruth Maclean had retweeted a post that said 

“Africa hasn’t yet been hit as hard by #Covid_19 as the EU, but the epidemic is a test for the EC & the proposed #EUAfricaStrategy. Africa will need EU assistance while the EU is struggling with the pandemic itself. Are we ready, @EU_Commission?”

If you read this with a working African brain, it means, how is Africa not affected yet? How can Africa be dealing with this without our help? How dare Corona not hit Africa as hard as Ebola did? What am I going to do with my templates of African casualties, in the hundreds or thousands and sotto voice “I told you so” justification for how it is not surprising Africans are dying in droves given how “weak” our medical systems are?

She is just one example of the kind of reporting Africa and the world has come to expect because unless the writing involved requires shoveling of mud, filth, death, and despair, the Western media is helpless.  If you still have doubts look at the photos that are posted. 

I googled  “New York Times Ebola Africa” and clicked images. The top images were: Mass graves, a boy who may be dead or alive being carried by yellow hazmat covered workers. A child sleeping on the floor of a hospital and newspaper headlines about death and dying.  

Did the same thing for the New York Times  Corona in Italy. 

Pictures of hope. People hugging each other. Stories about looking for vaccine and panic shopping. Although the problems are the same, looking at the Italy search you will be forgiven if you forget that in the last 3 months, Italy has almost as many deaths from Corona as Liberia had in 2 years.

Every single link in the pictures for the New York Time Website has a headline that indicates more responsible and dignified reporting. 

When printing pictures and stories for Africa, death, and despair is the lowest hanging fruit. Its what the like of Ruth Maclean and other people looking for “unexpected stories of hope”. They never look for hope in Africa, it sneaks up on them while they are busy with their head buried in;  yaws, guts, viruses, and genocide and they are like.

“Wow David, look at that! There was some hope on the other side of the bloody tragedy we are covering, get a small paragraph on that and then get back to the warlord with AIDs”.

Still, at the New York Times and their unfortunate but unsurprising advert, the problem might lie behind the lack of actual African voices.  Few, if ever,  of the bureau Chiefs in Africa are black let alone African. Naturally, the stories will be given a perspective that suits Western sensibilities of the African continent as they have been conditioned for more than 200 years, by the likes of Conrad.

They come here with expectations of daily bomb scares, Ebola risk and sudden attacks by “African Warlords”. The advert tells us that when their fetish for horror stories is not sated by reality on the ground. They will invent, insinuate and sound surprised when a whole week goes by without having to visit a mass grave. The stories they tell are there, no doubt, but they are not the only stories and if they were told by African voices, it would be easy to focus on how Liberia, for example, might have lost 6,000 not 4900 people to ebola owing to the tireless risks takers providing health care. For them, the heroes are the journalist, leaving her safe Tennesse or Liverpool to cover the story “nobody” else has the guts-or resources to cover.

This is the kind of entitlement that resulted in this tongue in cheek tweet from a South African Tweeter user.

“They might as easily work with local papers and pay local journalist ex-pat salaries. I am not saying don’t have a foreign press, just ensure it has adult supervision.”

Maybe Coronavirus will ravage Africa as much as it has Europe. I am sure the western Githeri Media will be disappointed and keep writing stories rationalizing their surprise. We have dealt with these things before. We have survived Ebola and when our colonial master brought smallpox. We still dealt with it. Kenyan and African media needs to write African stories of hope. Tell the world how even matatu crew are sanitizing their vans and providing handwash at their own cost. How every hotel is providing clean water and soap. Even in the slums, people have access to water and doing whatever little to fight the bug. How even when we see white people(who are the new pariahs in the Coronavirus story) we move on with life because we know anyone could be have it, it is not a disease that attacks a specific race, as their president suggests. How we are keeping our kids at home and how we are praying, that this ends. Not for us but the whole world.

Write about hope. The New York times and their friends have called dibs on despair. 

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