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.