Magazine article New African

'Bad Reporting on Fertile Soil'

Magazine article New African

'Bad Reporting on Fertile Soil'

Article excerpt

Despite all the assets and communications of the modern world, Africans and Europeans do not interact enough, understand each other enough, and in the case of the latter they still do not empathise enough to "feel" that what happens in Africa is relevant to them. That is why the "bad reporting" falls on fertile soil because there is nothing there to impede its growth, writes Clayton Goodwin, an Englishman bred on "The Boys' Book of Daring Deeds which won the Empire".

There is a cynical story to the effect that God created the African so that the European could feel good about himself, and there does seem some evidence from the Western media that the journalists, and their readers, see Africa primarily as a blighted receptacle for their charity and benevolence.

To an extent, that is understandable--everybody, even the youngest schoolboy(girl), needs somebody worse off than themselves to make them believe that their own condition is not so bad. That is particularly true now that the West's own international position is slipping vis-a-vis China and Asia generally.

But why should that "perpetual pauper" be Africa? Let us consider that appraisal by comparison with the people with whom continental Africans are related most closely--the Africans of the Diaspora in the USA and the Caribbean, who, although they are rarely given full credit, do have a more favourable "press".

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Much has to do with identification. Everybody has easier empathy with those with whom they can identify. Nothing provides a bigger barrier to identification than language--including names. Englishmen feel comfortable with politicians such as Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell because they, themselves, know many people called "Rice" (Sir Tim?) and "Powell" (Enoch?).

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The former West Indies cricket captain, and now commentator, "Jimmy Adams" has exactly the same name as our rural district councillor when I was a boy. How many Englishmen know a Kgorane, a Mulenga or even an Ankomah? Stephen Lawrence was not the only black teenager to be murdered in southeast London at that time but his case evinced greater public rapport because he had such an "English-sounding" name.

Unlike their counterparts in the Caribbean and the USA, who have mastered the rhythms of "their masters' voice", Africans, though fluent and highly literate in the English language, speak with cadences from which their meaning is not always clear to Western ears. For example, many Englishmen cannot tell when an African has finished a (telephone) conversation because the rise and fall of the voice is different to what he, himself, would use.

By that measure, Westerners cannot always tell when an African is genuine or "spinning them a tale". Small points, perhaps, but essential in achieving a sympathetic understanding with the person with whom you are interacting.

The same goes for mannerisms of hand, eye and body. What to an African may be a position of deference and respect (with eyes lowered) is taken by an Englishman to be an attitude of "shiftiness" and surliness--"better not trust him, just in case".

Englishmen, in friendly debate, will often wag their finger to emphasise a point, which, if used to a African, would give considerable offence. It is no mere coincidence that those Africans with whom Europeans can "get on" best arc not necessarily those who are representative of their people but those with whose names, speech and mannerisms they can identify most.

"White" and "black" interact, empathise and get to know each other best through their leisure pursuits. For the Englishman, that means the cricket field, which many cite as being where they first met their Caribbean colleagues; the boxing ring, where they have admired Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, or on the golf course.

My near neighbour, a hitherto xenophobic Englishman, cannot speak highly enough now about the West Indies after forming a golfing partnership with a Barbadian golfing work-mate and now shares holidays with him in his Caribbean home. …

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