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How They Portray Us

Tony Best
September 15th 2007

WHAT'S wrong with the following scenario? A region with some of the highest rates of human development that speak to escalating improvements in living standards: Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis, Antigua, Barbados - and their neighbours are struggling to get out from under a pile of debt. At the same time, some of the world's poorest nations have enormous stockpiles of hard currency, a fact that could draw looks of envy from Barbados, Guyana, Grenada and St Lucia, but certainly not Trinidad and Tobago.

Consider the numbers. With per capita incomes that are often five times greater than those of most sub-Saharan nations, many Caribbean states, Barbados and the Bahamas in particular, are often being told by international financial institutions they are "too well-off'' to merit aid.

Some examples. With a per capita income of US$17,159, The Bahamas is ranked among the leaders, much higher than Poland, the Russian Federation and the Ukraine. Barbados' $15,720 outdistances Slovakia's $13,494, Turkey's $6,772, and Brazil's $7,790. In sub-Sahara Africa, the region's average per capita income is less than $2,000.

When it comes to the quality of life, some of the world's highest levels can be found in Barbados, St Kitts-Nevis, The Bahamas, Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago in that order. They are in the top 60 nations in the world. The trouble is that the pile of debt accumulated by St Kitts-Nevis, for instance, is greater than the country's economy. Jamaica, Antigua and to a lesser extent Barbados and St Lucia are also saddled with a heavy debt load. Trinidad and Tobago is not and for good reason: energy reserves and a diversified economy.

Switch to Africa, by far the world's poorest region.

When the United Nations looked at human and income poverty and narrowed down its study in 2006 to 103 developing countries, Barbados, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Suriname and Guyana in that order were listed among the 31 Third World states with the best records of reducing poverty. But 20 of the 21 nations that were the worst off were in Africa.

In Sierra Leone, 68 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line between 1990 and 2003, compared with 61 per cent in Haiti; 18.7 per cent in Jamaica; 21 per cent in Trinidad and Tobago; and almost 30 per cent in the Dominican Republic. Barbados' poverty rate is 14 per cent, according to the Inter-American Development Bank

But poverty, disease, famine and calamity aren't the only stories about Africa. For example: - Sub-Sahara's international reserves have grown five-fold, going from US$21 billion in 1996 to US$108 billion last year. They are expected to skyrocket to US$131 billion this year. - The reserves of the oil producing African nations have risen from US$6 billion a decade ago to US$56 billion at the end of last year. By December they should be US$74 billion.

That's not the picture which international news organisations often paint of the Caribbean or Africa. Barbados and its neighbours aren't portrayed as places that are opening the doors to upward economic and social mobility for their people. Instead, they are seen merely as a playground for the rich. In the past 18 months, voters in St Lucia, The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands and Jamaica have used their ballots to throw out governments without tanks or soldiers lining the streets and using bullets to restore order afterwards. Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are preparing for general elections and the question of violence and disruption aren't a part of the equation.

In Africa, the "mainstream" international media have largely ignored the story of the region's economic successes while tales of corruption seem to be on far too many editors' minds in the industrialised nations.

In recent years in New Jersey and Connecticut incumbent governors, mayors and other top elected official have been forced out of office because of corruption. Some were marched off to jail while others may be on their way. Still, there is no suggestion that corruption is a statewide problem.

In Africa, a story about wrongdoing in Zimbabwe, Guinea Bissau or the Central African Republic is presented to an international audience as evidence of widespread corruption on the African continent but not as malfeasance in a particular country.

That's why developing countries, Barbados among them, must nurture and invest in their own mass media institutions and why journalists in these countries must resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon effect created by the large media organisations in the rich countries to denigrate Africa and to a lesser extent the Caribbean.

Courtesy of Barbados Nation


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