Ethan Zuckerman at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center has done a lot to encourage bloggers to pay more attention to the underreported corners of the globe. In a recent post, he rehearses why covering the underreported world matters:

  • I’s important to know about Africa/Eastern Europe/Central Asia and other “dark spots” on the map for reasons of security. Most people didn’t know anything about Central Asia until 9/11 — then there was a brief surge of interest in countries that might be hosting terror training camps. Should we be worried that the next global threat is coming from Somalia? Myanmar? Transdniestra? (Extra points if you can find Transdniestra on a map…)
  • We need to watch the media dark spots to help prevent human rights abuses or genocide from occurring on our watch. If we pay attention to Darfur, Eastern Congo, northern Uganda, or thousands of other parts of the globe, we can prevent tragedies from happening.
  • We need to pay attention to part of the world we normally ignore because the next billion people who will join the middle class, log onto the internet and generally extend the consumer economy are going to come from all over the world. If we’re not ready to sell these folks cellphones, cars and computers, perhaps the Chinese or the Indians will and we’ll find ourselves a second-rate economic power.

So let’s pay a little attention to those dark spots.

One country that is routinely dark blue on Zuckerman’ global media attention profile maps, indicating more or less complete indifference by Western media, is Chad. The African state is one of the world’s poorest, with 80 per cent of the 9.2 million people living on less than a dollar per day.

What little news we get from Chad usually concerns the fact that in the harsh eastern region of the country, Chad is hosting 200,000 refugees from neighbouring Darfur.

But Chad is also embroiled in the war on terror, with the American military training the Chadian army and cooperating in operations against terrorist groups.

It’s no surprise, really, because the country is strategically important as one of Africa’s new petro-states. A 1,000-kilometre pipeline to Cameroon that opened two years ago is allowing landlocked Chad to export oil, and the World Bank is anxious to see whether anti-misappropriation measures it demanded in exchange for helping to fund the pipeline will successfully ensure that some of thge royalies actually help development in the country. (Don’t hold your breath, says a report by Catholic Relief Services and the Bank Information Centre, which also makes excellent reading for anyone who needs a crash course in the politics of Chad.)

With a context like that, one might expect a little coverage in the Western media. But few people in Britain know that a referendum on a constitutonal amendment abolishing presidential term limits was held in Chad on 6 June. If approved, this would allow the incumbant president, Idriss Déby, to seek a third term in power.

The result will be announced today. But with the opposition coalition complaining of fraud and having successfully called on their suppporters to boycott the poll, the result is a forgone conclusion.

Of course, few people in Britain know about this. Not a single national newspaper mentioned the poll on 6 June. I guess they were too busy with the three referendums in Europe that week.