"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


oh, snap

The New York Times has really outdone itself lately in printing stories that are complete stereotypes of the African continent. The latest to print something inaccurate and/or semi-offensive is Tom Friedman, who usually ignores everything south of Egypt. G. Pascal Zachary at Africa Works is on it:
"Thomas Friedman, the uber-columnist and senior globalization writer at the New York Times, jetted into Botswana last week, then flew to the remote Okavango Delta, rich in wildlife and terribly expensive for foreign visitors. Friedman quickly realized his many wireless devices were useless and cleverly dubbed this pristine and nearly depopulated northern part of B0tswana to be the ā€œLand of No Service.ā€ He then went on to extrapolate from his summer vacation that 'much of Africa' is a Land of No Service.

"Once more, another bigtime American finds Africa a convenient prop to push a larger message about life and the world. In this case, Friedman wants to inform us that being disconnected from the global web has some benefits. But why must he lie about Africa ā€” demonizing it once more as a place of darkness ā€” in order to drive home his point?

"His 'no service' mainly refers to his cell phone and even sat phone. Yet in reality, cell phone in Africa is today fantastic."
This reminds me of Kristof's trip to Goma in which he acted like it was actually necessary for him to drag along a portable satellite uplink to get internet access and a sat phone to communicate. (Apparently he managed to miss the internet cafes down the street which offer much better satellite internet connections than anything he could've picked up in the Ihusi courtyard. And he could've saved the Times quite a bit of cash by just using the extensive local cell phone networks. But I digress, mostly because I'm still bitter about all the misinformation that got printed in his columns on that trip.)

Reporters who aren't based in Africa tend to exaggerate the "Africanness" of Africa all the time. It's not just reporters for a newspaper that slacks off on its factchecking who are at fault. It sounds impressive to spend a week in rural Botswana (in the land of luxury safaris most of us can't afford) just like it sounds impressive to say, "I lived in the Congo." But Zachary is right. And using old stereotypes to explain complicated places in oversimplified terms just won't cut it anymore, Friedman.


Anonymous Matt said...

The Friedman piece is awful. One stereotype I can't stand is defining a country by its poverty, as the American media often does.


Friday, August 21, 2009 8:30:00 AM

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