Ethnic conflict, global capital, and framing

As elite India seeks to integrate the country into global flows of politics, capital, and more importantly, ideas, it is becoming increasingly important for consumers of these ideas (call it news if you will) to look beyond media frames about national and international events. We are often bombarded with frames of “ethnic conflict” in various parts of the world, which are often presented as problems of backward societies — societies ridden with historical tensions. These societies only come to our attention because they are somehow linked to violence (enacted by one group on the other or violence on the developed/civilised world, for example the Somali “piracy problem”). I have written about the Somali piracy issue earlier (link). Another issue that has long been raging, but has been framed as one of “ethnic rivalries” is the Congo “problem”. There is a tendency in the Indian media, like the US media, to rely on a) news agencies to provide foreign news; b) follow the agenda set by the government in coverage of international affairs. These tendencies are a function of media economics (cost cutting invariably leads to chopping of foreign new bureaus), commercialisation (sticking to dominant political and social frames), and ideological (newsroom cultures):

Writing in the London Review of Books, Slavoj Zizek argues:

In 2001, a UN investigation into the illegal exploitation of natural resources in Congo found that the conflict in the country is mainly about access to, control of and trade in five key minerals: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold. According to this investigation, the exploitation of Congo’s natural resources by local warlords and foreign armies was ‘systematic and systemic’. Rwanda’s army made at least $250 million in 18 months by selling coltan, which is used in cellphones and laptops. The report concluded that the permanent civil war and disintegration of Congo ‘has created a “win-win” situation for all belligerents. The only loser in this huge business venture is the Congolese people.’ Beneath the fa├žade of ethnic warfare, we thus discern the contours of global capitalism. (link)

From the Times of India, 25 Jan 2009

Eastern Congo has been wracked by violence since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled war across the border and Hutu militias who participated in the massacres of more than 500,000 mostly ethnic Tutsi civilians sought refuge in Congo.(link)

From the Times of India, 1 Mar 2008

Africa without doubt is an attractive destination for India, with Shipra Tripathi, Director & Head Africa, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), saying: “The economic content of the relationship between India and Africa is now building very fast, particularly after India’s liberalisation and the Indian private sector is looking overseas. Given the political stability there, Indian investors are no longer wary of treading there. And then, they have all the resources – right from minerals and forest to hydropower. This is the time to build a long-term sustainable economic relationship.” (link)

Is India slowly transforming into the US, with both policy and outlook reflecting national interests and pragmatism over insights, intellectualism, and morality. Links to coverage of Congo in Indian newspapers:

Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Hindu

One thought on “Ethnic conflict, global capital, and framing

  1. I agree that international agencies that rely information are usually biased towards the west and aim at serving their own interests. Africa is more than poverty and wars. Moreover, much as the west will not agree, disagreements between some countries in Europe(speaking different languages) are very similar to ‘ethnic’ tensions.

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