In the field: Mefou National Park, Cameroon

A female gorilla stands her ground in an inclosure at a sanctuary operated by an NGO, Ape Action Africa. While the organization has pledged to rehabilitate and release the more than 300 animals currently under their care, operators say they have delayed because of the security conditions in Cameroonian parks.

“The government claims that the national parks are protected,” one operator said, while leading us between the chimpanzee and the young gorilla cages. “But there isn’t a single one we’d be comfortable re-introducing one of our animals into.”

Most of the animals saved by the sanctuary were orphaned after their parents were killed by poachers for sale and/or consumption. Their flesh, or bushmeat, is still considered a delicacy by many.

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Is “branding” the answer?

Today, I’ll be speaking on a media panel discussing tourism in Africa. While broad in scope, the intention of the event is to understand not only how journalists cover the continent and shape the stereotypes/conceptions of the region (I.e. Dramatic headlines citing death and disaster, how the media’s appetite for stories from the continent often starts and stops with crisis)  but also to suggest ways to showcase some of these regions as a valuable destination for international visitors.

While compiling a short-list of topics I might discuss, I found it difficult –read: impossible– to distance myself from the crowd I like to criticize. I argue, likely too often for those around me, that the editorial appetite for stories with an Africa theme is small. That there is a cyclical and self-defeating argument made in editor’s offices: the stories aren’t popular enough to warrant the higher costs of their reporting, but failure invest in them confirms the audience will remain small.

That might be true, but it isn’t a sufficient response to the charges of editorial selectivity.

On this platform, and others like it, I tackle “under-reported” Africa in the same manner major networks do: the first sign of a storm creates an opportunity to capture that “illusive reader”. But if I feed that reader conflict and collapse, is that truly appropriate?

Admittedly, there are more questions on this topic than there are answers; with a continent of 54 countries I would hope that’s the case. But I’m eager to follow through with this experiment; to force myself to reflect in the same way I have (and continue to demand) that editors re-think their own positions.

But if the practice of “covering Africa” has to be updated, how do we do it? Thoughts?

In the field: Kribi, Cameroon

I had rented a car to complete reporting in and around the town of Kribi, Cameroon. As I jumped out of the car for what I believed to be the final interview of the day, a four-hour drive from where we started that morning, I could hear an unsettling high-pitched hissing.

Having driven quickly over uncertain dirt, gravel and well-worn cement roads, we (myself and my priceless driver/assistant) shouldn’t have been surprised by the punctured front tire.

But as we worked on the car (thankfully there was a spare) men from a nearby village came out to help. Without any prompting, they had the old tire off, new one on, and were insisting we stay for something to eat and drink.

They didn’t have to help.
But I know we’re both grateful they did.

In the field: Douala, Cameroon

Along a snaking, pot-holed, mud road that leads away from Douala’s international airport, motorists pass road-side food carts, motor repair stores and —more recently— Chinese-operated boutiques selling everything from food stuffs to beauty products. As a young boy struggles with the rusty chain on his bicycle, the afternoon’s traffic hurries past.