Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Even in the best of times, the American media's coverage of foreign affairs is of little value. For years, consistent media coverage of international issues was pretty much limited to the Middle East (with the occassional sidetrip to the Balkans). Sure, there could be mass popular uprisings in Latin America, a famine menace in eastern and southern Africa and the threat of war between nuclear powers Pakistan and India, but one person burning an American flag in Gaza was sure to garner 10 times more media attention.

The conquest of Iraq has only exacerbated that problem. If you want to have a good idea about what's going on in the world outside the US and Middle East, you must read, watch or listen to non-American media sources. It's that simple. The American media simply doesn't do the job, especially television; this is all the more ironic given that we have a trio of "news channels" with 24 hours a day to fill! Sadly, they've become a classic example of the principle, "More information, less informed."

But fear not, faithful readers. The Popeye Chicken press review service will not let you down. Below, are some stories you likely did NOT hear about in the "mainstream" American media.

-Nigerian elections. Last weekend, Africa's most populous nation held presidential elections. After spending most of its history under military rule, this is the first time a democratically-elected government organized elections. It was pretty much a two-man race between the incumbent President Gen. Olesegun Obansanjo and former head of state Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Both are former military heads of state (in the late 70s and mid 80s respectively). The voting passed off relatively peacefully in most parts of the country. Gen. Obasanjo has been all but declared the official winner. The opposition alleged massive fraud. International observers lauded the peacefulness of the voting but in at least half a dozen states, fraud was so widespread as to make the result not credible. In one state, the incumbent was credited with over 99.9% of the official vote. It remains to be seen how the opposition will respond. This election may tarnish the international image of Pres. Obasanjo, who gained a reputation not only as a democrat (in 1979, his military regime handed over power to a civilian elected administration) but also as a pan-African statesman implicated in many continental projects, including the African development project NEPAD. His domestic image has already been tarnished largely by his inability to get the chronically broken country working again. It was always going to be a momumental task, given that corruption was so deeply rooted throughout Nigerian society after 40 years of mostly military dictatorship. But some resent the time he spent on grand continental ideas at the expense of fixing domestic problems. [For more info, see: The BBC's report or The BBC's Q&A on the elections].

-Big sugar vs. the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the body responsible for public health on the planet, as the name suggests. It is involved in coordinating vaccination efforts, the fight against infectious diseases and just about anything else related to public health. It does not implement these things, for the most part; that is left to national health ministries (or the private systems). However, the WHO is responsible for coordinating these efforts, issuing guidelines on public health, doing research and the like. Recently, they issued a report suggesting that sugar should form no more than 10% of a person's diet. As you might expect, the American sugar industry sees things differently. No brownie points for guessing if the thinks the number should be higher or lower... 25%. According to the sugar lobby, this number was reached by the National Academy of Sciences' Food Nutrition board in Sept. 2002. The radio version of this report suggested that the sugar lobby was going to put pressure on Washington to slash or eliminate the United States' contribution to the WHO. [For more info, see, BBC news report, WHO report on diet and chronic disease or Sugar lobby's reaction to WHO guidelines].

-Threat of famine in eastern and southern Africa. A threat to international peace and security, according to the executive director of the World Food Program, in an address to the UN Security Council. He notes that the WFP's humanitarian operation in Iraq will spend $1.3 billion over 6 months to feed 27 million people. He pointed out that over 40 million people in eastern and southern Africa were "in greater peril." If even 5% of those 40 million die, it would surely be more than the number killed at the hands of Saddam's regime and the "collateral damange" of the American invasion put together.
Yet, there is little hope of any massive humanitarian intervention by either the militaristic United States or self-righteous Western Europeans to address this crisis. The WFP's director asked, "How is it we routinely accept a level of suffering and hopelessness in Africa we would never accept in any other part of the world?" Indeed. [For more info, see: the text of the WFP director's address to the UN Security Council at AllAfrica.com].

-Peace in the DR Congo?. A few weeks ago, a(nother) peace accord was signed to end the 5 year old civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaire). The war is believed to be the deadliest war in the world ever fought since the end of World War II. Over 3 million people are estimated to have died as a direct or indirect result of the hostilities. The war, not surprisingly, is about natural resources and the revenue generated from them. The DRC has one of the largest mineral caches in the world. Diamonds, copper, gold. You name it, it's there. Natural resources are the bane of many an African country. The most stable countries tend to be the ones with few resources, like Senegal and Benin. No one wants to literally fight for peanuts (Senegal's main cash crop). The DRC has to be one of the most ungovernable countries in the world. Covered by enormously thick forests, it has few roads and a harsh tropical climate. Most notably, it is a gigantic territory approximately the size of western Europe. It is quite possibly ungovernable by modern standards, but "national" pride will preclude it from being broken up into more manageable states.

This is ironic. Many Africans complain, quite rightly, about the historical legacy of colonialism. They note how at the Berlin Conference of the 1880s divided Africa up amongst the European empires, borders were drawn arbitrarily and without regard to preserving the unity of different ethnic groups. Yet, when most African countries gained their independances in the late 50s and early 60s, these arbitrary borders were never discussed. In fact, the sanctity of those arbitrary borders was a founding principle of the continental Organization of African Unity. Secessionist movements in Biafra (eastern Nigeria), Katanga (eastern DRC) and Eritrea (eastern Ethiopia) were fought viciously and with widespread continental support. When Ethiopia finally granted independence to Eritrea, according to a provision of their new constitution, it was hugely controversial but right. I'm afraid only innovative thinking of that kind might possibly end the miserable situation long imposed on the Congolese people. Yet the Congolese are sorely lacking such innovative leaders that could pull it off. [For more info, see: Christian Science Monitor article].

-South African cemeteries overflowing due to AIDS deaths. A disease that's cost a few more lives than the couple hundred caused by SARS. [For more info, see: AllAfrica.com].

-Ethiopia faces social services collapse due to AIDS. Ditto. [For more info, see: Daily Mail and Guardian of South Africa.

-Legalize torture. In order to better regulate it, says civil libertarian guru Alan Dershowitz. Not sure I agree with it but it gives you something to think about. [For more info, see: Radio Netherlands].


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home