Africa’s reputation — deserved or not

Mo Ibrahim

The admirable Sudanese telecoms billionaire, Mo Ibrahim, was the guest-editor of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme December 27. Cassandra did not catch all of the programme (which, for non-Beeb listeners, concentrates on the politics and current affairs of the moment), but what caught my attention was Mr Ibrahim’s assertion that the western media—he included the supposedly impartial BBC and CNN—are biased in their reporting of Africa.

Too often, he argued, the western media fail to report the good stories that abound in the continent; instead, they concentrate on the “four or five” places that give Africa such a bad name to the outside world.

Perhaps he has a point. After all, more and more African countries, both north and south of the Sahara, these days hold democratic elections that are at least reasonably fair and the continent looks set to enjoy good economic growth in the year ahead.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but make a mental riposte or two: two days ago Christmas Day in Nigeria was marred by deadly church bombings carried out by the extremist Muslim Boko Haram group; there has been horrible violence in recent years in Zimbabwe and Kenya, both of which are due to hold elections in 2012; Côte d’Ivoire, once the epitome of stable (albeit undemocratic) prosperity, is only just emerging from its civil war of 2011; Somalia is the tragic definition of a failed state; and far too many countries are ruled by what The World in 2012 calls “resource-peddling strongmen”. Add to that the continent’s terrible reputation for corruption, and perhaps Mr Ibrahim is being a touch too critical.

But perhaps the best riposte lies with Mr Ibrahim’s very own Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which produces an annual index of African governance and awards a huge prize—$5 million, plus $200,000 a year for life—to a democratically elected African leader who has governed well and who has voluntarily stepped down in favour of his or her democratically elected successor.

The prize was first awarded in 2007 to Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano, and the following year it went to Festus Mogae of Botswana.The 2011 prize, announced in October, was given to Pedro Pires, who had stepped down in September after a decade as president of Cape Verde. But, sad to say (though good for the credibility of the prize), no recipient was felt worthy in 2009 and 2010. Let us hope that Mr Ibrahim—and the western media—will be able to salute a worthy winner in 2012.

Source: The Economist

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