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


recommended reading

Kathryn Mathers (of Africa is a Country fame) has a brilliant desconstruction of Nicholas Kristof's reporting on Africa in the latest issue of Transition. You can read the full (ungated!) text here.

Mathers engages with many critiques of Kristof's work that many, including we here at TiA HQ,have discussed in the past (see here, here, here, and here for but a few examples). Unlike my ranting blog posts, however, Mathers engages in actual academic debate over Kristof's work, its impact, and what it says about how foreigners imagine Africa. Her concluding paragraph (emphasis mine) beautifully sums up the ultimate problem with Kristof's general narrative about Africa: its dehumanization and the theft of agency from Africans themselves:
Kristof, therefore, forces us to gaze into the strained eyes of a suffering
woman like Mariam Karega while emptying her life of support networks
and her own social tools. This singular being has to stand in at one and
the same time for all African people and for American failure. Her suffering
must be defeated, although only partially or temporarily, for American
“man” to save himself and to save Africa over and over again. This can
only be the job for the “fully human” American guided by writers like
Nicolas Kristof. That is why Kristof’s stories about American NGOs and
enthusiastic young travelers in Africa, meant to encourage Americans’
interest in the continent, are so disturbing. They allow the Africans to be
consistently present but irrelevant to the project of making Africa safe for
Highly recommended.



Anonymous agreebut said...

Don't you think that the first step for Africans to regain control over their destiny would be the respect of the people's will as expressed in their votes ?
This is why, if I agree with your critics of Kristof's work, I do not understand that you fall short of unambiguously condemning electoral frauds that are at the root of african political problems.

Wether you like it or not, the Congolese have elected Etienne Tshisekedi for President.

When was that simple reality present in your work ?

And if you do not have the courage of truth, do you think your work is more worth than Kristof's ?

Friday, February 10, 2012 6:12:00 AM

Blogger blaise said...

@ agreebut
I beg to differ here,
if you have the courage of truth, like you put it, you will recognize that nobody knows who won those elections. There was frauds indeed but beside the CENI nobody, as far as I know, come up with poling station by poling station result.
I don't particularly like this amateur Kabila but as far as I can tell a vote from a peasant from katakokombe worth the same as the one from a well educated kinois.
we all knew that there will be frauds, i just wonder, why the opposition didn't dispatch people in each poling station, why they couldn't compile their own results based on those publicize out of each poling station, why they didn't build alliances with powerful allies?
Tshisekedi won? Prove it. Give us your numbers.
I'm just sick and tired with people who talk for the "majority", " congolese people"!!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 2:18:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The funny thing is that nobody in Africa reads anything Kristof writes. Very few Africans know or care about the Jolie, Bono and Sachs circus.

What you guys don't realise is how ludicrous and pointless this appears to us.

Nobody in the West has woken up to the realisation that Western influence in Africa has peaked. It is still significant, but the trend is downwards from here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 2:23:00 AM

Blogger Liz said...

While I find Kristof's reporting to be towards the side of hyperbole and at times misleading, I also think that his style serves some purpose. I recently gave a lecture on UN peacekeeping efforts in the Kivu provinces of the DRC, and I can tell you that most students (college students, mind you) didn't even know where the Democratic Republic of the Congo is. I am not trying to excuse Kristof's western bias towards Africa. I think that he could do better reporting. You have to take in to account that most people, especially in the West, have no interest in Africa. Anything that gets them to pay attention serves a purpose, in its own way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 2:45:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


We doesn't the West spend more time an effort engaging with the next generation of Africans?

I think there is too much effort spent trying to convince Ivy league kids about the importance of engagement with Africa. That effort is largely wasted.

I was born and raised in Africa and was privileged to study in Britian. There are thousands and thousands of us (African students) in the West and our generation has a lot to offer Africa.

However, in most Western discussions about Africa you get a feel that we don't exist and our opinions don't matter.

Well we are having parallel discussions among ourselves and I fear that an opportunity for young Africans and young Westerners to collaborate and share ideas has been lost forever.

This is sad, because we could have fed off the strengths of each other. But since people like Kristof want to preach only to an American crowd and since apparently, we lack agency - nothing will change.

Let me tell you what is likely to happen in future - we will get tired of the whole lot of you and physically chase you out of Africa.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 3:36:00 PM


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