Martin Robbins from the African Propaganda Trail

Martin Robbins has a series at the Guardian right now, titled “Lessons from Africa’s propaganda trail” and the fourth entry is out. It’s the most cynical so far:

Mark recorded a video of the greeting we received, shot moments after our arrival. It shows more than a hundred people dancing and singing for us, giving out hand-made bracelets. A number of them seemed to be under the impression that we were involved with sponsoring the project, and that our visit would help to secure more funding.

The whole scene disturbed me greatly. Jeff and I hung back, reluctant to get involved and sticking close to the vehicles. I turned to him and sarcastically asked: “So, how authentic do you think this is?”

“I think it’s pretty authentic,” he replied. “As a demonstration of the power dynamic between these poor guys trying to get water, and a bunch of rich Westerners, it’s about as authentic as you can get.”

What’s important to realize (and I keep forgetting myself) is that his stated purpose is to show why so many journalists write false stories about Africa, and why there tend to be echo-chamber effects. The reason one can forget this is because it sometimes reads as if he actively criticizes the measures that are being implemented but the main story of the posts is supposed to be: “What they tell us is not true and if we just write it up, we spread those untruths.” Robbins so far doesn’t offer solutions but he does point out that what we, removed from the realities on the ground, have been told are solutions might not be.

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