Monday, December 1, 2008

Debating issues underlying conflict in Africa, with special reference to Angola, Kenya and Zimbabwe. A one day conference held on Monday 1st December 2008 at 24 Greencoat Place, London SW1P 1RD.

Opening Address by William Porter, ICF Founder President 

Africa. Few of us in Britain do not have connections with Africa. My cousin John was a professor at Achimoto College in Ghana, and then became a farmer and a Member of the Legislative Council in Kenya. A niece organises wild-life tours in South Africa. Some of my French friends were brought up in Morocco. And I have trav­elled myself in Egypt. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and South Africa.

We cannot really apologise for the colonial exploitation and the development of the slave trade by our ancestors, but I do apolog­ise for the maintenance of an attitude of superiority and priority. 1n my earlier visits to Africa I carried an assumption that I was cleverer and knew better than the people who lived there. To me this view is now intolerable and I am deeply sorry.

Mankind was born in Africa. It is the well-spring of humanity. Wilberforce made some amends, which continued with the giving up of Empire by the colonial powers of Britain, France and Portugal after the end of World War 2, albeit often with bad grace. I still remember paying a War-in-Angola tax in Lisbon restaurants.

In all of our mixed motivations there is, nevertheless, an attachment to, and with many, an affection for the peoples of Africa - the beautiful smiles and colourful dresses of the womenfolk - the hard work and good humour of the men - an actual and latent intelligence.

If humanity was born in Africa, could it not be reborn in Africa today for-the benefit of our world society in this new century. After all, it cannot be said that Europe and the Western World made a good show of the 20th Century and its two World Wars and its Cold War.

From the view of the media we might be forgiven for thinking that Africa is tribal conflict, dictatorships, widespread corruption and AIDS. Thankfully Mandela saved the day and is almost certainly the most loved and respected living statesman of our time. I have visited his prison cell on Robben Island with reverence. There are many lesser stars, but they have also cast their light.

In the media we have exaggerated and promoted the problems and so brought resentment and anger to the millions who are suffering and striving to create a better day. What we must now promote in the media is, from “Africa, the problem continent” to “Africa, the answer continent”. Today at this meeting we are faced with three specific challenges in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Angola. Not only are you seeking to solve their problems, which is certainly the intention of today's event, but such solutions will bring not only answers to suffering, bloodshed and starvation, but will be a light-house to guide and ~inspire the rest of us. I pray that your discussions and decisions, personal and communal, will contribute sig­nificantly to that end.

Africa suffers from the greed and incompetence of our world business and financial leaders. It also suffers tram the inability of our pol­iticians and diplomats to seek out solutions with you and not for you. Africa will be raised by its own men and women, and the role of others will be to support and encourage and not to impose and sneer.

In the International Communications Forum we are working for our Western media to herald to the world the constructive effort and noble initiatives which are happening in Africa. I am reminded of the United States journalist Bob Webb, until recently the Chairman of the Washington Branch of the Society of Professional Journalists, who had been a supporter of white domination in the American South and a frequent user of negative stories from Africa, who underwent a change of motivation and who today writes “I began to write to heal rather than to hurt, to unite rather than to divide, and to bring people together rather than to drive them apart”. I had a similar experience as the Chief Executive of a publishing group, which led to my preparing honest accounts, stopping deceptive ad­vertising and putting in truthful expense accounts. Our lack of ad­herence to these ethical values, multiplied thousands of times in modern banking and business is at the root of the present world financial crisis. We have to clean up our own act one by one and then on to a massive scale.

That is why the theme of today's conference is very courageous, because in lifting the carpet we discover our own shortcomings as well as those whom we criticise. And when we have disposed of our own rubbish, we are in a better position to dispose that of others. The remaking of society begins with the remaking of ourselves.

To lift the role of the journalist from a scribe to being a re-maker of society I will briefly cite some practical examples: 

  • When the journalists of Canada’s leading daily, THE GLOBE & MAIL, were told that, when sent out to report on a problem situation, they should also look for efforts to bring about a solution and to report them with equal objectivity. 
  • When journalist John Bond set up and organised a national SORRY movement across Australia in relation to the injustices which had been imposed on the native Aboriginal population and which eventually led to a public apology by the Prime Minister.
  • When Fredrik Ramm, a Danish editor, used the influence of his national daily to resolve a source of deep division between his country and Norway.
  • When John Farquharson, reporting for the CANBERRA TIMES on the bloody conflict on Bougainville off the Papua New Guinea coast, used his association with the leaders of both sides to persuade them to get together to talk rather than to shoot, a solution was found.
  • When Graham Turner, one of Britain’s highest paid journalists, decided to be honest about his income tax and his expense account before criticising the dishonesty of leading politicians and businessmen his efforts were more effective.

In the work of the media, we cannot, of course, avoid the bad news, but we can give equal balance to the good, and many of my media friends are committed to just that. And we need your help and encouragement to achieve it. We did not come from another planet to report on the Earth’s self-destruction and then to return from whence we came. We are part of this society, with children, grandchildren and loved ones, for whom we would like to see a more secure and fairer world. It is an honour to be with you on day devoted to seeking constructive solutions. May the forces of good be with you. I salute Africa, I believe in Africa. In the coming years Africa can earn the gratitude of and give inspiration to our disfunctional society. Let’s get to work. 

William Porter