COMMENTARY: Media lacks coverage of conflict in Africa
The year began in turmoil for the recently established Zimbabwean government, as it battles its worst economic crisis to date. The post-Mugabe era, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised he would take a different economic and human rights approach, spiraled downward, with the aid of increased government debt and scarcity of foreign currency such as the U.S. dollar, which the country adopted as its national currency in 2009. This led to failure of the government to reach its national tax revenue, causing an increase in unemployment reaching approximately 90 percent. On top of that, fuel prices skyrocketed, causing public panic and backlash.
The demonstrations first began peacefully, as The Guardian reported. “People came on to the streets spontaneously, and in anger, which is rare for Zimbabwe. What then appears to have happened was that activists got together to try to channel that anger,” said Derek Matyszak, an analyst in Harare, when discussing the unrest. This resulted in a strong backlash from the government and military, with a continuation of Mugabe-era arrests and interrogation, despite the promises of increased human rights watch made by the new government.
The government also resorted to internet shutdowns as a means of information control from media outlets, both domestic and international, as the crackdown on the protests became increasingly violent.
Just like with the old government, the new government’s obsession with total control of power will undeniably lead to the increased yet latent militarization of the state.
Zimbabwe is not the only African country currently under an economic crisis. Up north, Sudan has been following the same pattern of countries in the Arab Spring.
The Sudan uprising first began in December. This was first instigated by the increase of price in bread, exactly the same in neighboring Egypt a couple years before. Like a wildfire, chants such as “Tasgut bas (fall, that's all)” spread rapidly from a small town up north of the Nile, Atbara, all the way to the capital city, Khartoum, engulfing all the other towns.
The Sudanese uprising was a long time coming. Ruled by the National Islamic Front, a military dictatorship that took power in 1989, the nation was under complete repression with the notions of establishing an “Islamic State,” using Sharia Law in most of its legislations. Through systematic oppression and increased authoritarianism, the party managed to dismantle the historic civic unionization and civil society in place, leaving the people with little to no organizational freedom.
In 2018, President Omar al-Bashir appointed a new prime minister, Bakri Hassan Saleh, to the government. The change in leadership, which was supposed to bring new perspectives into the government, not only did little to change the political corruption, but did greater economic harm. Hassan Saleh implemented a devastating economic strategy which he called, “shock therapy.” This was supposed to deal with the increase in inflation which caused long lines in banks, bakeries and gas stations. This resulted in a great public backlash, causing protests and demonstrations.
Despite the governmental restrictions, the Sudanese Professionals Association, an organization with mostly youth members, managed to take a key leading role in the protest movement all across the nation. Following the pattern in Zimbabwe, the Sudanese government responded violently to the peaceful demonstrations, using brutal tactics such as smoke grenades and directly shooting at protesters.
Many Arab countries are siding with the Sudanese government rather than the civilians seeking democracy and freedom due to important economic ties that would be affected by the protesters.
International media outlets such as Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye have been reporting on these brutal unrests daily. This brings the question of American media reports on issues in countries economically deemed as “third world,” or not part of the G12 Vision. Although it is best to assume there is general knowledge of the uprisings within American mass, there is not proper time provided for these stories to reach the public so that they can know more details.
This is mainly due to the fact that American foreign policy currently has no economic or political achievements to gain from these unrests, unlike the current Venezuelan uprising, in which the U.S. is politically involved in, or the past Arab Spring which the U.S. was militarily involved in. Adding to that, the U.S. is facing many domestic and political issues itself, thus media outlets are focusing more on those rather than the human rights crisis in these African countries.
Reality speaks that it is never about human rights, it is always about either political or economic gain. The Sudanese would have to fight for bread on their own, and then Zimbabweans would have to fight for fuel on their own as well. There is a bit of hope for international support, now that international media coverage exposed the atrocities these people are facing at the hands of their own governments. Question arises whether the absence of U.S. involvement is benefiting or harming the uprisings — an answer only time will tell.
Fatuma Musse is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double majoring in political science and women’s and genders studies.
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