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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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Ideas

"Collateral Benefit": Could Putin's Launching A Failed War Make The World Better?

Consider the inverse of "collateral damage." Envision Russia's defeat and the triumph of a democratic coalition offers reflection on the most weighty sense of costs and benefits.

Photo of a doll representing Russian President Vladimir Putin

Demonstrators holding a doll with a picture of Russian President Putin

Dominique Moïsi

-Analysis-

PARIS — The concept of collateral damage has developed in the course of so-called "asymmetrical” wars, fought between opponents considered unequal.

The U.S. drone which targeted rebel fighters in Afghanistan, and annihilated an entire family gathered for a wedding, appears to be the perfect example of collateral damage: a doubtful military gain, and a certain political cost. One might also consider the American bombing of Normandy towns around June 6, 1944 as collateral damage.

But is it possible to reverse the expression, and speak of "collateral benefits"? When applied to an armed conflict, the expression may seem shocking.

No one benefits from a war, which leaves in its trace a trail of dead, wounded and displaced people, destroyed cities or children brutally torn from their parents.

And yet the notion of "collateral benefits" is particularly applicable to the war that has been raging in Ukraine for almost a year.

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