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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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Society

End Of Roe v. Wade: Will It Spark Anti-Abortion Momentum Around The World?

Pro-life activists celebrated the end of the U.S. right to abortion, hoping it will trigger a new debate on a topic that in some places had largely been settled: in favor a woman’s right to choose. But it could also boomerang.

Thousands of people demonstrate against abortion in Madrid

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou and Shaun Lavelle

The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion put the United States at the forefront of abortion rights in the world.

Other countries would follow suit in the succeeding years, with France legalizing abortion in 1975, Italy in 1978, and Ireland finally joining most of the rest of Europe with a landslide 2018 referendum victory for women’s right to choose. Elsewhere, parts of Asia and Africa have made incremental steps toward legalizing abortion, while a growing number of Latin American countries have joined what has now been a decades-long worldwide shift toward more access to abortion rights.

But now, 49 years later, with last Friday’s landmark overturning of Roe v. Wade, will the U.S. once again prove to be ahead of the curve? Will American cultural and political influence carry across borders on the abortion issue, reversing the momentum of recent years?

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