George Alagiah’s work, A Passage to Africa covers the horrors that surrounded the Somalian civil war that happened in the 1990s. Here, we present you an analysis of the excerpt from A Passage to Africa, as it appears in iGCSE English Language Paper 1.
George Alagiah is a British newsreader and journalist who has received several awards individually and as part of teams like BAFTA award, Amnesty National UK Award, and multiple awards from the Royal Television Society among other honours.
A Passage To Africa | Summary
The reporter is travelling through Somalia during the early 1990s, in search of sensational photos. He thinks how sights that were heart numbing and revolting at first have turned into commonplace scenes for him and how this creates a hunt for the most gruesome pictures that one can capture for the media. George recounts his visit to a remote village, one so far removed from the centre that no media person has reached there yet. He talks about Amina, who went out to search for wild roots for food, leaving her daughters who were sick and starved on the cold mud floor but by the time she returned one of her daughters had passed away silently without even having the energy to whimper.
He then talks about an old woman abandoned by her family when they went in search of food as none of them was strong enough to carry her. The woman’s leg was bent like a boomerang after being shot by the forces of the despot. He locates her due to her rotting flesh and the smell it gave out, she was still alive with :
“sick, yellow eyes and smell it in the putrid air she recycled with every struggling breath she took.”
All the sights he saw that day fills him with revulsion, all he could see was sickness, decay and death; everybody, sucked dry of vitality “vitality by the twin evils of hunger and disease”, “disease, is a disgusting thing” but the discussion of this disgust is a taboo that is yet to be breached in the media, none talk about the decaying flesh and the smell of the “excretion of fluids by people who are beyond controlling their bodily functions.”
He points out how the reporters wipe their hands after holding the clammy hands of a mother who had just wiped vomit from her child’s mouth.
George then carries on to talk about how the people also suffer from shame about their predicament, at the sight of these healthy reporters some cover their faces or go deeper into the darkness of their rooms. But one man changed his perspective and ideas with a single smile, he was outside the house when he saw the reporter, after which he smiled in embarrassment and moved back into his the man was outside his house, this incident shakes the author to his core. The smile was to George, one that cut deep and made him think:
“If he was embarrassed to be found weakened by hunger and ground down by conflict, how should I feel to be standing there so strong and confident?”
George then resolves to write about it, the sights he saw in the abandoned place the sickness and death. But he was plagued by one regret that he could not find the name f that man who has smiled at him then. The excerpt ends with him thanking the man whose name he never got to know, saying that he owed the man for the insights he gained.
A Passage To Africa | Analysis
The very beginning of the excerpt speaks of the condition of the people of Somalia, calling them “a thousand hungry, lean, scared and betrayed faces” emphasising how they were betrayed by the people who were supposed to protect them or pretend that they will protect them. The author even throws shade at his own venture inside the land in search of more terrible sights, calling it a ghoulish hunt, portraying the inhumane greed of the media world that prides itself on being the first to uncover stories and venture in search of suffering and monetises them.
The village is called a ghost village bringing emphasis to how empty the village is devoid of people, peace and slowly dying. While recounting the case of Amina, the use of her name make the readers more affected by her plight, the name reminding the readers, that this is a story of a person, with feelings and pain just like everyone else. George also gives details about the situation to provide more context, like the mud floor that tells us how impoverished the population there is. The child dies without any sound, “No rage, no whimpering, just a passing away” thus reminding the readers how helpless the people are, too starved to even make a sound or move. “No rage”, again emphasising that they are beyond the point of anger and resistance, even if they want to resist and change things around them they are simply denied any chance to do so by the structures and nature around them, no one to lend a hand and no one to listen.
The story of the old woman begins by giving clues about why it became a “ghost village”, people who could travel had already left in search of food, moving away from this remote place, leaving only the weakest and the sickest people back in the village. It also tells bout the violence the army committed against the helpless masses in revenge for the civil war they lost.
Even in these moments of desperation and impoverishment, the people are ashamed of the predicament that was forced upon them, they are ashamed of being weak. This makes George think, if helplessness makes them ashamed what should people like him, who are healthy and in search of suffering to make money out of it feel about their actions as they carry on without lending the people a helping hand?
A Passage To Africa | Context
The text covers the situation of Somalia after the civil war that started in 1991 that saw the end of the dictatorship of Siad Barre. The war lead to a million people being displaced from their land and now lacking any means of livelihood. The budding government lacked the resources to alleviate the pains of the people and the condition was only made worse by the drought and famine that followed. The text describes the condition of a village near Gufgaduud, far removed from the centres and so remote that aid agencies had not reached the place yet. The people of the village who could travel had already abandoned the village in search of money leaving only the very weak and starving in the village
A Passage To Africa | Themes
The text revolves around post-war violence and its effect on people and how the world media, greedy for the news of suffering hunt the people down for the stories and pictures that can be gained from them. It talks about how violence and war do not end with overthrowing the king, and how it has many lingering effects on the nations and their people. Through vivid images created through intricate descriptive language.
LITERARY DEVICES AND NARRATIVE TECHNIQUES
The excerpt is written in first person and the Author often addresses the reader directly to provide insight and information that contextualise the situation better. The text is written in highly descriptive language that evokes images inside the reader’s mind. The text also gives a lot of details that create sympathy for the people.
There are several people whose names are revealed to us, this creates a connection that makes the readers feel more for the people mentioned, as it reminds us that these are stories of real people and their suffering, setting them apart from being just objects of interest, this becomes more important as the text talks about the dehumanising effects of war.