When it happens in Africa, tyranny and poverty is newsworthy; democracy and development isn’t. Is that the Western media’s interpretation of Africa and African-ness?
On 24 July 2012, the President of the Republic of Ghana, John Atta Mills passed away. He was 68. It is suspected that he died of cardiac arrest. He came into power through a democratic election which, albeit marred by some challenges, left the majority of Ghanaian citizens relatively satisfied with the meaning and significance of elections as a means of putting in place their leadership. Indeed Ghana’s political stability made it the country of choice for Barack Obama’s first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008. President Atta Mills will be remembered for his role in consolidating democracy in Ghana, strengthening institutional integrity and entrenching constitutional rule of law. That success could not have been more aptly expressed than in the success and swiftness of the transition that followed his death, reflective of the resilience of Ghana’s democracy.
A few hours after President Atta Mills was officially announced dead, Mr John Dramani Mahama, who was the vice president, took the oath of office as the new President of Ghana- in line with the principles of Article 60 (6) of the Ghanaian Constitution. A new President is set to be elected in December in line with the terms of the current Ghanaian Constitution.
The transition was one of the most significant achievements in the historic development of African democracies. Indeed many African states should draw the following lessons from the Ghanaian example:
- Constitutional guarantees of transfer of power in the event of the death of the President are an effective way of preventing power vacuums which could lead to political instability;
- The ability of a country to live by its constitution is one of the best guarantees for peaceful transitions; and
- The respect of constitutional sanctity and rule of law is one of the best ways of ensuring peace and development in any country
Given the significance of this transition, I would have thought the international media would grow hoarse shouting about this very positive and amazing development on the African continent. One Gillian Parker of Time Magazine went to great lengths to relay this message, celebrating the fact that “although Mills’ passing was sudden, the encouraging sign was the smoothness with which Ghana’s democratic processes kicked into gear.” But for the rest of the BIG news agencies; news that a dead rat had been discovered on the doorstep of President Obama’s bedchamber would have made headlines above this amazing piece of news. For a whole day the news was mentioned as an aside with Atta Mills’ achievements for Ghana mentioned in passing and the swift transition, hardly celebrated for the achievement that it was. In some reportage the smooth transition was even forgotten.
Those who remembered it chose to refer to it as an ‘unusual experiment,’ in my view a very cynical analysis of the uniqueness of Ghana’s stability despite the fact that it is located in a very tumultuous region. That clearly, at least to me, also reflected a selective memorialisation of the development of the world’s democracies. Here is why I say so, centuries of bloody civil wars, despotism and tyranny characterised Europe’s history before it became the so called ‘ideal democracy’ that it is today-varying of course from country to country. Indeed Africa can not emerge as a strong democracy overnight when it took Europe and America centuries to do the same. Hence as Africa goes through the transition of democratising its institutions, such efforts must be criticised constructively but not denigrated and belittled to the levels of ‘experiments.’
I am still asking myself why the international media was not as excited about this development as they are when there is a coup, an uprising, a rigging of an election or such other negativity on the African continent. Is it the role of the international media to relay only the negative developments on the African continent as the hallmark of African-ness and hence anything positive is not theirs to make noise about? If that is the case then the Western Media should stop preaching the gospel of ‘independent’ and ‘objective’ media when they themselves are neither independent nor objective. Yes I may sound like a brainwashed Zimbabwean feeding into the Mugabe propaganda right now, but anyone who religiously followed the reportage on the crisis in Mali, the crisis in Madagascar and then the scenario in Ghana, with the same intensity as I did would agree with me that it seems the approach of the international media in reporting situations in Africa is to sing like a chorus from a song book every negative thing but mumble under their breath positive developments such as the Ghana transition. What a farce!
I can agree with the solution proposed by a colleague that African media (including us as bloggers) have the responsibility to champion positive African developments in the news and depicting to the world Africa as we know it and not as others tell us it is. And hence I am making my pronunciation with this blog that the Ghanaian transition was a groundbreaking event and deserved proper coverage from any self respecting, media house interested in fair reporting and an accurate portrayal of Africa.