Africa News in Brief (9/24/13)

GRUESOME PHOTOS OF KENYAN MALL SHOOTINGS SPARK DEBATE

Sep. 24 (GIN) – The shocking terror assault at a popular shopping center in Nairobi sent shivers around the world as global news media supplied minute to minute coverage of the deadly event.

Some 68 people were killed and 170 injured in the attack by alleged Somali Al-Shabab insurgents who, for four days, held hostages in a siege at the upscale store.

News photographers at the scene snapped graphic images of frantic store visitors but also victims who lay bleeding and possibly dying. Horrific pictures, on page one of a New York daily and in several papers in Africa, soon sparked a fierce online debate.

“How much blood is too much?” asked columnist Richard Prince in his column Journal-isms. In a piece titled “Race Factor Raised in Graphic Images from Kenya,” he quoted Michael Deibert, a white journalist, who observed: “Quite honestly… I was shocked and dismayed by this… Would the New York Times run photos of blood-soaked dead white Americans after one of the many mass shootings that occur in the United States? I doubt it.”

Senior faculty member Kenny Irby of the Poynter Institute told Prince: “There continues to be an apparent double standard which I refer to as the ‘exotic rule’. The farther away and the browner the faces, the less sensitive I find the ethical rigor. For instance, I could not find a body in the Navy Yard or Boston Marathon shootings.”

NY Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan defended the occasional use of sickening pictures such as those recently published from Syria. “Images of war matter,” she wrote, citing such iconic shots as the brutal execution of a Vietcong guerrilla, a naked Vietnamese girl burned by napalm and the charred corpses of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Falluja, Iraq.

Photo editor Michele McNally added: “I think our audience is very sophisticated. They don’t want us to pull our punches.”

Meanwhile, back in Kenya, a front page picture of a blood-spattered woman shrieking in agony sparked a torrent of furious complaints. It prompted Nation Media Group CEO Linus Gitahi to issue an apology. “Kenyans, we made a poor judgment on our front page photo today. We sincerely apologize for the hurt caused.” The apology was forwarded on Twitter 1,192 times.

RENOWNED GHANAIAN POET DIES IN KENYA DEBACLE

Sep. 24 (GIN) – Africans on the continent and in the diaspora were in shock and grieving this week over the untimely passing of Kofi Awoonor, 78, from Ghana. He was one of the 68 who perished in the Al-Shabab-initiated assault at the 5-story Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

Michael Daly, a special correspondent with Newsweek and The Daily Beast, decried the senseless killing of the much-beloved poet by a terrorist group:

“The Al-Shabab attackers were only able to kill the mortal part of him that he had in common with everybody. His poetry survives, drawing on the African oral storytelling tradition, imbuing stark English with the ancient tones and cadences of his Ewe tribe… The likes of Al-Shabab and other death worshipers would be right to see their ultimate defeat in the faithful sentiments of this poem, which reads in part:

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn

Awoonor had been in Kenya to be part of the Storymoja Hay literary festival – a celebration of pan-African writing and storytelling. A professor at Stony Brook University (NY) until 1975, he later served as Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil and Cuba and as a U.N. envoy and was a leading voice for economic equality and against apartheid.

His experience in the U.S. prompted such poems as On Having Been an Experimental Sacred Cow for Four Years, and a Token African on Faculty. His research interests were focused on the links between African vernacular traditions and the written literature emerging from the continent.

Brown University professor Okey Ndibe recalled Awoonor as “one of the most learned, most humble men I ever met. He was witty, passionate about literature, full of life, a renaissance man who capped it all with wisdom, a man of the world who had an abiding love of the earth where his umbilical cord was buried.

“Invoking the title of his extraordinary novel, “This Earth, My Brother”, … May you continue to soar from beyond the grave. The indomitable Awoonor, enchant heaven with your songs!” w/pix of K. Awoonor

NAIROBI ATTACK EXPOSES FLAWED U.S. TERROR POLICIES
By Ramy Srour
Sep. 24 (IPS) – In the aftermath of the worst terror attack in East Africa in three years, foreign policy scholars here are urging the U.S. government to rethink its counter-terror policy in the region.

Many are suggesting that the Somali Al Shabab militant organisation, reportedly linked to Al-Qaeda, may be stronger and better organised than previously thought.

James Jennings, president of the humanitarian aid group Conscience International, commented: “The terrorist attack at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre was evidently a retaliation by Al Shabab for the Kenyan military presence in Somalia since October 2011, and a deliberate signal that they are still a force to be reckoned with.”

“It represents a continuation of the violence that has swirled throughout East Africa in the wake of the disintegration of Somalia, a war now increasingly being exported across the region’s borders.”

Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on non-traditional security threats at the Brookings Institution, observed: “Current U.S. counter-terror strategy in the region has focused primarily on targeted attacks against Al Shabab, while it should have addressed the structural causes of their radicalization,”

High unemployment, a weak Somali economy and widespread corruption as the main reasons behind the radicalisation of youths that have joined Al Shabab, she said. U.S. counter-terror efforts have devoted little or no attention to these issues.

The U.S. government delivered a total of 445 million dollars in security aid to Somalia between 2008 and 2011, almost 50 percent of total U.S. aid to the country during that period. What seems to be missing from the U.S. strategy, Felbab-Brown says, is “a real effort to improve the Somali economy and urge the government to foster a broader political inclusion of these youth”. w/pix at Westgate mall

PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST ELECTED IN SWAZILAND PROMISES CHANGE

Sep. 24 (GIN) – A pro-democracy activist is promising to bring change to Swaziland after winning a seat in Parliament where he will serve under King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Sithole, president of the Swaziland Democratic Party (Swadepa), becomes one of 55 independent MPs – one for each of the constituencies corresponding to the “tinkhundlas” or tribal communities. The King appoints two-thirds of parliament’s upper house as well as the prime minister.

In what some observers called a massive vote of no confidence, six of eight government ministers seeking reelection were defeated in the Sep. 20 poll as were 43 out of 55 independent members of Parliament.

In a further blow to the poll’s credibility, the African Union Election Observer Mission faulted the country’s practice of banning the participation of traditional political parties.

Newly-elected Sithole, 60, is a longtime labor activist who led the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions for 25 years, stepping down in 2009. A vocal critic of the current political setup, he vowed to change the government from the inside.

“The election procedure that prevails currently emphasizes… that you can only intervene as an individual, and we agreed as a party that we will use that… to advocate our beliefs,” Sithole said in a press interview.

Around 415,000 people — roughly a third of the population — registered to vote, but official turnout figures were unavailable.

Finally, despite exorbitant spending on the King’s polygamous lifestyle, and the near bankruptcy of the country in 2011, a new fiancée was announced for the youthful ruler. Beauty queen Sindiswa Dlamini, 18, was reportedly chosen at the traditional Reed Dance of bare-breasted virgins. Media reported her as the king’s 14th bride, although some counted her as wife number 15. The exact number is considered a state secret and considered ‘un-Swazi’ to discuss openly. w/pix of J. Sithole

NIGERIAN BEAUTY CAPTURES MUSLIM-ONLY PAGEANT CROWN

Sep. 24 (GIN) – In a contest that highlights religious values and Islamic fashions, 21 year old Obabiya Aishah Ajibola of Nigeria was the tearful winner of the coveted prize.

The beauty pageant for Muslims took place in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, prior to the Miss World competition, which was relocated to Bali after protests by hardline Indonesian Muslim groups who found it offensive.

Twenty finalists were selected from 500 online applicants. They shared thoughts on the importance of motherhood, the dangers of the Internet, and the value of Islamic finance. They were vying for the “crown of modesty,” a golden statue of a woman giving thanks to God and an all expenses paid trip to Mecca.

The finalists hailed from Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Brunei.

When her name was announced, Ms Ajibola dropped to her knees and recited a verse from the Koran. She was awarded $2,200 and trips to Mecca and India.

The pageant was started three years ago by Eka Shanti, a TV news presenter who lost her job for refusing to remove her headscarf.

“This is an international event to appreciate women who have talent, dedication, and a reputation in their communities for being young, but also giving back to others,” said Shanti.

The pageant is based around sholehah, she explained, an Islamic term meaning someone who is pious, has good morals, and observes Islamic rules and codes. She called it a “formula,” for understanding the ideal woman, “regardless of your religion.”

It is not intended as a challenge or in opposition to Miss World, she said, but as a way of rejecting negative stereotypes about Muslim women.

“People think we are against Miss World. What we’re against is nudity. For the sake of education, I want to give another example.” w/pix of O. Ajibola

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