Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.

2Mar/10Off

Zimbabwe and Africa’s children suffering from overexposure

Tonight I lost the remote control wars and paid for it by watching a documentary on BBC 4 called Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children about...you guessed it....suffering African children. 5 specific kids living in harrowing conditions to be exact. It was quite an interesting programme though and it had decent technical production however in parts it seemed like it was scripted. For those who watched the program, I'm refering to the exchanges between Obert and his Grandma.

Personally I have a problem with programs like these because they’re all about highlighting the problems. I'm starting to find that to be counter-productive because hardly anyone doesn't know that Africa has problems. I’m not sure when this started but I’d guess that the media focus on Africa’s problems has been going on since the Ethiopian famine 25 years ago. I believe that highlighting a problem is for specific disasters like Haiti, the Indonesian tsunami, Ethiopia’s famine, Hurricane Katrina where you want to show the reality so that people respond accordingly. The on-going African tragedy, which has the world rubber-necking at our misery doesn't need this. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn't see the Africa that is frequently shown on TV with the suffering, crime, corruption, wars and all. I’m realistic enough to know that whatever prosperity we’re building in Africa we must not gloss over our problems.

My issue with all this is that these programs never highlight the solutions to the problems. I know for a fact that there are people in Africa doing something to get out of the mess they’re in as individuals. And I’m not talking about collecting aid from the agencies as this program and others never hesitate to show.

Personally, I end up feeling like the film makers are taking advantage of the situation because they are bringing nothing to the party. Or funeral in this case. We’re no wiser in watching some of these programs except that we now know the name of a particular African who’s suffering. I fail to see how that helps except to feed stereotypes and act as some sort of CV padding for the likes of Xoliswa Sithole, who produced the program. No doubt awards will be forthcoming for ‘braving the conditions’ and ‘daring to show the reality of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.’ I’m not fooled by this and if it was a beer (something that I have expertise on) I’d call it a chemical beer. One made with no real imagination.

By highlighting the solutions, filmmakers could give us viewers the call to action we frequently need to do something. I know I’m not the only one who sees an initiative and thinks ‘Wow, that’s a good idea. I wonder if we could do something similar in my rural area?’

As an example I read a blog called AfriGadget, which shows some of the ingenious ways Africans overcome their problems with improvised gadgets. What’s impressive about it is the number of readers that feel compelled to do something upon seeing some of these solutions. I’m talking about stuff like giving advice, replicating the gadgets and donating materials. That is because it’s not all about donating money. Not every problem in Africa needs money to be overcome. The media could play their part by highlighting what’s being done and how. That knowledge needs to find its way to other suffering Africans; and the only way it can do that is if those of us watching these programs are informed.

The irony is that if it really is all about showing a skinny African on TV, you don’t lose anything by showing us how others in Africa are overcoming their situations at the end of the program. The TV network gets their skinny African. We see some solutions. Problem solved!

Our code says we can only film but not interfere. So sorry, but if you're dying of thirst we'll just have to keep the camera rolling.

UPDATE: A year later on the 17th of March 2011, the program was screened again with an update on the situation of the 5 kids featured in the program. The 2 girls lost their eventually lost their dad to AIDS.

However all are now in education and cared for as a result of benefactors who came forth after the program was screened. Help is now being administered by local organisations and all the children are well. I feel glad knowing that these kids' situations have improved a lot.

Despite that I feel even more vindicated on the opinions mentioned above. Specifically the decision to highlight Zimbabwe's problems on a national and international level, whilst only offering the experiences of 5 children as evidence of those bigger issues.

The program still offered no facts, figures or trends and I personally feel that the harrowing stories of the 5 featured kids has been used as emotional bait that even now does not result in solutions to the greater problems of African children.