The following first appeared in my column in the print and online editions of Weekly Trust on June 2, 2007.
By Farooq A. Kperogi
By the time you will be reading this, it would probably already be common knowledge that Jeff Koinange, the CNN African correspondent whose disgracefully staged and tendentious report on the Niger Delta was the subject of a three-part series on this page, has been dismissed from the world’s first 24-hour news station.
However, my intention here is not to celebrate his dismissal, but to use it as a springboard for some reflection on “black-on-black” reportorial violence for which Koinange has sadly become notoriously proverbial.
As I pointed out in this column when I wrote on the subject, my friend at CNN who is a top editor and one of Koinange’s supervisors had confided in me that the Kenyan journalist was being investigated for possible ethical violations on the Niger Delta story. But this was not the immediate reason for his dismissal, although it decidedly forms the backdrop, as you will see shortly.
Sometime ago, a Swiss woman whom Koinange got romantically entangled with in controversial and professionally compromising circumstances had a falling out with him. The woman, identified as Marianne Briner, has written a book entitled, A Shining Star in Darkness, which talks about the 1990 cold-blooded murder of the former Kenyan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Robert Ouko.
The book is essentially a record of the intimate details she purports to know about this high-profile murder. After the book was published, she called Jeff Koinange, whom she had never met, and requested to be interviewed for CNN International’s “Inside Africa” segment to give publicity to her book.
Koinange agreed and arranged a meeting with her. Instead of an interview, however, a sexual liaison developed between Koinange and the Swiss woman, who is many years older than the 41-year-old grandson of a Mau Mau revolutionary. A complicated concatenation of circumstances led to a deterioration of the relationship between the lovebirds, which culminated in threats, recriminations—and the eventual dismissal of Koinange from CNN.
The relational deterioration crept into the public domain when the woman started a blog called “Distant Lovers”.(For those who are new to the lingo of the Internet, a blog is a shared online journal where people can post daily entries about their personal experiences and hobbies). It is a lewd, rancid, shockingly explicit diary of the email exchanges and phone conversations between Koinange and the Swiss woman over a long period of time.
In the blog, she accuses Koinange of “date rape” and of possibly infecting her with herpes, a dangerous, incurable STD. She also claims she has tested for HIV and is awaiting the result of the test.
But she didn’t stop there. On March 3, 2007 she sent off a devastatingly incriminating email against Koinange to his superiors at CNN here in Atlanta. It is this email that eventually destroyed Koinange, and which is of interest to us.
In the email, she exposed a lot of sensitive information that Koinange had shared with her by email when the going between them was good. One of the emails confirms what I had written in this column: that the Niger Delta report was all theater; that it was willfully staged.
The portion of the letter that makes a reference to the Niger Delta report is worth reproducing in full. The woman wrote: “Especially the Nigerian Report was then also a point of our discussion now in London when he gave me some inside information how he had arranged the encounter with these MEND people ("of course I had to pay certain people to get the story - but everything was done in agreement with CNN and in accordance with their usual standards - but you do not get such a story without bribing - you know how the world and especially in Nigeria functions - you have to have financial resources - but at the end it was worth it - CNN has its story and I have my 'fame' ......).”
So here we go. Koinange confessed to his now estranged lover that he indeed offered pecuniary gratification to a bunch of ruffians to stage a show, which he passed off as a piece of journalism, so he could have “fame” and give CNN “its story.”
Not that this is an earth-shattering revelation. Anybody with only the vaguest modicum of reportorial judgment would not need to think hard to discern the mendacious and performative content of Koinange’s report on the Niger Delta. But the guys at CNN loved the report so much because it nourished the fond stereotypes they cherish about Africa and Africans.
Koinange was fired precisely because of this self-incriminating admission that he actually staged the Niger Delta report, as the government and some of us had pointed out long ago. He has, by this admission, put CNN’s credibility in tatters. It is the sense of shame arising from this confession that forced CNN to fire him.
It is easy to imagine how many more reports this man has “staged” in his broadcasting career to fertilize the racist imaginary of Africa that his employers treasure for the sake of some cheap “fame.”
Unfortunately, in spite of all the black-on-black media violence that he ruthlessly inflicted on Africa—for which he won several awards, or “fame,” if you will— Koinange’s disgraceful fall, ironically, will only strengthen the racist stereotypes of Africans that he invested precious professional energies to cultivate: that Africans are irrationally hypersexual (and therefore prone to AIDS and STDs), that Africans are congenitally corrupt and unreliable, that Africans are incapable of managing success, etc.
Isn’t it such a supreme paradox that Koinange has now become a personal archetype of the stereotypes he perpetuates about Africans through his self-hating reportage?
A white freelance journalist whose only knowledge of Africa probably exceeds no more than a few months’ holiday to watch a Kenyan safari has now replaced Koinange as CNN Africa correspondent. This is a loud statement.
But, truth be told, can anyone ever get any worse than Koinange in the reportorial rape of Africa? This man is wracked by so much inferiority complex that he would sell his father to get a story for CNN. It is the same complex that made him drool over an expiring old white lady to the point of letting off his whole guard—and burning himself in the process.
Now, where is the Nigerian Guardian newspaper that passionately came out in defense of the CNN report? I hope they will have the decency to admit their error of judgment in light of the current facts.
Last Wednesday, I finally got the time to visit the lavishly elegant CNN headquarters here in Atlanta on the invitation of my friend. During my visit, I discussed Jeff Koinange with some of his colleagues here and also got a chance to see many big-time CNN newscasters that I had only watched on TV screens. I will share my experiences with you next week.
Who wrote Yar’Adua’s Inaugural Address?
In the Nigerian academe, presidential inaugural addresses are not subjects of scholarly inquiry. Not even our communication departments bother to undertake a critical dissection of the internal categories and assumptions of presidential addresses as a disciplinary undertaking.
It’s not so in the United States. Here, communication scholars devote vast scholarly energies in the study of what has been called presidential rhetoric—rhetoric here understood not as manipulative trickery, excessive verbal ornamentation, or empty and airy talk, but as the communicative strategies of public address or, as Aristotle defined it, as the study of “the available means of persuasion.”
The intellectual interest in presidential speeches in the American scholarly tradition is inspired by the recognition that the presidency, because of its significance as the symbol of power and authority, is the site for the creation, definition and redefinition not only of national identity but of national ethos—and a lot more—in liberal, presidential democracies.
I have had some fleeting acquaintance with presidential public address when I worked as a researcher at the Presidential Research and Communications Unit (now called the State House Public Communication Unit). And my present scholarly endeavors intersect rhetorical studies and traditional communication. This background is the motivation for my interest in the content and authorial identity of Yar’Adua’s inaugural address.
When I read through the address, what struck me very profoundly was the spectacular deficiency of originality in its core substance. It is riddled with flyblown bromides, hackneyed clichés, threadbare thought-processes, soporific banalities, and an astonishingly disturbing absence of any refreshingly creative policy direction.
And I said to myself: if presidential addresses do indeed encapsulate the importance of the presidency’s constitutive and rhetorical power, especially as that power pertains to ideologically based definitions of national identity and public policy directions, what can we make of Yar’Adua’s inaugural speech? What kind of country should we envision under a Yar’Adua presidency?
A few things came out in bold relief. As a lot of had feared, this is will be a puppet regime that will be tied to the filthy apron strings of the discredited Obasanjo ancien régime, which was itself mindlessly “puppeteered” by the World Bank and the IMF.
Yar’Adua may change the personnel in the corridors of power, even reverse some of the barefaced banditry of Obasanjo, but his speech does not inspire confidence that he will alter the ideological basis of Obasanjo’s neoliberal economic policy direction.
In the speech, he thanked Obasanjo for “creating the roadmap toward that united and economically thriving Nigeria that we seek.” He was, of course, talking about Obasanjo’s IMF/World Bank-inspired neoliberal “economic reforms” that consist in a policy of perpetual fuel price increases, continual retrenchment of workers ( fraudulently called “right-sizing”), disengagement of government from the provision of social services like education, healthcare and so on, the opening up of our economy to ruthless mercenary predators masquerading as foreign or local investors and, generally, the democratization of poverty, desolation and despair for the vast majority of the people.
Yar’Adua’s speech could very well have been written from the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. It is so distant, so mean, so trite and so unnervingly unpatriotic that I would not be shocked if Paul Wolfowitz wrote it.