No doubt we, as activists and those more professional media practitioners have tried and will continue to cover Burundi. The situation in our neighboring country is worrisome and requires our attention and possibly action.
I think every Head of State of this region would be justified to ask his citizens to postpone elections in their respective countries due to the crisis in Burundi which requires their undivided, imminent attention. However, we may just be doing it in a manner that is not decent, informative or mobilizing.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon with professional journalist: Vincent Gasana – @Mwenegahaya on twitter. And he opened my eyes on yet another form of racism in reporting on Africa. One to which, we are among the purveyors, sadly.
He pointed out to me that we like sharing on social media and in the media in general disturbing photos of dead Burundians. ‘Yes they are disturbing!’ – I answered him; ‘Isn’t that what we want? To shock consciences until action is taken?’
No, he said. In fact, the more horrifying photos you post, you ultimately trivialize what is otherwise a matter of grave concern to the entirety of mankind. A human being is sacred. A dead person has a family, an identity and a story. Even in one’s death, one’s dignity mustn’t be infringed upon, by those, no matter how well intentioned they are.
A mutual friend triggered the conversation. She brought up the fact that @mwenegahaya had reacted to another series of similar gruesome photos, shared on social media as somewhat ‘prurient’. A word I learned yesterday, which means that, over time, people seem to find some voyeuristic thrill in posting and visualizing those images of yet another death toll of African people.
‘The only people who do not enjoy them though’ – he explained, ‘are the families of those who lost their relatives’. They find it inhuman that their loved ones are exposed like that, and wish their dignity could be preserved. But they are told that’s the only way that the world would know and justice would come.
As a matter of fact, that is a fallacy. As Burundi, after Rwanda, after Gaza, after Syria have all shown, the only thing to come, and rather late, is a bit of money, raised by NGOs and other well-wishers ‘to save Africa’. The same NGOs, mostly western based, do not see the need to share gruesome photos from France, because they have no fundraising agenda to ‘save French people’. Accordingly, no gruesome photos were circulated after the Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan or the 9/11 terror attacks. ‘If you do that as an editor in the UK you get sacked!’ – @Mwenegahaya simply put it to me.
‘Dans ces pays-là, un génocide, ce n’est pas trop important’ [A genocide in that country (that part of the world) it isn’t important]. It is in those terms that Francois Mitterrand, French president at the time of the Tutsi Genocide in 1994 justified his relentless support to the government that was carrying it-out.
Those who are sharing those gruesome picture – and I take my part of the blame – do not know better. They’re all animated with good intentions. Except, they are involuntarily serving interest of forces with much more evil agendas, instead of serving the interests of Burundians. Nowadays, news of dead Africans or Arabs has become ‘faits diverts’ – almost ‘dog eats man’- miscellaneous news. People do not get shocked anymore about it. The world has come to take it as an expected advent.
While Westerners are keen to preserve their image of invincibility, their media vehiculate an imagery of misery and desperation of other races, such as Asians, Slave, Blacks and Arabs, etc. Indeed in a Hollywood film, a white-man’s death is rare, or occurs after that of hundreds of Vietnamese, Blacks and Arabs…
Last month it was our finest Faustin Kagame, who was deploring, in his Jeune Afrique article: ‘La façon de le dire’ (http://bit.ly/1RLgmbm) – how western watchdogs and media tell the stories about Rwanda with deep indecency and prejudice. He was reacting to the Human Rights Watch report that attempted to dismiss the – globally reputed – cleanliness in Kigali and reduce it to the fact that we lock away all our dirty people and beggars; they picked a youth rehabilitation center as an example..
The next day, it was France24 Television, which attacked our -globally reputed- poverty reduction performance, saying our statistics are ‘finessed’, and poverty is actually increasing in Rwanda. To illustrate their story, France24 didn’t hesitate to use images from Eastern DRC thinking that no one would notice (http://f24.my/20njGNm.
Yesterday I was quarreling with a foreigner, who contended that archives of the Genocide against the Tutsi of the ICTR in Arusha shouldn’t be sent to Rwanda because we have a ‘vested interest’. Him, and other ‘neutral Saul’ should be left to objectively keep them on our behalf – he proclaimed! I mean, you must be at a different level of arrogance to think that way..
I remember Arnaud Zacharie the head of a Belgian NGO: 11-11-11, declaring in a meeting: ‘mais j’en ai marre des bonnes nouvelles venant du Rwanda!’ (I am fed-up with all these good news coming from Rwanda). Its uncanny how western media and activists get irritated by good news coming from Africa but express no shame in trivializing our pain. For instance, we have all been accustomed to the mantra: ‘Rwanda instrumentalises the Genocide…’ What an insensitive, immoral thing to say in deed?
Which people would like to unstrumantalize their own tragedy? Would you say the same about Israel and the Holocaust? Are we beggars, looking for world’s pity? We put an end to the Genocide ourselves, with no one’s help. We stabilized our country and reconciled our people.
We do not seek out pity; we are humble but proud people. Also, have you noticed? They refer to their governments as legitimate ‘Administrations’ and ours as despotic ‘regimes’ waiting to be changed. The ‘Obama Administration’; The ‘Bush Administration’, the ‘Hollande Administration’ in (La Ve Republique). But they would say: The ‘Kagame Regime’, the ‘Museveni Regime’.
It actually doesn’t matter that the Kagame or Museveni regimes have transformed people’s lives, and the ‘Bush Administration’ destroyed the world…
We were all baffled here, when a diplomat: ‘Samantha Powers’, US ambassador to the UN, referred to the work of the Rwandan Parliament in revising the Constitution as ‘maneuvering’. She may agree with the process, she may not; that’s fine. Many people don’t agree with the process – I personally submitted a brief to the Supreme Court to that end. But to refer to the work of a legitimate parliament of a foreign country, done in compliance with local and international law, and in response to petitions from the population of the said country, as ‘maneuvering’, isn’t dismissive: its outright narcissistic!
So, while I can’t change western bigotry, I can speak to you, my people and ask you not to try and fit into news formats, that were designed to undermine our continent and our people. We aught to go out there, tell our own story and stand by it. I was saddened to learn that The New Vision, a well reputed, rich magazine in neighboring Uganda, picks its stories on Burundi from Agence France Press; A French news agency, and publishes them verbatim.
Others, really well intentioned journalists here, choose to tweet ‘Fiction’ and ‘Jazz’ on Burundi – as a friend would say: ‘The kraken has been released!’, ‘The Beast is alive’ or ‘Burundi descending in abysmal horror’. Drama is catchy yes, but what do you mean? What information have you shared? Is this something we can work with here? etc.
I will not ask people here to be professionals in their reporting. After all, social media has democratized journalism now – and it is, in fact, the so-called professionals whom have misled us. Ultimately we are all humans: Black Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, Arab Lives Matter, All Lives Matter.
All these are areas that need coverage. 140 characters are not few after all. You can say what you have to say in a concise and respectful manner. So keep tweeting, posting and writing. Just do it with decency and purpose.