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The Monitor's View

Is Oscar Pistorius really Africa's 'biggest' story?

Last week, when the West and UN were intervening in a host of problems in Africa, much of the world focused on Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic hero charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Africa needs a better media spotlight.

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The West has intervened again and again in Africa recently – Somalia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Libya, as well as in the hunt for Joseph Kony’s rebels – while also trying to build up the military forces of African nations and to coax them to intervene in regional conflicts to establish security. Often these efforts succeed or contain a problem. The West’s assistance, however, depends on the humanitarian mood in Europe, the US, and Canada. At a time of budget austerity in those countries and with fewer foreign news bureaus in Africa, Western governments have a difficult time finding a political constituency at home for their actions. In the US, the most popular item for spending cuts is foreign aid, which takes less than 1 percent of the budget.

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As much as the West tries to implement the idea of “African solutions to African problems,” it still finds itself leading in the solutions, often with the assistance of the UN or private international groups. A good example was the French invasion of northern Mali in January to roll back a threat by Al Qaeda. Now the French want out, but their withdrawal depends on whether troops from nearby African countries can be trained and financed to take over the mission. The French people supported the invasion but don’t seem willing to support an extended stay.

An uprising last December by rebel groups in the Central African Republic has received very little world attention and yet the spillover of refugees into neighboring countries could lead to regional instability or humanitarian worries about their condition. If the Western leaders are inclined to intervene, will their people even know where the CAR is?

This disconnect between the world’s awareness of Africa and the need to respond to Africa’s problems needs attention itself. Western leaders, such as President Obama, must travel to the continent more often. News coverage must increase. African leaders need to engage the outside world more. Perhaps then news of a sensational killing in Africa won’t receive more attention than it should.

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