The recent reporting in the New York Times on the DRC is typical for the Western media's approach to Africa, writes Tharcisse Kayiranga in The New Times, Kigali. It's all negative, and it's time African journalists did some advocacy work on behalf of the continent.   

Tharcisse Kayiranga writes in the New Times, Rwanda:

A couple of weeks back, there was an article in The New Times Issue No.13744 by Frank Kagabo: "What is The New York Times up to?" The issues raised in Frank's article hinged mainly on, (according to him) the perplexing fact that 'reputable' media organisations such as The New York Times should come to damning conclusions in their reports without prior research, the case study being the DR Congo.

I did not react to it immediately because I read the article posthumous. No! Frank, The New York Times is not 'probably' doing what most American newspapers do.

The New York Times is doing 'precisely' what most American and Western newspapers do: report bad news, negative news, hunger, disease, poverty, corruption from the Dark Continent and nothing, or next to nothing positive.

Now, it will be naive to think that by giving prominence to 'bad news from Africa, the continent will receive aid of extraordinary proportions. No way! Who in the West does not already know of the African problems? The Western governments use them instead as a level for blackmail, a kind of leverage against African nations. See what the two European countries, Sweden and Netherlands recently did.

They suspended aid to Rwanda to the tune of 14 million Euros, over mere allegations that the country collaborates with DR Congo rebels. If this is not blackmail, tell me what it is.

I am not denying that the proportion of the disaster may move compassionate minds to help. Hmmm, why didn't they open their hearts and wallets when Rwanda was struck in 1994 and why are they not opening them now in Darfur?

They just sit in New York debating whether to go or to come. Western leaders are hypocrites. To their journalists, a politico will let on things like "Africans are good people. I know them and I like them. They are fully capable of putting their countries together, if we give them the right help. Feeding them was a stopgap. We've done that. Now, we have to do something else." And what is that something? "They need a first-rate police force. We are sending in a special forces team to run a programme."

And you can rest assured that sooner or later, that team will take on sides, supporting rebels against a legitimate government or vice versa, causing a worse crisis in any given country such as the DRC.

And then the Security Council of the United Nations Organisation, that toothless body of which sadly, the African Countries are voiceless members, will pass a resolution blaming one side or another of belligerence, with the support of other Western countries, and with that of the particular country which sent in a special forces team in the first place.

Have you heard stories of Monuc fighting alongside Government forces against the rebels in D R Congo?

The problem of Africa in the Western Press is not that these Western newspapers do not report enough of the calamities that befall the continent. The problem is that it hardly reports on the "good news" from the continent. All the "bad news" has already been given prime time headlines.

The bad press we get as a continent has purchased for us what marketing professionals call "very low brand name equity."

Africa is therefore not seen as a place for investment. The name Africa invokes failure in the public imagination in the West. There is probably more poverty in Asia than there is in Africa.

There is probably more corruption in the United States, where multi-million firms operate in corruption and deal in heroin, cocaine, opium and other drugs, than there is let's say in Zimbabwe (?) or in Nigeria.

But ask anyone in European or North American capitals and they will say there is more in Africa. The reason they say this is because they believe in what they constantly read, day in and day out, and not because of what they know is true.

More than eighty per cent of them have never been to Africa, but they are ready to swear Africa is hell. Sometime back, when aid was pouring in for Asia at the time of one of its frequent crises, one Western newspaper carried a cartoon that showed aid trucks rushing to Asia, passing needy Africa by. That cartoon captured the spirit of what I am trying to say. It's very sad.

But sadder still, is the fact that this problem of the negative form of reporting from the West is further exacerbated by our own press, our very own African journalists. What do we African journalists do to redeem our tinted, bruised image?

Nothing! Instead of refuting allegations or accusations we know are wrong or malicious and erroneous which are made against our countries or our leaders, we shamelessly lend them credence in our own columns and editorials.

It's well known how prolific Zimbabwean and Nigerian writers are. But read negative or denigrating articles on Nigeria or Harare in Western tabloids and they are signed 'Dele' or Mdenge'.

On the home turf, this kind of the not-so-well veiled anti-soil attitude is slowly catching on among our journalists, especially in our so-called independent vernacular newspapers; they write just about anything against their government and its leaders, not aware or otherwise, that a few discontented elements across the sea are busy transcribing and interpreting their write-ups to fit their own hidden agenda.

I am of the opinion that if we have to do advocacy journalism for Africa, we should focus on the "good news." When democratic developments are taking place, we need the cameras to focus on Africa. It is not only in America or Western Europe that elections are held.

In the past decade several African countries including Rwanda, have made giant strides in democratic development. The world is not told about them.

So when a disaster strikes and when the disaster receives headlines, the world gets to have the impression that we in Africa are incapable of nothing save killing ourselves.

This is why the "bad news" hardly generates sympathy of extraordinary proportions. It is a conspiracy. There is no better explanation.

Seeing that the Western press covertly favours the interests of Western countries, African journalists should cover the interests of Africa by informing the uninformed in the West that, for instance, the might and wealth of the developed countries originate from the continent they so much underrate; that their countries thrived from the sweat of African human and vast mineral resources, which the West plundered during the long years of colonialism.

Is not a shame for example that prior to the departure of the Belgians shortly before independence, some mines in Rwanda were dynamited and left in rubbles so that it would take ages for Rwandans to find? And they turn around and offer Rwanda some kind of aid or assistance with strings attached.

On the other hand, African leaders should wake up to this bitter fact. This kind of assistance in cash by Western countries to African nations, be it a grant, a loan, mere aid or whatever name they choose to call it, will always remain with strings attached.

And the beggar's hands will always remain outstretched, even if the strings require him to cut his right hand so that they give the aid to his left.

* This article first appeared in the New Times, Kigali.