This week’s big news was that the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to two journalists, Maria Ressa co-founder and CEO of online news site Rappler in the Philippines, and Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Ressa, Muratov and both publications have been at the forefront of creating space in their respective countries for democratic expression, free speech, and in the truest sense, speaking truth to power, and at great risk to themselves. Between them, Ressa and Muratov have been arrested, harassed, threatened, and even convicted of trumped-up charges by the governments of Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin, and the journalists who work under them at Rappler and Novaya Gazeta are just as brave to keep at such important – and dangerous – work.
The day before the Nobel Peace Prize announcement, I attended the launch of Pioneers, Rebels and a Few Villains, a sweeping exploration of 150 years of journalism in Eastern Africa, edited by the inimitable Charles Onyango-Obbo. At the launch, in explaining the rationale for the book, Onyango-Obbo highlighted that “the story of the media in Africa has mostly been told as one of torment,” in the book’s introduction he writes, “It’s a hard place to be a journalist, with death, prison and all manner of repression posing constant threats…many journalists in Africa have died destitute.”
The book, then, is an attempt not only to tell the difficult stories of persecution – and there are many – but also to “extract [journalists] from under the oppressor’s boot”, and simply tell their stories and see their humanity. It’s not an attempt to seek “recognition” for long-suffering, but more just getting a look into the people who do this frequently dangerous and thankless work.
I think of Ressa and Muratov’s Nobel Peace Prize win the same way – that in all the years they were being intimidated, harassed, trailed and surveilled, they kept doing their important work anyway. How? Why? These are some of the questions that Pioneers, Rebels and a Few Villains seeks to answer. Ultimately, I see in all these illustrious journalists a kind of tenacity to keep moving, keep doing the work, even if at one point all that might keep you going is an irrational momentum. In the words of Maria Ressa, “You’ve got to fight the battle early, or you will be too weak to fight it later on. The worst thing you can do is to stand still.”
As usual, here’s:
- What We’re Reading: The Unwritten Rules of Black TV, by Hannah Giorgis in The Atlantic. Giorgis grew up in the 90s (like many of us!) watching shows like Living Single, Sister, Sister, Moesha, and Family Matters, with leading Black casts. But at some point in the 2000s, those story lines and some of the Black writers behind them seemed to disappear. This incredible 9,000+ word story traces the cyclical, uneven history of Black representation on American television
- What We’re Watching: To be honest I haven’t been watching much since watching Squid Game two weeks ago.
- What We’re Listening To: The LAM Sisterhood presents: KaBrazens. Specially adapted for children, KaBrazens mythologises our Kenyan heroes, so that every child can imagine themselves as Mekatilili wa Menza, as Zarina Patel, as Queen Njinga, as the forever secret spy of the Nandi. The podcast is still in production, but if you’d like to be an early fan, listen to their pilot episode with your littu ones and tell the producers what you, and they, think. It could be a voice note, a letter, a picture, anything! To listen, send an email to email@example.com titled “Also me please” and they will share their 10-minute pilot episode with you and provide a simple and short feedback form.