U.S. Media’s ‘Modern-Day Heart of Darkness’

In the upcoming December 1 issue of the Nation, Fatin Abbas extensively quotes Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina on “The Traps of Safari Journalism”:

In his eloquent diatribe “How to Write About Africa,” published several years ago in Granta… Wainaina offers the following advice: “Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: Use these.” He continues, “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country…. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: 54 countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book.” Wainaina’s sarcastic suggestions point to a truth about writing on Africa: more often than not, it depicts the continent as nothing but a modern-day heart of darkness, where poverty, violence and disease overshadow the rest of human life and experience.

For more on U.S. news’ “typically cursory treatment of subjects and emphasis on the visual,” read the FAIR magazine Extra!: “Bono, I Presume?: Covering Africa Through Celebrities” (5-6/07) by Julie Hollar