DOUBLE STANDARDS

Prejudiced coverage of Africa by western media must stop

One would have expected at least equal, balanced coverage of both Trump and Magufuli.

In Summary
  • Not that it matters but US President Donald Trump has not received such full-throated rebuke as Magufuli has.
  • Coverage of Trump is nuanced. This is despite Trump having said the only way he will lose the election is if the Democrats rig it.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli.
Image: FILE

Tanzania will go to the polls tomorrow. Going by the record of Nyerere’s country, this election, like many before, will be concluded peacefully and a president will be sworn in.

But the Economist, the publication that once called Africa hopeless, says that the incumbent, John Magufuli, will win an unfair vote. According to the Economist, “the bulldozer rumbles on”. Magufuli has intimidated and jailed opponents, muzzled the press and intimidated citizens are resigned to another five years of President Magufuli.

The Economist goes further to claim that if the elections were free and fair, opposition chief Tundu Lissu would win the presidential election. The short of it is that Magufuli is an unpopular incumbent who is “bulldozing” his way into reelection.

 

Half-credible analysts who understand Tanzania’s political landscape more intimately would find this a laughable conjecture. Unlike 2015, the opposition is feeble and CCM has a firmer grip at the grassroots level following the 2019 local elections, which the opposition boycotted. And yes, Magufuli has the overpowering advantage of incumbency, good or bad.

Not that it matters but US President Donald Trump has not received such full-throated rebuke as Magufuli has. Coverage of Trump is nuanced. This is despite Trump having said the only way he will lose the election is if the Democrats rig it. He has asked US Attorney General to investigate and prosecute Joe Biden, his opponent.

Trump has refused to disavow white extremist groups and militia. He tears into the press every single day, and calls them the enemy of the people. Moreover, he has attempted to defund US postal services to discourage mail in voting. More importantly, Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses on November 3; not a big deal.

I can’t imagine how Trump’s words and actions would play in western press if he were president of an African or Asian country. Western diplomats would be issuing strident statements of condemnation, decrying violation of civil liberties. They would lecture us on democracy and the need to respect the rule of law. Election observers would be crawling every inch of our territory, filing first-hand accounts of anarchy, urging free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power.

I would be surprised that anyone in Tanzania or the US cares what the Economist thinks. But why the double standards? What happened to dispassionate, factual and balanced reporting? I think Magufuli and Trump have much in common. One would have expected at least equal, balanced coverage of both men and their campaigns by the Economist.

The electoral process in Tanzania or any country for that matter, is never perfect. Incumbent politicians everywhere seldom resist the temptation to put their thumb on the scale. I don’t have a dog in this hunt. But I take strong exception to evidence-constrained, unbalanced reporting and injection of cultural prejudice in commentary on Africa, especially by western media.