Media exaggerates Africa’s problems

By Eddie Cross

I AM really concerned about the role of mass media in this century. Firstly, because there is so much of it, secondly, because it can easily distort perceptions and understanding of what is really going on and its significance. Social media just compounds the problem.

Right now we have this global panic over Covid-19. No doubt about it, the bug is aggressive and very contagious but we seem to have lost our perspective altogether. When you can lock down a City with 16 million inhabitants because you have had 18 recorded incidents, there is something wrong.

Your chance of dying from Covid-related causes are about 0,005% and this is really nothing exceptional — 17 million people die every year from colds and flu.

Here in Zimbabwe we have now been under lock-down of one sort or another for over 18 months. Four million children have had very little education, billions have been written off our country’s balance sheet and tens of thousands have lost their jobs or means of making a living.

We have become poorer and less equal as a society — everything we are trying to correct.

Why?

Because a few thousand people with many other problems — overweight, diabetic, smokers, heart problems, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and cancers have died because they caught a version of Covid-19. We as a country have 3 000 deaths a week in normal times — why the panic?

Just watch your news — every TV channel, every radio station, every day and every broadcast, covers the problem, statistics pour out, most of them totally inaccurate.

Speak to the funeral operators and they say nothing has changed.

It is the same with Africa. When last did you see a good will story on Africa, one with perspective and understanding? All you see is conflict, dead bodies, starving kids and guys with guns.

The realities are very different, Africa is starting to grow up and develop. It has taken a long time, but give us credit, in the Far East their modern societies with smart cities and higher standards of life took them nearly 6 000 years.

European states, 600 years ago were poor, feudal and ignorant with very low life expectancies and great disparity between the rich and the poor who were in the great majority. There was no democracy, no regard for human rights, ignorance was almost universal, and war was almost continual.

Then the 20th Century — two World Wars of unequalled savagery, hundreds of millions dead from conflicts and starvation and in concentration camps developed by the most “advanced race” on earth.

Just 60 years ago I worked in a part of this country where the local people had never seen a white man, villages where the children ran away from me and I employed men using salt as a means of payment.

Overhead the first satellite crossed the sky at night. To get from there to where we are today, is a stunning achievement and nobody, least of all the media, seem to appreciate what we have done.

One of the scientists that had put a space ship onto the surface of Mars recently is the son of a domestic worker in Harare. Did that get a mention anywhere?

Not a line.

Now Afghanistan! What can one say? Twenty years accompanied by the expenditure of perhaps US$2 trillion on military assistance and attempts to drag a Moslem State out of the past and into the present.

With all their sophistication and research capacity, all their intelligence sources and networks and the Taliban draw them into meaningless talks in the Middle East while they prepare for a massive onslaught on the Western-backed Government in Kabul. In one month almost everything attempted by the NATO coalition has been swept away. Two weeks ago the Taliban had a delegation in Beijing negotiating new support for development.

Africa has problems, but they are nothing like the entrenched problems of the Middle and the Far East. Zambia had an election on Thursday last week and the opposition won by a landslide. Completely unexpected and certainly not predicted by any of the observers or diplomatic missions. But it represents a real democratic change — could that happen in China, or Vietnam?

Look at the problems in many of those countries. Our democracies may be flawed and imperfect — but just look at the situation in the United States.

We need outsiders to recognise what is really going on in Africa and the continuing problems we face dealing with the past. We need perspective that can only come by being well informed and accurately on the situation here and our needs going forward.

Just take one issue, the continued application of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery (ZIDERA) Act in the USA to the financial industry in Zimbabwe.

Passed 20 years ago, when Joe Biden was a Senator and had played a key role in the changes taking place in South Africa and designed to put pressure on the Robert Mugabe regime. Did it have any impact on that regime?

None at all!

All it did was to give him an excuse for his many failures in economic policy and to allow him to blame the “West” for his own shortcomings as a leader.

Now we have new leadership, elected in a flawed election but which nearly all observers including the States, regarded as the most open and transparent since Independence. No real debate about the outcome, Emmerson Mnangagwa won by a narrow margin. But in subsequent rioting, including damage to property and threats of violence, six people were killed by the Army who were called in to support the Police.

In 2019, when the stability of the State was threatened and riots again broke out, this was repeated. Coupled to this, well publicised abductions of five individuals took place and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) made much of these incidents and what does the US do — they renew their sanctions every year as required by the Act. Each time listing their justifications.

Are these incidents in any way comparable to the genocide of Gukurahundi between 1983 and 1987 — almost totally ignored by the USA among others?

Was this in any way comparable to the forced relocation of 1,5 million people in 2005 under Murambatsvina? Or the 4 800 abductees from opposition leadership between 2000 to and 2017?

Or the Massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing when George Bush senior was President of the USA and very carefully (in my view correctly) skirted the issue on the grounds that any other response might plunge China into chaos?

Of course not, but the US continues to claim that the Zidera Act does not affect the great majority of the people of Zimbabwe, that its impact is targeted.

That part may be correct but under Zidera every bank in Zimbabwe has to be careful who they deal with. We have been stripped of nearly all external correspondent banks with our own banking system – only four remain and if we lose those we will be totally cut off from world financial markets — much more important than our membership of the International Monetary Fund.

The Zimbabwe Government, in an effort to control under invoicing of exports, requires all exports to be conducted under the umbrella of a State run institution — the Minerals Marketing Corporation.

Export proceeds from exports authorised by this body are being detained in Washington by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The impact of this on the companies involved is devastating, the impact on foreign investors in Zimbabwe doubly so.

When I had to open a bank account recently, it took me two months and I had to fill in eight pages of information for the US Treasury — even so the bank involved had to ask their external owners if they could go ahead.

As the many countries of the Far East have shown, without access to cheap, long term money from the West, development is simply not possible on any scale.

Denying those rights to us is tantamount to condemning us to life on the margins of global trade. Is that really justified?

  • Cross is an economist.

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