substantially strange

Well there’s a funny thing. I wrote a blog four days ago, criticising the BBC (and indirectly British foreign policy) for its contradictory approach to Africa, in particular its interest in Zimbabwe compared to Angola. And this afternoon, some time between 3pm in Luanda and 6pm, it disappeared. Yes! It vanished from my site. Is this Blogger falling pray to the heavy hand of British censorship, or just a clumsy oversight on my part? I’d encourage you to respond with your own thoughts: I really haven’t a clue. All I can say is that it is a strange feeling to be living in Angola – which is not known for its press freedom – and to feel like you are being censored from afar, possibly from home. Can a techno please enlighten me on what might have happened to my posting, ‘substantially worse’.

For those of you still interested, I’m pleased to say that I saved a copy, so here it is again:

It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks. I’ve made a number of enemies including the Archbishop of Canterbury, possibly God (scroll down), a potential landlord, a potential employer and – by the time I’ve finished this – a current employer. I may not be good at lots of things, but I’m an expert at making enemies. With that out in the open I might as well continue.

Did anyone notice the news about Zimbabwe this week? Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition leader, beaten black and blue. Allegedly – that’s what the BBC story says – allegedly. It’s clear from the pictures that someone beat him up. He looks very bad. Presumably he didn’t beat himself up – although one never knows just how far politicians around the globe will go. But honestly, I’m being serious, it’s not a good story to hear at all. But let me just ask you to stand back a bit, and ponder another opposition leader at the same end of the African continent: Isaías Samakuva, president of the main Angolan opposition party, UNITA. Two weeks ago – actually two weeks to the day – someone tried to shoot him. Allegedly. That’s what he said, and that’s what the party said. The local authorities denied it. The proof isn’t quite as good as Tsvangirai’s – Samakuva didn’t get hit – but the building in which he and his UNITA delegation were staying did show several clear bullet marks. Something definitely went on while he was staying in Camabatela. And, I would argue, even if UNITA have made the whole story up (not out of the question) the very fact that the former Angolan rebel group would make such a huge accusation is, in itself, a story. But the BBC – for whom I string – didn’t seem to agree. Or, to be more diplomatic, parts of the BBC didn’t seem to think that the story was nearly as important as the very similar one in that country they love to hate: Zimbabwe.

Why not?

Well, they would probably say that Britain has a connection with Zim which it doesn’t have with Angola. They would probably also say that Zimbabwe is on a fast slide downhill whereas Angola is only just starting to climb. I wrote to several editors at the corporation to complain about the fact that my reports received so little publicity from within the corporation. One wrote back:

“We are interested in Angola but the problem I suspect is that people feel that since [2002 when 40 years of war ended largely thanks to the death of the UNITA rebel leader] Savimbi,things don’t seem to have changed a great deal. If they are substantially worse, then we need to start highlighting this more.”

If Samakuva had been shot dead, perhaps Angola would have got a better airing. And what about the so-called ‘spy’, Sarah Wykes, the British woman accused of espionage in Angola, briefly imprisoned and now out on bail. She’s just been told she can leave the country but must return for her trial when (and if) it takes place. Few BBC programmes have been interested in her story – some feel that it is morally wrong to highlight the plight of a (white) British woman in Africa when so many Africans have a worse time of it, others seemed to think she was “just an NGO worker” and therefore couldn’t see the point. In fact, the private (independent) Angolan press believe – in general – that her case highlights several structural problems within Angola. Think greedy foreign oil companies, think corruption, think human rights, think strange peace deal in Cabinda. I’m not telling you what I think – remember, I’m an independent reporter… – but there is one thing I know for sure. If the same thing had happened to Wykes in Zimbabwe, the entire British media would have been having coronaries over her story.

BBC hypocrisy is sometimes too much to bear. Ditto for UK foreign policy on the two countries, but don’t even get me started on that…

Before I end, let me just add a small self-explanation. I am not trying to promote bad news about Angola – far from it. FYI, since I’ve been here I’ve sent very positive reports from Luanda about Angola’s expansion into the global art market, an interview with an American-Angolan singer who has just returned to Angola from the States and wants to stay here. I’ve sent material on the Angolan government’s decision to turn down the IMF’s offer of ‘help’ (hurrah) and a piece on Angola entering OPEC’s quota system. None of these stories are remotely negative in terms of the progress this country is clearly making. But let’s not forget that it’s not – as I said to an editor this morning – ‘all oil & gas’: there are people who live here too. And some of them are struggling to make ends meet.

Does the BBC want another war in Angola before it warrants serious coverage? And let’s hope this posting lasts a bit longer than the last one.