Summer is a beloved American tradition, but for many families it breaks the bank.
By most accounts, the American media don’t do a very good job covering Africa. Headlines tend to be dominated by violence and political intrigue. The few American journalists reporting on the continent have massive beats, spanning dozens of countries and thousands of miles. But coverage is also influenced by subtler, more insidious factors. We explore how development organizations, local “fixers,” and the economics of newsgathering skewer our understanding of the continent.
- Laura Seay Assistant Professor, Political Science, Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.)
- Akwe Amosu Director of Africa Advocacy, Open Society Foundations; former Executive Director, AllAfrica.com
- Hamadou Tidiane SY Founder and CEO, Ouestaf.com
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBy most accounts, the American media don't do a very good job covering Africa. Either news outlets ignore the continent or they fixate on dysfunction, violence and corruption and play the stereotypes of a dark and chaotic continent. But what if the problem is not a fixation on bad news or lazy journalism, but a bad model for news gathering in Africa? A system that asks a small band of foreign reporters to parachute into dozens of complex political environments, a process that often ignores the expertise of local journalists that allows unseen players like humanitarian organizations and translators to influence coverage in subtle but powerful ways.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFor the remainder of the hour, we're exploring how news about Africa is created and disseminated. Joining us in studio is Akwe Amosu, director of Africa Advocacy at the Open Society Foundations. She was previously a BBC journalist and a founding executive director of AllAfrica.com. Akwe Amosu, good to see you again.
MS. AKWE AMOSUIt's great to be back, Kojo.
NNAMDIGlad to have you back. Joining us from studios in Atlanta, Ga., is Laura Seay, professor of Political Science at Morehouse College. Her article "How Not to Write About Africa" recently appeared in Foreign Policy. Laura Seay, thank you for joining us.
DR. LAURA SEAYIt's a pleasure to be here, thank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you spent time in Africa, living, working or traveling? How did your experiences compare to the news images we get of the continent, 800-433-8850. Laura Seay, there are 54 countries in Africa, 54 different political cultures and more than 3,000 languages. Even in a world of unlimited resources for American media outlets, it would be extremely difficult to cover Africa adequately. But you recently wrote the interesting piece that I referred to examining how the news is gathered which might speak to deeper, perhaps more insidious problems, care to explain?
SEAYSure, I mean, I think that the, you know, you speak to the very issue. We think of Africa as this single entity, as something that can...
NNAMDIIt's a large country.
SEAY...right. It's almost like a country. You know, I throw my students out of class if they refer to it that way. But Western media outlets tend to look at Africa as something that only needs one or two or a few correspondents, as somewhere where, yes, news happens, but it's enough that it can be managed by a small cadre.
SEAYNow, if you compare that to something like coverage of Afghanistan or China or Japan, you know, it would be unthinkable to have an Asia correspondent who's responsible for all of Asia or Latin America correspondent who's responsible for an entire continent there. But in Africa, that's a very common model. And it's pretty rare for Western media outlets to have more than two or three people assigned to cover all of these complex political cultures, language groups and situations.
NNAMDIAkwe, you're originally from Nigeria. You come at this as a former journalist and a kind of expat living and working here and consuming media in this part of the world. What do you think about Laura's argument?
AMOSUYeah, I agree with her. I mean, I think that's absolutely the patent that we've got used to. I mean, the only thing I would say is that when we used to make this critique 10 years ago, 12 years ago, we were looking at a world in which the coverage of Africa was absolutely dominated by the Western media houses. If you look online now at what's available, I think the difference is that there's a huge number of people telling account narrative but Africans telling their own stories.
AMOSUYou're seeing, you know, a very wide range of African newspapers and broadcasters out there. And so I feel like that's mitigated the damaged but I don’t really disagree with the fundamental critique that there's a hierarchy of interest in media editorial teams that seems to put Africa at the bottom.
NNAMDIWhich is why AllAfrica.com was so welcomed, seeing news from Africa, written by reporters in Africa is a very significant difference. Back in the year, 2010, the Kojo Nnamdi Show broadcast a week of live shows from Port Au Prince, Haiti and it's no exaggeration to say that it would not have been possible without the help of three gentlemen named Sebastian Petion, Emmanuel Midi and Joseph Blanchard. These were our fixers, they helped us as our drivers, translators, facilitators, they helped us navigate the local environment. And so, in a way, they were our guides. They steered us, we trusted them even though we had no idea what their own political bias might be. How common is that Akwe?
AMOSUI think it's very common. Although, I mean, I would say that if you're any good as a journalist, coming from another country, you quickly get to know what the danger signs are, you know, the red flags that would suggest that the person you're relying on is grinding an axe, has got a hidden agenda. I mean, maybe, for the first few weeks you could make a mistake, but if nine months in, you don't know that your fixer is got an agenda, then I think you're not very good. That said, you know, I think sometimes it's important to balance this. If you are you, you know, going as the correspondent to -- for Washington Post to Moscow, first of all, you are going to be an American, that's the expectation of your readership and your teams here.
AMOSUAnd number two, you have to rely on local people and if you didn't, if you just decided to kind of go with your own instincts you'd probably do a worse job. So, I mean on the whole I think it's absolutely okay to rely on fixes, you should be doing that. If you get into a situation where they never get acknowledged on the content that good professional people working never get it acknowledged then I think there's a problem.
AMOSULaura, in your article, you refer to one particularly influential fixer who has a remarkable influence on media coverage on South Sudan. Tell us about Ryan Boyette?
SEAYSure. So Ryan Boyette is an American citizen. He was an aid worker for an organization called Samaritan's Purse and, long story short, in his aid career he met a woman, a Nuba woman from the Nuba Mountains of what's now in the southern part of Sudan. So just north of the South Sudan - Sudan border. And married her and when the situation there got violent Samaritan's Purse asked its personnel to leave. They pulled them out and Boyette didn't want to go. He's married, this is his family and so he quit his job with Samaritan's Purse and has stayed behind and in recent months, of course, the situation in the Nuba Mountains has escalated, it's gotten a lot worse.
SEAYAnd what we're seeing, I mean, it's an interesting phenomenon because Boyette because he speaks English, because he's there, because he knows the culture quite well, has been the fixer for almost every journalist reporting from the Nuba Mountains. And it's, you know, that's an interesting challenge. I mean, I absolutely agree you need fixers. These reporters especially when they're expected to cover 10, 15, 20 even 54 countries. They need people who can help them and who can speak the language and find these sources on the ground.
SEAYBut, you know, do we get the same quality and variety of coverage when all of these reporters are relying on the same fixer as they are with Ryan Boyette? And is there a question of objectivity which I think became really evident over the past few days. So Boyette and his wife, their home was targeted by the Sudanese Air Force. They were bombed and what we saw, you know, on Twitter and on blog posts in major media outlets. People like Alex Perry, who is the chief Africa correspondent from Time magazine, Nick Kristof from the New York Times were both expressing, you know, very personal concern for Boyette, who is not just their fixer, he's also, you know, Perry referred to him as my friend and guide.
SEAYAnd I do think that raises some questions about objectivity. I mean, Boyette definitely is -- I have no reason to believe he's not a good fixer, but he also definitely has an agenda. He is related to people who are fighting for something and that, you know, does that produce the highest quality, the most objective reporting we could get out of the situation. I think that's a question.
NNAMDIAnd that's the broader question. Akwe, we know that NGOs, nongovernmental organizations like Open Society Foundations and humanitarian groups can play a vital role in addressing critical needs on the ground in developing countries and in raising awareness in this country. but sometimes those roles can make them, well, less than objective. What do you think? What role should NGOs play?
AMOSUWell, I don't know that I think it's possible to come at what is, you know, often a very troubling situation without having an agenda, having an opinion. I mean, I think the most important thing is to be open about your views. If you set out to conceal what you think in order to influence other people without letting them know what you're doing then I think you're misleading them. So, you know, from the NGO point of view, I just want to be clear. I mean, Open Society Foundations doesn't buy coverage, it doesn't fund people to, you know, go out there and sell our point of view.
AMOSUSo, you know, in that sense, the NGO role is, as far as I would hope, to one side in this case and in this situation. If I thought that a fixer was manipulating me and I was the correspondent, I'd want to fix that problem straight away and, you know, let's be honest, you know, sometimes there's a resources issue. People can't do the due diligence that they need to on the ground. They're sort of sitting in Joburg and relying on somebody in (word?) or whatever. But the bottom line is that they have to do that work and they shouldn't rely on people that they can't trust.
NNAMDILet's get a view from the other side, from Africa because now joining us by telephone is Hamadou Tidiane Sy, who is a veteran journalist from Senegal, West Africa. He's reported both for the BBC and AFP, Agence France Presse, today. He runs a journalism school and operates ouestaf.com. It's a new site dedicated to West Africa. He joins us by phone from Dakar. Tidiane Sy, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. HAMADOU TIDIANE SYThanks for having me.
NNAMDII mentioned you worked for European news services including the BBC and AFP but today you run a school that teaches journalism. But first, how do these outlets use local reporters and local expertise? What has been your experience?
SYWell, I'm somebody who's worked for international media that we call (unintelligible) here. There are times when really as an African journalist you will feel some sort of frustration because, well, I am a Senegalese based in Senegal. That was what was interesting in my case and I was reporting for either Agence France Presse or the BBC. And at times on certain issues, the agenda or the interest is relatively different, like the angle of the stories. I can remember once I was commissioned a story about the (unintelligible) but actually the title of this story from the commissioners side was we wanted something on the Talibe and the Quranic schools.
SYBut I had to tell them that, well, you can't -- from my own perspective, I would not associate the Talibe and the Quranic school because there's probably something there that people are having wrong in the West. Because actually if you come and do not understand what's happening, you may confuse Quranic school and (unintelligible). But if you come from Senegal and know the history of the country, know the society of this country, you can understand that there's a big difference.
SYEventually what I did, I did a story and had to, in that story, feature one person at that time who went through the Quranic school and did heading the department of the main university (unintelligible) which (unintelligible) just to show them that the Quranic schools were producing talented and competent people. I mean, just to put it in one word, there's a lot of confusion at times that come from these international quarters. If you are a local African, I mean, I say local African journalist working. If you are not strong enough in the way you want to present your news, you may follow the same bias. That is one thing.
SYThe other thing is because of the weakness of our local media and it's one of the reasons I set up my own website. Most of the stories were reporting other parts of the continent and from these big news international organizations. People would pick up stories from the BBC, from AFP. One example, you are in Senegal reporting a story on Ivory Coast, rather than having a local correspondent or having a Senegalist correspondent, you would pick up stories from Agence France Presse or stories posted on the BBC website or other international news organizations, which have more resources to cover these issues.
SYSo it meant a sort of domination, if I can say so, of the western way of thinking, that sort of keeps, you know, (unintelligible) the agenda and, I mean, Akwe was mentioning early in the week online, Africans are telling their own stories and I think it's a good thing. there are thousands maybe or tens of thousands, I don't know, of outlets, I mean, just being run online which are giving Africans and African journalists opportunity to tell the story the way they want it to be told.
NNAMDIHere is Akwe.
AMOSUYes, I mean, I really like the emphasis on the resources question. I think that's huge. If you are even a successful local broadcaster in Senegal, where are you going to get the resources to have a network of correspondents across a continent, let's not even say 54 countries. let's just say 14 countries. That's an expensive business and so I think creativity, innovative approaches to try and to get people as your stringer, as your supporter in those locations, it's still a work in progress.
NNAMDIWe've heard about that in the coverage of Afghanistan where Afghan local reporters use Western media outlets as their source for access to information and that can become a little bit of a problem. In case you're just joining us, we're talking about writing about Africa with Akwe Amosu, director of Africa Advocacy of the Open Society Foundations. Laura Seay, professor of political science at Morehouse College and Hamadou Tidiane Sy, a veteran journalist from Senegal, West Africa who has reported for both the BBC and Agence France Presse. On to the telephones, here is Samuel in Prince George's County, Md. Samuel, you're on the air, go ahead please.
SAMUELHey Kojo, how are you doing?
SAMUELI called before like a couple of times whenever a topic like this come up and I always ask the same question. Now, I'm Sierra-Leone. I've been -- I went through the war. I mean, I know a lot of other places in the continent that went through the same type of war. But out here in the United States and the West, the passion that they give to say a place like Syria, when kids are dying, it's not the same passion that the journalists gives when kids are dying, say, in the continent.
SAMUELIt's like in the continent it's okay for people. It's, like, to me, that's odd. Look everybody in Syria, they've kind of overblown it like it's never happened nowhere else before. And, my God, they're killing people down there. And I sympathize with the people of Syria and the kids of Syria, but I was one of the kids that went through war and I cannot find -- some people don't even know about that story and I see a lot of people who know about Syria and these are places -- I'm trying to find out, is it the media that controls the politics or the politics control the media? I don't know.
NNAMDIWell, Samuel, you should know that one of the things that Laura Seay has written about, one of the big differences she highlights involves how victims of violence are portrayed in the media. Laura Seay, would you like to talk about that?
SEAYSure, sure. I mean, Samuel, I think this is a really important point. Part of it goes back to that problem you were talking about of one person being responsible for covering multiple conflicts. So if we think about the Sierra-Leone example, you know, you had reporters who seriously were responsible for explaining the situation in Sierra-Leone, Liberia, the DRC, Northern Uganda and Somalia all at once.
SEAYYou know, nobody can reasonably do a good job at giving a comprehensive explanation of that but I think another thing and, you know, kind of coming at this topic of violence is that in a lot of reporting on Africa from the international media, you tend to see not a lot of nuance in the way that conflicts are described and explained in Africa. We tend to see a lot of very overly simplistic explanations and I think that this slowly changing.
SEAYI think people are starting to understand, partly because and largely because of the pushback from Africans who are engaged in telling their own story but, you know, 10 years ago even we would see explanations that said, you know, Sierra-Leone's war is entirely about diamonds and that's it. Where, you know, anybody who does 10 minutes of research knows that diamonds are one part of the story as to why Sierra-Leone had a war but that it was much more complicated situation that involved power struggles and inter-communal tensions and the timber trade and regional alliances...
NNAMDIDid you also talk about how in the U.S. children who are victims of sexual abuse, for instance, are usually given anonymity or given a different name, a false name, and they are never, you never see photographs of them. But some media outlets have posted pictures of such victims in Africa.
SEAYRight. It's really appalling and I think there is a double standard particularly for the way that child victims of violence, but really any victim of violence is portrayed. Jina Moore is a journalist who's done a lot of work on this and worked with the DART center, which works on reporting on trauma victims and, you know, reporters just seem to not think when they're writing about Africa. They don't think, if they do bother to get consent from the victims, it's not entirely clear that it's fully informed consent.
SEAYYou know, can a child who's been raped in the Congo, can her guardian really understand what it means for her to be depicted with her name and picture in the pages of the New York Times and what the implications of that are if she's never heard of the New York Times before, doesn't know what the Internet is. But we just, you know, we would never ever put the face and the location and the picture of an American victim of that kind of crime out there for everyone to see, yet it does happen with Africa and I think that that also goes to a question of editorial control.
SEAYAnd something that I wonder about, which is how these international media houses treat Africa differently in terms of the editorial activities, what's allowed and what's not, what kind of fact checking goes into pieces and what kind of verification of things like consent of victims of violence plays out. And, you know, just from observation over this over several years, it seems pretty clear that there very much is a double standard.
AMOSUYes, I mean, I think we should just acknowledge that in any media house, you know, the further away the situation is, the tougher it is for all the parties concerned necessarily to get the story spot-on. You know, your editorial backup base is not necessarily going to know when to ask a question. But the really important point and I really like what Laura's saying on this. I think it's the huge question is, it's about accountability.
AMOSUAnd the message for Samuel, I think, is when you see something or hear something that you think is wrong or skates over the surface, doesn't attribute the right level of important, you know, you need to get back to the media house and say, this was unacceptable and I think that's what happened with mainstream media in the UK and Europe and America was, you know, that the performance was tested and challenged by the readership and the listenership and it's not just about having editorial rules and standards. it's also about what the audience does in response.
NNAMDITidiane, I think I heard you wanting to join this part of the conversation, Tidiane SY?
SYYeah. I think the fact that we have double standards when it comes to covering Africa, I mean, it's obvious. I think all those who are prolonging the way Africa is covered every (unintelligible) clear double standards from the western media. Just a couple of quick examples, but I didn't make what I'm trying to make more concrete. When the former IMF boss, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was shown on U.S. TV and in the world media handcuffed, the French media was so appalled, so horrified and they were denouncing the American justice system, denouncing the U.S. media because they were not ready to accept this tradition of humiliation for one of their citizens.
NNAMDIThey saw him...
SYAnd that was the reaction from the French media, and they were vocal in criticizing the U.S. system. And the same French media would very easily show former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, whatever we can agree or disagree with him, but the same French media was showing him in a more degrading, more humiliating position without saying absolutely nothing. That's really a very huge problem. The other problem is the weakness of the victims here.
SYMany people would accept one of their pictures to be taken in a very humiliating or degrading situation because somebody is promising them 20 or $50, which can make money if you go into a very rural poor area if you are a journalist, I mean, coming from the U.S., coming from France or London or whatever, you give 20 or $50. You're allowed almost to take all sorts of pictures. At times, I have some arguments with some colleagues when they go far into the privacy or into the privacy of some African communities or some African individuals.
SYSo the double standard is very true. We all remember the story of the vulture and the child that won the Pulitzer Prize, but that was very, very questionable. Would they -- we also knew the issue about the Wikileaks story about Assange who is in jail for having got out some news that the U.S. thinks these are very sensitive news. He would have done it over in Nigeria, about corruption in Nigeria, corruption in (unintelligible) or Senegal. He would have won all the world prizes.
SYI think this is something that not only the African journalists, but the world journalists should look at and the world leadership, political leadership because the NGOs (unintelligible) all these organizations I think is something that, I mean, if you want to believe in a very fair world, I think these are issues to be looked at more seriously.
NNAMDIBefore we go to a...
SY(unintelligible) -- just let me finish.
SYWorking for the (unintelligible) .
NNAMDII think we're going in and out with Tidiane, so we're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll make sure we have a good connection. We're discussing how not to, or how to write about Africa, and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back our conversation about news coverage of Africa. We're talking with Hamadou Tidiane SY. He's a veteran journalist from Senegal, West Africa. Today he runs a journalism school and operates ouestaf.com, which is a news site dedicated to West Africa. He joins by phone from Dakar Senegal. Laura Seay is a professor of political science at Morehouse College. Her article "How Not to Write About Africa" recently appeared in Foreign Policy. She joins us from studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
NNAMDIAnd here in our Washington studio is Akwe Amosu, director of Africa Advocacy at the Open Society Foundation. She was previously a BBC journalist and a founding executive director of allafrica.com. Akwe, I wanted you to try to address two aspects of this issue. On the one hand, many western media outlets seem reluctant or unable to use local talent in Africa, and there is apparently a kind of two-tiered system. On the other hand, a part of that reluctance may be based in part on the quality of some of the coverage that we see in African media itself.
AMOSUOkay. I'm not going to agree with that, because I'm going to say that actually in every country that I've ever worked in in Africa, there have been absolutely excellent journalists. They may not be, you know, polished in that way that a BBC or a New York Times wants them to be, but they could easily be the sources of the stories, and they could easily grace the pages of -- or the airtime of those outlets.
AMOSUSo I think there is prejudice issue. But that said, I mean, not to discount the importance of this debate about the quality of western media coverage of Africa, I want to say that for me as a African, one of the most wonderful things about this period has been the increasing quality of African journalism, and I think -- I mentioned accountability before, I think that's partly because there is now a more stringent demand on the point part of Nigerian listeners and readers, African viewers, and readers for better quality coverage, and there's more criticism of poor work.
AMOSUAnd so you're seeing all over the continent better and better journalism. That's my view, and it's the thing that gives me a lot of hope for the future.
NNAMDIAnd Tidiane, I'd like to address this more specifically with you to talk about Senegal. Senegal has for years been a stable, relatively democratic country in the region. One of the countries never to have a corps military dictatorship, but earlier this year, Senegal had a major political crisis when its long-time president, Abdoulaye Wade, tried to win a third term. Can you talk a little bit about that?
SYWell, yes, definitely. I think that there again we come to the role and importance of the media in a democratic society, because Abdoulaye Wade came to power back in 2000. I think at that time he had the support, the implicit support, if I can say, of the majority of the media. People were saying if he wins, the results should be reported fairly, and the media played a huge role in, you know, putting out the results on time so that the loser, his opponent at the time, who was the then outgoing president (unintelligible) election results because they were already everywhere, on local radio stations and on the private media.
SYSo I think the media played an important role. This year, again, 12 years after Abdoulaye Wade (unintelligible) election, have to say that his main opponents were the press. That he has no serious rival but the press. Just to show you the important that a credible and independent and strong media can play in a country, why we are not having a coup, why the country is still, I mean, doing well in terms of democracies. There a lot of things that come into play, the media is one of them.
SYOf course, we have ostensible society, we have (unintelligible) elite, all these things come into play, but definitely the media also being independent, being responsible, understanding what is at stake, I think helps into shaping the public opinion that shows the way to the political leadership.
NNAMDII'd like to read an email that we got from Gina who says, "One problem with African coverage is the same problem with your frame, binaries, either/or questions are not likely to produce truth, they're likely to reproduce stereotypes. I am biased here. I'm an American reporter who covers Africa for mainstream American media. I wish you had an American reporter on your panel or someone filing an American outlet who could speak firsthand to the challenges into how we deal with the many issues that you've raised. Many of us are in fact aware of them.
NNAMDI"Also, I think it's important to acknowledge that there are people doing good work. There are countless local journalists who help those of us devoted to better understanding the places we cover. There are also some international journalists who do not fit the image of clueless stereotypes. You might start with Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times in Joburg, Katrina Mason of the Financial Times in Nairobi, Jeffrey York of the Toronto Globe in (word?) Joburg, and Gwen Thompkins of NPR in Nairobi."
NNAMDIHaving said that, Tidiane, it is my understanding that having worked with people from western media outlets, people who, like our emailer says, are probably diligent, hard-working, good journalists, you nevertheless feel that for local journalists in Africa, there tends to be a two-tiered system. What do you mean by that?
SYThe last words, please?
NNAMDIA system of two-tiers of which the -- and I'll interpret here, of which the western journalist occupies a higher tier than the local journalists.
SYWell, I think that has just to do with what some people would say this old division of the world where you have Africa being relegated to the background and the western world being -- but because it's what you're having at the political level that you are having replicated in the media field. And in the same way that (unintelligible) of the international system can be perceived in the political and economic field in the same way it will perceived in the media field. That's my guess if I understand your question properly.
NNAMDIWell, I'd like Akwe to also address it because I'm sure you concur with our emailer that there are a lot of outstanding western journalists who cover that part of the world, but you also wanted to underscore that, as the emailer pointed out, they have to work with a lot of local journalists.
AMOSUYeah. I mean, I really liked her email. I mean, I think she's right, and I didn't really feel that this conversation was designed to just attack western reporters on the continent. I think, you know, Howard French, a veteran of this area listed a group of journalists recently, all of whom I agreed with, Blaine Harde, Lynne Duke, Stephanie McCrummen, Doug Farrar, Keith Richburg, I mean, there's a long and honored list of journalists who have done fantastic work out of the continent.
AMOSUIn a way that's not the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is that they're working in an environment in which the hierarchy of interest and issues often works against Africa, is poisoned by a sort of stereotypical set of attitudes, and I'm sure that those journalists -- I know that the journalists in some cases have, you know, battled to try and get their voices heard and the nuance acknowledged, the lengths of their stories, you know, run at a reasonable level to allow them to give them context and the detail that's critical to understanding.
AMOSUSo I would say that, you know, this is not really about attacking those kinds of individuals. I think it's about acknowledging that the constraints that always were there, and were often, you know, racist and, you know, cultural stereotyping, have now been added to by the resource constraints which make a huge difference to, you know, what can a New York Times do when it's trying to keep a lot of bureaus going around the world. So we should acknowledge the problems, but we should also say we want you to do better, and that's where the accountability piece fits in.
NNAMDIWhich brings me back to you, Laura Seay, because in spite of the good work that those journalists have done, we come back to what the broad characterization of Africa coverage has been, the heart of darkness. Oh...
SEAYYes. And I think that's a challenge. I agree there are absolutely some fantastic people writing on Africa right now, but you do see -- and I think that this really comes in at the editorial and managerial level, you know, I also have friends who are journalists who cover Africa and they get so frustrated because they pitch stories, and if they don't fit into that sort of heart of darkness and savagery and war and conflict and poverty and disease trope, the stories get rejected, or they're sort of, you know, they're not funded. There's no budget for it.
SEAYAnd that's enormously frustrating. I mean, there is this kind of stereotype that is perceived to sell papers or to get page hits, and I think that for many, you know, people who are not lazy reporters, people who do want to give a comprehensive picture of what the African continent is like and what is going on there, it can be an uphill battle really to get these different kinds of stories out there.
NNAMDIHere's Jerry in Washington D.C. Jerry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYHi Kojo. It's Gary.
NNAMDIOh, hi Gary.
GARYFirst of all, I wanted to correct your guest about Laura about Latin America. It's not a continent. South America is a continent, not all of which is Latin, as Kojo to could tell you. But -- yeah. And I say that because I think geography is part of the problem in Africa. Geography and culture because Africa is so large and so big, it's hard to think of it -- think of the whole in one's mind at one time. So is there a way that we can -- that we as westerners, or as Africans, can begin to think of Africa in its more constituent parts both culturally and geographically so that we can take it in bite-size pieces?
GARYFor example, the westafrica.com sounds like a great idea to me, and I will check it out because I can think of West Africa, but I can't -- but it's hard to hold West Africa in the mind and still hold the Horn of Africa, and southern Africa and all the rest of Africa...
NNAMDIWell, you should know that ouestafrica.com may sound like the English pronunciation, but it is really ouest O-U-E-S-T Africa.com, which is the website before you go there, so you can make sure that you find it. But you know, the only way I know of talking about the continent in bite-sized pieces is talking about specific situations. So Laura Seay, some African countries like Nigeria have obvious geo-political importance. It's a major oil exporter, a powerful player across the continent, but other countries are often ignored by the media because they don't seem to directly affect U.S. interests.
NNAMDIAs we speak, the West African country of Mali is in the midst of a political and humanitarian crisis, but you say it has been woefully underreported in the U.S.
SEAYSure. And I think that that's true. You know, most people, if you are just an average reader of an average newspaper somewhere in America, you probably are not aware that several hundred thousand people have been displaced from their home, that a coup attempt that was supposed to have resulted in a functioning transitional government seemed -- the agreement there seems to be falling apart, that Islamists have taken over the northern part of country and are in the midst of interpretive -- implementing a very strict interpretation of Sharia law.
SEAYThat people are protesting this, that they're not happy about it, but, you know, if you just are someone who flips through the paper on, you know, over morning coffee, you may not be aware of that. And it's an unfolding tragedy, and it has the potential to kills thousands and thousands of people.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's about all the time we have, but we will following up on these issues. Laura Seay is a professor of political science at Morehouse College. Akwe Amosu is director of Africa Advocacy at the Open Society Foundation, and Hamadou Tidiane SY is a veteran journalist from Senegal, West Africa. Thank you all for joining us.
SEAYThank you. It's a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. While we're talking about international news, Washington is an international city, and you've probably heard me describe "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" as connecting your neighborhood to the world. Well, we'd like your help fulfilling that mission. We're looking for interesting local stories in local communities with global reach. Are there local events or institutions who give you a flavor of your home country? If you have a suggestion, please log onto our website kojoshow.org and click on the link to the Public Insight Network. That's the link to the Public Insight Network. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
What are Ellen Stofan's plans for the nation's most visited museum?
The biggest baseball game of the summer is in Washington for the fifth time. But is D.C. still a baseball town?
A 1.4-acre plot of land east of downtown Takoma Park has long been eyed for development. While a neighborhood food co-op has sat on part of it for 20 years, a new plan to redevelop the space envisions restaurants, cafes, a parking garage and office space.