For the most part, the Financial Times has practiced excellent journalism, particularly for a UK brand. A series of articles this week, by Barney Jopson however, have shown that the struggles and travails of the news industry might be creating cracks in an otherwise impeccable facade.
After spending less than a week in the Eritrean capital Asmara, Barney Jopson published his first article for the Financial Times from the capital (Eritrea readies first goldmine). Although the author seemingly parrots much of what is written in the popular media about Eritrea he reveals what seems to be interesting information. Granted, most of the information is not new, particularly the resource volume in Eritrea (quite clear if you review the public filings of the mining companies operating in Eritrea) however, a comment is made, seemingly off-the-cuff which is grossly inaccurate.
In a break from its credo of self-reliance, the regime of President Isaias Afewerki has turned to foreign companies for capital and expertise to develop its gold, zinc and copper deposits.1
This comment is disconcerting because if so it would represent a terrible reversal of one of the fundamental planks of the Eritrean Revolution.
The culture of self-reliance of Eritrea was borne during the Eritrean Revolution (the Struggle). During this thirty-year war for independence Eritreans were written off as irrelevant and so this small country of just 3 million fought alone against a foe twenty times its size. This caused the Eritrean people and liberation organizations to build the tools to fight for and grow their independence themselves. Out of this was born the concept of self-reliance. But this self-reliance is not what Barney Jopson mistakenly alludes to in his article, but rather the idea that to engage with the rest of the world Eritreans want to be treated as equals in trade and not out of pity.
The rest of Africa, it seems to many Eritreans, is trading in the alms of their former colonizers and not participating as equals. Now as regards the mining in Eritrea, it actually represents Eritrea’s self-reliance in that the people of Eritrea have taken a 30% hand in the risk associated with the Nevsun project. Eritreans have never run a medium-sized mine, however this partnership will Nevsun will create a transfer of expertise to Eritreans who will then be able to take a more assertive position with the next finds. This is Eritrean self-reliance.
Perhaps Barney Jopson missed the entire idea of Eritrean self-reliance, though this would be difficult in practicing parachute journalism, as it would require a dedicated interest or research into the history and critical thinking of the current affairs of the region. But then again, perhaps much of what was written was written well before he even arrived in Eritrea, perhaps immediately before he arrived there while in Kenya.
A clue to this possibility is his brief discussion of the Eritrean “shida”/”congo” in his most recent piece (Inside the insular and secretive Eritrea). This beautiful monument to a foundation of the Struggle, in particular the concept of self-reliance that Barney Jopson erred on in an earlier piece,
The centre of Asmara is now graced by a six-metre pair of sandals set on a plinth.2
Though this may have been true a few years ago, the monument has been undergoing repairs. In fact, as of last week the “sandals” were behind metal sheeting that surrounded the entire traffic circle where they sit. But then why would he say they graced the center of Asmara? Well two possibilities exist:
- he was told that it was there before his trip, or
- he mis-reported what he saw there.
Either possibility reflects poorly on his skills as an objective reporter/journalist, particularly for a paper as well respected as the Financial Times. Although it is unlikely I hope some sort of correction is made to the articles, but more important than the author is the audience, and it is to those that I hope a more critical mind for the details is imbued; obviously we cannot rely on the skills of the reporters. As usual though we should take everything with a grain of salt, although perhaps in this case, a bucket may be more fitting.