If you drive north from Khartoum along a narrow desert road toward the ancient city of Meroe, a breathtaking view emerges from beyond the mirage: dozens of steep pyramids piercing the horizon. No matter how many times you may visit, there is an awed sense of discovery. In Meroe itself, once the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, the road divides the city. To the east is the royal cemetery, packed with close to 50 sandstone and red brick pyramids of varying heights; many have broken tops, the legacy of 19th-century European looters. To the west is the royal city, which includes the ruins of a palace, a temple and a royal bath. Each structure has distinctive architecture that draws on local, Egyptian and Greco-Roman decorative tastes—evidence of Meroe’s global connections.
Off the highway, men wearing Sudanese jalabiyas and turbans ride camels across the desert sands. Although the area is largely free of the trappings of modern tourism, a few local merchants on straw mats in the sand sell small clay replicas of the pyramids. As you approach the royal cemetery on foot, climbing large, rippled dunes, Meroe’s pyramids, lined neatly in rows, rise as high as 100 feet toward the sky. “It’s like opening a fairytale book,” a friend once said to me.
Women were raped. Children were burned to death. Some people were even forced at gunpoint to eat the flesh of their dead relatives. The horror has been meticulously documented. Still, it goes on.
Gettleman’s gratuitous tweet may have been meant as clickbait. But seen in the context of his other pieces from the region, it fits a pattern. It was a dog whistle, meant to take us back to a time when callous dehumanization of Africans was commonplace, including in the most highbrow of outlets. From the DRC, to Kenya, to Uganda, Gettleman’s writings read like the works of a careless journalist who, for whatever reason, does not think that dehumanizing the subjects of his pieces is wrong.
It’s almost as if he intentionally wants to beat Joseph Conrad in producing piles and piles of horse manure on his imagined idea of what Africa and Africans are about.
It is a shame that, in 2017, the Times continues to feed this stuff to its readers.