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McGill Reporter
April 28, 2004 - Volume 36 Number 15
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It's the time of year to clean house and embrace change. Why not liven up your environment with some new art? The ART @ RCA Group, a consortium of 19 professional artists who have studios in St Henri's old RCA Victor factory (built 1912), are hosting an open studio event from May 7-9. Their art covers the full gamut of the visual arts from painting, collages, stencil and photographic works, to marquetry, ceramics and stone sculpture.

Friday, May 7, 5 pm - 9 pm, Saturday, May 8, 1 pm - 5 pm, Sunday, May 9, 1 pm - 5 pm, 1001 Lenoir, St. Henri.

Gamboling

Caption follows
Margaret Little and Susie Napper of Les Voix Humaines

The two renowned viol ensembles, Paris's Fuoco e Cenere, and Montreal's Les Voix Humaines will present a concert of music by Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and George Gershwin (1889-1937), joined by mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham. This "Fantasy in Blue" will include a joyous mix of songs and dances, from preludes to pop. Who knew that Gershwin could sound so good on viols? As Renault Machart of Le Monde wrote, Gershwin and Purcell "share an inclination towards lush harmonies, tasty dissonances and memorable melodies. They both understand the depths of despair and share a talent to inspire their audience to dance the night out!"

Tuesday, May 4, 8 pm at the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, 400 Saint-Paul Street East. Tickets - $15-$25 (514) 842-2112. See www.lesvoixhumaines.org

Volunteering

The Centre de la Montagne, Mount Royal Park, seeks volunteer conservation patrollers to devote 3 hours a week or more of their time. The goal of the patrol is to raise environmental awareness among the park's users, and change their behaviour in order to minimize the impact of human activities on the Mountain's ecosystems. For info, call (514) 843-8240 ex.234. There will be an information session on Tuesday, May 1, at 6:30 pm, Maison Smith, Mount Royal Park, 1260 Remembrance Rd.

The Big Brother Big Sister Association of Greater Montreal is looking for volunteers for their various pairing services, ranging from the pairing of one adult to one child, to group gatherings of two adults to four kids, or in-school mentoring. To become a volunteer, call (514) 842-9715 or see www.gfgsmtl.qc.ca

Africa explained

Times of Zambia journalist Readith Muliyunda, one of this year's McGill Sauvé Scholars, is working on a documentary series about Africa's distorted image, called Africa from Afar. The documentary looks at how the media portrayal of the continent has shaped people's negative perceptions and images about Africa, and will feature interviews of academics, media-makers, ordinary people and the usage of other archival media. In a presentation to her fellow scholars, she explains the impetus behind her project.

The idea was born after I discovered the negative perceptions that people in the West and the rest of the world have about Africa. It is apparent, though unfortunate, that the world today looks at Africa the same as it did centuries ago -- as a dark, backward and primitive continent, characterized by unending wars, disease, poverty and a place of danger as in the Hollywood stereotyping.

Illustration of Africa in TVs
Tzigane

My project is about the international media's portrayal of Africa and how this has shaped people's perceptions, perpetuated and re-inforced negative stereotypes. It will also looks at how the international media portrayal of the continent exacerbates Africa's problems instead of providing a forum in which to come up with long-lasting solutions.

My decision to undertake this project was a response to the shock I felt when I discovered the distortion of Africa, and how different the continent looks from outside.

The mainstream media's misrepresentation of Africa is a complex issue. It is done sometimes out of ignorance, but mostly has deep roots in the distorted depictions of the continent dating from times of the colonial system and slave trade.

It is amazing to me how the imbalanced reporting has created perceptions in the West that Africans live their lives as shown on Western television and other mainstream media.

This representation of Africa falls far short of the continent's overall reality, and is damaging to both the continent and Africans.

Africa's vibrant and successful life, both in the cities and rural communities would be just as newsworthy.

Instead, the continent is presented as a remote place where people either fight and die, or are helpless.

Americans and the rest of the world are made to feel detached and believe that Africa is a continent to feel pity towards, contribute to its humanitarian emergencies, then forget about between one disaster and the next.

Foreign journalists who write about African countries do so without taking a critical approach. Usually their minds are already set on what they have previously understood about the continent.

Positive news is doubted. When I tell people that there are many countries like my country, Zambia, that have remained stable since independence, they simply don't believe me. Negative news remains simplistic and superficial. Stories are presented out of context, making it difficult for the public to make sound judgments. As a result, African countries' crises are widely misunderstood.

BBC Channel 4TV director David Austin said: "The point of television coverage is understanding, and the toughest point of all is understanding what the relationship is between the developed and the developing world. It is classically an economic relationship and classically an exploitative relationship."

This is what we should be reporting.

But as the media blows trumpets of how much aid is going to Africa, it does not show how much more the rich countries are taking back from the continent every year, both in terms of money and resources.

The latest research by the American Friends Committee (AFC) show that for every $1 that goes to Africa in aid, African countries pay back $13 more in interest on debt repayments, most of which were incurred by Western-backed dictators such as Mobutu Seseko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia's Muhammed Siad Barre solely for Western interests.

South Africans are today paying back the debt that was borrowed by the apartheid regime for the oppression of the South Africans.

Africa's debt has been paid many times over and much more is being spent on the debt servicing than what is spent on health and education. By 1999, Nigeria, which had only borrowed $5 billion, had paid $16 billion, but remains with the debt of $32 billion.

Understanding global economic complexities of this nature is what is required to understand the irony that, despite Africa's enormous resources, the continent remains poor due to lack of control over its own resources.

The media continues to emphasize how undemocratic African leaders are but they never point out that no African dictator has been on stage without the invisible backing of a powerful country from the democratic West.

For example, the dictators Seseko and Barre were among the most favoured and highly financed allies of the West in the Cold war.

In Angola, there's the U.S.-financed rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, whose activities destabilized the Angolan government.

In Mozambique, the U.S. involvement with the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) came about through South Africa's Apartheid regime in 1975.

In Sudan, Washington is actively supporting the rebel's Sudanese people's liberation army against the government.

The militarization of Africa's rebels by the West can also been traced in the conflicts Liberia, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia/Eritrea and the Congo/Brazzaville.

The hunger by outsiders for Africa's oil, diamonds, gold, timber and other resources is behind most of the continent's conflicts. But the media portrays such conflicts as tribal, purely African and having nothing to do with the outside world.

Unfortunately, most people at home do not even know how they are portrayed from outside.

It is clear that what African countries need is neither pity nor aid, but to be understood in solidarity for the fight for justice. Media could help give a comprehensive understanding of these problems, instead of partial articulation, which would elicit justified responses from well-meaning international communities.

The media stories should be about the resilience and progressiveness of most African countries against this harsh background and atmosphere, for African communities have remained vibrant while continuing to fight against, and seek solutions to, these problems.

Will Straw, McGill's Director of Communications Studies, says that the problem with the way media covers Africa, is that it doesn't take African people seriously as having full rights and responsibility.

Western journalists should fend off their we-know-it-best mentality and come prepared to learn and discover a new appreciation of our situation and also applaud achievements and other aspects of African life.

I believe that a clear understanding of the complexities of issues will help create a platform from which to form ideas to move on.

African journalists like myself have a duty to highlight and seek solutions to such issues and to mobilize solidarity from within and outside the continent as well as reveal the continent's true picture.

So, I am trying to make a documentary that would add and contribute to the efforts of demystifying Africa for the world, so the world can look at the continent with an open mind.

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