Friday, 9 September 2011

Context matters when reporting protests in Africa

Interesting analysis piece on AJE looking at the need to consider protests in African countries within the context of that country's history, not just through the lens of the 'Arab Spring'. I'm mentioned this before but this issue has been bothering me for a while. Particularly with reference to Malawi, but also also more generally as commentator after commentator has used the question "Is this the next Egypt?" to position, contextualise and explain every African protest since. Africa is not Egypt. Using that lens makes it easier for Western readers to digest the information that people in some African countries are unhappy with their governments - they've heard of Egypt, they may even have watched the protests on TV.

It also perpetuates the idea that Africa is one place, one country. As if each nation did not have a unique history and context. Protests in Swaziland have a different cause, background story and possible end-game to those in Malawi. And that is just in Southern Africa, not even considering the massive differences and distances between Swaziland and, say, Burkina Faso. These places are not the same and effective reporting that is able to accurately analyse the situation and contemplate possible future steps, needs to get that. I realise that Western media outlets may not have the space (or inclination) to give African countries that much column space, but at the very least, it would be nice to see South African media treating (at least Southern) African countries as places with context and history.

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