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Ideas

Why Western Outrage At War In Europe Never Makes It To Africa

The way armed conflicts have been represented in fiction for decades could explain the racism that has been revealed in Western media coverage of the war in Ukraine compared to multiple conflicts over the years in Africa.

Picture of a woman holding a child

The Lost Girls of Sudan are refugees living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, about 90 miles south of the Sudan border.

Aïda N'Diaye*

Double standards. That is what is striking when we compare the political and media treatment of the war in Ukraine — and the massive exodus this conflict is creating — to the treatment (or non-treatment) of the multiple crises that have similarly affected African countries in recent decades.

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For example, think back to CBS News special correspondent Charlie D’Agata’s statement on Feb. 25: ”This is not a place […] like Iraq or Afghanistan […]. Kyiv is a relatively civilized city,” he said to underline what he found particularly shocking about the images shot in Ukraine.


The war would therefore be "abnormal" in the West and "normal" elsewhere.

No music on the battlefield

Let’s take a step back. How could the representation of the war have led the imagination to the point of saying something so astonishing?

In real life, no music accompanies bombings or the exodus of civilians

During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech in front of the U.S. Congress on March 16, I was shocked to hear the music that accompanied the images of the destroyed city of Kharkiv to illustrate what Ukrainian civilians were going through on a daily basis.

As if we needed to use codes of fiction (sound and music) to see reality (the horrors of war). As if we were incapable of understanding what war really is when what we perceive in reality does not resemble enough the image that we have forged through fiction.

In real life, no music accompanies bombings or the exodus of civilians. However, the images of war seem more realistic and more touching when they resemble those we see at the cinema or on television, music included.

It was a strange turning point that underlines the complexity of the articulation between fiction and reality, as well as its importance in our perception of events.

Photo of some members of Yemeni government forces

Yemeni government army are seen in Harad District, Hajjah Province, northwestern Yemen

Mohammed Al-Wafi/Xinhua/Zuma

Different movie portrayals 

Not only do westerners not see, or do not want to see, the images of the war on the African continent, what they do see is often through the lens of fiction — often big, American productions. In these representations, war “over there” is essentially depicted as savage, barbaric, uncivilized, to the point where it will drive the participating Western soldier crazy.

Fiction revisits dominant stereotypes in reality — in this case, racist ones

He will often come back shattered, unable to readapt to society or a “civilized” life. The Russian enemy is often characterized by his intelligence, which he is associated with evil (this was the case recently in Black Widow or in the last James Bond movie).

Meanwhile, for the African man, evil is manifested through barbarism — for example in Beast of No Nation or in Black Hawk Down.

Dominant stereotypes 

When war is shown on the European continent, it is another image that takes shape, that of the “before,” that of the previous century or centuries. Westerners, therefore, have not built an image of war that is compatible with their current so-called “civilized” societies (that is another debate).

It is not a coincidence that Emmanuel Macron has used the word “war” to describe the COVID-19 pandemic: war, a real one, seemed unimaginable at the time…

So there is a vicious cycle between reality and fiction. Fiction revisits dominant stereotypes in reality — in this case, racist ones. In so doing, it acts on our perception of reality versus what really happens (here, the mobilization of Westerners in the face of war tragedy). Africans are the ones paying the price for these types of games.

*Aïda N'Diaye is a writer, teacher and philosopher

**This article was translated with permission from its author

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner Group 2.0: Why Russia's Mercenary System Is Here To Stay

Many had predicted that the death last month of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meant the demise of the mercenary outfit. Yet signs in recent days say the private military outfit is active again in Ukraine, a reminder of the Kremlin's interest in continuing a private fighting formula that has worked all around the world.

Photograph of a Wagner soldier in the city of Artyomovsk, holding a rifle.

Ukraine, Donetsk Region - March 24, 2023: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).

TASS/ZUMA
Cameron Manley

-Analysis-

“Let’s not forget that there is no Wagner Group anymore,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had declared. “Such an organization, in our eyes, does not exist.”

The August 25 statement from came less than two days after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the infamous Russian mercenary outfit, as questions swirled about Wagner's fate after its crucial role in the war in Ukraine and other Russian military missions around the world.

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How could an independent military outfit survive after its charismatic founder's death? It seemed highly unlikely that President Vladimir Putin would allow the survival of a group after had launched a short-lived coup attempt in late June that most outside observers believe led to Prigozhin's private airplane being shot down by Russian forces on August 23.

"Wagner is over,” said the Kremlin critic and Russian political commentator Maksim Katz. “The group can’t keep going. There’s the possibility that they could continue in parts or with Defense Ministry contracts, but the group only worked with an unofficial agreement between Putin and Prigozhin.”

Yet barely a month later, and there are already multiple signs that the Wagner phoenix is rising from the ashes.

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