Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Africa Reporting Challenge
The LA Times last week carried an op-ed piece on the recent Vanity Fair "Africa Edition", and the conundrums that it presented. Primarily the author, William Easterly, was concerned with the presentation of Africa's as the basket-case continent in need of aid and little else, as opposed to creating an awareness of Africa's economic successes, and Africa's commercial products, in order to drive commercial awareness and thus increased trade.

It's an age-old challenge, the proverbial "giving fish will feed for a day, teaching how to fish will feed for a lifetime." It does however, make for interesting reading for a Western public so used to seeing images of AIDS-ridden child soldiers.
"It's a dark and scary picture of a helpless, backward continent that's being offered up to TV watchers and coffee drinkers. But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.

Let's begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?

In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it's much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn't play so well on TV."

Well worth a read for a sage perspective. Get it here