Living in far-away places that are overlooked or merely unknown to my fellow western countrymen and women, I often find myself confused, if not appalled, by the corresponding media coverage they are served with. It is mostly scarce and seems to be presented to them only every once in a while; say for instance when this far-away Prime Minister comes to meet our head of state to discuss, among other things, increasing bilateral economic and military cooperation. It is more importantly vague, hastily researched and often biased.
One can easily argue that far-away places are no concern to us in general, and whatever the improvements in global transports and communications means, they will never make it to our top interests. There are too many priorities keeping us busy closer to home. The occasional piece on this distant region or that remote market is likely to remain occasional and somewhat exotic.
It is when I dive into this occasional piece that invariably comes for me a moment of doubt and confusion: so many erroneous details, so many sentences and affirmations that are deprecating, self-sufficient, if not filled with a neo-colonial stench that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. But then I find myself saying that these are only details. The bulk of it translates, in some way, the atmosphere of the country I am experiencing every day. Should I care, then, so much for details? Should I not glorify the news outlet that takes some time to talk about that country that nobody, up north, cares about?
The answer is yes, I should indeed care. The why could be argued and rationalised at length, but it could also be summarized in one single point: it is the sum of details that makes the big picture and if the details are erroneous, so is the big picture.
The latest article that profoundly stunned me was published last week on Le Monde’s website under the title “Ethiopie: Le nouveau Far East”. Trying to portray Addis Ababa in a new and positive, development-oriented way, the journalist, Florence Beaugé, indulges instead in the customary benevolently paternalistic terminology used to talk about a famine and poverty-stricken Ethiopia, known to all in the West. Hence, the journalist feels the urge to start her piece by a paragraph emphasizing that the middle-class here in the capital has “a fierce will to pull through, to do well”; as if it is were a special feature of poor African people to want to succeed in life; as if it were just a wishful thinking that never materialises in Africa. She later takes the time to state that pupils in one of Addis’ elite private school are “clean, well-behaved and in good health”, far from the savages she was apparently expecting to find. The broader picture she depicts is one of good, hopeful and hard-working people living in an ideal country moving forward to escape from its famine-ridden image towards catching up with some fantasised developed nations. Progress is carried by goodwill Diaspora members who bring back know-how and financial means to the otherwise ill-equipped but well-governed land. Ending on a ‘matter’ of regional African politics, the journalist is not, unfortunately, informed enough to know that the Organisation of African Unity was replaced by the African Union eleven years ago…
So what to do, then, with such articles? It could have been worse, although it could not have been more paternalistic. It will surely serve its purpose: that is to boost Ethiopian-French diplomatic relationships and economic partnerships. It does not give, however, a good account of Addis-Ababa and its ‘futuristic buildings’.