- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

Kofi in Ghana

Barely a month out of office as U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan already is coming under heavy pressure in his homeland to run for president in the Ghanaian elections next year, freelancer Karen Palmer reported on our front page about a week ago.

Rapturous crowds greeted Mr. Annan on his first visit to Accra since stepping down at the U.N., and several broad hints were dropped that the presidency could be his for the asking. There is even a Web site called www.draftkofiannan2008.com, Miss Palmer wrote.

Mr. Annan, who has announced plans to establish a foundation and divide his time between Ghana and Sweden — the birthplace of his wife, Nane Maria — has repeatedly said he has no interest in entering politics.

But in a speech delivered in the Ghanaian capital, he sounded a lot like a candidate when he told excited listeners: “It is an exciting but challenging time to be African. I am joining hands with my fellow citizens to help lift Ghana to the bright future that can and must be ours.”

We thought it was a pretty interesting story and put it on our front page. Yet it appeared almost nowhere else in the American press, as far as I can tell from a search using the Google and Yahoo news sites.

The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse wire agencies filed short items, one of which was picked up by a California paper and by CNN; otherwise the story seems to have gotten little notice outside of the African continent.

I sometimes joke that the amount of news from a country is in direct proportion to the number of reporters who happen to be posted there. And in most African countries, there are very few, if any, reporters working for Western newspapers unless the unfortunate land is engulfed in some debilitating war, as in Somalia or Sudan.

Even Miss Palmer has to travel widely around the continent in order to sell enough stories to make it worth her while to remain as a freelancer in Africa. But the fact that we have her contributing to our pages at all stems from a fortuitous decision that we made more than a decade ago.

Pages to fill

That was when we introduced our daily “Briefing Pages,” including the page on which this column appears. The idea was to divide the world into seven regions and to give each region a full page of coverage on a particular day of the week. Later we reduced it to six regions so that we could have a day to focus on global issues that go beyond regional boundaries.

I was the editor in charge of preparing those pages at the time, and I began getting feedback from readers as soon as they were introduced. And to my surprise, the biggest reaction was to the Africa page.

There were a lot of people in the Washington area, I discovered, who were interested in Africa and deeply frustrated by the lack of coverage of the continent in the American press. “Do you mean to say you will have a whole page about Africa every week?” was the most frequent comment.

It was an eye-opening experience and inspired me to look for ways to improve our coverage from Africa. This was something I was happy enough to do anyway, because I and three other members of our foreign desk staff had worked on the continent or had a special interest in it.

More importantly, the existence of the Briefing Pages meant we had a place to put good stories about Africa and a need to go out looking for stories to fill that space. As a result, freelancers working in the continent soon learned that they could sell their stories to The Washington Times.

Over the years, we have developed an outstanding group of correspondents filing to us from all regions of Africa. That is why, when Mr. Annan when home to Ghana, there was a reporter there ready to file the story to The Times.

• David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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