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Opinion: More to cover in Africa than soccer

Western media are missing a big story in Africa, and it's not the World Cup.

Ghana player Asamoah Gyan
Ghana's Asamoah Gyan waves to soccer fans during his team's visit to Soweto, July 4, 2010. The success of South Africa's World Cup highlights just how much the Western news media ignores Africa. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

ANTIBES, France — Billions of viewers around the world are glued to TV sets to watch the 2010 World Cup. It's the biggest media event in the world, though not in the United States. The International Broadcast Center in Johannesburg has welcomed 13,000 journalists to cover the competition.

The irony in this media overkill is that as far as most Western news organizations are concerned, it might as well be happening on the moon. Under normal circumstances, they pay little attention to what happens on the African continent.

There are exceptions of course. Reuters provides business coverage of Africa. The Associated Press has correspondents in a few African capitals, despite budget cuts, as do CNN International and Al Jazeera English. GlobalPost, a relative newcomer, boasts 18 freelance and contributing correspondents on the continent.

But the mainstream Western media still consider Africa to be a backwater. Most have no full time correspondents based there. And when they do run reports on Africa, it is almost always bad news.

The rest of the world could be forgiven for thinking of Africa as starving children with swollen bellies, masses of miserable refugees, unspeakably savage wars and greedy dictators who stash their ill gotten gains in Swiss banks. The western media usually assume that nothing else about Africa could possibly interest their viewers and readers, except perhaps an occasional National Geographic type feature about wild animals or exotic native folklore.

So it's a breakthrough of sorts that the World Cup coverage has shown world class sports facilities in an African nation and even glimpses of a rising African middle class that is bound to change the future of the continent. Unfortunately, Americans are missing much of this because their networks don't like soccer.

Why, you might ask, should we care if most of the time the Western media fails to tell us what is really happening in Africa? The answer is that Western entrepreneurs and investors may be missing the next big thing in emerging markets because of the patronizing and stereotyped views promoted by the media.