The first thing to notice about how Africa is covered or portrayed by Western mainstream media is that in most cases it is not. According to fairobserver.com, “Studies of major internationally focused Western (U.S., UK, France) news outlets (newspapers and TV) have found that Africa tends to account for roughly 6 % to 9 % of the total amount of international news,” the website noted in part.
“Even if we generously assume that 20 % of the news is focused on international events (it rarely rises above 15 %), that still means that at best, less than 2 % of coverage in a Western newspaper will be about Africa. That does not leave a lot of room to portray Africa in all its diversity,” the article continued.
In fact, a New York Times ad seeking to fill a vacant writer’s position displayed the problematic stereotypes inherent in much of Western press coverage of Africa.
The right candidate, according to the ad, would have an 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.” The ad went on to describe the region as one that offered crucial story leads, including terrorism, the scrambling for resources, and tussles between dictatorship and democracy.
“There is also the chance to delight our readers with unexpected stories of hope and the changing rhythms of life in a rapidly evolving region,” the ad continues.
Under the headline “‘Shithole’ Countries? The Media’s Portrayal of Africa Reconsidered,” Southern African Centre for Collaboration on Peace and Security co-founder Virgil Hawkins points out what little coverage Africa receives in mainstream corporate run press, “in general displays a tendency for negativity, as the truism ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ would suggest. Journalists have long spoken of a coups-and-earthquakes approach to covering the world outside (to quote the title of a book by Mort Rosenblum).”
“But the tendency appears to be more pronounced regarding news of the African continent. A study of U.S. television news found more than 60 percent of news of Africa focused on conflicts, terrorism, disasters, disease and other tragedies.”
One would be hard pressed to find mainstream media stories that don’t include favoring Egyptian claims to Nile River water rights over other riparian countries, including Ethiopia where roughly 85 percent of the water that flows into the Nile originates in the Ethiopian highlands through the Blue Nile.
What also is not covered is Ethiopia’s right in the second filling of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that will turn Ethiopia into a major regional power. Also, what is never mentioned is the 1929 British colonial rule mandate that gave Egypt favorable rights even though the Nile originates in Ethiopia.
Regarding the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash that killed all 157 passengers, major Western media houses highlighted the names and countries of victims from the West but failed, at least initially, to mention those from African countries, including Kenya that lost 32 citizens (the largest death toll for any country in the crash).
And to top it off according to fairplanet.org, “When former U.S. president Barack Obama was to make his maiden trip to Kenya as commander in chief, CNN carried a story on the security threats the president was exposed to, terming Kenya a hotbed of terror. Kenya netizens picked up an online war christened #someonetellcnn, which saw 75,000 tweets sent in a single day. They eventually elicited an apology from the network’s management.”
A 2017 report by thisisafrica.me by assistant editor Socrates Mbamalu, accused Western media of being Africa’s “number one enemy.”
Western media’s “reportage on Africa is consistently biased, cementing stereotypes that Africa has a leadership crisis, and the continent is incapable of producing outstanding leaders. Without understanding specific geopolitical variables, it has consistently demonized its leaders, Muammar Gaddafi, Patrice Lumumba come to mind and now Rwanda’s Paul Kagame,” noted the report.
It can now add Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad to the above Western media list. Multiple Western media outlets have accused the 2019 Noble Peace Prize recipient with his problems in Tigray, as tainting the peace prize.
Obama, also a recipient of the Noble Peace Prize, overthrew Libya leading to the unjust killing of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but he received no such criticisms as a war monger as a recipient of award.
The Western press had a field day denigrating the character and considerable contributions Col. Gaddafi made to Africa’s development.
A small reminder of Gaddafi’s contributions included a $250 million grant to UNESCO to support scholarships for 250, 000 African students and $50 million to sponsor the precursor to the African Union—The Extraordinary Organization of African Unity Summit held in Libya and attended in 1999 by this writer. I dare say, if not for Gaddafi’s largess and commitment to Africa the reigning of Kwame Nkrumah’s vision of a United States of Africa would not have gained any traction.
“The Western media is ultimately Africa’s first enemy and the biased reporting must be countered by Africans retelling their own stories. Ultimately, Africans have learnt from the past and current mistakes and hopefully will not allow that pattern to continue,” wrote Mbamalu. –Follow @JehronMuhammad on Twitter.