Media coverage of royal wedding reveals how colonised our minds are

Wednesday May 4 2011


Hardly a fortnight after the China-Africa Media Conference in Nairobi in which the African media were urged to “decolonise” their style and content, Kenyan TV stations, newspapers, and radio broadcasts were awash with the news of the British Royal wedding.

There was nothing wrong with Prince William and Catherine Middleton, exchanging marital vows at the Westminster Abbey before world cameras on April 29.

But Kenyan journalists focused on the splendour so much that they revealed how deeply colonised we are.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that nothing newsworthy was happening in Kenya at the time, as most media houses suspended their daily programming to beam the pageantry live.

The media helped us fantasise about a similar fanfare in our own lives, even if we would have to hustle our friends and relatives with calls for pre-wedding donations to finance the copy-cat circus.

Kenyan media weren’t worried that even if there are about 1.5 million Black Britons, there were barely any black people to be seen on TV.

The media focused on the mainstream race. Our own Charles Njonjo, who attended the wedding, was nowhere to be seen on the screen.

After scouring the footage, I spotted only two black children in the choir. Playing the role of an obsequious colonial subject, the Kenyan media did not ask questions.

They just fed to us the images as they came from Europe. At least the popular American show, The View, raised the question about racial representation at the wedding.

Sherri Shepherd, one of the hosts of The View, searched for black people and found them to be segregated at the front of the congregation. They were rarely shown on the screen.

Given the dominance of this group by men, it is probable that the black guests were African and Caribbean high-level diplomats.

It was a wedding, but the royal protocol had no room for spouses. The diplomats had to go stag.

Some bloggers were offended by Shepherd’s questions. They said blacks across the globe were jealous because they had no culture worth writing home about.

The absence of black commoners from the screen, except one black woman who was probably a new arrival from the Third World and was dancing herself lame in the white sea of humanity outside the Abbey, was a bold reminder that we were watching a white wedding.

And that, as Paul Gilroy reminds us, there is no black in the Union Jack. It was all right for Britain to celebrate.

Indeed, Black Britons were extremely happy. I am only shocked that the media from a formerly colonised nation should waste space and airtime with a wedding from which they have nothing to gain apart from fleecing media consumers by selling escapist images of glamour.

At the China-Africa Media Conference, it was agreed that the heavy reliance on Western news agencies has shaped the worldview of Africa.

The only news emanating from the continent is disaster pornography, whereby the media gratify their Western audiences with images of droughts, starvation, war, disease and poverty in Africa.

In this media porn, western governments, NGOs, and celebrities are usually presented as angels of mercy to save us from ourselves.

It is as if they should adopt our children and cart them to Europe and America if the young ones are to have any future.

The media must lead us from the proclivity for self-colonialism. Due to the trauma of colonialism, we tend to view ourselves as civilised when we follow Western values. To question colonialism is to be crazy or plain primitive.

During the wedding, Kenyan commentators were obsessed with whether the royals would spend their honeymoon in Kenya.

Even if they will, only Westerners and a few local elites control Kenya’s tourist industry.

That’s why communities living near game parks are still poor and will never see the royals were they to visit.

Prof Mwangi teaches at Northwestern University in Evanston, USA ([email protected])