Apparently, it killed one million people. Apparently it displaced entire cities. Oh and I heard over a thousand people were killed.
But what does it read? – Three African countries hit with tropical cyclone. And that’s all you’ll hear… that is if you do hear anything at all. On 14th March 2019, cyclone Idai made impact on the coastal city of Beira Mozambique. The storm tore westward through the country causing heavy rain and intense flooding in southern Malawi and eastern Zimbabwe. Experts estimate over three million people were directly affected by the cyclone after a month – Over one thousand were found dead and a cholera outbreak had affected four thousand people.
Days after the initial disaster I read the headline ‘Cyclone Idai Hits Millions Across Africa’ on a well trusted media outlet. I thought to myself- yes, a cyclone that affected three countries that take up a small fraction of Africa should be reported as “across Africa”. Maybe, the wind was so strong that it was felt in Nigeria too? Before Idai, I hadn’t given much thought on how Western media presented stories from my home continent of Africa. It was no secret that there is not much coverage about well- anything regarding Malawi on Western news stations.
There are 54 countries in Africa according to official UN counts (55 nations when you count Western Sahara as a nation). If there are over 50 independent nations, how is it ever seen as acceptable to call an event in one part of 54 independent states as an issue regarding a whole continent? This idea of Africa a one whole unit is one that presents itself time and time again in Western Media. Media reports on terrorists in the Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia, are reported as ‘Terrorists in Africa’… With that as the headline on so-called trustworthy media outlets is it even a question as to why people in the 21st century still confuse Africa with being a country? If floods occured in every European nation over the course five years like they do in some African countries, it is almost certain that the headline of these same sites would read ‘Floods wipe out blank city in Europe’. No one reading from the outside would would think that Europe is a wasteland yet this is the image that is presented of Africa.
Counting just the last decade of my life, in Malawi there have been several floods displacing people, destroying progress and taking lives. Nobody outside the continent seems to know these details and yet everyone outside the contenant seems to think, “Africa is a mess”. How can one know the situation of an entire continent without realizing what is happening in the individual states? Oh wait. According to the headlines everything that happens in single countries also happens to all of Africa. There’s no regard to the well being of independent countries.
We, as a continent have been having more extreme natural disasters for years, primarily because of the pressure that Western nations place on the climate. We have had, and continue to have, economic, political and humanitarian disasters because of the way resources were sucked out of Africa by Europeans, the land was pillaged and made a free bank for European imperialism where they put nothing in but withdraw all leaving the whole continent dry. Each country, independent country, was affected. From South Africa to Libya and from Senegal to Somalia. For years we have been in distress and the western media hasn’t cared.
In contrast in France, one church caught on fire and there was surely no lack of information regarding this incident. The media quickly jumped to calculating the monetary loss of the event. The New York Times headlined a story with “Fire Mauls Beloved Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris”. Using careful words such as beloved to make the reader more sympathetic towards the blaze. Furthermore, the writer made sure not to forget the name of the country, they even went as far as naming the city. This was a devastating event, indeed. However, the fact that people are willing to mourn more for a building in a Western country than for the lives of innocent people in other continents is a sign for how humanity travels across borders. In a week the news about people lining up to mourn a building weather it be in spirit or with monetary compensation spread worldwide. The church burning down was a great loss as it always is to lose a piece of your culture and a famous figure for a religion, but how could that compare to the loss of human lives which were being taken at the same time in other countries across the globe.
This question can be answered like so: The way our popular media outlets broadcast it, it is normal for people to die in African countries thus the new deaths don’t come as a shock and media outlets will not publish them because this headline won’t garner new readership. This may be deemed as speculation, however, due to past events it is speculation well founded. If a Parliament building in Malawi had caught on fire; a New York Times heading would read: ‘Fire Burns Down African Parliament’, naming the continent and not the country. This idea of Africa as a whole unit is the primary cause of the ignorant ideas people hold about the continent and its countries.
To come full circle, Cyclone Idai was a natural disaster that affected three countries, yes African- but individual countries- therefore should be reported as such. Firstly, the storm hit on the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique, almost entirely destroying it, then followed through Mozambique’s borders to cause massive storms and flooding in Malawi and Zimbabwe. Nearly 1400km2 of land was destroyed, in that space there was infrastructure and families. Now I know it’s not a European church, but there were schools homes and hospitals destroyed. Even though none of what was destroyed was a European cathedral, our families passing, our people, and our lives at risk. This being said, it may just be about time somebody recognized what was happening and report it properly.