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I try not to be someone who thinks that what matters to me should matter to everyone. But I was on a bit of a rant this morning about the Canadian media’s slow uptake on the story of the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The personal setting for this comment is that my husband and I have a running competition about whose news sources are the best for picking up breaking stories. Since my husband is a CBC journalist, he is at a clear advantage when he’s at work and watching the wires for breaking news. But even when he’s at home, he’s usually first. I’ve been trying to suggest that I’ll get the big stories faster by following Twitter. But I have to admit that with his ears glued to either CBC or BBC, he almost always scoops me on the big stories.

So this morning, he woke me at 5 am with the news that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had died. It was first reported on Ethiopian television. Then the BBC broke the story just after midnight our time and CBC had been reporting it all night. I quickly checked the Globe and Mail and my other usual on-line news sources and was shocked by how few Canadian sources were carrying the story. The Globe finally posted the news at least 7 hours after it had been widely reported in Ethiopia. This is a pivotal event in one of the most heavily populated countries in the world. We should know about this as quickly as possible.

Now I happen to be interested in Ethiopia. So for me this is an important global event. But I think that other Canadians should consider it important as well. I was genuinely surprised at the slowly breaking coverage. I wonder if this reflects the fact that very few Canadian media outlets have a permanent Africa correspondent. Or is there a perception that critical events in sub-Saharan Africa are not important to Canadians? I believe that we ignore these events at our peril. A recent editorial at the Globe advised that our federal government would do well to note the growing economic potential on the continent of Africa. The possible lack of interest in today’s news out of Ethiopia may be one other indication that we risk missing some important opportunities to make connections in an region of ever-growing significance.

Why should we care about Ethiopia? Well I love the country for its extraordinary people, its unique food and its thirteen months of sunshine. But beyond that, here are a few other good reasons why Canada should care about what happens in Ethiopia:

  1. People: With a population of close to 90 million people, Ethiopia is the 14th largest country in the world. That’s a bigger population than that of Egypt, Germany, Iran, Germany, France, the United Kingdom or South Africa. We would know instantly if a national leader from that list died. So why aren’t we paying attention to Ethiopia? On the topic of population, it’s also worth noting that Canada’s Ethiopian community includes at least 20,000 people - according to the most recent census data.
  2. Economy: Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and according to UK-based economic experts Ernst & Young, it has one of the six fastest growing economies in the world! We should pay attention.
  3. Development: Through CIDA, Canada donated $147 million to projects in Ethiopia in 2010-2011. Though I believe we could do more, this is no small contribution. There have been dramatic improvements on many key health indicators (such as the maternal mortality rate) and yet important opportunities remain for Canada to collaborate in the effort to improve living conditions in the country.

It is my hope and prayer that the country of Ethiopia will have a peaceful period of transition to new leadership. As that happens, I hope Canadians will pay closer attention to this significant country. And if you hear breaking news that you think I should know about, keep me posted!

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