A Spike in Truth

I just read two compelling articles over at Spiked in which Western media is being taken to task for failing to report honestly and without stereotypical bias.?

Frank?FurediIn “Kenya is not the new Rwanda: Why Western observers see every political conflict in Africa as an inexplicable outburst of violence and a harbinger of ‘holocaust’” (Tuesday, 8 January 2008), Frank Furedi. Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, critiques the Western disinformation that plagues Kenyan news coverage. Tracing the underlying historical tensions of the region, Furedi challanges Western cowboy journalism that shoots from the hip:

Through today?’s promiscuous use of the term “genocide”, conflicts become transformed into morality plays about human destruction, and tend to be seen as being both incomprehensible and inevitable. Western reporters see only a sudden, inexplicable outburst of violence – a kind of murderous descent into hell – and overlook the structural causes of crises in the Third World…

…it is precisely because the stakes are so high that the last thing Kenya needs is for its problems to be transformed into a Western fantasy about “another Rwanda”. Kenya was not a beacon of democracy or a model of economic stability before the December elections. And nor is it the dramatic setting for a Rwanda-to-be after the elections. All that has happened is that one group of corrupt politicians overplayed its hand, got a little bit too greedy, and forced its opponents to react on the streets.

Claims of this Kenyan/Rwandan connection have run rampant since the start of the post-election conflict, and I have yet to see credible critical analysis outlining this relationship. Finally, after a weeks-long quest, it pleases me instead to read the opposite.

In “Kenya and the myth of ‘African barbarism:’ Observers describe the post-election violence as a virus. In truth, everyday Kenyans have historically resisted the top-down process of ethnic one-upmanship” (10 January 2008), Julie Hearn, lecturer in politics and development at the University of Lancaster, hotly contests any Kenyan-Rwandan relationship:

“Tribal violence”, “genocide” and comparisons with Rwanda in 1994 characterised the early international media coverage of the post-election crisis in Kenya at the beginning of 2008. Such sensationalist reporting was not only analytically unhelpful – it was also irresponsibly dangerous. Kenya is not Rwanda, nor is it the metaphor for irrational, barbaric, “primordial” African violence that the Western psyche seems to have an insatiable need for. Kenya must be understood on its own terms.

What is important to note here are the ways in which the media not only?reports on the situation, but the ways in which it impacts it as well. By turning a blind journalistic eye toward what has robbed voting power from Kenyans allows for covert forms of Western colonialization and a continued sense of superiority, even if by extension. Ferudi points out that “local politicians and other ambitious operators embraced this conflict as an opportunity to gain advantage at the expense of their neighbours.” By using the very language of the West to mask their corrupt motives, the Kenyan government chides its Africans for their stereotypically barbaric Africaness, calling for an end to violence without genuinely identifying and addressing specific historical, economic and political tensions tagged as tribal difference. Until the underlying problems are identified and analyzed, there is no hope for resolution.

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