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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Global media bias...and safeguarding the citizens

13th February 2012

Jambo, cheers for the coming week, and did you readers have any thought provoking moments in the last one?.

I did when half listening to a broadcast on the

Africa Cup of Nations, and heard the announcer say “…….the air disaster that claimed all the lives of the team, and many people on the ground in 1993….”.

It set me thinking why I knew about the long ago Munich air crash that devastated the footballing fraternity, yet not the more recent Zambian one. But given the bias against non-western happenings, it could have been under reported in Europe at the time.

There’ve been positive changes in the last decade, but two examples I’ve often written about illustrate the issue.

Early in l994, the world was bombarded with news about US teenager Michael Fay, sentenced to six lashes for vandalism in Singapore. Standard punishment, and only globally newsworthy because the cane was to be delivered on an American backside!. President Clinton intervened to stop it, and the sentence was reduced to four.

At the time of this comic over protection of a US citizen, Tanzanian officials failed to safe- guard one of their own.

Sailor Elias Lwekamwa, accused of drug offences in a foreign language, and without legal assistance, received little help from his country’s embassy in Egypt. A late clemency appeal from President Mwinyi failed, and proclaiming his innocence to the end in a letter to his mother, Elias was executed in Cairo on April l4th l994. Few cared about this sad case, which received little or no coverage in the wider press.

Third world citizens can be victimised twice over.

Victims of their government’s inability or negligence in protecting them, and victims of the international media in ignoring the results.

Three years later on May 21st l996, the MV Bukoba passenger ferry sank, killing over 800 people on Lake Victoria, many of whom drowned or suffocated in their cabins.

Yet the worst maritime accident in Tanzanian history, went almost unreported outside the country, and in London at the time, I knew nothing about it.

This horrific catastrophe, the failed rescue attempts, and the massive death toll, made the Bukoba disaster every bit as dramatic (or more so) in ‘story terms’, as the recent cruise ship sinking off the Italian coast, which received world wide coverage.

….it also had a bonus the Bukoba lacked…. a much mentioned ‘villain’, the ships discredited Italian captain, who held the publics interest. In today’s world, even bad news needs entertainment value, particularly if it comes from Africa!

However, in Britain last September, and sixteen years after the Lake Victoria tragedy went unheralded there…. this time, I learnt the news of the Zanzibar ferry disaster from the local newspapers, sparsely reported. ……but progress of a kind I suppose!.


Lord Palmerston, a century past Prime Minister said, “ A British subject in whatever land he may be in, should feel confident that the watchful eye, and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.”

………protecting your own…a laudable sentiment albeit with a narrow remit!

But if the care remit for Tanzanians outside the country has been minimal, it’s ‘maximised minimal’ inside!. And compromised daily, hourly, by a system where safety standards exist in print but barely in practice.

Unsafe buses, overflowing sewers, goods traded on railway lines and electrical transformers, sub-standard building construction, dala dalas STILL refuelling whilst crammed with people……etc. an endless list of hazards……and given the history of rampant negligence in the Zanzibar shipping sector, the MV Spice Islander disaster was almost a forgone conclusion.

…..and let’s stop using the word ‘accident’ in passenger and maritime transport. Surely an ‘accident’, is an unavoidable happening, but much of the human carnage occurring here is AVOIDABLE, with genuine political will, and ceasing to regard disasters as ‘acts of God’.


If you saw a press headline proclaiming “Air lines advised to employ qualified pilots”, would you ever willingly board another aeroplane? Probably not.

…..but on my notice board is a newspaper cutting bearing the message, “passenger bus owners told to employ qualified drivers”, a frequently touted idiocy in Tanzania.

It’s a shocking suggestion, because of course it shouldn’t be a suggestion, but a l00 %, NUMBER ONE CONDITIONALITY OF BEING A BUS OWNER! But with other crucial and over due legislation in transport to be enacted, (Zanzibar shipping coming under the Union mandate) when will Bongolands Bunge wallahs do so!

The care remit is even smaller when it comes to citizens comfort as opposed to safety.

For example government cars, a major capital outlay from the public purse, should be well looked after, but when did the trend start for expensive luxury parking canopies?.......while the human capital doesn’t warrant similar consideration!.

………remember the crowds sitting in the hot sun for days waiting for trains at the railway station?

……Anyway, now we don’t have trains…..perhaps the stations a luxury hotel….or been demolished under ‘urban re-development’?!....

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