Building the perfect leader
The victims are African migrants in South Africa who do thankless jobs like waitressing with no job security and salary but depending on “tips” only; the victims are also garden boys and those who sell products in the streets of city centres; and so on. Thus breaking it down further, these xenophobic attacks can be viewed as poor on poor violence.
As stated earlier, these so called xenophobic attacks are merely a symptom of a false sense of African nationalism. This African nationalism came as a result of the boundar-
RECENT rumours about North Korean textbooks exhorting a young Kim Jong Un’s prowess as a driver and sailor have sparked a renewed cycle of blogs and articles musing on just how weird North Korea is. Why is their propaganda so odd? Do they believe it all?
When it comes to lionised feats of the leaders, there are two kinds of tales that we hear, as non-koreans. The first are the “real’ legends, i.e. those actually propagated by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). These are usually quite incredible, but not unbelievable.
So, for example, we’re told that the dynasty’s founder, Kim Il Sung, wrote patriotic slogans in beautiful calligraphy at age three and founded a proto-political party at age 13. Kim Jong Il was born on the sacred slopes of Mt Baekdu and as a middle school student repaired trucks while also organizing ideological study sessions.
These kinds of stories are primarily meant for the domestic audience to convince them of the merits of their uniquely qualified leaders. Education on Kim Jong Un’s exploits will certainly be growing.
The second kind of myth exists almost exclusively in international media and often consists of truly unbelievable tales. The best example is, of course, the “Kim Jong Il got 18 holes-in-one the first time he golfed” story.
This appears to have been generated during an in-country conversation with a visiting journalist, according to friends of mine present. It has since become cannon.
You can read varying versions of it, always attributing it to “North Korean media” or “North Korean propaganda,” but invariably ies that were created by colonialists in yesteryears.
The balkanisation of Africa into “states” created the paradigm of Africans only identifying themselves as nationals of a particular country and not necessarily as Africans with a common heritage and identity.
Most are well aware of the Berlin Conference of 1884 in which the colonial powers apportioned Africa for themselves by cutting up the continent like a piece of meat thereby creating the African countries as we know them today.
The end results of such a process linking to some other Western media, if there is a citation at all. Kim Jong Il scoring a perfect 300 the first time he bowled is another such tale.
North Koreans have never, ever heard of these stories, unless they’ve been told them by a foreigner. They exist purely in a fantasy version of North Korea we too often indulge in. We let this version take hold for several reasons.
First, the bar is exceptionally low for journalism on North Korea. It is a difficult place to cover, no doubt, but to all too many journalists this seems to mean a free pass.
There is no punishment for getting it wrong. With Kim Jong Il’s golf story, for example, everyone just knows the tale; there is no need to find out if it is actually true.
Second, South Korean journalism on North Korea is problematic — we should remember the two countries are locked in a 70-year propaganda war.
The South Korean journalistic culture allows for stories to be built around a single anonymous source, so without attribution or cross-checking, this leaves reporters open to a higher degree of manipulation or to exaggeration.
Meanwhile, many Western news outlets are quite happy to quote South Korean articles as authoritative.
Finally, it is undeniably a strange culture are the perpetuation of Afrophobia with Africans in everlasting conflicts with one another. Meanwhile, the resources of Africa continue to end up in the in the hands of the erstwhile colonisers. And with the latter we can apply the analogy that when Europeans came to Africa they had Bible and we had the land.
When they said lets close our eyes and pray, we realised that after saying “Amen” they now had the land and we had the Bibles. In short, the boundaries of African states today are a result of foreign imperialists and not an African construct. There- to most of us, with information controls that are unparalleled in the 21st century that make it hard to get reliable information. They also have customs and rhetoric that are often extreme or do not conform to our standards. Kids in the DPRK do sing songs for “their father Kim Jong Un,” for example.
Koreans still engage in self-criticism sessions, a ritual long gone elsewhere. The state media did refer to U.S. President Barack Obama in racist terms last year.
This strangeness drives a seemingly insatiable demand for news on the place, as editors well know. North Korea drives clicks in this contemporary media environment.
As audiences, we drive weak journalism onward: we love to read about the place because we just can’t believe what they’re saying or doing.
But do North Koreans believe it? As for the Kim Jong Un stories — it is hard to know whether they are even true or not. In trying to find out, one can follow the Huffington Post quoting UPI quoting South Korean TV quoting a textbook that nobody has as evidence.
It seems unlikely that North Korean textbooks really are claiming Kim could drive at age three, as this is pretty much physically impossible. But beating an adult in a sailing race when 9-years old? Sure, why not?
More broadly, there are over 24 million people in the DPRK. There are trusting people, cynical people, simple people and smart people. How they interact with the information environment they face very much depends on who they are as individuals.
Generally, however, it is fair to say most people accept the stories of their leaders’ heroics as the truth. But we should remember that the stories they hear are usually not as weird as the ones we hear.
Andray Abrahamian is director of Choson Exchange, a Singaporean non-profit that trains North Koreans in entrepreneurship, economic policy and law. He is a Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia. — Reuters