Reported by Gabrielle Bennett, Alexandra Kornspan, Kelly Mealey, Jaclyn Nicholson (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
The British American Tobacco Company (BAT) is currently increasing its presence in several African countries, and has created a monopoly which has been heavily covered by corporate media. NBC, CNN, and Fox News have all covered this event, and discuss the impacts it has brought on the economy. However, our mainstream media has failed to cover the more pressing issue that has had a detrimental effect on the countries being imposed by the BAT, which is the fact that the production and consumption of tobacco is disrupting the education of students in several African countries.
All corporate coverage of this topic focuses on the effects the BAT has had on specific African countries’ economic systems, including Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is no mention on how the monopoly is detrimentally affecting the education of the youth in these countries. However, the independent news sources of Aljazeera and The Guardian uncover this hidden, yet severely important story. In the affected countries, students’ education is regularly being interrupted by BAT vendors giving away free cigarettes paired with candy to students multiple times a day on their route to and from school. Children also leave school to work alongside their families in the tobacco fields to increase the their economic stability. According to the Aljazeera article, these children are not only removed from their education, but become subject to dangerous labor, physical strain and toxins that cause nicotine poisoning. By pulling children out of school at such a young age and introducing them to a life of dangerous work, their illiteracy worsens and the likeliness that they will remain in this lifestyle as adults lacking proper education skyrockets.
The value of education persists in many countries all over the word, yet as of December 2017, the mainstream media has left this issue in the shadows and instead covers only how the tobacco monopoly affects the economy in many African countries. Besides coverage brought up by scarce independent sources such as Aljazeera and The Guardian, why are there no conversations about complete robbery of education in these countries if it is such an universal asset to have? The vicious cycle of single story narratives as well as child exploitative practices will continue worldwide until mainstream media concentrates on reporting and facilitating honest media coverage on these kinds of issues.
Boseley, Sarah. “Threats, bullying, lawsuits: tobacco industry’s dirty war for the African market.” The Guardian, July 12, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/12/big-tobacco-dirty-war-africa-market
“Malawi’s Children of Tobacco.” Aljazeera, January 16, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2014/01/malawi-children-tobacco-2014114957377398.html.