EBOLA: I want to go to the frontline

In the recent years, there has been a steadily growing narrative of how African issues, stories, must be told by Africans.

It’s a genuinely valid call in my view because; Africa has been misrepresented for far too longReuters-7

The majority of the world beyond the boundaries of this continent know very little about Africa outside of Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Famine, Wars, Tribal Conflicts, Wildness and a giraffes here, a few lions there..

And Oh, Ebola! How could I forget that?

Do these issues exist? Sure they do.

Foreign journalists fly in for couples days, weeks at most, hope onto the next plane and off they go. Don’t get me wrong; some of these journalists are great with remarkable stories to show for their names.

These are the lot Zimbabwean author Ezekiel Makunike describes as ….”the hit and run journalists who know very little of the language and less of the cultures they cover. They certainly never appreciate the subtleties and nuances of local history and interactions that take years to learn. They are neither accustomed or equipped to observe, understand or explain developmental situations that may change slowly over time.”

Well, some of the major stories to have happened in Africa are complex. Very complex. They go beyond the institutional organs, commentators, information officers, foreign media like to contact for deadline quotes.

Unlike in the west where information is literally entirely online, making research a lot less stressful, Africa’s case is far different. Africa is just getting online. So, no amount of research online will give you a proper perspective of a particular story.

So what choices would a foreign correspondent have? Well, so few except of course, the part of having a tone of patience, good foot work, hoping from village to village, town to town, centre to centre while building the foundation of the story. The political hierarchy should only give you a quote to “balance” your story but they should rarely form the heart of the story.

Most Africans don’t trust their politicians anyway.

This trend is not about to change. Like Pambazuka puts it, “ The agenda for African news is decided in far-off Western capitals—London, Paris, New York—and written by dashing foreign correspondents who do not understand the local complexities and base their narrative on sweeping, misleading generalisations.”

Can we Africans actually tell our own stories? I believe we can. Although the level of journalism as a whole has risen to respectable levels today, we are still very much dependent on western media for African stories.

And that is just absurd.

The coverage most African media give to the continent is a copy and paste from wire agencies. From The Star in South Africa, Daily Nation in Kenya, Van Guard in Nigeria, Daily Monitor in Uganda…..name it.

A few weeks back, a reputable local newspaper in Uganda carried a story from AFP of an event that took place at a hotel barely a kilometer from the papers premises. Unbelievable!

This drives me to what I really wanted to talk about; Ebola.

The coverage foreign media has allotted to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has been noteworthy.

Shut CNN, Aljazeera, Reuters, AFP, AP, CCTV, and other foreign outlets and Ugandans would literally have a total blackout in as far as information trickling in about Ebola.

It amazes me that a Ugandan news outlet would rather expensively pay foreign media for an Ebola story in Liberia than paying far less for nearly the same story from Liberia’s Daily Observer.

Of course the relentless coverage of Ebola is West Africa by foreign media has exerted tremendous pressure on the global political hierarchy to act in terms of the much-needed money to fight the Ebola scourge.

The Ebola reportage on Africa by foreign media, however extensive, has continuously resolved primarily on statistics, statistics and more statistics. In Africa, if the numbers of the dead are not high enough, western media will care less.

Once the numbers are good, the rest of the story will always resolve around the usual stereotypes of how we live on under a dollar a day, how poverty levels are some of the highest in the world..HIV/AIDS blah…blah…blah

As of today, over 4,500 have died of Ebola in West Africa. The exact kind of figures foreign media looks out for. Indeed those figures are insanely high but look at the details, the attention, the emotions allotted to the few foreigners who have contracted, in recovery process or have died of Ebola in the western media? Immense!Ebola-AC-680x387 copy

Source: André Carrilho/Andre Carrilho

The tens of thousands of Africans who continue to be exposed or die of Ebola continue to make the statistics.

What can African media do? Simple, give as much coverage to Ebola as the western media does from their own perspective.

But can we? Yes, because we have a highly knowledgeable group of journalists on the continent. And NO because we just cannot afford the expenses.

Take an example of what it costs to treat an Ebola patient. Reuters quotes a figure of $300.000. This figure alone is more than many news media organizations on the continent make annually. Imagine, a journalist then goes on to contract Ebola while on assignment?

Let me speak for myself though.

I want to go to the countries affected by Ebola. Yes, I want to. I am aware of the extreme dangers of covering such a highly contagious disease. Sure I do. But somebody has got to tell this story, right?

There are so many questions I want to answer as a photojournalist that paints a more balanced picture of the people and the countries affected by this disease.

I am desperate to go beyond the surface, beyond the statistics of those who have lost loved ones, those whose loved ones are being treated, those who are projected to carry the disease soon.

I want to add the voices of children, the voices of mothers, of the elderly, the grass root leaders, doctors, nurses, bar attenders, just about anybody who can speak about a disease many would rather not think about, let alone, talk about.

Beyond what mainstream media shows are local heroes, fighting within their powers to ensure their brothers, sisters, relatives do not form part of the dreaded statistics. I would want to give them a platform to inform their communities, their towns, their country and the world of their efforts to fight for their own.

Life certainly has not come to a stand still in the Ebola affected countries. Liberia has a population of 4 million people, Guinea, 12 million, Sierra Leone-6 million. And those are a lot of good stories to tell. A daily picture blog would in my opinion be a good starting point.

I want to be part that narrative of Africans telling her own stories. I badly want to but first I need to get to either Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia and that costs money. Lots of money.

Can The Observer, the local newspaper I freelance for afford to fly me over to either of those countries? No, they cannot. Can they sustain me over there for a reasonable amount of time? No they cannot.

And that is where the narrative goes crumbling. I believe my story resonates with so many other African journalists across the continent.

Well, if you think you know of any organization(s) that can support me to pursue this cause, every suggestion would be highly appreciated. I am in position to take care of my accommodation and food.

I still want to go to Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone to help tell the African Story.

15 thoughts on “EBOLA: I want to go to the frontline

  1. It is my opinion that because it started in West Africa the big drug companies didn’t want to work too hard on treatment drugs. Yet when we had the swine flu outbreak a couple of years ago they made millions with their Tamiflu drugs – which incidentally were due to expire. So they put pressure on the WHO who then increased the alert to an epidemic. So they got rid of their stockpiles of Tamiflu. It wasn’t until people died in Spain and America that the drug companies started really working on their drugs. Go figure. The Ebola virus is so much worse than the flu in the death rate per infected cases yet because there isn’t much of a profit in this treatment they aren’t working that hard on it. Interesting any prototype drugs are only used outside of Africa.
    Good luck with your endeavours. Try some funding websites. 🙂

  2. You’re an amazing person Edward. I admire your tenacity, dedication and determination to tell the real stories behind the mainstream news. Your photographs always reach deep below the surface and transcend the sensational stuff with moving narrative that gets to the heart of what really matters, namely individuals and the universal themes that go with being human. Be safe wherever you go. Blessings, Karen

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