Most of the reaction to the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which claimed the lives of 157 people, was appropriate — shock, sympathy, commiserations. But not all of it.
On a small but significant number of foreign news outlets and social media, armchair commentators were quick to revert to racist stereotypes, questioning Ethiopian Airlines’ safety record and implying that “African airlines” are somehow less safe or have lower standards than others.
Richard Quest, CNN’s travel correspondent, reinforced these attitudes even as he tried to defend the airline. “There is no safety issue on Ethiopian. They have made it their business to be the African airline that operates like a Western airline.”
For the record, before the crash on Sunday, Ethiopian Airlines boasted one of the world’s best safety records. And, although it is too early for any definitive conclusions to be drawn about what caused flight ET 302 to go down, circumstantial evidence suggests it was the manufacturer of the plane, Boeing, rather than the airline that was at fault; that the problem originated in Seattle, not Addis Ababa.
So, though we might avoid travelling on Boeing 737 Max 8 jets for now, the Mail & Guardian will continue to take advantage of Ethiopian Airlines’ extensive network and reliable service as we seek to tell this continent’s stories. If this is what an African airline looks like, then it is something we can all be proud of.