3 questions you should ask yourself whenever you read or watch something about the global South

As a responsible traveller, you may want to prepare yourself by reading books or blogs about or from the country you are going to. Or you are watching some movies to get to know more about your destination.

Books, movies, blogs, and sometimes even the news, are not just presenting facts though.

That is why they are entertaining. They mix facts and opinion so that we don’t only have to struggle through numbers. They make us get a feel for the country.

But they also represent a certain mind set and a societal value system.

Therefore, whenever you read or watch something about your destination country, you should ask yourself these three questions:

1. Where is the author coming from?

Quite literally, which country are they coming from? But then also, what background do they have? Are they affiliated with any institutions or mind sets? And what makes them produce this work?

2. What is happening?

As in: Who is doing what to whom? Or who has been doing what to whom? Who is acting? Who is passive? Who is taking or concealing responsibility for certain actions?

3. What do they want us to think?

How do they want to influence us? What is their purpose with this text? Whom is it addressed to?

3 Questions

Let’s do a quick example:

Why the Kenya-Somalia border wall is a bad idea (Gabrielle Lynch, May 1st 2015, for Daily Nation Kenya)

A couple of weeks ago, Kenya started building a 684-kilometre long wall.

The wall, which will consist of a barrier of fences, ditches and observation posts, will span the Kenya-Somalia border from the Coast to Mandera.

The government has talked about building such a ‘separation barrier’ for a while, but the project was given new impetus by the Garissa terrorist attack in early April in which 148 people lost their lives. The aim: to keep Al Shabaab terrorists and illegal migrants from crossing between the two countries.

The wall is an expensive undertaking to build and then maintain and man. It is also a bad idea.

1. Where is the author coming from?

Gabrielle Lynch is associate professor of comparative politics, University of Warwick, UK.

2. What is happening?

Kenya, the government, “the wall” and “the project” are abstract actors. Apart from the victims of the Garissa terrorist attack, no people are appearing.

3. What do they want us to think?

Lots of numbers are given, on the length of the wall and the people who lost their lives in the Garissa attack. The article continues with more facts about how similar projects in history failed. The author presents her argument (that the wall is a bad idea) and then feeds it with evidence, so that we are convinced.

Why the wall Kenya is building on its border with Somalia is a terrible idea (Wangui Kimari, April 24, 2015, for Africa is a Country)

For the last year, Andrew Franklin, a former US marine and now security consultant in Kenya, has been advocating for the construction of a separation barrier between Kenya and Somalia. He dubs it the Somalia Border Control Project, and it will include militarized instruments such as “physical and electronic barriers along the entire border” and the “laying of properly marked and mapped minefields,” among other interventions.

A few days before the most recent Garissa attack, numerous National Youth Service trucks equipped with building material were seen headed to Mandera to begin work on a separation barrier. Though not to Franklin’s specifications, as he would assert in a television interview, the wall in its present iteration is still a nod to his Somalia Border Control Project, and is viewed by the Uhuru government as necessary to enhance security.

1. Where is the author coming from?

Wangui Kimari is a human, Anthropology student, educator and researcher from Nairobi.

2. What is happening?

Andrew Franklin advocates for the wall. National Youth Service trucks were seen. The Uhuru government supports Franklin’s idea.

3. What do they want us to think?

In this text, individuals are named. They represent ideas. The author wants to show us who is behind the action and who can be held responsible for certain happenings.

I only used the first paragraphs of the texts, and although they have almost the same headlines, they intent very different things.

To know who the author is and what they want us to think, and to have a closer look at what is really happening in the text or the movie, will open your eyes and prevent you from assuming generalised arguments.

Inspired by a talk by Barbara Fennell-Clark,educator

on the course Africa: Sustainable Development for all?

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