Jeffrey Gettleman in Somalia

By Abdourahman Waberi*

Jeffrey Gettleman will not run the risk of being seen as ‘a nobody, a cockroach, a gangster,’ unlike the Somali pirates he depicted in the columns of the New York Times Magazine last weekend (‘Taken by Pirates‘, Oct 5, 2011). In that particular piece of reportage, a totally asymmetric treatment is set from the beginning and accepted as an indisputable truth. The Chandlers, a British couple taken hostage by a group of ‘scruffy’ Somali pirates, are the real people the journalist is concerned about. But in the process, we the readers are, in our turn, taken  hostage by the journalist’s asymmetric  vision.

We know from the very first lines that he is the omniscient eye and ear of the most powerful newspaper in the West and that he is reporting from the worst places on this earth. The fact of being there constitutes a badge of honour and a privilege he will not easily give up. Thanks to people like Jeffrey Gettleman, who continually shed their own kind of light on the tragedies and injustices in the Horn of Africa, my native region is routinely misrepresented. And the world has grown tired of the Somali story; Brave Jeffrey has not. He deserves my admiration. Better, I should thank him immensely for his courage and his dedication and praise his sense of observation. Even when the latter is more often than not approximate, if not fuzzy: ‘It wasn’t really a pretty night’, Rachel Chandler recalled… ‘There was no moon, and the stars were shrouded by clouds… Within seconds, eight scruffy Somali men hoisted themselves aboard’.

Jeffrey Gettleman seems to be a failed novelist (mentors’ list may include Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene). Having read and re-read his piece, I am tempted to give him some old-fashioned advice : ‘Shoemaker, stick to thy last… Better do supremely well one thing than many badly!’

* The piece was accompanied by this set of illustrations. This is Abdourahman Waberi’s second post for AIAC.


One thought on “Jeffrey Gettleman in Somalia

  1. Many excellent onpoint observations from Mr. Waberi. To give Mr. Gettleman some credit, he does mention midway through the article:

    “After Somalia’s government collapsed 20 years ago, the 1,900-mile coastline became an unpatrolled free-for-all, with foreign fishing trawlers descending to scoop up Somalia’s rich stocks of tuna, shar, whitefish, lobster and deep-water shrimp. With no authorities to fear, the fishing boats were especially unscrupulous and used heavy steel drag nets that wiped out the marine habitat for years. Somali piracy was born when disgruntled fisherman armed themselves and started attacking the foreign trawlers. They soon realized they could attack any ship and get a ransom for holding the crew hostage.”

    I am certainly no expert on the situation, but at least it did give some reason and context for the actions of the fishermen. This explanation and background should have come at the start of the article to explain ‘why.’ From what the Western media has reported, some of the acts the ‘pirates’ sound pretty vicious. This is obviously a rough business and innocent people on both sides have been hurt. Somalia has been devasted by the loss of this source of income (fishing).

    Having been blessed enough to visit Africa twice in the last three years to work for a few months (in Rwanda and Mozambique), I have met some of the most amazing, brilliant and good people I will ever encounter. Unfortunately, there is still much exploitation and the effects of colonialism are still part of the equation.

    African people are very aware of how resource rich the Mother Continent is – and that includes its one billion-plus people (from whom I learned much). They want to be self-sufficient and not continuously exploited. They don’t want charity or false reporting from outsiders. It is also sad that too much greed and corruption (which is present in most if not all countries) exists there to this day as well.

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