The Trouble With Africa

Whenever I stumble across one of these "Africa is so terrible!" stories (and really there is no other kind) there's always a graff that suggests that the requisite African country had once bee a place of progress, until the latest disaster struck. The graff always leaves me thinking, "Uhm, why are you only telling me about the progress now that it's over?" Witness Jeffrey Gettleman's piece in today's times:

The well-established middle class here is thought to be one of the most important factors that separate Kenya from other African countries that have been consumed by ethnic conflict. Millions of Kenyans identify as much with what they do or where they went to college as who their ancestors are. They have overcome ethnic differences, dating between groups and sometimes intermarrying, living in mixed neighborhoods, and sending their children to the best schools they can afford, regardless of who else goes there.

The fighting that rages in the countryside, where men with mud-smeared faces and makeshift weapons are hunting down people of other ethnicities, seems as foreign to many of these white-collar Kenyans as it might to people living thousands of miles away.

Gettleman is a stud, no doubt. His Iraq coverage (see here, here and here) was colorful, and had a way of going beyond insurgent XX kills civilian YY. Indeed, even in his Kenya piece, he manages to render his subjects as, well, actual humans as opposed to just nameless victims of some amorphous tragedy. The trouble, though, is that the news media cares about Africa mainly as the subject of a disaster narrative. But if you never cover the progress, you never have a sense of something lost. I have to say, I've read very little of the Kenya coverage--and I should read more. But you get so dumbed-down by the sense Africa is, was, and will always be hell. You can't feel any sense of the arc. It's interesting that I basically have the same complaint about black people here--we're only interesting as a problem.