As a child, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin wanted to change the world by being the voice of the weak and vulnerable.
The desire to see a better Somalia drove him to journalism. However, he had no idea this passion would lead to untold suffering in his life. Rather than become a man of the people, Mr Mumin soon became a wanted man by the terror group, al-Shabaab.
Journalism soon became a poisoned chalice for the 36-year-old.
His mistake was to report the death of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who had been injured in a US airstrike in September 2014.
The People’s Choice Awards winner was at the time working for the Wall Street Journal as a correspondent. After surviving an attempt on his life on January 25, 2015, he did not need any reminder that his time in Somalia was up. He was driving when his car was shot at by men dressed in Somali security forces uniform.
He immediately fled his country, leaving behind his young family and friends for a four-year exile in neighbouring Kenya.
“I always wanted to use journalism to champion the rights of my people, especially those I lived with at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Mogadishu. However, the digital story I wrote for Wall Street Journal would mark the beginning of my troubles,” recounts Mr Mumin.
But Mr Mumin’s story is not an isolated case. This is what most African journalists go through in the line of duty as they strive to hold their governments to account. And what better way to capture the horrors that journalists go through than publish a 137-page book, Hounded: African Journalists in Exile?
The book, compiled during the Covid-19 lockdown, is an illuminating account of 16 writers and editors who, at one time or another, have found themselves fleeing their homeland because of their independent reporting.
From Chad, Lesotho, Tanzania, Kenya, Eritrea, Gambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, among others; the grim stories by African writers who have dared to stand for the truth bear resemblance.
Kenyan Pius Nyamora, Dapo Oorunyomi of Nigeria, Ethiopian online activist Soleyana Shimeles Gebremichael, Sainey Marenah of Gambia, Zimbabwean Wilf Mbanga, Mim Mefo Takambou of Cameroon, Keiso Mohloboli of Lesotho, Fred Muvunyi of Rwanda, and Chadian Makaila N’Guebla have become victims of political intolerance and media repression.
Others are Togolese Farida Nabourema, Ansbert Ngurumo of Tanzania, Kiwanuka Lawrence of Uganda, Eritrean Fathi Osman, Bob Rugurika of Burundi and Michele Rakotoson from Madagascar.
The book, published by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and launched on Tuesday at the Trade Mark Hotel in Nairobi, is edited by Mr Joseph Odindo, a former editorial director of the Nation Media Group (NMG) and, more recently, The Standard Group.
He was the founding editor of NMG’s The East African, the regional weekly, in 1994 and also worked as managing editor of the Daily Nation.
He opines that, since good journalism demands more than an ability to cultivate news sources and generate content, there lies one of the continent’s gravest tragedies — a growing army of talented men and women driven from their homelands for thinking critically and daring to speak out.
As such, he says, the book is an exhilarating first-person narration of a disturbing record of government intolerance in Africa and the willingness of political leaders to kill or imprison journalists whose work they disapprove of.
“Because democracy dies in darkness, the fate of journalists is inextricably intertwined with that of politicians. Brave writers and editors present as much threat to political rulers as opposition gadflies,” says Mr Odindo.
Mr Nyamora, who was editor of a Kenyan news magazine, Society, tells the story of his struggles with the Moi government and how he sought asylum in the US.
For Mr Mbanga, once a close friend of the late Robert Mugabe, he had to escape to South Africa after helping to launch an independent newspaper when most dissent had been stifled.
A military dictatorship forced Mr Olorunyomi to establish a new life in America while Mefo, a Cameroonian broadcast editor, now works in Germany after exposing atrocities in the English-speaking part of her homeland.
KAS Media Africa, the media programme of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Director Christoph Plate says the book is a tribute and a record of history, an acknowledgement of the commitment to truth and justice by different African writers.
“Just because you can easily access digital texts in libraries across Africa today does not mean its people are freer than they were in the sixties. Or that its journalists and creative writers can write as they like.”