My friend Justin was ready for an adventure after graduating from Arizona State University in 2008. He set off for Africa, where he spent four and a half months visiting Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, and Morocco. All this time, he chronicled his experiences on www.justinstravels.com. After a few entries I was hooked, and knew Justin would have plenty more tremendous stories to share upon his return to the United States. He’s finally home and was kind enough to answer a few questions about his observations—and interactions—with African media.
How in touch were you with the news in each country you visited?
One of the best inventions is Google Alerts… for weeks prior, and every day while in Africa, if I had access to e-mail I was able to find the latest and most up-to-date news everyday for each country summarized nicely for me in a daily e-mail. It was very easy to keep up to date. A news television station wasn’t always so hard to find in Senegal and Morocco, however I didn’t see a single TV in Mauritania.
Tell me about the media in Africa and your perceptions.
Senegal, The Gambia, and Morocco are up-to-date much to the same effect as the United States– local and national daily radio and TV broadcasts, and newspapers were very common. Mauritania was a little outdated. Radio is likely more common then television. I mostly paid attention to the news on the TV, which was the easiest source to find, but was entirely in French and occasionally Wolof, the local language, of which I spoke very little. Surprisingly, television in Senegal offers very up-to-date national news and information from neighboring countries. I did manage to catch the news in Morocco sometimes, off the Al-Gazires network. It was very interesting to see extreme “Muslim” news… you can pretty much picture FOX news in the states… only instead of Glenn Beck spreading fear of terrorists, you have a Muslim spreading fear of Americans… I may be wrong though… it was in a different language, but the visual cues were fairly clear.
Do you think the African media is effective in reaching everyday people?
The interesting thing about Africa is that there are many well-developed cities bustling with activity and well satiated with news and media… and then there are towns and villages far off into the Sahara desert, or the Baobab forests in Senegal, which have few, if any, televisions, and a much less frequent connection to news. I would say radio would be the most common medium. Is it effective in reaching everyone? No, but this is a major infrastructure and development issue.
Did you get a sense people knew what was going on in their country?
In Senegal I did, everyone seemed able to communicate very well about politics, economics, society, and the local environment/agriculture. I would say Morocco was the same, but again, Mauritania is in last place for this one.
Are there any African stories (other than Darfur) that you think are being underreported in the US media?
Major flooding kills thousands, waste management/removal creates vast fields of waste. Sometimes a village is built on top of them and people literally get pulled into garbage sink holes and die. There are major pollution issues… we think our environmental policies are bad/need improvement? There are also large issues surrounding energy. Dakar, Senegal witnessed several power-outages during the month of Ramadan. I got to participate in a riot to get the governments attention… tear-gas tastes horrible.
What was internet penetration like in the countries you visited?
Cyber cafe’s are EVERYWHERE, and fairly priced, even for locals (for tourists they are extremely cheap). Some households in Senegal and Morocco had their own internet connections as well, hostels/hotels sometimes had wireless. But overall, connections were much slower and less dependable.
Be sure to check out Justin’s site, www.justinstravels.com. He’s planning some big changes for it soon, too!