The BBC had one of those special moments yesterday morning, of which only the BBC is capable. Today the flagship programme of Radio 4 had a guest editor, the novelist Zadie Smith. As well as editing the programme, Ms Smith presented a feature piece she had made on life in Liberia. For anyone with even the slightest sense of humanity, it made depressing listening, Liberia it concluded was “a failed state”, nothing worked, there was no safety net for people like the blind children who attended a special school, but had simply to be turned out onto the street when their time there was over.
The “failed state” description could be applied to a string of sub-Saharan countries. The Democratic Republic of Congo seems to have ceased to function as a state in any recognizable form. Had Zadie Smith gone to parts of DRC, the report might have been even more alarming, not that one can reach many parts of DRC anyway.
Back in the early-90s, I met a bishop from Bukavu to do an interview for a radio religious affairs programme. The group that had brought him to Ireland wanted me to talk to him about church life. What remains in my mind from that meeting in an office in Belfast was a man who seemed overwhelmed by the possibilities open to people in Ireland while his people at home had literally nothing. He talked of trying to work in an area where there was no infrastructure. No telephones, no postal service, few roads, little electricity, no proper banking services, a currency that was worthless – it was hard to imagine what his work was like. He had no means of communicating with anyone in his country.
Losing the broadband for a day was most annoying. Email was unreceived; the DART timetable was inaccessible; the Facebook encounters were put on hold; it wasn’t even possible to write the blog.
But Zadie Smith had put the day in perspective and the bishop in Bukavu would have been delighted with a telephone.