What Libya and Côte d'Ivoire Have in Common
Both countries are on the brink of civil war and held hostage by ruthless rulers who refuse to step down. Both countries have seen thousands of innocents slaughtered. So why are the media ignoring what's happening in Ivory Coast?
Here's the scene:
An illegitimate leader thumbs his nose at the international community and sends his security forces and armed supporters into the streets to gun down mostly unarmed opponents, who are demonstrating on behalf of democratic rule. Tribal and regional fault lines give way. Allegations of widespread human rights abuses grow as tens of thousands of displaced people seek refuge in other parts of a war-torn country, or seek safety across international borders.
No, we're not talking about Libya, where the ever mercurial Muammar Qaddafi has unleashed loyal army units to quash a grassroots rebellion against his 41-year rule. All eyes in the Western media have been turned to this conflict, which has all the signs of turning into a protracted, bloody civil war.
But the earlier scene depicted is not along Libya's Mediterranean coast but along West Africa's Atlantic coast, in Ivory Coast. There, in the former French colony, President Laurent Gbagbo continues to defy the United Nations, the African Union and regional organizations' demands to cede power. Three months ago, he lost a presidential runoff election to former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. Yet the Ivorian crisis commands scant media attention, at least in North America.
"The American media has historically paid less attention to Francophone Africa," says Reed Kramer, chief executive officer and director of allAfrica.com, headquartered in Washington, D.C. "But I'm puzzled about the lack of coverage on Ivory Coast, because the U.S. government has been very vocal about developments there, and a lot of press coverage usually follows policy."
Kramer founded Africa News, the precursor to allAfrica.com, nearly 40 years ago, in part to provide media coverage that mainstream organizations lacked. "It's very difficult to cover both situations with limited resources, but we do our best to keep it on the front page."
Some argue that there is no excuse for news from Libya to be covered to the exclusion of Ivory Coast.
"On every issue, the situation in the Ivory Coast is worse," says I. William Zartman, professor emeritus at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. "It's probably not as [bad compared to] the number of victims in Libya, but it's worse in terms of the coarse brutality, with unarmed women being shot down in the streets of Abidjan."