Shock, but No Awe

African press reaction to the war in Iraq has followed the strong antiwar stance of a continent where only four countries—Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda—joined the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing.”

Though few papers went as far as South Africa's liberal Mail & Guardian in calling U.S. President George Bush “a whore who, more than any of his 42 predecessors, has prostituted himself to his country’s industrial interests” (March 20), there was widespread consensus that the war was unjustified and immoral. In Kenya, where many feared terrorist reprisals as a result of war, the independent Daily Nation (March 30) called the conflict “a war of dubious legitimacy, opposed by almost the entire world.”

Criticism also redounded on major U.S. and British media outlets, which were seen as pliant and nonobjective. “The mainstream American news media…have framed the so-called war on terrorism and the war in Iraq within the confines of official America,” wrote Peter G. Mwesige in Uganda's independent The Monitor (April 10). In explaining why it had chosen to publish a photograph of a dead Iraqi child, Ghana's privately-owned The Accra Daily Mail wrote (April 8), “[The BBC and CNN’s] coverage is blatantly slanted to suit their countries’ war efforts….They tell us about the smartness of bombs and the benevolence of their forces but hold back on the real blood and gore of innocent lives being lost.”

But there was fear that African countries would be punished for not backing the United States, with plans such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development suffering. “The last two years had been dominated by international focus on African development….But the attack on Iraq and the consequences to follow can only dampen the international enthusiasm,” wrote Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem in Zimbabwe's pro-opposition Daily News (April 3). In Nigeria, speculation abounded that U.S. military assistance had been suspended on Feb. 20 due to the country’s antiwar stance, though the official reason given was human-rights abuses.

Particularly galling for many in Africa was the announcement in early April that the U.S. Congress had approved a supplemental war appropriations bill of around US$75 billion. “That money…could save all the children in Africa, if not the world, from disease and hunger,” editorialized Sierra Leone's independent Standard Times (April 7). On April 7, James Morris, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, told the U.N. Security Council that an appeal for emergency food aid for Africa was $1 billion short, while one for Iraq is expected to draw $1.3 billion in six months. Forty million people in Africa face imminent starvation, Morris said, whereas in Iraq most families still have a one-month supply of food.