Is The Guardian‘s new project in the Ugandan village of Katine another case of stereotyping Africans as powerless victims dependent upon the generosity of Northern benefactors? Some of the newspaper’s readers have already lashed out against the Guardian’s description of Katine as caught in the ‘Middle Ages’, and for its partnership with a bank that might have ulterior motives. But the Guardian is also partnering with the respected NGO Panos, amongst others, and has appointed an independent assessor to keep a watchful eye over the project. One could – and should – keep asking critical questions of projects like these, to ensure the beneficiaries are treated as partners instead of mere recipients of goodwill, that they have the opportunity to ‘speak back’ and that the objectives of the project are developed through broad-based consultation. Coverage should also focus on the structural causes of poverty, and the global North’s complicity in these causes (like the weapons trade, or unfair trade conditions, or what Naomi Klein calls ‘disaster capitalism’) instead of only the micro-picture. But whatever criticisms one might have of the imperfections of the Guardian’s campaign, it does seem to set itself apart from what one could call the simplistic ‘sympathy journalism’ so often find in media in the global North. It is clear that real effort has gone into this project, perhaps most strikingly evident from the continuous, three-year-long coverage that the village of Katine will enjoy. This is rather different from the event-based journalism that puts Africa on the news agenda only when there is a war, famine or an election.
Let’s keep an eye on it.
(Picture from The Guardian’s Katine webpage)