11 July 2008

The White Man's Burden

There was a lot of interest in the recent 11th African Union summit amongst western media. African leaders turned up to discuss the pressing matters of Millennium Development Goals around water and sanitation to find European media outlets telling everyone that the issue of Zimbabwe had overshadowed everything. Whether it did or not scarcely mattered, since the likes of The Sun were hardly going to sit through all that boring development agenda talk. They were there to observe Mugabe's arrival like schoolboys trapping bugs in a jar to see if they'll fight.

I'd like to think the British press and other parts of the Conservative party were particularly prescient in their calls for action to be taken against the Mugabe regime these last 5 years or so. No doubt the plight of the oppressed all over the world touches them deeply, evidenced by the wealth of front page news stories and foreign policy pronouncements, demanding all political corruption be opposed by force, not coming to a British newspaper anytime soon.

In fact, Mr Mugabe probably felt quite at home in Sharm el Sheikh, mixing the likes of Omar Bongo, the improbably-named President of Gabon. He's been in power for 40 years now, last elected in 2005 despite widespread accusations of electoral fraud and bribery, not to mention violence. I don't remember that leading the news 3 years ago - I must have missed it.

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was also there, someone whose use of violence as a political tool overshadows even that of Robert Mugabe. President Gaddafi of Libya was a low-key presence - the western media no longer seems interested in the fact that political parties have been banned in Libya since 1972 and there are no free elections as we would understand the term. Not since they gave up their WMD programme at least.

There is, of course, one big difference between Zimbabwe and other African countries: a substantial white population. Surely that couldn't be the reason for the focus on Mugabe's ills at the expense of similar coverage of some of his neighbours? Not that they deny it happens elsewhere, just that, well, it's somehow less newsworthy. Those pictures of Amy Winehouse won't print themselves you know.

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