The BBC has finally announced – formally – that it will be broadcasting in Afaan Oromo, Amharic, and Tigrinya.
This has been on the cards for some time, in return for additional government funding.
I, for one, very welcome this initiative. Any further light that shines on a region that has so many problems is an excellent development.
And I am pleased that Will Ross will be leading the team.
He is an old Africa hand, having reported for 11 years from East Africa before becoming Nigeria correspondent from May 2012 – October 2015.
In August 2016, after kicking around BBC’s glass palace (New Broadcasting House) for far too long, he will be back on the Africa beat.
His formal title is Editorial Lead, Horn of Africa.
But Will is going to have his work cut out for him.
For a start there is the possibly apocryphal story that on being informed that the BBC had a plan to launch services in the Horn and African former colleague of mine asked a senior executive which languages it would be broadcast it.
“Oh, don’t they have a language that’s understood across the region like Arabic,” the exec. is reported to have replied. Well, no.
Clearly BBC management was on a steep learning curve.
The real question is where to broadcast from.
I understand there will be an office in Addis Ababa and a hub in Nairobi.
But how long will the BBC be able to keep in with the notoriously defensive Ethiopian authorities?
There will come a point when there is an urgent need to broadcast something the Ethiopian government will hate…and then the journalists will be in deep trouble.
VOA, which has broadcast to the region for years, found its transmissions jammed in October this year. And not for the first time.
So has Deutsche Welle.
There have been threats against members of staff.
Trying to reach an Eritrean audience will be at least as difficult.
This will not be an easy road to tread.