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Foreign media a convenient bugbear?

Our post-elections crisis has been characterised by many types of intolerance, many of which have resulted in mayhem. But one particular type of strange provincialism is happening all the time, and passing without comment: our peculiar loathing of the international media. Many respected Kenyans have hurled vitriol at the foreign press and electronic media in recent weeks. It is time to examine their arguments.

The international media, we are told, come here with a pre-set frame of reference. Their journalists come looking for dramatic bad news to report. They wish to portray Africa as a savage place.

There are other grouses. These people come here to further their careers and add notches to their cameras and laptops. They are not interested in our welfare. They pick out the most horrific footage to highlight. They don’t understand Africa and engage in superficial analysis.

I’m quite sure that much of the above is true; but are you surprised that it is? Most people I know have a ‘pre-set frame of reference’ in pretty much everything they do. Journalists and their editors the world over chase after bad news rather than good – but that is mostly because it is what you and I, the consumers of media, want to see on our screens and front pages. Good news bores us, except when the bad news is about us: then we want to hear peace songs and soothing spiritual noises rather than watch grisly scenes involving our neighbours.

Superficial analysis? Are we really any better ourselves, when so many of our journalists have abandoned objectivity and reduced themselves to tribal mouthpieces? And I would ask this: would a typical Kenyan journalist sent to cover the Pakistan debacle, say, understand the nuances and unspoken norms of that society? Would he or she prepare an in-depth report that provided genuine new insights into the problems bedevilling Pakistan?

Let’s not forget: at the height of the carnage, our own media were forced to stop live broadcasts. The regular updates provided by the BBC and Al-Jazeera on TV, and Reuters and AP on the internet, were sometimes all we had by way of immediate information. If our own media businesses are so willing to comply with clampdowns on independent reporting, then they can forget about becoming credible and authoritative reference points themselves.

As for giving Africa a bad name: Africa does that all too effectively all by itself.

Let’s not be too hypocritical. No foreign editor or producer caused our problems. None of them, as far as I can discern, fabricated footage. They are here to call it as they see it. Granted, they get it wrong some (and possibly most) of the time. But they are not the causes of our misfortune: we alone are.

Indeed, this shifting of blame and anger is part of a long-standing tradition. Forty-five years after independence, we can still be heard blaming many of our current ills on colonial arrangements, Today, foreign nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation are our favourite bugbears.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand how terms of trade, international financial arrangements and racism can all militate against Africa. But I cannot agree that our proper response should be to keep whining that it’s always someone else’s fault. That just weakens us further.

The chaos we are embroiled in is nobody’s fault but our own. We are the ones who have watched and fed the beast of corruption until it brought our once-noble institutions tumbling down. We are the ones who have allowed utter charlatans, cynical manipulators and bloodthirsty warlords to lead us for decades. We are the ones who see ourselves as clansmen first, tribesmen second and Kenyans a distant third.

If the world is therefore now seeing beyond our pristine beaches and our stunning wildlife, that is as it should be. If the devil within us is now on full display, the fault is not in the people filming the horrible spectacle. We wrote this script, with all its rampaging mobs, sadistic killings and contempt for justice.

The point is this: we won’t change until we can acknowledge whose fault it is. We won’t climb out of this ditch if we keep waiting for fair treatment from people outside the problem. The world is the way it is; it annoys and heartens, betrays and inspires in equal measure. Let’s deal with it and move on.

What we need are solutions, not scapegoats. Let us face the mistakes of our past and present squarely, and use this crisis as an opportunity. If the blood we have spilled is to have any value, let it shock us into a frame of mind that says: “Never again”. Never again will we ignore what we know ails us; never again will we reduce ourselves to barbaric hordes; never again will we accept such low standards of public stewardship.

As for the foreign media, let’s give them no reason to come here, except occasionally to report how peaceful, just and prosperous we are.

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