“News you can use.” This adage has been selfishly and regrettably adopted by a vast majority of western media sources, particularly those in the United States, failing to recognize that news about foreign conflict is news we can all use. Anup Shah discusses this problem with regards to the ignorance it has produced regarding African conflict in her article “Conflicts in Africa.” According to Shah, citing research performed by Media Tenor over the course of 18 months, only 0.2% of 23,587 reports from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany focused on conflicts in Africa. This is especially unnerving considering the fact that death tolls and refugee counts in several of the reported conflicts, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, and Liberia, far exceeded those of other conflicts which received far greater news coverage. An example cited in Shah’s article is that the Israeli-Pakistan conflict was given far more attention in western media sources than fighting in the DRC where deaths were much more numerous. The reason? Media sources with only the interests of their viewers as well as their government in mind.
In an increasingly globalized world that allows people to connect to each other around the world in seconds, this is a problem. Earth is quickly becoming a singular planetary community rather than hundreds of smaller, national societies. As a result, understanding and education about places not currently understood is absolutely vital.
The United States has been and will likely continue to be involved in the situation in Israel and Pakistan largely for our own interests in the Middle East. Therefore, people need to know what’s going on there for as long as we’re implicated in the situation. Conversely, besides any minimal foreign aid the US sends to places like the DRC and Sierra Leone, we have little vested interests in those areas (excluding the diamond-rich Sierra Leone countryside) that would make the American public want to become educated on affairs in these places. The major interest in these areas is, of course, consumer-driven, since the DRC is very rich in Coltan, an ore used to make myriad electronics so vital to our everyday lives. Unfortunately, this western business interest that has the potential to better the lives of the inhabitants, mainly serves to fuel pre-existing problems in the region.
Many Americans are sadly and disturbingly under the impression that Africa is a mysterious place that just naturally and inherently produces conflict, and that there’s really just nothing we can do about it. This is wrong.
Africa is a beautiful place with a history of peace and conflict resolution much longer than ours. Still, because of the discourse produced by those in power over the course of our history, people simply don’t realize this and never will unless something changes in people’s attitudes regarding the world around them.
Furthermore, western media has little to no interest in reporting on Africa, be it good or bad news, due to the historical implications surrounding it. Much of the problems that have arisen in war-torn countries came from severe cultural, economic, and social oppression inflicted during colonialism. Similarly to here in the US, people would just rather forget that dark period in history and not recognize the seemingly irreparable damage it has done to innocent peoples’ lives.
Now, this entire ordeal might seem hopeless and anyone reading this might be under the impression that there is nothing they can do. Well I am pleased to tell you that you are mistaken. The best solution to this problem? Education. Education leads to understanding; understanding leads to tolerance and acceptance. The latter both lead to compassion and desire to help, which is where groups like SCOUT BANANA and other international philanthropic organizations that want to help those who need it help themselves come in.
So next time you sit down to read the paper or watch the news on TV I’m presenting you with this challenge: for every story you read or watch about domestic affairs, read or watch at least one about Africa, or any other region of the world not typically covered on CNN, ABC, CBS, or in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or any other major news source. You might be surprised how much you have to learn.