Jon Sawyer, Pulitzer Center
Uzodinma Iweala is a child of African and American privilege. His mother (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) is a former finance minister and foreign minister for the government of Nigeria. He is himself a graduate of Harvard University. In his novel "Beasts of No Nation" he imagines a world far from his own, however, writing in the voice of a child soldier from an unnamed African country. And now he has scored another counter-intuitive feat -- an op ed for the Washington Post that skewers Angelina Jolie and Bono, not to mention tens of thousands of young Americans wearing "Save Darfur" bracelets.
"It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption," Iweala writes. "Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs."
Harsh indeed, as is his acid dismissal (by implication) of former Clinton administration diplomat turned Africa activist John Prendergast. "How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan," Iweala asks, "than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?" Iweala's targets have done far more good than harm, I would argue, but I take his larger point -- that the American media presentation of African issues is too often simplistic, more caricature than substance, and prone too often to presenting problems as hopeless, unique to Africa, or both. Pulitzer Center projects have attempted to describe the larger forces at play in African conflicts -- the exploitation of mineral resources in the eastern border regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the role of African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, the consequences of America's military alliance with Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, and the environmental consequences of human conflict in countries like Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Mozambique. I hope you'll take a look -- and keep us posted as to African issues worth pursuing through Pulitzer Center reporting grants. Jon Sawyer