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Simon Lincoln Reader comes to the defence of an African colleague obviously more than able to hold his own in Washington’s hurly-burly press corps; although his primary aim is to expose the total disdain and dismissal of matters African by America. It’s nothing new. Africa has historically been the continent the world – led by America – takes from, not gives to. Extraction outweighs investment. You name it, from slaves to oil, minerals, agricultural products, drug trials and vaccine development. Africans make great guinea pigs to experiment on and refine cures for nations afflicted by pandemics like HIV/Aids and Covid-19 but see themselves last in line when the remedies get distributed. This is a tale of what happens when an African tries to extract from Americans. In this case, information vital to his continental compatriots whose travails make those which America actually alleviates pale by comparison. A fascinating read in SLR’s trademark satirical, acerbic style. – Chris Bateman
The story of an African journalist in Washington
By Simon Lincoln Reader*
I first encountered Simon Ateba in November last year. Seated in the James R Brady room, Simon pressed Joe Biden’s former publicist, a wojak hivemind called Jen Psaki, on the rationale behind the ban on flights from Africa. Psaki didn’t like the question; throughout Biden’s campaign and through much of 2020/21, we were all told these things were about $cience (or ‘$oy-ince’) but this move was utterly, brazenly, verifiably unscientific. Simon and I started corresponding shortly thereafter.
Simon is Cameroonian, the White House correspondent for Today News Africa. The first thing that is immediately striking is how unentitled he is: many of his colleagues in that room are overeducated hacks from wealthy families who attended prestigious institutions in pursuit of the truth, only to become stenographers for the preferred narrative. I’m speaking specifically here of NPR, CNN, MSNBC, etc, places where reporting goes to die a death not dissimilar to solo auto-erotic asphyxiation (on a door). Today News Africa is different: there is no pillow talk between reporters and officials (CNN to Psaki replacement Karine Jean-Pierre plus others), no extravagant budgets, and no Joy Reid demonic rage-bait posted onto internet video channels. Access is extremely expensive and Simon – unverified by Twitter and whose willingness to work the beat once saw him arrested on suspicion of spying for Boko Haram – has to work very hard.
Simon was subsequently ignored by the unlikable Psaki so many thoughtful, legitimate questions involving America’s relationship with Africa went unasked. When Vladimir Putin stupidly invaded Ukraine, it led to a refugee stampede. Simon noted the reports that black people living in Ukraine, many of them African immigrants, were being deprioritised and asked about this. Again, Psaki was dismissive and ambiguous, presumably because briefing instructions fed to her by Biden’s chief of staff excluded this feature of the war.
You could be forgiven for thinking then – and now – that America was irrationally obsessed with Ukraine and its oddball president. Biden’s party had done some peculiar things in the past two years when it came to race relations; the most grotesque being Nancy Pelosi’s theatrical attempt to kneel for nine minutes in front of cameras, unwittingly adorning cloth closely tied to slavery (!) but Africa has hardly featured on the administration’s agenda. Which made another of Simon’s questions uncomfortable: what about the civil war in Ethiopia?
Reports vary, but one scholar suggests the death toll in Ethiopia’s civil war sits somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000. By contrast, something like 3,000 Ukrainian citizens are reported to have died. According to Biden and his publicist, Russia’s war in Ukraine is single-handedly responsible for inflation, the skyrocketing price of fuel, meat, cars and property (something described as ‘Putin’s price hike’) and, soon, quite possibly, the shortage of baby formula in America. Something is beyond curious here. Even prior to the war, a poor country located in Eastern Europe was indirectly involved in an impeachment and the sitting – or sleeping – president’s son was a director of a notoriously corrupt gas company there. America’s aid, in less than six months, has just exceeded $50bn.
By ignoring Simon’s questions, Psaki has confirmed what we know to be true: that Biden joint is greedy and talentless, staffed by talentless, vacuous identarians who have no real concern with peace if it can’t advance the interests of its donor class. So, they overcompensate in other themes, notably the culture war. Consider here the first words Psaki employed to introduce her replacement Jean-Pierre: “Karine will be the first black, female openly LGBTQ+…” Just an overwhelming emphasis on appearance.
It fell to Psaki’s final briefing on Friday. Simon spoke over Psaki’s favourite little stenographers, raising their and her ire. What she probably hoped was something of a victory lap to send her onto her seven-figure deal with the embarrassingly shit MSNBC proved to be an indignant mess: this time, Simon refused to be overlooked, and once again the spectacle revealed an administration and its media supporters fraught with hypocrisy and double-standards, for whom honest questions from honest journalists are awkward, or worse, just unimportant.
- Simon Lincoln Reader works and lives in London. You can follow him on Substack.
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