Saturday 25 November 2017

Fergal Keane - Our Man in Africa

Fergal, failing to notice the camera in front of him and looking dreamily into the middle distance

Seeking to lift the profile of their Africa coverage the BBC have recently made the famous Fergal Keane their Africa Editor. 

He's already had the stroke of luck to be doing a to-camera BBC piece at the very moment when Zimbabwe's parliament received Mugabe's resignation letter and erupted with joy (or relief), with MPs quickly running up to talk to him.

Right historic place, right historic time, but still lucky. 

Fergal's From Our Own Correspondent piece this morning was very 'Fergal', sweeping in its scope, ringing with memorable phrases (though I can't quite recall any of them specifically at this moment), and absolutely crystal clear in its sense of who the good guys and bad guys of recent history in that neck of the woods were (Western colonialism and apartheid bad; African liberation heroes good) - except for the USA and the Soviet Union in the Cold War, both of whom were as bad as each other.

His starting point was this fascinating photo from the early 1980s of some of the strikingly-dressed leaders of 'the Frontline states' (plus the SWAPO leader): 

ZZ Top's inspiration for their 1983 classic Sharp Dressed Man

From left to right, there's Sam Nujoma (later president of Namibia), Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola - heroes to some, a rogues' gallery to others, a mixed bag to me. 

Fergal was clearly closest to the first camp there. I smiled at him merely calling the sharp-suited Mr Machel's early '80s Mozambique "socialist" and his leaving-out-an-awful-lot statement that Mr Dos Santos has just resigned the presidency of Angola. (He'd been there for 42 years and very successfully raised corruption to a masterly art form). He did say that old Julius had ruined Tanzania's economy but not why. Bob Mugabe, however, got it in the neck for being far more egotistical than the others - that being his downfall. He'd outlived his welcome (despite being in power five years less than Angola's Dos Santos, who only left office a few months ago).

'Sweep' rather than 'detail' has, fairly or unfairly, always struck me as being Fergal's thing.

There are a lot of very interesting things happening in Africa at the moment from what I can see - varied, complex things. If Fergal Keane can restrain himself from emoting, hunting out sob stories, trying to be 'award-winning', and, above all, forcing his predictable outlook onto everything he reports he could be in for a fascinating time. And so could his audience.

So fingers crossed!

1 comment:

  1. We deserve some decent reporting from Africa. Whether Old Ferg could ever "restrain himself from emoting, hunting out sob stories, trying to be 'award-winning', and, above all, forcing his predictable outlook onto everything he reports" has got to be highly debatable. But at least he isn't a local reporter with a challenging accent and direct involvement in the politics of the region (or subject to intimidation by state agencies).

    You're right that Africa is fascinating and lots of interesting things are happening there. I know Zimbabwe is supposed to be an economic basket case but I was a bit surprised with the recent reporting to see how prosperous a lot of people in Harare looked. The BBC has billions at its disposal but it really tells us very little about Africa - preferring to maintain hundreds of journalists reporting on the USA and Trump's tweets.

    I don't think the "starving African" meme ever did or does Africa any favours. Africa's incredible population growth - heading for 4 billion by the end of century means we have to take notice of what's going on there.


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