Western reporting on African events is at best simplistic, relying heavily on stereotypes and rehashed, unverified claims by people of questionable integrity. At worst, it is patronising, adopting a tone not so different from that of Sir Rider Haggard’s novels or Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa.
The death a few days ago of Patrick Karegeya, a disgraced former Rwandan army officer, in South Africa has brought out both tendencies in the widespread coverage it has received.
South African police have said they are treating Karegeya’s death as murder and are investigating it as such. But the western media has adopted a simple narrative. It goes something like this. This is Africa. There is no need to check the facts. Here, facts are secondary to sensationalism and truth rarely matters.
And so culprits are confirmed before investigations have even begun and the complex web of motives, actors and circumstances is reduced to a simple vindictive African state bumping off its opponents. After all, aren’t they all illegitimate, murderous governments?
In this simplistic logic of murder in Africa, Karegeya can only have been killed on the orders of the government of Rwanda. Yet the only link to the government is some remote likeness to an unrelated event elsewhere or the unsubstantiated claims of discredited individuals.
And the idea that the life Karegeya led means there is no shortage of plausible motive is sacrificed on the altar of the recurring “this is Africa” narrative.
The worst abuse by the media and the interests it represents is the hollywood quick and easy way in which stories are told: heroes and villains are unilaterally decided and all is left is to fill in the blank with pseudo facts and usual stereotypes.
In this case, Karegeya owes his post-mortem martyrdom to one rarely challenged assumption: African governments are inherently evil. They have no qualms about killing their own citizens. Conversely, their opponents are heroes fighting a just cause against criminal governments. It is enough to declare oneself an enemy of the government to be regarded as a legitimate political player. What RNC really stands for,who it really represents and its repeated threats to overthrow the government through any means necessary easily become insignificant details.
Only a few years ago, Karegeya was a villain serving an evil government. All he had to do to be termed a hero is set himself up against the government. He owes the accolade, not to any brave actions but to the lazy characterisation of the media. . To the best of my knowledge Karegeya has never repented his sins, nor sought pardon. He could only have been absolved by the media without confession or contrition. How much faster can you have an image makeover?
To offer a few facts, Karegeya did not fall out with the government owing to any differences in principle. He was dismissed due to indiscipline and insubordination, offences no disciplined force can countenance.
Also, here is a man who has been a traitor to his country. It is a well-known fact that he has been in the pay of foreign governments against his own.
In addition, he and Kayumba Nyamwasa, a man who wasted no time using Karegeya’s death to cast himself as the last hero standing, have been in political and military alliance with the genocidal Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) based in DR Congo to wage war against Rwanda. Hardly the sort of thing to endear either of them to Rwandans or legitimize them as the saviors whose return Rwandans eagerly await.
The media coverage of Karegeya’s death has further revealed how African governments are held in low regard. The government of Rwanda has been tried and convicted as repressive and murderous by the media basing on individuals whose credibility is measured against the amount of hatred they have for the government, President Kagame in particular.
By elevating Karegeya to heroism, the media has effectively silenced the voices of the eleven million Rwandans living and working to rebuild Rwanda. In this scenario, their voices are of no consequence unless of course they subscribed to the belief that they,like all other African citizens, are victims of an oppressive regime.
Karegeya’s death is regrettable. I am sure it was never meant to shine a light on the double standards and condescension with which African events are covered in the world media. In the end, it has had that effect.