Farooq A. Kperogi
I have received many thoughtful reactions to the series I just concluded on the above topic. My responses follow in italics.
Specimen of investigative journalism
Your series on the Niger Delta report by CNN is a magnificent specimen of investigative journalism. You have taken advantage of your proximity to the CNN centre to do a thoroughly rigorous work.
The sophistication of your article lies in the fact that your disagreement with some of the actions of the Nigerian government has not beclouded your sense of judgment, and your convincing rooting of a seemingly isolated case of misrepresentation to the larger issue of the unjust, racist, imperialist Western caricature of Africans and Africa.
I can't hide the fact that I relate better with and prefer your write-ups to the articles you sometimes reproduced even as I perfectly understand how busy you are.
Abdul, MAIDUGURI (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thanks for your kind remarks. I understand why you relate better with my personal narrations than the articles I occasionally republish from other sources. I do that because I want my readers to benefit from other perspectives. However, I will try as much as I can to write articles based on my personal experiences.
I’m appalled by your article
In reading through your article, I could not help but wonder what your priorities actually are. You seem to care more about the cosmetic outlook of Africans as seen by Westerners than the traumatic and enslaved poverty that has riddled the common citizen of Nigeria.
I am a Nigerian, born in Michigan, USA, but follow voraciously the events and plights of the common citizen of Nigeria. You wonder why the Western world degrades Africans? Well, for starters, Nigeria has enough resources from oil and other sources to be able to cater for the needs of its citizen. Yet, the government seems not to be concerned about this, and people like you, who have the opportunities to make a change, waste them in crying racism.
I am appalled by your article. It makes me cringe. Nigeria is responsible for how it is seen by the rest of the world. We made our bed. We must lay in it.
DANIEL OTOMI (email@example.com)
You probably missed the first part of my series. In it, I talked about our government’s criminal insensitivity to the desperate conditions of the Niger Delta.
While I perfectly agree with you that many of our governments since independence have sustained conditions that lubricate and provide raw materials for the kinds of media caricatures we are made of in the Western media, I think it is reductionist and simplistic to attribute Western racist fantasies about Africa solely to our relative state of underdevelopment. It’s more complex than that.
Why does the West like negative pictures of Africa?
I read your article on Niger Delta in Weekly Trust (Feb.26-March 3). I really appreciate your point of view. I can't understand why the West is always negative about Africa, though sincerely there are lots of negativities in Africa.
Please if I may ask you, of what benefit is it to the West to view Nigeria with such a negative picture (false drama)? I am a youth corps member serving in Abuja.
Baba Usman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Well, since I’m no clairvoyant, I can’t say with certainty what lurks in the minds of Western journalists when they portray Africa in negative lights. But I can conjecture what might be the motive force behind this—and I made passing references to this earlier.
First, in portraying Africa as the nadir of human civilization, Westerners narcissistically affirm their self-delusion of racial superiority. In the case of America where about 12 percent of the citizenry is Black, this achieves a second purpose: it makes the Blacks here feel so grateful that their ancestors were enslaved and brought to America that it rhetorically renders impotent their agitations for reparations over slavery. The possible reasons are legion, but I guess that’s a topic for another day.
The West has exported misinformation about Africa to Arabs, too
I am glad you are bringing this deliberate misinformation by the American media and the West to some of us who are ignorant of this conspiracy. Being a regular visitor to the United States, I know of the kind of closed world Americans are living in. Access to global information is reduced to music, fashion, sex, etc. Any another topic outside this is new to an average American.
I thought I knew the level of this disinformation until I met a female undergraduate friend of my friend. We went out for dinner, and in the course of our discussion, I brought the topic of my brand new Honda Accord, which I bought in Nigeria few months ago.
Our American friend was shocked by this story. She had to ask me again where I said I bought a brand new Honda car. I told her Nigeria. She confessed to us that all her life, she had been made to believe that we all live in huts without access to electricity and pipe borne water, much less a brand new Honda Accord.
She confessed to wondering why I always come to America and go back to Africa after my holidays. Her assumption was that all other African brothers of mine in America are running from famine and disease, and couldn’t believe why I don’t want to save myself as well.
The West has also succeeded in exporting this misinformation to other parts of the world. I found myself in the midst of Arabs, mostly from the Gulf region whilst attending a workshop in Dubai. We became very friendly to each other in view of our religious and social inclinations. One of the participants from Azerbaijan extended an invitation to me and one of the participants from Saudi Arabia, whom I consider a friend, to visit Azerbaijan.
I accepted to go to Azerbaijan on the condition that they will reciprocate the visit by coming to Nigeria. Expectedly, none of them was willing to come to my country because of the horrible stories they hear about Africa. In fact, I shifted a bit by suggesting a visit to South Africa, but none of them was ready to oblige.
Their reason was that we kill and rob visitors of their possessions because of our poverty. It is amazing how these people perceive Africa. Another thing I realized from the Arabs was their interpretation of Africans as SAUDAS (blacks). To them, Egypt and other Maghreb countries beside Sudan are not part of Africa. Africa to them means poverty, disease, insecurity, underdevelopment, famine, etc.
Babangida Dangora, Kano, Nigeria (email@example.com)
I’m glad you have brought the Arab dimension into the racist construction of Africans. But I think Arab anti-Black racism goes deeper than Western media portrayals of Africans.
Historically, Arab intellectuals have portrayed Africans as man-eating, subhuman creatures. The worst culprit is Ibn Khaldun whom I used to “worship” intellectually when I was an undergraduate. Sample the following quotes from Arab/Persian intellectuals about Blacks and see what I am talking about:
"Therefore, the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because [Negroes] have little [that is essentially] human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated."--Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, 14th century AD11
"Beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings." --Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah
"There came to sultan Mansa Sulaiman (of the Mali Empire) a group of these blacks who eat human beings accompanied by one of their amirs... They cover themselves in silk mantles... The sultan was gracious to them...They...came to the sultan to return thanks."--Ibn Battuta, 14th century
"[Inhabitants of sub-Saharan African countries] are people distant from the standards of humanity…Their nature is that of wild animals..." --Persian geographer Hudud al-`alam, 982 AD8.
"We know that the Zanj (blacks) are the least intelligent and the least discerning of mankind, and the least capable of understanding the consequences of actions." --Jahiz (d. 868 AD), Kitab al-Bukhala (The Book of Misers)9
And if you think these disturbing racist characterizations of Africans were only in the dim and distant past, here is a recent, unedited email a friend of mine received from an Arab in response to an article he wrote about Arab mistreatment of Black Muslims in North Africa:
“I came across a funny article of yours on Arab racist attitudes toward blacks and I found your idiotic comment that many of the North African population is mixed Ha Ha Ha. If it were the case, we would have exterminated them all! In your dreams, black bastard .The mixed are the most despicable of bastards and are unworthy of breath! Typical of an ignorant, inferior black. In North Africa, the only blacks we have are of slave descent and will remain that way, though they have raped some Bedouins. In the north of Africa, the majority, which is white, will not tolerate blacks and will fight to the death to eliminate all blacks from the region. We are not your brothers, we are your enemy and we will not accept you out of pity because the Europeans exploited you and don’t want to be responsible for the mess they have caused. All politicians who are pro-black or push for Arab-Afro relations shall perish, as shall all blacks from the region. The southern Mediterranean will never succumb to primitive savagery! Stay out. The Sahara serves as a barrier greater than a sea! If anyone crosses it, they shall be hanged! Go back to your savage forests, savages! Uncivilized swine! You pose the greatest threat to the region! The greatest threat, greater than any plague!