Television, and films, and photography, and newspapers - in fact pretty much the entire media industry - usually does Africa very badly because it constantly resorts to four clichés: the noble beast of the Serengeti, the corrupt dictator, the beautiful native child and the victim in need of Western assistance.

There is some truth, some of the time, in all of those clichés, but we will never properly see Africa until we at least try to look beyond them.

Which is why The Tribe (Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm) is such good news because it rather spectacularly moves on from the stereotypes by introducing us to a family in Ethiopia who are, uncannily and hilariously, close to us. Some of the details of their lives may be different - there's no electricity, the basic unit of currency is the goat, and the way to fix a stale marriage is to add more wives - but the basics of how husbands react to wives, and brothers react to sisters, and neighbours react to neighbours is exactly the same. Suddenly, all those clichés of strangeness and distance disappear.

It is most obvious with the patriarch of the village, Ayke Muko. He is a grandfather, father and husband who lives in a straw hut with no electricity, but he's pretty much exactly the same as any other granddad, father and husband: under the miles and miles of disapproving wrinkles, there is the suggestion of a smile; under the grumpiness is affection.

What makes him most grumpy most of the time is when his grandchildren make too much noise. When it happens, he goes all Victor Meldrew on them, chasing them away so he can get a nap in peace. Like other old people who remember the before-times, he also complains about the advance of technology - even in a country where technology is only just emerging. "Everyone has mobile phones these days," he says.

His marriage to Kerri Bodo also repeats a pattern of marriage and long relationships you can see in Africa and every other continent. Some elements of their marriage are unusual for us - Ayke has two wives for instance and has not ruled out taking another - and others are familiar to anyone who remembered what marriage used to be like in Britain 50 years ago (Ayke wouldn't dream of lifting to cook a meal or feed the children).

But there are some elements of Ayke and Kerri's marriage that are much more familiar and offer a little reassurance about what a long-standing relationship can be like. They bicker and they argue of course, and both of them are vain to some extent, and they occasionally get a little tired of each other ("stop moaning about every little thing" says Kerri to him at one point). But they have also known each other since they were children and the standard setting of their relationship is humour and honesty. "We don't get angry anymore," says Kerri. "We just laugh at each other."

Perhaps that will be one of the lessons the Western audience carries away from this documentary, but hopefully there will be others. Naturally, there is a voyeuristic element to The Tribe, but what's really interesting isn't the fact we are gawking at them but that they are gawking back at us and have a lot to teach us.

On how we treat old people for instance. "You have told me about your culture and how old people are thrown away," says Ayke, his face wrinkling with confusion and some disgust. "Are they given to hyenas or vultures to be eaten?" He shakes his head and thinks about how old people are seen in his community and he shakes his head again and says one last thing to us: "You can stick with your culture."