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While the liberation of people in the internationally defined ‘Arab world’ receive daily exposure on screens and in newspapers around the globe at the moment, people south of the Sahara are desperately trying to raise their voice: What about the rest of Africa?
AlJazeera.net ran a story about the missing attention towards Africa in international media in late February – roughly two months after Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain had captured the world with their people’s unrelenting protest against dictatorship. The coverage of the scores of Egyptians who took over Tahrir Square in peaceful but defiant objection to the regime, provoked widespread sympathy across the global audience. To see a non-violent revolution turn the nation full circle became a source of great admiration in the rest of the world.
All of a sudden, #Egypt was a ‘sexy topic’ but despite the banks of the Nile stemming from central Africa, the world viewed the Egyptian uprising solely as a Middle Eastern issue, directing their attention towards the greater region southwards and what the revolution would mean for the rest of the Arab world and Israel. Few seemed to notice that the rest of the continent which Egypt resides on, a continent with a billion people, are living under equally despotic regimes and suffers the same sociopolitical suppression as their neighbors of the north.
“Egypt is in Africa. We should not fool about with the attempts of the North to segregate the countries of North Africa from the rest of the continent,” says Firoze Manji, the editor of Pambazuka Online, an advocacy website for social justice in Africa to AlJazeera. “Their histories have been intertwined for millennia. Some Egyptians may not feel they are Africans, but that is neither here nor there. They are part of the heritage of the continent.”
The ‘spark’ was ignited, literally, when Mohamed Bouzazi’s self-immolation in Tunisia (an African country) articulated the frustrations of a nation and the fire spread to Algeria (also African), Yemen and Bahrain while Hosni Mubarak sat unwittingly of the revolution about to come.
But did you know that in ‘darkest Africa’, far away from the cameras and reporters, another dramatic protest unfolded in Gabon on January 29 where opposition protested against Ali Bhongo Odhumba’s government, whom they accuse of hijacking recent elections. With little geopolitical importance, news organizations seemed largely oblivious to the underdeveloped oil exporter whose people have lived four decades under the Bhongo family’s regime. Elsewhere on the continent protests broke out, inspired by the populist movements of the North, but the coverage was in many places either directly stifled (newspaper staff being arrested by local authorities) or indirectly ignored by international news.
AlJazeera reported that Egypt and Tunisia may have been the catalysts for revolt across the Arab world, but will the fire spread to the rest of Africa and if so, will the international audience even notice?
“What the continent lacks is media coverage,” says Drew Hinshaw, an American journalist based in West Africa. “There’s no powerhouse media for the region like AlJazeera, while European and American media routinely reduce a conflict like [that in] Ivory Coast or Eastern Congo to a one-sentence news blurb at the bottom of the screen.” Nanjala, a political analyst at the University of Oxford suggests that the media’s shortcomings stem from a tendency to favor explanations that fit the ‘failing Africa’ narrative.
The American journalist is equally disappointed in world leaders. “ Barack Obama publicly condemned the use of violence in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. When was the last time you saw Obama come out and make a statement on Ivory Coast? Or Eastern Congo? Or Djibouti, where 20,000 people protested [...] according to the opposition?”.
The tendency in global media to distinguish between the outdated ‘third world’ Africa-issues and the ‘media friendly’ revolution in the northern part is a valid concern among several nations, especially of Central Africa, who find their struggle trivialized in comparison with the Western world’s obsession with the Middle East. Has the line between the familiar suffering of ‘the African’ and the fascinating suffering of the Egyptian or Tunisian really been drawn by cameras and reporters? Another question is if the African continent will ever receive high priority in the global media stream. If a highly exposed revolution on its very soil failed to put Africa on the international agenda – what will?