Sunday, July 26, 2009



Erin Burnett (who may have the nicest, most enigmatic, and most persistent smile on television) did an extraordinary report on Africa on CNBC.

The focus of the show (at least the title) was investment in Africa; the coverage itself was actually far broader.

Reporting in the US is mostly local, some national, a bit about Europe, a little about world terrorism, some reports of wars, and an occasional mention of a celebrity doing something somewhere else in the world, perhaps Africa. Erin's program and her other daily reports while she was travelling, may have had more broadcast time about Africa than all other reports on Africa, cumulatively, on all channels combined for months or years.

Flitting around from topic to topic, and country to country, and wearing outfit after outfit, looking cool and comfortable even while talking about 102 degree temperature, the report was coherent, visually interesting, intellectually honest, and as comprehensive as you can be when talking about a whole continent and dozens of countries in an hour.

Aside from the script, the opportunity to see Africa and Africans (in a context other than Wild Animals or Superstar Dramatic Films) was revealing.

The biggest opportunities in Africa include tourism, a wealth of natural resources (including oil, diamonds, and special minerals needed for manufacturing), agricultural exports, and the need to build infrastructure.

The problems for Africans and investors include the lack of infrastructure, crime (including corruption, violence, kidnapping, and the diversion of resources), illness (including AIDS and malaria), wars, unstable governments, and unemployment.

Several people interviewed pointed to job creation as the major need, one that could itself help alleviate some of the other problems, and pointed out that certain kinds of aid (eg gifts of food, and medical assistance) do not attack job creation.

Other comments on "aid" to Africa, separate from this show (for example in Bamako, a movie shown at the NYFF, and Stiglitz' book, Making Globalization Work) have noted other problems: including unfair contracts with western companies that extract resources, and stipulations by international agencies when giving aid that ends up doing more harm than good to education and health, and leaves a residue of debt.

It's a fine program. Erin did a great job as reporter and executive producer. More broadcast time should be devoted to Africa, and the rest of the world.

In addition to the program, CNBC has a
website with addtional information about Africa.

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