Africa: beyond war, tragedy, misrule.Editorial writers need to take a closer look at the world's second-largest continent.
A fellow journalist told of a Washington Post editor commenting years ago that the West ought to build a fence around Africa, peek over it now and then, and after 100 years, tear it down to see what's left.
I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. if that stow is true or not. But it certainly speaks to the prevailing attitude of major U.S. media when it comes to Africa. It is essentially that of a continent, besieged be·siege
tr.v. be·sieged, be·sieg·ing, be·sieg·es
1. To surround with hostile forces.
2. To crowd around; hem in.
3. by an unrelenting series of horrific tragedies, hopelessly backward, and beyond redemption.
Even the most casual reader of newspaper stories and broadcasts about Africa is aware of tribal conflict, refugee problems, massive starvation, government corruption, and breathtaking acts of inhumanity in·hu·man·i·ty
n. pl. in·hu·man·i·ties
1. Lack of pity or compassion.
2. An inhuman or cruel act.
1. against fellow countrymen. The rare good stow - with the notable exception of changes in South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. - usually revolves around the preservation of some form of wildlife or archaeological finding.
But Africa is a huge continent with 54 countries (48 sub-Sahara), about 600 million people, and hundreds of different languages and dialects. Vast tracts of Africa have no wars going on, where governments are moving away from old-style socialist economies and making steady progress in economic, democratic, and human rights reform.
Mozambique has experienced a massive economic turnaround; Zambia has seen important privatization privatization: see nationalization.
Transfer of government services or assets to the private sector. State-owned assets may be sold to private owners, or statutory restrictions on competition between privately and publicly owned efforts; extensive economic reform has taken place in Kenya and near miracles in Uganda and Ghana. A very strong movement also is underway now for African countries to deal with their own regional problems, whether in Liberia, the Central African Republic Central African Republic, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,800,000), 240,534 sq mi (622,983 sq km), central Africa. The landlocked nation is bordered by Chad (N), Sudan (E), Congo (Kinshasa) and Congo (Brazzaville) (S), and Cameroon (W). , or Zaire.
However, I would be willing to bet if one asked most editorial writers what major issues concern African countries these days, you would hear a litany of problems ranging from war and massive starvation right down to female circumcision.
As editorial writers, we help define what is real and not real for millions of readers and listeners every day. Our goal is not only go influence what members of our communities think, but also to tell them the truth about what is going on in their world. It is time we demystify de·mys·ti·fy
tr.v. de·mys·ti·fied, de·mys·ti·fy·ing, de·mys·ti·fies
To make less mysterious; clarify: an autobiography that demystified the career of an eminent physician. Africa for our readers and ourselves.
This is not to suggest we engage in public relations public relations, activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most , but rather become more serious about the world's second-largest continent and do better journalism.
Editorials written on Africa for the most part can be characterized as limited in context, sad in tone, and generally inadequate in terms of enlightening the reader.
I know this to be true. Although I do not consider myself an expert on Africa, I do write many of our editorials on the subject and have established some very fine sources. Each and every one of them is deeply chagrined not only by the news coverage, but also by most editorial comment based on the coverage.
"It has been very narrow, highly focused on the sensational, and limited in context," said Melvin P. Foote, executive director of Constituency for Africa. "With some exceptions: Howard French Howard Waring French (born 1957) is a New York Times senior reporter as well as an author and photographer. French taught at a university in the Ivory Coast in the 1980s before becoming a reporter. [of The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times] does a good job."
Foote said some of the reasons for such poor coverage and commentary on Africa go back to deep racial stereotypes and the marginalization mar·gin·al·ize
tr.v. mar·gin·al·ized, mar·gin·al·iz·ing, mar·gin·al·iz·es
To relegate or confine to a lower or outer limit or edge, as of social standing. of Africa. Others are more technical, such as a lack of financial resources by many media outlets to open and maintain adequate bureaus on the continent. Also, travel difficulties are deterrents to comprehensive coverage, as well as a lack of reliable telephone systems and satellite links.
James Hoagland, associate editor, senior correspondent, and foreign affairs foreign affairs
Affairs concerning international relations and national interests in foreign countries. columnist for The Washington Post, agrees. A two-time Pulitzer Prize Pulitzer Prize
Any of a series of annual prizes awarded by Columbia University for outstanding public service and achievement in American journalism, letters, and music. Fellowships are also awarded. winner, including one in 1970 for his coverage of South Africa, Hoagland said when he was foreign editor for the Post, keeping its Africa bureau open cost the newspaper $250,000 a year.
He said too much coverage of Africa focuses on the destruction, the dramatic conflict. "There has to be a conscious effort to try to balance the large amount of conflict stories we have to run. Because they [Africa and other foreign countries] have them and they are significant."
Hoagland said when he worked in Africa he did a lot of enterprise and trend pieces, even slice-of-life stories such as what Christmas is like in Africa, stories on ecology, environment, and religion.
"I also spent a lot of my time concentrating on Southern Africa and the racial conflict," he said. "It is the great success stow of our time."
Janet Fleischman, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said one of the important roles editorial writers can play is to be more attentive to U.S. policy issues on Africa, so policy makers can be more attentive to Africa.
"It needs to happen around the country so that pressure can be brought to bear in the Congress and on the administration to forge a more effective African policy," she said.
Fleischman noted that human rights communities throughout the continent have been growing "at a very impressive pace and are involved in on-the-spot monitoring of human rights conditions in their countries that would have been unthinkable a few years ago."
Somehow, I suspect, not very many editorial writers are aware of this exciting trend.
Africa is neither the hell on earth too many news stories suggest it is, nor the nirvana some Afrocentrists would have us believe. It is, as writer and attorney Makan Wa Mutua wrote, "a place where hope, vitality, and creativity rises every dawn to meet seemingly insurmountable challenges of poverty and repressive governance."
Clearly, Africa is a place full of pain, agony, and despair. It has been trapped in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment, economic exploitation, and cruel repression. But as Mutua says, that is only one side, the grim face, of the continent.
Our challenge as editorial writers is to shed light and provide perspective on this still, distressingly, dark continent.
NCEW NCEW National Conference of Editorial Writers member Trevor W. Coleman is an editorial writer with the Detroit Free Press The Detroit Free Press is the largest daily newspaper in Detroit, Michigan, USA. It is sometimes informally referred to as the "Freep". Some still refer to it locally as "The Friendly" -- a slogan from an ad campaign in the '70s. and vice chair of NCEW's Minority Participation Committee.