It is exasperating and intensely irritating when the mainstream media in the U.S. consistently and steadfastly portrays Africa in negative and even despective terms. But it is shockingly dismaying and angerful when they fail to portray those with criminal tendencies towards Africans as simply “controversial”.
Tendentious mainstream media reporting
As the coronavirus pandemic has been unfolding, African governments like those of Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda, and Niger Republic have demonstrated agile and even courageous leadership
able to set a clear vision of what it will take to overcome the virus, while those in Europe and the United States have been slow, lethargic and as confusing as they are confused.
Yet, for example, the only articles published in The Washington Post on Africa analyze in detail incidents of police enforcing curfew with “batons and boots” (March 29, 2020) and fatally shooting a boy (April 1,2020) while in Senegal, people at the border with Gambia are “worried they could be arrested or worse” because of the border closing (April 2, 2020). Meanwhile, police brutality, misconduct and shootings in the U.S. are wrapped in a question of how far law enforcement should go in enforcing coronavirus lockdowns when it’s not clear what is banned (The New York Times, April 2, 2020). Use of inappropriate force is wrong anywhere, whether in Africa or the U.S, period.
An April 3 headline in The New York Times blares: How can you social distance when you share a toilet with your neighbor? Well, a shocking number of Americans don’t even have a toilet that flushes. According to a report by the human rights nonprofit DigDeep and the nonprofit US Water Alliance, more than 2 million people in the US lack running water and basic indoor plumbing.
According to Science Magazine, scientists are said to worry about Africa being a ticking time bomb
for the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, that bomb has already exploded in Europe and the United States, a bomb whose fall-out then reached Africa, taking patient zeros to Senegal and Nigeria.
Ignorance feeds a generalized fear in Europe and the United States that Africa’s supposed confused and violent response to the coronavirus will only spread it more.
So doomsday after doomsday article on Africa is published as Africa’s poverty, weak health care systems and informal economies are seen as the harbingers of a cataclysm. Fortunately some outlets, like CNN, NPR and USA Today have kept some of their wits about them and are reporting about what Africa can teach the world about beating the coronavirus, about how the majority of African countries are responding quickly and aggressively to the outbreak, and even how Africa may be the best place to ride it out because of their experience in fighting infectious disease, community collaboration and solidarity, and the practice of an economy of affection.
False empathy with criminal tendencies
At the same, others report with false concern and empathy that Africa can’t beat the coronavirus on its own and urgently needs developed nations to step in. But who can? Beating the virus requires solidarity within and among nations.
While China, America and Europe denied, dawdled and “discussed”, all while looking for someone to blame, African nations not only took early action to suppress the infection rate through early warning and prevention measures. They also started working right away on approaches to testing and vaccine development. And the private sector, both in the formal and informal sectors, immediately put its power of ingenuity and inventiveness to work to produce protective masks, hand sanitizer and ventilators while governments set up emergency funds to provide basic food items for those lacking resources. Plus they are drawing from their years of experience in understanding infectious diseases and combating outbreaks in a context of limited resources.
So when a French doctor has no compunction in saying Africans should be used as lab rats to tests coronavirus vaccines, it is infuriating that no mainstream U.S. print newspaper reacts or even mentions this demeaning and racist proposition, while online outlets in the U.S. characterize him as “controversial”, a “challenger” of official policy, and a “polarizing figure” whose findings fellow scientists “question”. By the way, this is the same “impatient” doctor that has, without proof, convinced thousands, including President Trump, that a common antimalarial drug with possible serious secondary effects can save people infected by Covid-19.
Respect, humility and smarts needed
Heureusement, French media outlets have denounced the doctor’s declaration as scandalous. After all, Africa is not a laboratory for France or anyone else. Of course, speaking out against the French doctor would probably mean, further down the timeline, recognizing that African countries have in the past been sites for clinical trials by large pharmaceutical companies through projects funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
There is no better time than now to not only show respect for Africa, but to also be humble and smart enough to learn from Africa and now partner with Africa in the search for a vaccine , instead of ignoring, alienating the continent or discrediting its efforts and contributions to the fight against COVID-19. Many African governments, with Senegal in the lead, are demonstrating not only what effective crisis leadership looks like and how to practice strategic democratic leadership. They are also an example of how to, in the midst of a global health pandemic, uphold the code of moral values that underpin the Hippocratic oath and journalist’s creed.
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