in the Nat Cath Reporter:
Any Western journalist who’s spent time in Africa knows the usual reaction when a local bumps into one of us: “Why don’t you report any good news about Africa? Can’t you find something to talk about beyond Africans starving or killing each other?”
There’s also a Catholic version of the complaint: “Can’t you do any story about the church in Africa other than condoms and AIDS?”
This came home for me in 2009, when Benedict XVI visited Cameroon. The trip was rich in content, including a dramatic challenge to corruption under the country’s strongman president Paul Biya and repeated expressions of the dynamism of a young and growing church. Yet the lone storyline in the Western press was the pope’s comment aboard the papal plane that condoms make AIDS worse.
As I wrote at the time, I’ve never covered a papal trip in which the experience on the ground and the story being told in the international media were as starkly in contrast, and it left a lot of African Catholics fuming.
At one stage during the trip, I was invited to speak to 30 or 40 young Catholics in Cameroon. They peppered me with questions about why journalists seemed almost deliberately to be distorting the story. Where I grew up, we would have said these folks were “spittin’ mad.”