Friday, October 28, 2005
Africa in the News
Somehow blogger just ate my post. That's the first I've had that happen, but have seen other bloggers mention it. That gives me an opportunity to say straight away that the photo of Geoffrey Oryema has little to do with the main thrust of this post. Mostly I want to mention the untimely death of Tom Masland a Senior Editor at Newsweek.
I would have posted a photo of Tom Masland-- you can see here lots of choices-- but my scrupples about copyright got the better of me.
The photograph of Oryema looks professional, but there were no credits at the Web site I got it from. So I guess that falls under "presumed to be in the public domain."
This is a diversion, part of the ongoing story of learning to blog. I like Oreyma's music very much, and the Web site is an portal for Ugandan music, so I'm happy to promote them both. (I figure if the photographer hasn't found out about the photo being used at that Web site, she'll probably never find out about it being used here.) It's a conflict, at least, I feel people deserve attribution for their work. On the other hand with all the picutres out there on the Internet, I'd like to use some of them for posts. Any comments on the copyright issue would be welcome.
Back to Tom Masland: I was sorry to read, "Newsweek Senior Editor Tom Masland, 55, died Oct. 27, 2005, after suffering injuries from an auto accident in New York City." Masland was African Regional Director for Newsweek for many years and was a fine reporter. Here's a recent article about Sudan he wrote.
I was surprized to see that as part of the magazine's tribute to Masland's work they included a passage from Huckleberyy Finn. There are many currents in American culture and Mark Twain is a main current.
On Peter Okema's Web site you can buy a book by Milton Allimadi, The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created the Racist Image of Africa. Racism is counter the current in which Twain swam, but just as surely a main current. Allimadi's study shows how wrong The New York Times got the story in Africa, not just at the turn of the twentieth century, but well into the sixties.
The Internet does allow for freer exchange of ideas. For example, I often read The Monitor Uganda's independent newsdaily online. Still, I value the African coverage by American news outlets. Journalist and mainsteam media are still awfully important. Masland was different from the racists The New York Times employed too often in their coverage in Africa.
Back to Mark Twain: Twain was opposed to American imperialism and wrote numerous articles on the subject. America was the first country to recognize Belgian rule of the Congo during Cleveland's term in office. In the early 1900's Twain was an important figure in The Congo Reform Movement.
That last link and this one are to a really fascinating Web site providing historical documents, Boondocks.net, created by Jim Zwick . Zwick was early in developing the educational uses for the Internet, and he's really good.
Reading over the pages Zwick has assembled about the Belgian Congo, I was struck that there were more mainstream reports of the atrocities than I had ever imagined. That made me think of Allimadi's Hearts of Darkness. Of course, one connection is Joseph Conrad who, besides the allusion to his novella, Heart of Darkness, isn't mentioned in Allimadi's book. But the allusion is enough to make the point that racism is a frame in which people perceive the world, and that the media has served to bolster that frame.
Tom Masland loved literature and that love seems very valuable for a reporter to have. I shouldn't have been so surprised that Newsweek includes a clip of Masland reading Twain. Allimadi's point about how the media helped to shape a racist image of Africa is surely on the mark, but it's interesting to realise that there have been influential counter voices too. Journalism isn't simply about getting the facts right, but getting the story right. African issues are very difficult for journalists to cover on both counts. Tom Masland was one of the best. I hope that Masland's legacy will continue at Newsweek, just as Mark Twain's legacy continued with Masland.