The Book of the Week is “The Zanzibar Chest” by Aidan Hartley, published in 2003. This is the autobiography of a foreign correspondent (journalist) in Africa. The diary of a late, close, adventurous friend of his father’s was found in a Zanzibar Chest. The author sought to interview all the people mentioned in it.
The author’s father was a British civil servant who helped colonize various African countries, and then supervise cotton growing with their independence movements and agricultural reforms. The light-skinned men destroyed the culture and economy of the dark-skinned men. The latter lost their livestock and crops, and began to starve. Toward the middle of the twentieth century, American Baptist missionaries aggressively pressured the natives to convert to Christianity in exchange for Western food and clothes.
Born in 1965 in Kenya, Hartley had two older brothers and an older sister. They were sent to boarding school in England. He started his career with the Financial Times in Tanzania in the mid 1980’s. After he got his sea legs– having learned to doctor his expense reports and stories– he became a “Darwin Award” candidate, covering wars in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Balkans and Rwanda. In that first country’s civil war in 1991, the rebels were supplied with arms by the Americans, Soviets, Chinese, North Koreans and the Israelis.
Hartley was also a freelance journalist, or “stringer”– “… he had flown four thousand miles without an assignment, immersed himself in a story about which he knew nothing, and would struggle until he improved his camerawork and got a good story.” For a while, he was with Reuters. However, it is expensive for a news service or newspaper publisher to pay for housing, armed guards and vehicles for a group of full-time reporters in a country full of desert and violence, such as Somalia. Other countries offer better business opportunities because they have a better climate and are resource-rich, in addition to being prone to violence, like South Africa.
Read the book to learn of Hartley’s adventures and how the nature of reporting of war and famine from Africa has changed through the decades.