TIME and TIME Again

Between Foreign Policy and the New York Times, we keep pretty busy around here, but it seems we may have to add TIME to the roster. A friend pointed me to this article, titled “China’s New Focus on Africa,” from TIME’s Africa Bureau Chief, Alex Perry. (That’s him above posing like a foreign correspondent with natives in Northern Afghanistan.) Bear in mind this title as you read the opening paragraph:

If you want to see what’s wrong with Africa, take a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The size of Western Europe, with almost no paved roads, Congo is the sucking vortex where Africa’s heart should be. Independent Congo gave the world Mobutu Sese Seko, who for 32 years impoverished his people while traveling the world in a chartered Concorde. His death in 1997 ushered in a civil war that killed 5.4 million people and unleashed a hurricane of rape on tens of thousands more. Today AIDS and malaria are epidemics.”

What this has to do with China’s “new focus on Africa,” I’m not sure.  But it doesn’t matter. This is, after all, the kind of laziness that’s allowed when you write about Africa. It is routine, perhaps even expected at this point, to label an entire country, nay a continent, a “problem.” And then to go to great lengths to find just the right language to describe exactly how much of a problem it is. “Sucking vortex where Africa’s heart should be”? Is that so? Let us also not forget the sweeping generalizations. If you’re going to make a grand statement about “what is wrong with Africa,” then perhaps you could tell us what that “wrong” is. Is it that Congo has “almost no paved roads”? Maybe he should have checked in with Texas in Africa on that one. And, well, that Congo does not Africa’s entire story tell, goes without saying. Neither, of course, is the fact Perry engages in a bit of selective history. “Independent Congo gave the world Mobutu Sese Seko”? Did he mean Patrice Lumumba? Because the Congo did not give the world Mobuto. Mobuto was an army general that took power—with the collusion of Western powers who had a hand in the murder of Lumumba. Then they propped him up for another two and a half decades while he ran a despotic regime, gutting the national treasury for his personal gain, while giving cheap, illegal concessions to Western firms to mine Congo’s abundant natural resources. We all know this. Does Perry?

Finally, there’s the “civil war,” one of the most complex conflicts in the history of the world, involving various state and non-state players—all of which Perry glosses over. I suppose that’s too much to put into a mere paragraph. But what the point of that paragraph was in the first place, remains unclear.

I would end here but thanks to Africa is a Country reader Laurence Wilse-Samson, I learned there was an interesting discussion happening over at the FAIR blog, where Julie Hollar rightly called Perry out. It seems he was none too happy, and let her and other commenters have it with a few choice comments of his own. It is, as the folks over at A Tiny Revolution (who also put together a great history of TIME’s coverage of Africa) point out, an amazing freak-out by Perry that, in the end, reveals more about him than his shoddy reporting ever could. You should head over to FAIR and read the entire piece but here is his final comment (at last check) to give you an idea:

And to you all – for this will be my last post – is this it? Really? Do you actually spend your lives like this: wrapped in ignorance and whining prejudice, surrendering to poor logic, dumb conspiracy and defensive pomposity, and spelling like 4-year-olds? This isn’t a press watchdog. This is a collection of… well, you know what I think. But, honestly. Raise your game. This is just poor. D-

This is your Africa Bureau Chief, TIME?

While Hollar ends by stating that the lesson of Perry’s article is that “if you want to see what’s wrong with Africa, don’t look to Time to find out,” I’d say that if you want to see what’s wrong with TIME, just look at their Africa coverage.

Because, yes, there’s more. TIME recently featured a photo slideshow on maternal morality in Sierra Leone titled, “One woman’s journey from pregnancy to death.” I haven’t seen it, and don’t plan to. The orgy of death, disease and destruction that the western media likes to gorge itself on in Africa is not for me. Instead, I point you to responses from The Daily Nation and The Guardian, the latter which calls to attention the media’s continued inability to see Africans as people. He’s not wrong.

Comments

comments

15 Comments
  1. I can’t believe that he got so outraged that someone criticised him- it most definitley is not libelous, it is merely fair comment.
    He needs to realise that journalists are not beyond criticism and are no longer the gatekeepers of information. It’s like he only just found out about the internet!
    I notice Time do not have comments, unlike the Guardian for instance, where journos can instantly be called out on mistakes- and reply like civilised people if they do get called out, not like a child like Mr Perry.

  2. To be fair, he’s right about the roads. It’s something like less than 300 miles of tarmac in the entire country. But I lost sympathy for him around the words “sucking vortex.”

  3. Speaking of sucking vortices, Belgium gave us King Leopold, but hey, I hear they have good roads.

  4. Actually, Belgium doesn’t even have good roads (at least by Western European standards). Potholes everywhere, including on the highways ;-)

  5. Came across the following passages in W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of White Folk”:

    Behold little Belgium and her pitiable plight, but has the world forgotten Congo? What Belgium now suffers is not half, not even a tenth, of what she has done to black Congo since Stanley’s great dream of 1880. Down the dark forests of inmost Africa sailed this modern Sir Galahad, in the name of “the noble-minded men of several nations,” to introduce commerce and civilization. What came of it? “Rubber and murder, slavery in its worst form,” wrote Glave in 1895.

    Harris declares that King Leopold’s régime meant the death of twelve million natives, “but what we who were behind the scenes felt most keenly was the fact that the real catastrophe in the Congo was desolation and murder in the larger sense. The invasion of family life, the ruthless destruction of every social barrier, the shattering of every tribal law, the introduction of criminal practices which struck the chiefs of the people dumb with horror—in a word, a veritable avalanche of filth and immorality overwhelmed the Congo tribes.”

    Yet the fields of Belgium laughed, the cities were gay, art and science flourished; the groans that helped to nourish this civilization fell on deaf ears because the world round about was doing the same sort of thing elsewhere on its own account.

    As we saw the dead dimly through rifts of battlesmoke and heard faintly the cursings and accusations of blood brothers, we darker men said: This is not Europe gone mad; this is not aberration nor insanity; this is Europe; this seeming Terrible is the real soul of white culture—back of all culture,—stripped and visible today. This is where the world has arrived,—these dark and awful depths and not the shining and ineffable heights of which it boasted. Here is whither the might and energy of modern humanity has really gone.

  6. Oh my gracious… what ridiculousness. “Sucking vortex.” I can’t decide if it’s amusing or just so depressing. I guess we laugh so we don’t cry!

  7. Those ridiculously defensive comments should be ground enough for the Time to consider relieving him of his position and put him in the mail room or something.

  8. I don't know why you're ripping him a new one. It's not *that* horrible of an article. (It's a bit stale, but hey, it's Time. It's meant to be read by 50 year olds who read at the 9th grade level, 7 months after publication in the waiting room at a dentist's office, not meant to be cutting-edge and current.)

    After all, he's china-bashing, and that's the hot scene to be in right now for writers on the Africa beat. That's an approved topic, right?

    So, who is writing about African countries in the major media that wins our host's blessings and approval? Who tickles your fancy and writes about just the topics that scratch your particular itches?

  9. What was wrong with the TIME slideshow on maternal mortality? It did an excellent job of highlighting what is, frankly, a tragic reality in Sierra Leone.

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