The Dark Continent

Foreign Affairs IBeginning in the late 1940s, The State of Africa by Martin Meredith looks at the development of the continent through time, as democracy replaced colonial rule, and this in turn was moulded into personal dictatorships and tyrannies, right up to the modern day. An excellent and thought-provoking book, and,  as the narrative wore on, I became increasingly disconcerted by what was being described to me, and frustrated by the seeming unwillingness of external forces to intervene in cases where logic and compassion should dictate otherwise. Eventually I reached 1994.

20 Years ago, 800,000 people were murdered in 100 days. An ethnic cleansing, where men, women, and children, were quite simply butchered in their homes and in the streets by neighbours and even family friends. Being only six at the time, and having no conscious memory of events, I have had to rely on what I have read and heard to garner the full details. I am still unsure as to exactly how this was allowed to happen, especially considering there were clear warning signs, of which the UN and other countries, most notably France and Belgium, were aware. And, even more disgracefully, once the killing started, there was still no appropriate intervention. To make matters worse, it is widely believe that France actively supported, and even armed, the Hutu regime of Juvénal Habyarimana and the murderous Akazu ruling elite, who carried this all out. The mind boggles as to how France and the UN have seemingly gotten away with their utterly reprehensible behaviour.

The Rwandan genocide is just one of the many atrocities Africa has continued to see, even up to the present day. The continent is still ravaged by war and decimated by tragedy, yet these events barely make a ripple in the West’s collective conscience. That it is 20 years since the Rwandan genocide has mostly failed to make the news, that France unceremoniously pulled out of the commemorations because the Rwanadan President had the audacity to raise the issue of French collusion in the killings, has been largely ignored by a western press and a political establishment disinterested in Africa.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram are rapaciously running around the northern towns and villages committing mass murder whilst the President, Goodluck Jonathan, attempts to pretend that there isn’t a problem and he in fact does have control of his country. He doesn’t.  In Africa’s newest country, South Sudan, More than one million people have fled their homes since the conflict with Khartoum began, while nearly one-third of South Sudan’s population, about 3.7 million people, are at severe risk of starvation. In Libya, following the timely removal of Gaddafi and his mob, Islamist militants have essentially taken control of the south of the country, with neighbouring Niger pleading for international intervention. Not that we would know any of this of course. It didn’t make the papers.

The latest crisis to beset Africa is happening in the Central African Republic, with the former French colony being ripped to shreds by hordes of rampaging militias murdering along religious and tribal lines. A common theme, but not an adequate excuse for lack of news coverage. Never missing the chance to be involved in an emerging catastrophe in the Francophone, France has attempted some form of intervention, which has now been backed up by the UN, with thousands of additional troops being sent in to quell the bloodshed. There are serious concerns that the situation could turn into a Rwandan style genocide, and yet even this does not apparently warrant headlines.

That the only news to make it out of Africa and receive widespread mainstream media coverage centres around the trial of Oscar Pistorious speaks volumes about the interests of the press, and perhaps about the West in general. An ambivalence to the human suffering and societal collapses in Africa seems to have descended upon us. A numbness to events and acceptance of the consequences, driven by a media long bored with maniacal tyrants, mass ritual murder, fatal diseases, and starvation, has taken hold.

So why does Africa receive so little attention in the press and in political circles? For a start there is the issue of post-colonial guilt which has hamstrung many western policy makers and clouded their judgement. An irrational fear of being branded an “imperialist” has persuaded many that they simply cannot intervene in Africa regardless of the situation, with Zimbabwe being a prime example. Another reason is sympathy fatigue. A constant stream of charities asking for “just £3 a month” to solve all of Africa’s problems has painted a picture of a continent that cannot be saved, with many left wondering exactly what Live Aid and Live 8 actually achieved.

Fortunately, there is hope. As the years roll by, a new generation of western decision makers, free from the imperial guilt which paralysed their predecessors, will emerge and be able to approach Africa with a clearness of mind.  Additionally, a new focus on specific achievements of foreign aid can begin to show the outside world that all is not lost, that all aid does not end up in the hands of corrupt dictators, and that there are success stories. This in turn will rejuvenate interest.

In the meantime, the media has a vital role in spreading awareness of the appalling events taking place across Africa, and in ensuring that western policy makers are truly aware of the scale of the issues. At the moment, they are failing in this task. What actually happens in the heart of darkness remains a mystery to many, and, until this changes, the Dark Continent will live on.


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One Comment

  1. Simon Matthewman says:

    Absolutely agree with this stance . Perhaps the Press should focus on its moral conscience .