Friday, 11 January 2008

Two false dawns

Some people never learn. Oscar Wilde's description of marriage (the triumph of hope over experience) can equally be applied to African success stories and freedom in the Arab press.

Item: Kenya

Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Uganda share a number of things in common. One being that at different stages they were each held up as ‘African success story’. Dynamic, democratic, stable. Proof that Africans could do it on their own.

Needless to say, nature asserted itself, and all eventually degenerated into corrupt, violent, poverty-stricken hellholes.

But Kenya was different, designated ‘the African Gazelle’, or something equally nonsensical. As we all know now of course this has gone the way of the rest of the success stories (although the rioter photographed here at least got the teeshirt right). Yet the continet continues to get billions in foreign aid. Our esteemed Foreign Minister proudly boasts that we’ll spend nearly €1 billion this year filling up the Swiss bank accounts of these monsters throughout the continent. A former British Ambassador said of the Kenyan rulers “they gorge on foreign aid until they vomit up on the feet of the donors’. Colourful, undiplomatic, but absolutely true.

Will they ever learn that you can't change Africa? At least for many generations to come. Will they ever realise, as so many honest intelligent Africans do, that continuing to pump in financial aid actually makes things worse?

Item: Al Jazeera

The Arab region has been a byword for freedom of the press – er, absence of. Virtually all its countries are ruled by hereditary monarchs or hereditary generals. News media in the region simply did what they were told, glowingly highlighting every routine meeting by whatever thug was in power at the time. You’ll see the first item on the news as ‘His Highness today met the [whatever] Foreign Minister and a valuable discussion took place’. Fawning ‘analysis’ would in due course be followed by less newsworthy items, such as a tsunami in Asia killing thousands or the outbreak of World War III..

Al Jazeera was different. This told it as it was. Set up by the Qatari ‘royal’ family, it took orders from nobody and was fiercely independent. The fact that George Bush wanted to bomb it surely meant it had to be doing something right. Arabs everywhere took their news from it, rather than their own supine media.

Rulers throughout the Arab region were incensed at its investigations and reporting. None more so that the bloated savages in Saudi Arabia. But that was the rub. Because if you looked at it carefully, and possessed my razor-like insight, you’d see that the Saudis seemed to be the real targets. And indeed, Qatar was deeply peeved at its Islamic brothers, who used the first Gulf War to steal some of their land, had supported a coup against the Qatari rulers, and were generally seen as a threat.

But enter Iran. Powerful, aggressive, half-mad Shia Muslims, and just across the water from Qatar. Suddenly the Saudis weren’t too bad after all. Cue meeting between the two ruling families. Criticism of the Saudis on Al Jazeera fell away to a whisper.

They’re still a long way from a free press in the Arab world

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Too early to say El Jazeera is a failure. Definitely they've eased off on the saudis, but they stilll provide a keen service.