When A Tree Falls In The Forest, Does It Make A Sound?
Posted on August 9, 2012
By Cynthia E. Ofori-Dwumfuo
When a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? A fortnight ago in an “obscure” African country, the sitting president unexpectedly died. By any comparative account this is no small matter. While for the rest of the world, this event was less momentous, in Ghana where it occurred, the earth shifted.
President John Evans Atta-Mills ascended to presidency in 2009 after suffering two previous electoral defeats. Though he had a reputation for being humble and amiable, he was often vilified by the Ghanaian media and opposition for being too accommodating and unnecessarily contemplative. He is credited with being partially responsible for the nation’s 2011 IMF ranking as the world’s fastest-growing economy. Within a matter of hours of his death, before an emergency session of parliament, the then vice president was sworn in as president, thereby sealing the brief vacuum of power, all without incident.
Away from home, yet a keen follower of local affairs, I found myself looking from the outside in. I was a virtual participant in the outpouring of emotion; myself and the anonymous people on various social media who made his death a trend for the day. Unsurprisingly, social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook acted as the perfect conduit for the exchange of information, commiserations and the call to action for renewed patriotism.
Here’s the thing. Even though “#RIPMills” was trending worldwide, it wasn’t because the world was reacting to the news, but because Africans in the diaspora were going online to do so. The first breaking news item appeared on CNN almost an hour later, and by the time it was a full blown news item, it was also a dying story for traditional media. The unfortunate truth being that African “good news” stories don’t make headlines.
This event furnishes an illustration of the self-ownership of news stories by people not normally represented on the world stage. On account of social media, Africans abroad gained participatory roles in setting the national agenda. Lessons on advocacy were advanced by the use of social media during the minutes and days following the death, as Ghanaians and Africans took to their online spaces to call for a unified front or to denounce any ignorant and negative voices. As an advocacy tool, social media is providing the checks, balances and platform for calls to action – as evidenced by the global conversation following this incident, conducted by Africans and moderated by Africans.
Did you know?
Interesting fact: Coincidentally, all four presidents of modern Ghana’s fourth republic were named John: John Rawlings, John Kufour, John Atta-Mills, and now, John Mahama.
The significance of the death and smooth transition afforded confidence in the possibility of strengthening democratic credentials across the continent. For the “good news story” that Ghana is, the silver lining of the death was the chance to prove that democratic structures in Ghana are solid and working, providing a breath of fresh air in the stale arena that is Africa’s stereotypical reputation as a place of strife and disease.
The death of Ghana’s president may not have made an obvious impact here in the United States, but the un-heralded consequences of this event are underlying in African and world politics. Any insecurity ultimately affects the world’s socio-economic and political food-chain. When a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Yes. And when the birds flee the monstrous sound it makes, they take to flight in open skies for us all to see.
Cynthia E. Ofori-Dwumfuo is an Intern with the VOX Dallas office.