Sunday, May 07, 2006


UNESCO has declared May 2006, the month to reflect on the media and poverty and here is my own reflection.

Poverty is synonymous with African countries, their chronic hunger, diseases, civil strife and wars.

The word conjures, in our minds, pictures we see on television all the time. Babies wilting of hunger in Ethiopia and Niger, bone-dry farmlands in Sudan and Kenya, ghost-like people ravaged by the AIDS disease in South Africa and Zimbabwe and gun-totting youths in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia.

It makes for good pictures on television, correspondents from the world’s leading media organizations pitching their best “piece to camera” with the scourge of Africa playing out behind them or the best feature writers showing off their wordsmith prowess on major international publications, all the way to Pulitzer Prizes.

Then Bill Gates, Sir Bob Geldof and Angelina Jolie lead another phalanx of the best in media to showcase their goodwill and financial efforts to eradicate poverty on the forsaken continent.

Then, in the wink of an eye, deafening silence.

The babies have been fed nutritional supplements. Their hollow eyes dance excitedly as they drink from plastic mugs donated by well-wishers from thousands of miles away. What else do they need, right?


Just like the television pictures which suddenly vanish from our screens, the nutritional supplements soon run out and nobody knows whether the wilting baby ever grew to be a man or a woman.

This is the folly of the media reporting on Africa’s poverty. It is the dramatic images of suffering we chase and send our best to cover. There is never a follow up and this is where the media fails the continent.

Out of the media spotlight, the usual culprits, corrupt government officials and their cohorts, come out from behind their “champions of the poor” shields and their vulture instinct is back.

The food is diverted to their favored and already well-fed relatives. The money and resources donated by western benefactors is re-channeled to “more important” projects and programs; that is, arms to fight their own people, planes to fly over their dying subjects and such other “essentials”.

Without the media lurking around, experts’ advice on the best drought mitigating farming methods, the need to ensure democracy, the need to prevent and eradicate disease and the virtues of peace and power-sharing, are ignored.

Until the next round of drought, pandemics, wars and other vagaries of Africa, the continent (or whatever part of it that is not in distress) is truly dark.