Ah, New York Times…

“Already, more than 300 Kenyans are dead, 70,000 have been driven from their homes and thousands have fled to neighboring countries.” This is part of an editorial in the New York Times entitled Ambition and Horror in Kenya (January 3, 2008).

First, some hand wringing: “It is particularly tragic to see this happening in a country that seemed finally to be on the path to a democratic and economically sound future.”

Then some advice: “Mr. Kibaki should renounce that official declaration and the embarrassingly swift swearing in that followed. He should then meet with his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, to discuss a possible vote recount, election re-run or other reasonable compromise.”

Followed by a suggestion for some “outside prodding.” “Urgent mediation by the leader of the African Union, John Kufuor, could help bring the two together before the violence gets worse.” 

And finally, a hopeful conclusion: “Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga cannot ignore the chaos around them. No matter their personal ambitions and resentments, they must be brought together and pushed to come up with a solution that will calm their followers and restore Kenyans’ faith in their democratic system — before the damage becomes irreversible.”

Just a nod in passing to a troublesome detail: “Tribal resentments have long played a role in Kenyan politics.”

But that is a minor inconvenience in the NYT’s view of the world from very far away. Mr. Kibaki and Mr. Odinga are two bad boys who must be made to shake hands and persuaded to be reasonable by Mr. Kufuor before some more people die in the “vast and tribally mixed urban slums of Nairobi” where “rival militias have been waging open warfare.” 

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  • Hasan Abbas
    Posted at 16:17h, 24 May Reply

    The issue seems passive and trivialized if read in the manner NYT presents it. It remains a challenge for the reader to not only dissect the written piece but also remain engaged with the happening.

    I guess people might also be (increasingly) trying to “escape” their own reality so events happening far away from the reader do not strike one that harshly compared to something happening at the home front.


    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:45h, 24 May

      Hasan: First, see if this answers some of your questions: http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/05/22/the-achievement-of-chinua-achebe/

      “Achebe was always clear that he saw the task of the African writer in his day as providing a counterblast to the misrepresentation of Africa in the European writings about the continent he had studied in his English literature classes in college. What was missing in all of them, he thought, was a recognition of Africans as people with projects—lives they were leading, aspirations they were striving for—and a rich existing culture, exemplified in the proverbs and the religious traditions that are threaded through these novels. He was writing, as he often said, against the Africa of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In one of his lively polemics against Conrad, Achebe comments on a few sentences from that book:

      This passage, which is Conrad at his best, or his worst, according to the reader’s predilection, goes on at some length through “a burst of yells,” “a whirl of black limbs,” “of hands clapping,” “feet stamping,” “bodies swaying,” “eyes rolling,” “black incomprehensible frenzy,” “the prehistoric man himself,” “the night of first ages.” And then Conrad delivers the famous coup de grâce. Were these creatures really human?

      Note the concluding sentence I have highlighted. You might conclude that the NYT has not progressed much beyond Conrad. Africans are still immature boys who need to be told how to behave.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 07:31h, 24 October Reply

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