Category Archives: Africa

Eyeless in Nigeria: reading upside down and inside out or how the lack of communication becomes an instrument for creating perceptions

No, this time nobody has banned the journalist access to the country and yet we are still eyeless: this time not in Gaza but in Nigeria. Why? Because of words, because of semantics! It’s amazing how a single word can turn the whole story upside down! I have been following hot topics like the Arab spring and the current unrest in Nigeria for quite some time trying to see things from all possible angles and what I found out didn’t surprise me at all: misuse of language and lack of communication resulting in rather controversial media coverage of the issue.

It wasn’t something unexpected because sadly enough nowadays such poor journalistic attempts have become a matter of course. The saddest part is the fact that most of the time it wasn’t done purposely…The result? Outrageous comments, misunderstandings and more tensions making everything worse that it was. For example, last night I read an article in the Economist about the oil subsidy removal. To be honest, I paid more attention to the comments following it because in the end of the day what your audience gets after reading it is what matters.  I’m not going to do a content analysis of the article but if you just pay attention to certain words, especially to the headline, you would probably get the impression that the whole nation is simply dumb and doesn’t understand the benefits that the subsidy removal would bring and everybody is protesting only because they want cheap oil. That’s what many people who are not familiar with the history behind would understand by only reading this article, right? The truth is there is more to this than meets the eye and I myself would have got confused if I hadn’t spoken to people, followed facebook activities or read more about the whole thing. However, not everyone has the time or would bother to research which is totally fine. On the other hand, news are supposed to be straight to the point and not too long (depending on the audience and the free space available in the newspaper/journal). Have you ever thought why most newspapers lack ads and long articles in August? Well, think about it and you would figure out that’s the holiday month and there is almost nobody to read or to write stuff. So what’s a newspaper? That’s big business, it’s just a money machine. Anyway, that’s another topic I’m planning to blog about later. So, in the end of the day Nigerians actually protest against the organised crime and corruption in the country and that’s why they feel the oil subsidy removal would just create more opportunities for the ruling elite to steal. In other words, everything has its context. The government decided to remove the oil subsidy because they want to create long-term opportunities. People started protesting because of the impact that the removal will have and is having on the costs of living of millions of Nigerians that live below the poverty level. And it is because the government fails to stick to its promises and improve the quality of life. Which is  because….The problem is the context of the story can go on and on forever dating back decades ago. The history of the problem repeats itself, only the frequency is increasing and this all reminds me on a conversation I had with  Robert Fisk regarding media reporting – the media coverage of the Israeli/Gaza conflict in particular. I clearly recall something he said that still sticks in my mind:

“I believe a journalist’s job is to be neutral and non – biased. When one goes to a journalistic school one is told to equal space to both sides. This is how you report a football match. But the Middle East is a tragedy and it should be reported as it is”

Substitute the Middle East with Nigeria and you get the same story…Why should a story be reported equally? As Fisk said – that’s not a football game! Things should be reported as they are! And to do that journalists should maybe look at the context a bit more and be careful what kind of words they use because the whole story gets minimized.  Here I’m also not tolerating how the government communicated its decision to remove the oil subsidy. As a matter of fact I see no attempts for communication. I remember an Ethics lecture where my tutor asked us to give an example of bad crisis management. Well, I said BP (they have been doing the same mistakes for 20 years, poor things) but now I would give the Nigerian government as an example. You cannot introduce such a change out of a sudden without even informing and educating the citizens about the reforms! First of all, people are generally resistant to change – it scares them even if they know the change would bring them benefits. That’s how it is – you are used to certain things and the unknown scares you. Second of all, that’s a goal you should achieve gradually! It is called a strategy, e.g. your overall idea of what you want to do. Then you have your objectives, tactics, timeline etc. So, if you simply communicate this to people they would certainly support it! I don’t think the nation is dumb – it’s all about the way you present things and communicate them.

See some comments after that article:

“…we all know the benefit of removing the subsidy, but the government have never been accountable, transparent, effective.”, dele adedapo January 21st, 01:00

“In conclusion, if the government is certain and convinced about its intentions, let explain its position to the people in a coherent manner. It should be democratic in the commencement of the removal policy. “, Greattomorrow January 25th, 11:10

If you continue reading the comments you will see that there are so many points of view and that actually everybody is right to a certain point. Obviously, it means to me that the solution is not and cannot be simple. It reminds me on the “democracy” on the Balkans – it’s just the same story. The government is corrupted, people are poor and unhappy and at the same time they think of their pockets first and are not resistant to all those things.

“… it hardly helps anyone that everyday Nigerians think first of their pockets and respond with vituperative invective against the FG when called to assist. They should save their venom, instead, for their party leadership and ensure that they press them to clean up the legislative, executive and judicial branches, on pain of losing their jobs and being committed to prison, where these “leaders” are found to have been corrupt. Too many Nigerians have proven willing to accept a lack of prosecutions or insignificant fines/sentences for those who were otherwise deemed “strong men” of use to the country in exchange for some temporary advantage to themselves, to their villages or to party cadres. When everyday Nigerians stop allowing themselves to be bought off and insist, instead, on real reform, real prosecutions, and real consequences for corrupt acts, that’s when things will really begin to change for the better.”, NdiliMfumu in reply to bmakanju January 26th, 21:12

Well, this is because Nigerians (or any other nation in the same situation like Bulgaria or other Balkan countries) have to provide their basic services by themselves. Which is because…So there we go again – the context and the way it was reported and communicated.Even the facebook pages that are supposed to create awareness and educate people about the benefits of the oil subsidy removal seem to me unsuccessful because they actually do not communicate much and it seems to me there isn’t much buzz created around them which subsequently cannot lead to knowledge or any action taken by the stakeholders…It is a change of behaviour that is supposed to be aimed after all – not simply awareness, right?

“Words, it is true, do not kill; but words can ease the work of killing”, Gideon Levy “The Punishment of Gaza”

This journalist referred to the Israeli/ Palestinian virtual war of words on editorial pages, facebook, TV and radio where the only language newspapers invoke to describe the Israeli/Gaza issue is the language of violence – the only language that is articulated as if there were no other. These same concept and patterns could be applied here, just the frames of the story are different, aren’t they? As somebody suggested, it is time for the government and I would say media to be transparent and maybe things would look a bit different if communicated properly. Because as Augustine of Hippo once said (in a different context of course, related to faith), “crede, ut intelligas” – believe so that you may understand. Unlike Augustine of Hippo, I’m not suggesting believing and following blindly: for people to believe the government it has to be transparent and honest.


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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Africa, Media and Politics, Politics


The Golden Means: possible solutions to the unrest in Nigeria

Values are vague; they are always too broad for the specific. The only thing left for us is to trust our instincts – Jean Paul Sartre

It’s always good to hear both sides of the story. That’s what I’ve been doing while observing the current unrest in Nigeria and I wasn’t surprised to notice how many people acclaimed absolutist theories about the issue. Whenever I hear or read such theories I somehow can’t help it to try to explain the contradictory basis of it, especially in this specific situation and the harmful consequences of it – just like in the case of subsidy removal in Nigeria.

I do not deny the existence of the moral absolute in this argument – that subsidy should be removed or that the Nigerian society is right to protest.  After all each and every society is based on virtues, norms and values and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I see here a clash between different ethics . I would compare the government to the lion described by Nietzsche in Thus said Zaratustra – concerned with power and the result, irrespective of the situation or what it takes to get there. The protesters, on the other hand, have adopted a more utilitarian approach because subsidy would be beneficial for the majority of people after all. Well, both sides seem to be right… The subsidy removal is a logical step but what’d be the outcome of it? Strikes, more poverty and unplanned inflation. People’s protests  seem justified too. So where’s the solution? I believe that in this situation it is wrong to think about the ends – the benefits that the removal of subsidy could bring, forgetting about the means – impoverishing a nation that earns $2 a day… It’s common sense that each side is now looking for the best solution and if I need to carry on illustrating my thoughts with philosophical aphorisms  the Aristotelian’s Golden Mean would best show the right path for solving the problem:  virtue lies at the mean (middle) between two extremes of behaviour. How can we find the means here? I think both sides should first realise that  “There are many different eyes. The sphinx too has eyes and consequently there are many different ‘truths’, and consequently there is no truth.” , Nietzsche. In other words, can each side accept the other’s point of view and think of a solution? I doubt it. Why? The story about the Three Metamorphoses tells it all. It takes time until one transforms into something else, especially something better. Sometimes the camel stays  camel and the lion stays lion forever.  Can the government turn into Nietzsche’s Übermensch (overman) who has power and uses it to create good and happiness? As I said I don’t deny the benefits the removal of subsidy would bring; I do deny the way it was imposed though.  I think the timing is wrong – maybe the subsidy should be removed gradually or it could be replaced with a money-transfer program for poor people, as somebody suggested in a blog in the Economist. I think corruption should be rooted out and if the government really wants to change something why don’t they fix the refineries so there won’t be any need to oil-subsidy?  And no protest and millions of dollars lost.

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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Africa, Ethics and Philosophy


Remove corruption – not subsidy?

Such slogans have become common during the unrest in Nigeria.

“It’s very logical to remove subsidy;however, it’s very logical to get angry about it too”
The Africa Program Manager at Chatham House in an interview for the Economist

Do you agree?

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Posted by on January 14, 2012 in Africa


Don’t Bin It Remember East Africa

Right now, today, children in East Africa are facing a desperate crisis caused by prolonged drought, soaring food prices and conflict. Children and women are the most vulnerable. More than 2 million children under five in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are acutely malnourished, including almost 500,000 children suffering from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition.file://localhost/Users/juniorebuka/Desktop/manset%20pic.JPG

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Africa