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01 June 2007


McOwiti O. Thomas

I would have agreed with your comments if only things were that simple. But they aren’t that simple because of two things: (to borrow a very popular saying) “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and (to paraphrase another) “it’s the lead, stupid!” The adage about the power of a picture is self explanatory; even you acknowledge in your piece that it was the picture of a starving child that initially caught your attention. The fact that you went on to read the rest of the story, plus other related stories in the publication, may be due to the fact that you are, first, an African, and second, a journalist covering exactly that kind of thing.

I, too, am a journalist (though not in active practice) and, like you, I would probably have noticed the picture and had a similar reaction to the use of that picture. But that’s probably where I would have stopped; I confess that nowadays I simply scan through such stories and move on to other things because I can almost guess the whole story before I read it—what with the stock phrases, clichés, and shocking images that are normally used to colour such stories. I don’t know how the average German factory worker or housewife reacted to that story, but I can imagine. It is no secret that there’s a great deal of donor fatigue practically in all the countries of the Western world at the moment. Besides, a great number of those who saw that image and read the accompanying headline already have an opinion that could only have been reinforced by those images; the fact that they do not contribute to the solution is not because they are ignorant of the situation, but because they simply don’t care, think the situation is hopeless, or have other more pressing issues to take care of. Showing them the wretchedness only reinforces the belief that the situation is hopeless, so any monies they throw at it will be wasted. I think more people are likely to care and contribute to causes they think are worthwhile and if they think their contribution will make a difference. That is why people are always willing to pay school fees for a bright orphan to finish school ("there's hope there"), but barely glance at a handicapped beggar on the street (a "hopeless situation").

My other point is that whereas rampant unemployment and underemployment in Africa sometimes leaves intelligent and educated people with plenty of idle time, many people in the West have little or no time to read newspapers. But they can scan headlines to identify those stories that are likely to be of importance to them. It follows, then, that the headline is even more important now than it has ever been. Many people who see headlines such as the one in Geldof’s story will not even read the story, but you can be sure that even that cursory glance at the headline will be stored somewhere in their brains because it reinforces the mental images they already have of Africa.

I am not an expert in this area, but according to constructivist theory, people construct mental models or images in their heads of what they know and add to those mental images systematically. Although there are certain intrinsic loads—firmly held images, attitudes, beliefs, etc—that you may not be able to do much about, you can assist the cognitive construction process by creating new information—or conceptual blocks—in chunks and systematically adding to that information. It may be true that bad news sells better than good news, but it would also be nice if the information you add to people’s intrinsic load was positive rather than negative—there is so much negativity in news about Africa already and we don’t need to add to that. Perhaps what journalists such as you and I who are schooled in the Western way of thinking (hence look at stories the same way and subscribe to the same notion that "bad news is good news") should learn is to balance the good news with the bad in such a way that people don’t automatically get disgusted and turn away from the bad news, or too cynical about the good news to give it a second thought.

T. McOwiti

Paul Crook

Why do we continue to perpetuate the need to say Africa when the differences across this vast continent are so large? I am currently sitting in the top right hand shoulder (as you look at it) of the continent in Puntland with much talk going on around of last night's missile attack by the USA, the spread of cholera from Ethiopia (where I am informed government continues to argue the disease is no where near as bad as caseloads show. I have spoken with people across the World during the day with my family complaining of inability to get good response to health questions, racial discrimination, the football matches going on yesterday and today - which continents do each of these come from? All over - Europe, Africa and Asia. Take note of the posted comment - people construct images. But the very actions of leaders in parts of Africa compound certain stereotypes - the denial of the cholera issues, the fact that Kenyan politicians voted themselves a large salary and no tax, the forming of another talking shop to have 'jobs for the boys' (deliberate use of the gender indicator). Geldof is a mna with great passion but his time has passed and people have used and abused the messages he started on. The aid industry included where any number of people have lived comfortably on marketing the pictures of dying babies. Have we changed attitudes? I am sure there are many who have moved their opinion but is it enough? Meesages creating awareness do not often serve to build action and change. Prove me wrong, but the picture Orwell painted in his work 1984 still holds true with Africa, deliberate use of the continental term, being exploited - not just by those outside but those with power around the continent.

Reuben Gitahi

Whenever i saw the image of Bob Geldof.One of the things that came to my mind is a similar picture of Kevin Cartner of a starving Kid in sudan and a vulture waiting for ready meal.The question we have to ask the Geldof of this times is just like the reporter asked Kevin before he commited suicide is.After taking/viewing the image how did you change the situation of the young kid?
Currently the united states have failed to honour the montreeal treaty and giving 0.17 of their budget rather than 0.7 of their budget to fight povery.May be the policy makers heard the numbers wrongly.
The people on the west should stop playing around the african minds by claiming that african countries even given aid it will be of no use considering that they will missapropriate it.That is the greatest hoogwash i have heard.The Asian economies are thriving while corruption is at it highest.I am not justifying corruption but 17 of the african countries now are having thriving economies boosting a 4 percent economic growth.
We have established a peer review mechanism which is a NEPAD intitiative.Don't you think this is a carrot and stick affairs.Every time thy tell us to do something the west will always change the goal post.
Africans let us see how we can change our situations and the much hyped G8 summit is just another boardroom meeting of the top leaders that will not change our situations.

Roselyn Mungai

Whats the harm in reporting both sides? On one side of the coin is the perfectly good celebrable news and on the other hand.. despite this, then capture the bad news. the point is that there is a lot of good, positive news in Africa. Choosing to focus on the bad, just shows a hopeless continent. Thats not the reality of Africa!
Roselyn Mungai- Kenya


First of all it's great to see you guys back covering the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. I've always thought that the PANOS-sponsored AfricaVox project was a great idea and was disappointed to see some of Africa's top journalists exit the blogosphere shortly after the Gleneagles Summit of 2005 wrapped up. So, welcome back.

Second, if you have lived and worked here in Germany for any considerable time then you wouldn't make a statement that the BILD Zeitung (newspaper) frontpage for June 1st depicting the entire African continent blanketed by a picture of a sick and starving infant is O.K. You wouldn't do that because you would know that this is a typical view of Afrika portrayed by the Axel Springer Verlag's newspapers for decades and BILD Zeitung has been especially complicit in creating this type of view toward Africa and Africans in the minds of millions of its German-speaking readers. Geldorf and Bono (obviously) had no control over the layout decisions for that BILD newspaper frontpage and if they did then that would be more than disgraceful, it would be totally irresponsible and disgusting.

Ironically, you and I both saw that shock-treatment BILD frontpage feature on Afrika on the same morning and decided to write about it at our respective blogs. I am delving into the subject of the German media's coverage of the Africa Agenda at the G8 Summit 2007 a bit deeper at my place; perhaps you would be interested in reading another black person's (African-American) views about this European media coverage of Africa... for a change.

Again, it's good to see you back in the blogosphere covering the G8 Summit 2007 in Germany. The blogosphere is a rough and tumble place but it is never dull. Good luck.

Bill @ Jewels in the Jungle

Gilbert Busuulwa

The Media is the platform and or Forum for the underserved, underprivelaged and cheated-of resources "Africans", and indeed a solace from bully-gun weilding African dictators.

Whoever is exposing the dirty linen of such power hungry rulers in the media is my World Hero.

Now that Germany Newpaper is making many days for me by exhibiting our bedrooms outlook.

In Uganda for example we are having "non-imigrant rulers" who only think of starching the tax payers hard earned funds in thier Swiss Banks, near the Donors eyes.

If not so how can the Government officials swinddle almost 75% of Global Fund assistance monies meant to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberclosis and Malaria and our good "Development Partners" send more funds before reconciling earlier Evaluation Reports and or see culprits vomit our money?

In this situation who is to save Ugandan? It is the media ladies and gentlemen and nothing to celebrate about in Africa at this moment.

I can imagine what African News Editors go through daily on chosing thier headlines, much as they sometimes wish to promote some good programs like as in case of Uganda to host Commonwealth Heads of Goverment Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2007.

Ask any person on Kampala street how is going to benefit from CHOGM and the response.... "It is another basket of funds to Government officials to add on thier loot and oppress us more ".

Poor Peoples' houses, markets by the side of the roads have been erased without compesation all in the name of buitifying CHOGM delegate passage. "Delegates don't necessarily need to see such poverty stricken structures" one Public officer told me during my Radio Program on CBS FM.

This is kicking a Radio that has announced the death of your Fiancee honouable Members.

Gilbert Busuulwa
Uganda Media and Research Foundation
P.O. Box 5115 Kampala - Uganda
[email protected]


I'm working on a paper on how people view Africa and Africans,whether they are being stereotyped or not.Africa is an entrepreneur's paradise so says Fred Swanicker and I fully agree with him.But to look at this more sensibly,the true reason why Africa would be paradise to an entrepreneur it's because of all the opportunities which are there for development.People turn to focus on only the bad,I'm not saying lie and say only good things are happening here but rather what am suggesting is that it would be better if they could report the bad and on the other hand say this is what they are doing to fix the problem.Like the story about the graduation party and the pregnant mother,it would be wrong to print only one story,both of them should be put together,u should say that although women in other parts of Adfrica have great challenges in giving birth the nation is giving birth to those who will seconds later ensure their survival,both of the mother and baby.


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