The White Correspondent’s Burden

“But this doesn’t explain why journalism from Africa looks and sounds as it does. For this, we blame our editors, who (we like to say) oversimplify our copy and cut out context. … For these tendencies, our editors in turn often blame readers, whom they assume can’t or won’t follow us through villages with difficult-to-pronounce names or narratives with nuanced conclusions or moral ambiguities.
Ultimately, the problem with journalism from Africa isn’t about professional conventions. It’s about all of us—writers and readers, producers and viewers. We continue a storytelling tradition that hasn’t fundamentally changed since Joseph Conrad slapped Congo with “the heart of darkness” label. Even stories that gesture toward something “positive” can’t escape the dominant narrative: “Africa isn’t a lost cause,” pleads one recent headline. The argument about journalism from Africa is often whittled into two camps, Afro-pessimists vs. Afro-optimists. But these binary camps, too, miss that Africa is many complex things, simultaneously. In our news broadcasts and our headlines, though, it’s usually framed by just one static thing: suffering.”

Boston Review