Saturday, 24 September 2011

Where is Burundi?

Africa is full of countries that just don't make the headlines. They've not sexy or horrifying or expensive-in-aid-spending enough to get reported on regularly. They're not Uganda's LRA horror-stories or rape in the Congo or famine in Somalia or independence in South Sudan. Sometimes they don't get reported on because they're relatively stable. No-one talks much about Namibia because Namibia is not a cesspit of corruption and violence and outrageous attempts to run the country into the group. Doing okay doesn't get reported on. At least until something goes wrong. Malawi was talked about for years only in the glowing terms of 'look it's an actual, real-life African success(ish) story'. Until they had a diplomatic spat with Britain and things began to deteriorate. And now they're back to being a bad news story. Without the context that comes in between. There is an essentialism to how people write about Africa - either it's how these people overcame all odds to not actually die (what, an African person being successful in Western terms? Don't be silly..) or it's war, guns, corruption and violence.

And when it's too complicated or too ordinary, it simply doesn't get reported. Like Burundi. Burundi lost 200 000 people in ethnic violence in the 1990s. But it's not Rwanda. Warlords and militants caused terror and fought battles across the country right up to 2008. But it's not the DRC. Recent reports in SA that the South African government was looking to strengthen ties with Burundi on a significant scale sent many reaching for a map. We should have been reacting with concern, given rumours which are starting to surface that the Burundi government may have initiatied a concerted campaign to wipe out the opposition. But no-one writes about Burundi, except perhaps political scientists who have a specific vested interest. Most people in Southern Africa could tell you more about Hong Kong or Australia or the US state of Florida than they could about Burundi. African solutions to African problems only works if African people (and media) know something about Africa. And that means knowing something about the boring, ordinary and ridiculously complex bits, not just the over-reported places where Western humanitarian groups make their money.

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