A grenade attack at a bus station in Nairobi recently resulted in the death of 6 people and the injury of over 60 others. Kenyan officials have linked the attack to al-Shabab, a Somali militant group. Al-Shabab has organized a series of reprisal attacks over recent months following the movement of Kenyan troops into Somalia last October after the abduction of several foreigners. As of November, Ethiopian troops are also stationed in Somalia to support the Somali government’s attempt to wrest power from the Islamic militants of al-Shabab.
Last night, CNN framed the depot attacks as an eruption of violence in the country by suggesting that Kenya was an unstable nation although the violence was in a specific area and by implying that it was related to the upcoming election. Both of these facts are untrue. While the nation admittedly has its problems, it has come a long way from the 2008 election violence and has returned to being one of the most relatively stable countries in East Africa.
The network has since been accused of continuing the long-standing tradition among news agencies of sensationalizing news regarding any conflicts in Africa.
American coverage of African affairs is often spotty and frequently misinterprets the issues at hand, a practice that damages the worldwide perception of Africa and that is detrimental to the American people as they are presented with a skewed image.
While CNN has since apologized for the presentation of the material, the fact remains that something like this will no doubt happen again. News organizations, particularly American news organizations, have a tendency to like forming a narrative, a linear thread of events and stories that they can fit in a neat little box to present to their public. However, not all news that comes in conforms to said story lines. When news conflicts with the narrative, it is often molded to fit it or thrown out. This practice is unfair and distorts the citizens’ perception of the problem at hand.
This incident in combination with the recent KONY 2012 film by Invisible Children raises numerous questions about the West’s attempt to frame Africa as a continent constantly in turmoil. Although that frame holds through in several regions, it is somewhat outdated as we can see through this CNN gaffe and KONY’s attempt to state that there is still widespread violence in Northern Uganda when the area has, for the most part, been stabilized in the last decade.
However, we cannot blame this type of coverage solely on the media because Western audiences encourage this type of coverage. Rather, as readers and viewers, we have to question the angle of the stories that we are presented with and demand more accurate coverage and improvements in the quality of reporting.