The Charlie Hebdo experience and the international media’s war on Africa

It’s better late than never is the adage procrastinators often stick to. It doesn’t change things but still, it does tell people that you care and whenever you have the opportunity to show the affection, you won’t hesitate grabbing it. Plus, the shootings in Paris two months ago attracted so much attention and are so recent that commenting on them now wouldn’t be likened to Africans blaming colonialism for their present economic woes.

Condemning the attacks became routine. It’s not surprising some internet users were rounded up in France for being deemed sympathizers of the attackers: never mind what happened to freedom of thought and expression, same principle Charlie Hebdo stands for. And oh, La Révolution Française brought earth some of these freedoms. The Charlie Hebdo attack reminded us all the threat posed by extremists world over.

The way the Paris attacks were carried out and how the responsible authorities responded took the world back to 21st September 2013 when Kenya fell prey to similar barbaric acts. Suspected Al-Shabab militants carried out an attack on Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi and at the end of it all, the mall crashed, and at least 67 people are known to have died. The dead included the attackers, which the Kenyan government kept projecting to be around nine or so, but media reports indicated they could have been less than five and that some might even have escaped.

The confusion never stopped there. The media, amidst coverage of the operation to eliminate the militants and free the hostages, migrated to telling earth weird stories of looting by the very soldiers who were supposed to be helping the terror-stricken victims inside the mall. There were reports of the British and the Israeli providing intelligence too. The attacks lasted for about 80 hours. There was one complete picture about the attack: the Kenyan government had failed to contain the situation, and we all agreed, security in Kenya was a farce.

Back to the future: it’s January 7, 2015. Two gunmen attack Charlie Hebdo, everyone can take it from there. Bullets rip through flesh of twelve employees of the satirical magazine including Stephane Charbonier, the editor. The French authorities react, but the fight ends after some days. At the end of it all, 17 people, including three French police officers lose their lives. Then, millions march as symbol of unity: a very positive move. Amongst them are over 40 leaders from across the globe. The international media gets flooded with reports of everything to do with the attack, but you rarely come across content that doubts the French authorities’ ability to contain the attacks as was the case with the Westgate attack. Strangely, nobody questions it all. That’s how we have been brought up, all of us here: take it as it is presented and tell a friend.

It gets worse when at the very time the media is so much preoccupied with Je suis Charlie with emphasis on the 17 slain souls, Mbaga in Nigeria witnesses a Boko Haram attack that leaves over a thousand dead and still, the media isn’t shaken up by such a developing horrible story. 17 or over 1000 deaths, all death is tragic, but the silence on the Nigerian massacre grows increasingly deafening. Every time it is mentioned, the media quickly rushes through to the main story: attack on Paris leaves 17 dead. The only time we hear of it is when some Nigerian churchman laments on the silence too.

But it is not strange; it has always been like that. Every time they report on security forces repelling insurgent attacks in Africa, we always extract information from the unsaid, that such operations are always marred with difficulty, and are often unsuccessful with lots of casualties at the end of it all. It is different when it happens in Europe. The picture is always of hope: security forces swiftly responding to attacks, and in the end, there are stories of heroes and heroines. It is always an epic: ours a seriocomedy.