The FT correspondent in SA is reporting on the UK as if it’s an African country - and it’s hilarious
- A Financial Times correspondent in South Africa is tweeting about the UK's political crisis as if it were an emerging market.
- The result is a hilarious, and sometimes painful, parody of western reporting on foreign countries.
- The thread comes amid continuous frustration on the continent about the way it is portrayed in the international media.
What would it look like if the UK covered its own current political turmoil like it's a crisis in a poor country?
That's the entertaining - and for Africans, often painfully resonant - premise of a long-running Twitter thread on the Brexit crisis by the Financial Times' Southern African correspondent.
Two years ago, Johannesburg-based Joseph Cotterill started tweeting about the UK crisis in the instantly recognisable breathless tone of a western journalist in a foreign land.
He describes the Brexit developments in terms - "tribal", "purges", "factional", "strongman" "regime", "plotting" etc - usually reserved for reports about failing states in underdeveloped regions, occasionally adding references to "local colour".
It's a mixture of exoticism and overstated drama that Cotterill himself calls "emerging-marketese" - and he gets it exactly right.
It started in April 2017, when former UK Chancellor (and foe of prime minister Theresa May) George Osborne resigned as MP to become full-time editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper.
This was Cotterill's tweet:
A liberal opponent of the premier within the ruling party stepped down as a legislator. He will retain editorial control of a mouthpiece.— Joseph Cotterill (@jsphctrl) April 19, 2017
What followed was a long thread, constantly updated as new developments in the "regime" unfolded.
"Regime rhetoric - allegedly crafted by a western PR firm - has been promoting a personality cult around the "strong and stable" premier." (In May 2017, when May constantly used the term "strong and stable" when describing her government - in a single speech she referred to 'strong' 28 times and 'stable' 15 times.)
"Alarms were raised over rumours the premier is about to purge the finance minister over a factional dispute." (Also in May 2017, amid reports that the Chancellor Philip Hammond could lose his job.)
"Evidence of so-called 'state capture' mounted over a minister's mysterious visit to the Middle East to discuss access to government contracts, with the country's scandal-prone premier allegedly complicit." (November 2017, when questions were raised about a UK minister's visit to Israel.)
"There were questions over whether the country’s independent election commission has the capacity to investigate claims that a shadowy western PR firm manipulated recent polls." (In March 2018, when connections between controversial firm Cambridge Analytica and the official Brexit campaign were revealed.)
"Heartwarming story of how a western investment bank is working with traditional religious leaders to bring mobile connectivity to some of the country’s most isolated provinces."(In June 2018, when the Church of England said it would work with Goldman Sachs to add cellphone masts to its churches.)
BREAKING - Reports that Politburo members have barricaded themselves into a rural stronghold, part of an apparent ‘last stand’ as the crisis in the regime mounts.— Joseph Cotterill (@jsphctrl) July 6, 2018
(In July 2018, May hosted a cabinet breakaway weekend at a country home.)
"Western powers began to detail contingency plans for looming institutional collapse in the country."
(Also in July 2018, the European Commission warned its member states to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.)
Most of the tweets were presumably fired off from Cotterill's current base in Johannesburg, but some of the most hilarious came while he returned home to the UK:
At a tense time of the year, with many travelling ahead of a religious festival, I’ve made it through the country’s forbidding Border Force. I decided to ‘embed’ with this local news operation based in a grim building on the capital’s seedy riverfront. pic.twitter.com/BA8HSpktic— Joseph Cotterill (@jsphctrl) December 20, 2018
Cotterill's thread comes amid continuous frustration on the continent about the way it is portrayed in the media.
This week, there was outrage in Kenya after the New York Times and the Daily Mail published photos of dead bodies following the Nairobi attack. Commentators pointed out that the publications did not publish similar photos of victims after attacks in the US and Europe, but that it was somehow okay to show African bodies in an explicit way.
Three years ago, amid outrage that CNN described Kenya as a "terror hotbed", the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN trended across the continent, with many pointing out instances of overdramatic misreporting about Africans.
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