Date: Sat Jul 25 2009 - 22:29:12 EDT
The Western Media and African Diaspora
Africans have never attained control of their voices, points of view, agendas and the messages they need to convey to each other and the international community. African voices are silent, irrelevant, muted and dominated by international media. The majority of the continent lack the institutional, social, governmental and technical infrastructure needed to gather and disseminate information that can promote, protect and defend African interest. The whole continent is at a disadvantage because it lacks the basic understanding of public relations and how it is used. Therefore, African image, news and views are shaped and defined by others in accordance with their interests while Africans remain idle!
This is a result of a sustained battering of the civil structures, violent political leadership changes, wars, repressive leaders, lack of resources and expertise. Africans deserve a good chunk of the blame. However, the main reason Africa suffers this serious deficit is because of its colonial legacies, the cold war, and international actors that assert undue negative influence.
Colonialism stymied media development in Africa creating a structural deficit. During the cold war, in order to control information, the two superpowers controlled the airwaves as well as the propaganda machinery that bombarded Africans relentlessly rendering indigenous media mute; and blocked media capacity development for decades.
For example, at the height of the cold war, during Haile Sellassie’s reign until 1974, Ethiopia was allied with US. The US was able to have access and control of the airwaves from its base in Asmara, which at that time was under Ethiopia. The cultural war and the war for the hearts-and-minds the US waged were effective on attuning Ethiopians into the American culture and way of life. That changed after Mengistu Hailemariam came to power by ousting Haile Sellassie. From 1974 until 1991 Ethiopia was a key ally of the USSR and the airwaves in Ethiopia were saturated with communist propaganda. That was typical for many countries in Africa at the time; they were caught on a ping pong that debilitated media development.
After the cold war, the sole super power, US, controls the global information, media and PR wars. The US with her key allies, UK, Germany, France and other Western countries control major portion of the information disseminated around the world. With mammoth news agencies like the BBC, Deutsche Welle, AFP, VOA and other outlets, they essentially dominate the international information and news networks. The BBC online annual budget alone could equal the total annual media budget of twenty small African countries combined. The budgets these countries allot in order to control message, news, media information, and disinformation, propaganda and PR wars is so large that it will be impossible for any one nation to compete. One department, like the Pentagon in the US alone, has the technical, logistical, human, financial and institutional superiority over any organization or a nation. They have the skilled personal, coordination amongst the various international organizations, cohesive message dissemination strategies in place and the leadership necessary to put any message in motion expeditiously and as needed.
Their agendas mirror each other. Whatever the UK wants to achieve in Zimbabwe is supported by the US. Conversely, whatever the US pushes in Darfur is supported by France, UK and other Western countries overtly because they are intent on showing a unified view in order to exert power.
The whole idea behind their media strategies hinges on framing issues and forwarding their agendas irrespective of the facts on the ground! They are not concerned about truth, journalistic integrity, forwarding the agendas of the international community, or how the rule of law is being applied because their sole purpose is to forward their agendas.
They “may” deliberately give the appearance of balance but it is far from that. There are many examples, but one show in particular caught my attention.
On Wednesday July 8 2009, the BBC African program “Have Your Say” aired a show about Somalia. This is how the BBC advertised the program on their website:
“Is Eritrea becoming a destabilizing force?” “Today on Africa Have Your Say put your questions at 1600 GMT to Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Watangula, Eritrean Ambassador to Brussels Girma Asmerom and author Michela Wrong.”
A seemingly innocent show programmed to explore the issues in Somalia. However, it is a loaded statement presented in that manner to frame the issue that Eritrea is a key reason for the instability in Somalia. But that is a total misrepresentation of the history and facts on the ground. For starters, a relative stability reigned in Somalia for a brief period in 2006 courtesy of the Islamic Court Union. That was quickly dashed because the US decided to invade Somalia in order to get rid of the ICU and dispatched Ethiopia into Somalia. That turned into carnage because Ethiopian soldiers mowed civilian populations killing thousands of Somalis. The Human Rights Watch and others have accused the mercenary Meles Regime in Ethiopia of genocide and crimes against humanity. That is a fact. The US and Ethiopia are the key actors in Somalia. Kenya, Djibouti and African organizations play a complimentary role by buttressing US positions.
Here is one reason why the whole charade is a reach. Somalia is surrounded by Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Indian Ocean and Kenya, all key allies of the US. The Indian Ocean is literally covered with US Navy and other Western forces, supposedly fighting piracy. In other words, it is difficult for Eritrea to have the kind of impact it is accused of having because it is physically impossible. All Eritrea asked was for the reconstitution of Somalia as a nation, based on UN charters and as such opened her door for all Somalis to come together and solve their own problems without duress and foreign meddling by discussion and dialogue; a brotherly and neighborly gesture and genuine opportunity for Somalis.
Furthermore, initially, the BBC advertised “Kenyan Foreign Minister, Moses Watangula, Eritrean Ambassador to Brussels, Girma Asmerom and author Michela Wrong” as guests of the show. However, once the show started the BBC did a bait-and-switch by bringing in Ethiopia’s minister of information Bereket Simon in place of Kenyan Foreign Minister without telling the Eritrean Ambassador Girma Asmerom. The BBC is well informed about the Eritrean Ethiopian conflicts because BBC covered it extensively, plus the show was not about Eritrea and Ethiopia.
This shows the BBC lacks integrity, respect for Eritrean people, Africans in general and the international community. To his credit Ambassador Girma acknowledged his dissatisfaction with how the issue was framed. He also made it clear that he won’t debate the Information Minister of Ethiopia and gracefully moved on with the rest of the program to honor the audience and defend Eritrean views from a disadvantaged position.
The truth is, the whole purpose of the July 8, 2009 BBC show was to set up stage for the United Nations Security Council debate on Somalia, which was conducted the next day, on July 9, 2009. At the “debate”, the US Ambassador Susan Rice backed by UK and France called for sanctions on Eritrea.
This is typical and integral part of a strategy the West uses effectively to weaken and render nations helpless to the point of surrender, “Choking!” The media plays a key role in this process. There is no way Eritrea or any other country can counter an entrenched system like the one described above because it is based on their terms. This is the strategy they applied for decades successfully. If any nation refuses to tow-the-line the noise gets louder by the second.
This is how African news and views is delivered by those who push their own version in accordance with the image they want to portray and dictated by the agenda they are pushing at that time. For example, in 2005 the G8 states run a campaign, what they called “make poverty history.” At that time, CNN’s Christian Amanpour went to Ethiopia and interviewed Meles Zenawi about a new farming method they propagated. Reuters, BBC and the main media agencies made that the only news item for months leading up to the Live Aid concert which was also a part of their PR campaign. That is how they remind Africans how poor and destitute they are, and sing on Live Aid concerts to alleviate African suffering and plagues; every four years. The talking heads like Geoffrey Sachs, Bono and Bob Geldof pushed the idea and provided apolitical human element in support of the cause. At the time, everything else was muted. Dissenting voices and alternative views were not heard.
Is BBC a Credible Organization? Is the BBC fair, judicious, balanced, and ethical organization clean from corruption? The answer is a big NO! Then, the questions one must ask is, why do Africans, African news outlets and African websites honor the BBC, VOA, AFP, Reuters, and others who are set to press their own agendas at the expense of Africans? Is it because Africans fail to understand journalistic codes of ethics? Are Africans gullible to the point of taking anything the BBC throws at them as long as it doesn’t impact them personally? Is it because Africans are so accustomed to bash their own leaders for lack of freedom of press; they convinced themselves any information from the West is to serve their interest and the interest of the truth? Is it because Africa lacks news outlets that are credible? Is it apathy, carelessness, laziness, indifference or is it all of the above?
Even when Africans are educated and understood clearly how Western media manipulates truth; they chose not to challenge or challenge it ineffectively. Africans have no watch-dog groups and lack the institutions to fight media injustices. The media rights-organizations that exist are set up to serve the interests of the West. Reporters Without Borders is a great example because it conveniently set its mission to target governments and never target institutions like the BBC or powerful Western nations who directly or indirectly contribute to suppression of information by their suspicious and malicious reporting sometimes using agenda driven indigenous surrogates.
The key here is why were they so effective for so long? And what can people do to stop the blatant disregard for fairness, justice, truth and ethics? How can any nation or individual contend with CNN, BBC and VOA, Deutche Welle or any of the major news outlets who work together and for the same agendas with budgets much larger than many countries?
The reason Africans are unable to make a dent on solving their issues lies squarely on Africans. Africans are treated in this manner because they don’t respect each other. They are corrupt! They attack each other to serve the interests of the West. And they can’t demand justice because they don’t try to be just themselves. Africans can’t have their voices heard because they give undeserved credibility to the propaganda machinery of the West and depended entirely on others to do it for them. Moreover, Africans in the Diaspora are not organized and the organizations that exist are organized by governmental organizations to serve their agendas.
Africans suffer needles abuses because they fail to speak, stand up and fight. They don’t have common understanding, cohesive message, dedication and determination. They lack leadership, identifiable personalities like Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Al Sharpton that can stand up for African causes. They suffer because they allowed themselves to be exploited. Those who could stand up like the scholars and the elites are often part of the problem because they are power hungry and used. And they are often timid for fear of loosing their tenure and status.
What can be done?
Africans must agree on key fundamental principles surrounding African matters and demand facts on that basis. The fundamentals are:
Africans deserve Peace because Peace is a basic human right.
Africans must be allowed to make peace and chart their own future without outside meddling within their national boundaries.
For Africa to have any stability, the existing boundaries must be respected as is, with resources belonging to the people!
There should be no outside force, nation or organization imposing their will on any African nation, not even the UN!
Nations must be allowed to foster their indigenous governance capacity without influence from outsiders.
Moreover, there are steps individuals and groups can do to take control. The BBC matters only if we make it matter. We can stop listening to them, stop granting interviews and importantly, we can stop giving them credibility by not commenting on their programs e.g. “Have Your Say.” It is puzzling to see so many Africans complain about lack of fairness and turn around advertise the services of BBC, Reuters, AFP and others inadvertently by posting their articles, news and views on African websites. When was the last time the BBC posted articles written by African journalist or from African news sources? Do they provide that luxury for Africans? Then, why should Africans give their space, time, energy, attention and credibility to someone who is possibly doing harm to them?
Information is essential to the future of Africa, and we all know we are starting late, and that we are way behind on the media game. The West could not be expected to pamper and protect African interests and work against their own interest. So, we must all support each other in a smart way by nurturing our own. The Internet could work as a great equalizer if we use it correctly by adhering to the principles outlined above. We need to do that for the sake of the Congolese children that are dying needless death by the thousands every day. Therefore, educate yourselves and every one you know in order to make a difference because Africans need-not and must-not be hurt twice by brain-drain and being indifferent African Diaspora!
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