Rajeh Omaar, a distinguished African journalist working for Arab satellite television channel, Aljazeera, says China’s increasing influence in Africa is likely to be a factor for good as the West can no longer remain disinterested in what goes on in Africa.
In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Omaar said Africa’s misfortune has been a failure by the west to differentiate between the many countries that make up the continent.
“It is unfortunate that many people in the West are still not able to differentiate say between Botswana and Ethiopia or Nigeria for that matter,” said Omaar.
The result, he said, has been a tendency to paint the whole continent with the same brush.
He acknowledged that for most of the time the mainstream media in the West only covers negative stories from Africa, like war, famine and HIV/AIDS.
He said that is however bound to change since many Western countries are worried by China’s increasing influence in Africa.
China’s policy to Africa is markedly different from that of the West.
China likes to see and regard African countries and governments as equals, and has resisted the temptation to impose its own descriptions of democracy and human rights on the continent.
Ironically, the West has seized on this kind of “see no evil, speak no evil” relationship and criticised China for an obsession with Africa’s natural resources even if it meant turning a blind eye against human rights excesses by some dictatorial governments in Africa.
Omaar, who has covered Africa extensively in his career as a BBC correspondent, said there is no questioning that Africa is on the march in social and economic transformation.
“There is a transformation that is unstoppable. For all the steps backwards, there has been a lot of progress made,” he said.
He said the arrival of mobile phones in Africa has brought about a kind of change that was unimaginable only a few years ago.
“The biggest problem has been that for a long time Africa did not matter to the outside world. That is set to change. In fact with the arrival of China, the West is really worried and the dynamics are changing really fast. All of a sudden the West is asking itself just ‘why does Africa matter to China?’” he said.
A native Somali, Omaar said Somalia has for the last 20 years not received enough international attention because many Western countries could not see how anarchy in that East African country affected them directly.
“That is also changing because in the United Kingdom, for example, there are many young British Somalis who have been radicalized. That is proving a problem for the United Kingdom and all of a sudden we are seeing the British Government getting more interested in bringing stability and peace to Somalia,” he said.
Somalia has not had a stable government for close to twenty years now, and the radical religious elements have lately been using the country as a base from where to attack Western interests.
An award-winning correspondent, Omaar was born in Mogadishu.
He began his journalistic career as a trainee for London’s The Voice newspaper. In 1991, he moved to Ethiopia where he freelanced as a foreign correspondent, working mainly for the BBC World Service. A year later, he returned to London to work as a producer and broadcast journalist for the BBC. He moved to South Africa after having been appointed the BBC’s Africa correspondent before joining Aljazeera as their Middle-Eastern correspondent.
Starting this month Omaar is set to front a new series for Aljazeera called “The Rajeh Omaar Report” which will see him exploring international issues and stories that have been ignored by much of the mainstream media.