Friday, November 23, 2007

The Best Of the Blogs

Deutsche Welle's International Weblog Awards have been anounced!...and I just found out that Imtidad, a blog and podcast by Lybian writer, Ghazi Gheblawi, was voted Best Blog in the Arabic Category!! And it came in 3rd for Best Podcast!!

DW's Jury Award for Best Arabic Weblog went to Aljazeera Talk, and Alive in Baghdad was their choice for Best Video Blog.

Last year there was some controversy over the Jordanian blog Khobbeizeh, which apparently disappeared from the voting lists because of the blogger's political opininons?!

But as the blog was put back up again with fewer votes, maybe they just discovered some voting irregularities, as happened this year.

Anyway Khobbeizeh is a great blog, so I'm adding it to my favourites...which will have grown exponentially by the time I've gone through the BOBs nominee list.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shahrazad Goes Live

I don't always agree with Fatima Mernissi, but she does have the most fantastically bizarre and yet wondefully commensensical ideas.

In 'The Satellite, The Prince and Sheherazade', she explores "the empowerment dynamics of satellite broadcasting" and "Arab audiences' fascination with strong female hosts and war reporters". These women, who have become household names across the Arab world, fit the "Sheherazade profile, the brainy, self-confident storyteller":

Promoting strong female stars has proven to be a fantastic asset for the Saudis' most threatening TV rival. Al Jazeera is winning crowds every night through the eloquence of its news anchors, Jumana Nammour and Kaduja Bin Guna, and economics expert Farah al-Baraqaui. While state televisions and oil-funded channels traditionally limited their staff by censoring them and denying them the right to decide freely about their program content and what guests to invite, Al Jazeera'ssuccess is due precisely to the freedom its programmers and speakers enjoy, which allows them to become credible communicators. "

Channels that want to be viable are required to rely much more heavily on high-impact 'brands' and product lines. Al Jazeera demonstrated the worth of such assets when it developed a range of programs whose titles and presenters have become household names inside and outside the Arab world," explains Naomi Sakhr, the author of Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East.

The most famous reporters in the Middle East today are probably the Palestine-based Al Jazeera reporters, Shirin Abu 'Aqla and Jivara al-Badri, who are admired for their courage and professionalism. "History will remember that day when there was no one to speak up in the entire Arab nation, from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf, but women such as Shirin Abu 'Aqla and Jivara al Badri and Leila Aouda," comments Ali Aziz, the columnist of the avant-garde Egyptian magazine 'Critiques' (An-Nuqqad), "while male leaders and gallon-wearing generals have disappeared from our sight and hearing."

Fairuz's ya sharazade

Katia Nasser discussing her experience as a war correspondent during the 33 day war:

'Free Sami' Button

Tasnim from epiphanies has created a new button, linking to the Reporters Without Borders petition, to support Aljazeera cameraman Sami Alhaj.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Baring the Burden

Whatever might be said of his fiction, Rudyard Kipling is not the best of poets. His poem "The White Man's Burden" for example, is a hackneyed hymn to the colonialist and his civilising mission.

The motivation was to encourage America’s takeover of the Philippines, which many see as the beginning of a long list of colonial interventions by the former colony, ostensibly founded on opposition to the injustice of the old world.

Kipling’s aim leads him to depict the colonial enterprise as a philanthropic challenge; this notion is of course the usual justification, but that’s precisely the point. The poem is an articulation of the imperial imagination, and the title encapsulates this most basic of its tenets in a phrase that has been appropriated by postcolonial critics of empire (and neo-colonial ones for that matter), for uses other than the ones the poet intended.

On the face of it, the contemporary discourse depicting Africa as a “scar on the conscience of the West” might seem the opposite of Kipling’s “White man's burden”; but while it implies an acknowledgement of guilt (which is a key component driving Western aid to the continent) it is significant that the phrase is in figurative terms a variation of the white man’s burden. The colonised other is a burden which the West must lift, while Africa is a scar the West bears – both passive objects of the West’s desired self-image.

The recent attempted abduction of 103 children in Chad is an example of the manipulation required to maintain this self-image. The European ‘aid workers’ in the case lied to the locals, claiming that they would be setting up a home in the capital N’djamena, offering their children a better life and (crucially) education. According to the group anything was justified in their effort to save the children from death and abuse, but even this Machiavellian rationalization does not hold water, as they had to manufacture their Darfur orphans using bandages and iodine to fake the 'war-wounded' look, as footage shot by a journalist accompanying the ‘rescue mission’ shows.

This journalist did not go to the authorities, and only released his video after the group was arrested; his justification being that he didn’t see the children being abused! Such reasoning is revealing: he would not have considered filming a kidnapping in his hometown without interfering. His excuse is in fact a testament to the power of the simplified and distorted image of Africa projected by global and particularly Western media: there’s a definite sense that, all things considered, the children would be much better off with European foster parents, away from the Africa and its endless troubles. Their anguished relatives’, interviewed on Aljazeera, see things differently.

‘The King Kong’ syndrome is Rey Chow’s name for a form of first world consumption in which the 3rd world is mined for thrilling scenes and stories of human misery. Tragic events supply melodramatic entertainment which is more attention-grabbing and invested with more ‘significance’, because they are ‘real’. Africa, the heart of darkness, is particularly vulnerable and is almost always portrayed as the site of misery.

The news media uses this ‘raw material’ in much the same way as the entertainment industry, to provide viewers with shocking spectacle. A BBC World advert promoting the channels website uses part of a news report; it is filmed from a low-flying plane which is dropping boxes (of aid presumably) over a crowd of people in what looks like a flooded area; the people dodge the falling packages and run after the plane while a reporter perched inside informs us that they are “desperate”. This segment of a report, playing on a laptop screen, is followed by the slogan “news on demand”.

It’s a marketing ploy which, had it been intentional, would have been a witty satire on news channels and their viewers, who together transform suffering into a sought-after commodity.

Virtually all the stories coming out of Africa are of conflict, disease and disaster, with Africans infantilised by being represented as perpetually pleading for nurture and nutrition. Reductive and sensationalist news coverage, coupled by the missionary language of those bent on ‘saving Africa’, combine to figure Western dominance as maternal solicitude.

This message is often taken quite literally, as exemplified by the celebrities adopting the continent as a ‘cause’, or going a step further and adopting a representative child.

‘Eye of the Child’, the organisation that (unsuccessfully) challenged the legality of Madonna’s speeded-up adoption of a Malawian boy, urged the star to consider supporting “community based approaches to care for orphans” as an alternative to efforts that “create and develop a dependency syndrome”. This phrase also perfectly describes the wider charity case approach to Africa.

In the case of the Chad orphans-that-weren’t, Dubai Cares seems to be offering to fund the sort of response ‘Eye of the Child’ advocates, by funding efforts to "trace the children's families, reunite them with their families and get them back to school" as a spokesman said. Highly commendable, but then the spokesman goes on to claim that they “don’t want to get involved in politics”, which seems disingenuous.

China is also going on something of a humanitarian spending spree to raise its profile, and to counteract negative coverage. As a global player it is deploying aid as part of its strategic jostling for superpower status, and Africa is the perfect place to do so.

So it’s no longer just a Western phenomenon, in many countries Africa and Africans are conceived as a burden to enable policies that duplicate the underlying assumptions, and some of the ambitions of the colonial project.

After all even the scramble for Africa at the end of the 19th century was regarded by many Europeans as a laudable charitable endeavour – which should make the current scramble more suspect. In the late 19th and early 20th century, colonial states produced propaganda material to celebrate the occupation and exploitation of their respective colonies, in which a matronly figure represents the European nation bringing the comfort and culture of civilisation to the natives. The feminine ‘soft power’ of development aid is not a modern alternative to the masculine colonial officer lifting the white mans burden, but an attendant concept.

There are certainly differences in the ways Africa is approached, and it is undeniably true that the continent needs and deserves assistance in order to overcome the barriers to its progress; but the Chad case is a particularly extreme example that highlights the problematic aspect of calls to save the continent that history forgot.

The present enthusiasm, being based on a generalised vision of a chaotic mass of humanity in the grip of apocalyptic horrors, has obscured the many positive developments on the African continent: the growing economies, rising living standards, expanding educational opportunities and most importantly the moves toward closer coordination between its states.

This is not to suggest that Africa’s troubles are over, or are on their way to being resolved; but the unrelenting negative portrayals are both inaccurate and unconstructive. Such portrayals are a product of the one-dimensional way in which the continent and its people are perceived, and they reinforce the same stereotypes.

The consequences are clear. The charity concert Live 8 overlooked African artists in its line-up of global celebrities; and while African countries receive aid and debt relief from more developed nations, they find it impossible to get a fair trade deal.
Africans are confined to the role of recipient, rather than active participants who are changing their current reality and deciding their future.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Chad case

I'm getting a lot sick at the Europeans-in-captivity coverage of the Chad case, the focus is completely on that and I heard very little about the children until Jazeera finally gave the parents and relatives a chance to tell their story - in an interview which the English channel copied and pasted as per usual.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Economic Refugee

An Unending War, an article I stumbled across in the Tripoli Post, begins:

What ran through your mind? I mean when you read the title to this article. I'm sure you must have thought about physical gun battles

It's by 'Joseph Success', a pseudonym adopted by the writer who is "a refugee living in Libya".

His point is that the idea of third world 'economic migrants', implying a voluntary choice, is nonsensensical in view of the conditions they are escaping, that living in poverty is not like living in a war zone but worse, because there is no end in sight.

The risks taken and dangers, especially those faced by Africans, hoping to reach Europe should certainly dispel any myths of freeloaders looking for an easy ride. And its not like those Africans who actually reach -never mind breach- the fortress impenetrable are guaranteed a dignified life.

Given his self-description I'm assuming the writer is himself waiting to leave the continent, in which case he is an example of the brain drain from which the continent suffers. Africa is wasting the potential of its best hope for the future, those it has used precious resources to educate, by failing to provide them with adequate opportunities.

David McFarlane
, covering the recent conference held in Tripoli on the issue, provides some startling statistics on the high percentage of African University graduates (especially doctors) living abroad.

Some, like Kenya Airways Executive Titus Naikuni, think that Africa can utilise the brain drain to its own advantage, by turning what has been termed its subsidy of the first world ( providing a cheap educated workforce) into an export industry. Sami Zaptia of the TP however argues that their own countries need such highly qualified professionals to develop, and talks about the problems facing Libyans wanting to return.