Bath Literature Festival: Writers unite against 'worst kind of stereotyping' of Africa in the media

 

The truth about the world's most violent conflict zones isn't black or white, scary or idyllic, corrupt or democratic. Yet our media tries to make it so.

This was the message from two expert, boots-on-the-ground writers about Africa at the Bath Literature Festival. As Ben Rawlence, author of Radio Congo, told The Independent after his talk: "There seems to be a race to the bottom on journalism, which accelerates the worst kind of stereotyping."

James Fergusson, who wrote The World's Most Dangerous Place, about Somalia, agreed. He felt that this helped to create barriers to understanding, which we sorely need. “The idea that 'citizen journalism' can somehow fill the gap is just wrong,” he said. “The texture of grassroots reporting is different – grainier, perhaps more lively. But there's no one filtering that, sorting fact from manipulation, doing the forensic analysis.“

Most people's view of Somalia, Fergusson pointed out, was probably drawn from the movie Black Hawk Down, which Ridley Scott filmed there. "But no country could possibly be as violent or computer game-ish as that."

It would be foolhardy to ignore the risks of reporting from such areas. But as Aminatta Forna, the session's chair and author of The Devil Who Danced on the Water, put it: "I've hitch-hiked through the Congo, and as a woman alone I sometimes felt that I'd rather break down in a car there than here."

When Rawlence first went to the Congo, he realised that most media correspondents had never been outside the hottest conflict zones. His reaction had been to learn Swahili so he could travel independently and form a more balanced view of the area. "I found that if I pitched up tired, hungry and dirty and asked for food and a bed, most ordinary people were incredibly welcoming."

What's on: Friday 8 March

11.15am Cecil Beaton. Introduction to the archive of war photographs taken by the legendary snapper.

1pm When Good Religion Goes Bad. Today's Independent Voices debate looks at religious conflicts.

1pm The Du Maurier Sisters. Jane Dunn explains how Daphne and her sisters lived lives of social and sexual non-conformity.

6.15pm Gavin Esler: Lessons from the Top. The Newsnight presenter explains how world leaders used stories to gain power.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world