Martin Williams
3 minute read
18 Oct 2017
5:35 am

Don’t Somali lives matter?

Martin Williams

We all know that if more than 300 people are killed in explosions in Paris, London, New York, or any First World city, there will be wall-to-wall coverage. Why is that?

If all lives matter, why is there relatively muted reaction to the slaughter of more than 300 innocent Somalis?

Granted, some governments have issued statements and there has been media coverage, but not on an appropriate scale. These are our fellow Africans, burned alive or blown to bits.

Yet when South Africans do pay attention to the continent north of us, they choose instead to chatter about a giant statute of not-my-president Jacob Zuma in Nigeria’s Imo state.

Surely the inappropriate West African monument to not-my-president is a minor distraction compared with the atrocity in East Africa. Is it a matter of geography? Would Saturday’s multiple bomb blasts have received more attention if they had occurred in a place which is more accessible to TV crews?

Somalia has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous places on earth.

This infamy was burnished by the largely factual 2001 film Black Hawk Down, depicting the humiliation of a crack US military team that tried to capture a Somali warlord.

Somalia was without effective government after the overthrow of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991. A makeshift government cobbled together with international backing in 2012 has not been able to project an image of being in charge. Safety is a perpetual worry.

For example, when Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed was elected president in February this year, proceedings had to be conducted in a high-security hangar at Mogadishu airport.

Somalia is no doubt a terrible place from whence to report. Indeed, the Committee to Protect Journalists estimated that 59 radio, print and television reporters were killed in Somalia between 1991 and 2013.

In Saturday’s bombings, one freelance journalist was killed and several injured, including a reporter for Voice of America.

So, in addition to all the other casualties, a lot of brave people have been killed or wounded while trying to tell the world about what’s happening in Somalia. Have they died in vain? Does the wider world care a damn? Of course, news can’t be force-fed to audiences.

Those who select what qualifies as news must constantly weigh up ever-changing sets of circumstances about what will make a reader pick up a newspaper, or persuade a TV viewer to switch channels.

Even if news-purveyors have a responsibility to inform and educate their audiences, you cannot compel people to take an interest in a country depicted as an impoverished, God-forsaken hell hole. Ugly, horrible news. Switch off. Move along.

Yet we all know that if more than 300 people are killed in explosions in Paris, London, New York, or any First World city, there will be wallto-wall coverage. Why is that?

Consider another example, this time from the supposedly halcyon days of 1994, coinciding with the birth of our rainbow nation.

Can we understand why the murders of more than 800 000 Rwandans in the same year did not make big headlines?

Could it be that there are indeed gatekeepers who feel that if all lives matter, some matter more than others?

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams