A media vacuum in EthiopiaBy CHARLES OMONDI in Addis Ababa | Sunday, January 30 2011 at 12:28
A message to media moguls, especially newspaper owners: Ethiopia is a vast virgin territory crying out for serious suitors.
Consider these facts: Ethiopia is one of the largest countries in Africa and the second most populous state in sub-Saharan Africa with a population of 85 million.
Its capital, Addis Ababa, is the home of the 53-member African Union headquarters. There is a sizeable expatriate population serving at either the AU or individual state embassies, and that means an obvious market for quality newspapers.
Majority of Ethiopians are below the age of 40, the lot with the highest affinity to drive a consumer society economy.
Yet the Horn of Africa state has no national publication that can be considered top quality even in Africa. It has only three dailies; two state-owned and one private.
The Ethiopian Herald (English) and Addis Zaman (Amharic) are the government papers. Though they trace their origins to the 1940s, few believers in quality journalism have much respect for them.
Typical of most Third World publications with similar ownership, the Herald and Addis Zaman are largely perceived as government mouthpieces with a specific ruling elite’s agenda to advance.
Their design is amateurish and would certainly be uncompetitive in a more diverse market environment.
The private Daily Monitor is sold by subscription only, mostly to institutions, leaving a huge market segment hungry for independent and balanced reporting.
However, any investor in the Ethiopian media market must be smart enough to convince the Meles Zenawi-led government that they mean no harm to social harmony or state order.
Indeed the government’s perception of independent media as a threat has largely been the reason for Ethiopia lagging behind in the sector.
Coming from a violent military and socialist background, the government of Ethiopia is a strong believer in firm control of all segments of society, as opposed to allowing individual enterprise to thrive.
A US weekly, Parade magazine, that is distributed with more than 470 Sunday newspapers named Mr Meles as the World's 16th Worst Dictator, in its last year’s annual list of the World's nastiest dictators.
Meles has been at the helm of power in Ethiopia since 1991, and Prime Minister since 1995. He is today quite firmly entrenched to run roughshod over all and sundry.
Whatever the case may be, he or she that will be smart enough to convince the Ethiopia leader to accept the independent media as part and parcel of the progress he is desirous of for his motherland, is almost certain to strike it rich. Over to the smart investors.
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