BARCELONA — In the midst of Europe’s largest mobile telephony conference Wednesday, an African entrepreneur interjected a wry critique of "American know-how" and provided participants at the 3GSM World congress a rare note of levity.
Mohamed Ibrahim, discussing the challenge of providing telecommunications services to rural Africa, disputed the stereotype of his native continent as violent and backward, an image that he said is fostered by international news organizations that thrive on video clips of riots, famine and war, especially in developing nations.
"Most Africans," said Ibrahim, "are very boring. And they don't go around killing."
To illustrate the skewed view that can result from a dependence on CNN and other all-news broadcast outlets, Ibrahim posed a familiar hypothetical situation: an alien on a spaceship logging onto the news from Earth during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year, when "all the news was coming out of New Orleans."
The alien would have seen, said Ibrahim, "all these black people sitting on the roofs of buildings with the water at their feet. And he would say, 'This is Sierra Leone!' And then he hears that the government is doing nothing. And he would say, 'This is Zambia!' And then he finds out there’s this thing called FEMA and it's not working. And then he finds out why– because the director is a friend of the President. And he says, Aha! That’s Kenya!"