US media distorts Africa in chase for TV ratings

Ignorance and bigotry towards Africa are on display during the US presidential election cycle from both candidates and the broadcast media that reports their antics. Africans who watch the coverage on international news stations like CNN confront a TV image at odds with history and current reality.

Africans have reason to be concerned about the 2016 US presidential election, which features as one of its two principal candidates, a demagogue who would ban immigration and even visitation to the US by citizens of virtually every African country. If the ban on Muslim immigration to the US, that is the main platform of the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald Trump, is implemented, then no African nation will be spared having its citizens prohibited from entering the US. Thousands of Africans who regularly travel to the US on business, to train as soldiers with the US military, to study, to work, to act in movies and win Oscars, and even African leaders, would be blocked.

Mark Wiggett for IOA

This is obviously big news in Africa. However, the impact Trump’s immigration policies would have on Africa is a story that is nowhere told in the US media, be it the broadcast media or web-based news media. Africa can be forgiven if it feels that it is, once again, an overlooked continent. Africans also have reason to be angry at the lack of knowledge that news commentators and, similarly, politicians share on African current events, and not only African, but US history. Given the cultural, military and trade ties between the US and Africa, much is at stake for Africans when Americans go to the polls in November. And much is to be feared by Africans.

Africa depicted through the prism of American domestic politics

US network news programmes are aired in Africa via satellite TV and viewed by millions across the continent. CNN is a global broadcast news provider, on par with the UK’s BBC, and is probably viewed by more Africans than any other news channel, again via satellite TV reception. CNN’s news editorial policy is to refer to Libya as a ‘failed state’. CNN senior news editor and on-air political anchor, Wolf Blitzer, does not refer to Libya without the moniker ‘failed state’. Not only is the description demeaning in the facile and thoughtless way it is used, it is also inaccurate in light of advances Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has made patching together the country. True, the GNA has yet to fully secure the nation’s borders and depends on UN peacekeepers and local militias to provide security. However, what is problematic about CNN’s pronouncement of Libya as a ‘failed state’ is that the judgment comes across as a permanent state of affairs. Libya is evolving politically and economically, with a functioning national government, ministries and courts. Libya’s key industry, oil, is producing and exporting. But to CNN, Libya as a country has failed and that’s all there is to it.

Americans fail every survey designed to show their knowledge of history. If only Mr Blitzer, and other US journalists, knew more about their American history, never mind African history. By CNN’s definition, the US was originally a failed state. The Articles of Confederation slogged on for five years, from the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the establishment of a Federal Government in 1781. Borders were not secure, and defence was provided by local militias, just as in Libya today. The economy was in shambles, food riots were common, and no central government existed to exert control. For all intents and purposes, America was a failed state. However, Mr Blitzer would be loathe to describe his country thus, and would say that nations evolve, overcome political and other obstacles to become solid.

Why would CNN use a condemnation for an evolving Libyan state it would never apply to America? The answer is American politics. CNN, like the rest of the American media, depends on viewers to survive, with larger numbers of viewers generating more advertising income. The pyrotechnical 2016 US presidential election has proved a bonanza for news channels. Viewers are watching in great numbers Trump’s racist rants and outrageous outbursts. He is entertaining in the way a train wreck is entertaining, as a disaster viewers are unable to turn away from. However, the dilemma for CNN, and other American news organisations, is to keep alive interest in the campaign, and thus retain viewers and advertising revenue. As the chairman of the CBS-TV network, Leslie Moonves, said, “Trump may be bad for America but he is damn good for (viewership).”

Trump is weak on foreign policy. His opponent, the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is the candidate of the Democratic Party, excels in foreign policy experience. As far as her opponents and the media are concerned, she has a weak spot in the form of the attack that took place on the night of 11 September 2012 in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Islamic militants attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, setting it on fire and killing US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and US Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith. As Secretary of State, Clinton was responsible for US missions abroad as part of her portfolio. Knowing she would one day run for the US presidency, her political opponents mounted an unrelenting series of investigations intended to find her guilty of negligence in Libya and thus personally responsible for the deaths of the envoys. In his rhetoric, Trump has declared his judgment that Clinton is guilty. The news media, including CNN, cannot show the bias of doing the same, but finds it useful to stoke the Benghazi controversy to level the playing field in Trump’s favour. This makes the game more interesting, and CNN is doing this by saying that, in Blitzer’s words, Clinton is “vulnerable” on the issue of Libya because her policies “have led to a failed state.”

How unfortunate that CNN did not adequately report the Libyan military victories over ISIS leading up to, and including, the capture of the ISIS stronghold in Sirte in June. The campaign was underreported because of CNN’s prioritisation of US developments over foreign news, even on CNN International. The Sirte campaign was underway the week US boxing legend Mohammad Ali died and had his funeral, when Clinton clinched the Democratic Party presidential nomination, when the bigoted Trump was slandering a US Federal Judge because of the jurist’s Mexican ancestry, and when a gunman carried out the  worst mass shooting in US history. While reported on CNN, the impact of the Libyan story was lost to the channel’s senior news editor, who against this evidence of a GNA coming together in Tripoli, cavalierly continued to refer to Libya as a failed state. He did so in the context of US presidential election coverage, to keep alive a political controversy for the sake of viewer interest. For Libyans wondering what it will take to be acknowledged as a country that has not failed, but is still moving forward as a state – and not fragmenting into pieces like Yugoslavia in the 1990s – they must await the answer until at least the end of the US presidential cycle.

The Trump Doctrine: Ban Africans, whether Muslim or not

For Africans, whose lives, economies and securities will be adversely affected if Trump wins the election and enacts his policies, it is troubling that their views are not sought by the global media. True, Africans do not vote in US presidential elections except for Americans living in Africa. However, they are significantly impacted by the outcome of the elections, when candidates become leaders who determine the superpower’s relations with Africa from military cooperation to trade and the containment of AIDS.

There was no ambiguity about Trump’s plans – or his ‘promise’ as he said – when on 13 June 2016 the US presidential candidate stated, “When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.”

Previously, Trump declared that no member of the Muslim faith would be able to enter the US, much less be allowed to emigrate there. His 13 June speech broadened the ban. For countries with a “proven history of terrorism against the United States”, Trump is referring to Middle East states like Iraq and Syria, home of ISIS; and Saudi Arabia, where the al-Qaeda 9/11 bombers originated. Never mind that almost all people from those countries, and indeed nearly all Muslims, pose no danger to the US, harbour no ill-will toward the US and, through their visits and immigration, provide a positive asset to the US. The Republican administration, if elected, will ban them uniformly because their countries have, like the US with its own home-grown terrorists, given birth to terrorists who have conducted hostile acts against US targets.

By this measure, all Nigerians will be banned by President Trump because Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorists have attacked US oil company interests in Nigeria. Egyptian and Tunisian terrorists have attacked Europeans, and thus those countries’ peoples are banned. Under Trump’s ban on Muslims immigrating to or visiting the US, citizens of countries like Algeria, Chad, Gambia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and some other African nations are proscribed. Terror attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania will exclude those populations from visiting or immigrating to the US. Terrorists have attacked US or European interests in Southern Africa as well, which would exclude the peoples of many countries. The list of excluded African countries is as extensive as it is ludicrous. What disturbs Africans is that Trump, mirroring as he does US-centric media coverage, is completely oblivious to African realities. Africans are not terrorists bent on US destruction as Trump’s exclusionary policies assume.

Nor is the US media aware of the role that Africa plays in protecting the US from terrorism. Africans are on the frontline of terrorism, and are much more likely than Americans to be killed or injured by jihadist terrorists like al-Qaeda (most of the US embassy bombings victims in Kenya and Tanzania were Africans), Boko Haram and ISIS. No American has ever had his or her city taken over by ISIS or been rendered homeless by Boko Haram. By fighting these groups on the frontlines, by smashing their strongholds the way ‘failed state’ Libyans did against ISIS in Sirte, Africans are ensuring that the terror groups do not grow and export operatives to the US. Not a word of this is mentioned in the US media.

An informed view from the White House

Africans can take solace from a son of the soil, US President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan and who responded on 14 June to Trump’s proposal of the day that almost all Africans be banned from immigrating to or even visiting the US. “We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee, for president of the United States, to bar all Muslims from immigrating into America. Language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. It will make us less safe, fuelling ISIS’s notion that the West hates Muslims.”

Making ISIS stronger by providing the group with propaganda material to entice recruits to its cause, Trump and other US politicians are endangering the lives and welfare of Africans. For this reason, Africans have a vested interest in the 2016 US presidential elections and are following it closely. Unfortunately, while in reality Africans are negatively impacted by Trump’s election campaign that makes ISIS stronger, which is a greater threat to Africa than the US, this is another African story left untold by the US and much of the world media.