Must a revolution be photographed and filmed to succeed?
“The problem is that most American media compulsively ignore everything south of the Sahara and north of Johannesburg. A demonstration has to be filmed, photographed, streamed live into the offices of foreign leaders to achieve everything Egypt’s achieved.”
I came across this article in Al Jazeera a few days ago and it really got me thinking. It proposes that protests across sub-Saharan Africa partly spurred by the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and across the Middle East are not gaining traction because the international media has not paid any attention to them. Protests in Sudan, Gabon, Djibouti (where 20,000 reportedly protested last weekend) have received little media attention, which severely limits the international pressure put on these governments to respond peacefully to protesters.
Media representations of Africa are consistently problematic and limited, so really this is nothing new (anyone hear any mainstream coverage of the rigged election in Uganda this past week?), but I think it is interesting to notice how at this moment in the history of democracy, certain movements capture our attention and imagination and others slip by un-noticed. Is it an issue of the lack of robust media infrastructure in Africa or just our national interests (the coverage of the events in Egypt seemed equally focused on Israel…). The consequence of the lack of images and stories published is huge- it limits our ability to connect with these peoples and their struggles, and therefore pressure our governments and institutions from taking action.
On the Thursday before Mubarak finally stepped down, he appeared on television and the major news organizations were already announcing that he was expected to be announcing his resignation. When he made no such announcement, protesters in Tahrir square reacted angrily- some shaking their shoes in the air, some crying. There were entire slideshows published online documenting the crowd’s reaction to this single address. Meanwhile, democratic movements across the rest of Africa remain invisible.
As the events unfolded in Egypt, I spent hours looking through slideshows on The Big Picture and the New York Times. Pictures of protesters kissing the men in the military, men praying while under attack, Christians guarding Muslims while they prayed, faces of anger, pride, determination and hope inspired me, moved me and made me feel invested in what was happening. This is the power of images- to tell stories that connect us and remind us of our common humanity.
If anyone comes across photojournalists documenting these struggles across Africa, please inform me.