Why news about Africa is worth following

I do different kinds of work for different clients – but every day starts the same, with a part-time online news shift for the allAfrica.com website.

It’s not my best-paying gig, but that doesn’t matter. I do it because I love it: I love news, I love the breakneck speed of online journalism, I love working with people in that kind of environment. It’s an addiction, really.

This morning as I was sending a story about Somalia into the world, I realised that another addiction of mine was at play: my deep and abiding love of soap operas.

The soap opera thing seems to be genetic – my mother, my sister and I are helpless in the face of long-running stories about improbable lives. For myself, I get hopelessly involved and find myself worrying about the people in the story as if they were personal friends. In my current addiction, Virgin River on Netflix, I am particularly fascinated as to why the woman who is pregnant with twins is still as flat-stomached as a supermodel. And I am getting suspicious as to the whereabouts of the crabby old doctor’s wife. Is she really stuck in a hurricane as has been claimed for at least five episodes?

But I digress. Let’s get back to Somalia.

In brief, this is what has happened. Somalia (the country in East Africa that encompasses the actual horn of the continent) has a fiercely complicated electoral system. The election process was supposed to start last year, but was delayed and is getting back up and running in fits and starts. The president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed who is also known as Farmajo, at one point in this process had a rush of blood to the head and tried to extend his term in office but was roundly told to back down by parliament.

President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo

President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo, attends the Somalia Partnership Forum in Brussels, Belgium on 17 July 2018. AMISOM Photo

Enter into the scene a young woman, a spy called Ikran Tahlil Farah who worked for the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). She disappeared and is presumed to have been kidnapped and killed in June. The security agency blamed Al-Shabaab who in turn said, nope, wasn’t us. Farah’s mother believes NISA killed her daughter.

Now, the country’s president and prime minister are involved in a very public spat, with the prime minister Mohamed Hussein Roble suspending the head of the spy agency, only to be countermanded by Farmajo who promptly reinstated the spy chief.

And the saga continues – by the time you read this, there will undoubtedly have been more developments (you can follow them here).

You can see how the twists and turn of this story would do brilliantly as a crime/action/spy thriller series? It is gripping stuff, made more serious by the crucial fact that real people are involved, and that these are tragic events for many of the protagonists. And yet, as always, this is not being reported by many of the world’s news outlets.

The lack of coverage of events in Africa has long been a sore point for many on the continent, and I’ve written before about one possible reason for that:

The great American dream machine that is Hollywood and the dominance of United States culture have turned those societies and the people in them into stories that we care about (because we simply can’t help loving a story).

In Africa, the former colonial powers extended their dominance into countries in such a way that the colonised learned to care about those Western stories more than their own.

So the reason we care about Paris and London is because we can picture the scene, we “know” the people involved, we are following the story. And we don’t care about Somalia or Kenya because we can’t picture the scene, we do not “know” the people involved, we have never followed the story.

Racism and dominant ideologies play their part in this too. As does the difficulty of paying attention to the overwhelming flood of information that flows through all of our lives, day after day.

One way of dealing with that flood of information is to “pick your battles”. Decide that certain areas of knowledge are important, and let others fade into the background. I’d recommend trying to hook yourself into African rather than global North narratives: there’s a wealth of fascinating stories to follow, and many new things to learn.

Main picture: Africa from space, Globe Master 3D, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

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