This, our dark continent

The aphorism “children are the best teachers” rang true last week in one of the plentiful enquiries from my 11-year-old son.

As a newspaperman and consumer of everything news, he looks up to me as a fountain of information as he navigates the busy streets of life in an interconnected world.

His line of questioning left me both proud of his desire to know more about the world he calls home and also taught me of my reticence as a journalist to tell the African story.

Sipho’s interest was in the war between Russia and Ukraine. And plenty of questions he had. From who (Vladimir) Putin is to whether Russia will also invade South Africa.

As I attempted to answer his questions, I could not help but think why war in eastern Europe was of such interest to a young mind such as his.

The answer quickly dawned on me. The newspapers I bring home daily and the news channels both domestic and international I watch regularly have all been about Russia/Ukraine for the past two months. Nothing wrong with that.

But why does my son never ask me about Thomas Sankara, whose alleged killers 35 years ago appeared in a Burkina Faso court this week? Why is it not of interest to him that the country of Sankara experienced a coup just last month? In fact, military coups in the Sahel have made a stunning comeback over the past 20 months. Military leaders have toppled the governments of Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan and now, Burkina Faso.

These events will not pique the interest of an 11-year-old because they don’t make it to the front pages of our papers or prime time radio and TV.

We are sitting with many South Africans, young and old, who know more about what is happening in Kyiv than the hardships in Harare. This is the power of the media. We set the agenda.

Our newsrooms would rather break the bank sending reporters to report on the front lines of a war in eastern Europe than to report from Ouagadougou or Bamako. The result is that we are raising a new generation of Africans who don’t have an affinity to the continent they are part of. A continent that has entrusted South Africans with great responsibilities.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had a successful stint as African Union chairperson. The historic African Continental Free Trade Area has been entrusted to a South African, Wamkele Mene.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie correctly cautioned about the dangers of a “single story” about the continent. We also need to tell the growth story of Africa. The progress the traumatised people of Rwanda have made is one of the 21st century’s miracle stories.

Is the media, particularly black media struggling to find an appropriate way to engage the rest of the continent?

The rise of clandestine groups such as Operation Dudula points to South Africans’ persistent internalised problem of exceptionalism. To understand the ideas shaping Nhlanhla Lux and his band of fanatics, one must cast their eyes on the Afrophobic sentiment in some quarters of the country and the body politic.

This is part of the sad process of the unconscious and institutionalised Afrophobia that haunts our country. We as a media have a role to play to educate our countrymen that the structural problems of our economy have nothing to do with immigrants. The country desperately needs immigration reform that will harness the potential of the continent and its people.

In the US, three bright Nigerians serve the US president in key positions.

Joe Biden’s appointment of Osaremen Okolo as his Covid-19 policy adviser, Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo, as White House counsel and Adewale Adeyemo as secretary of the treasury is replete with lessons, not just for South Africa, but for the entire African continent. Here at home, these brilliant “Nigerian-Americans” would be deemed as mere drug dealers, or better still, pimps if not human traffickers. We can do better as a people.

Sankara’s fellow martyr Patrice Lumumba’s clarion call for Africa to write “its own history and in both north and south” must begin in earnest. And it just as he said, be “a history of glory and dignity.”

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