I first met him in Paris. I was there, in love, with a man, quite older than myself, who said he had someone he wanted to introduce me to. And this tall willowy figure appeared in the restaurant, speaking perfect French, fun, adoring, tactile, candid, childishly cheeky and incredibly intelligent. His mind intimidated me but such was his generous and humorous nature, it was impossible to be intimidated by him. I was on vacation from stringing in Angola. We talked about the trials of being a stringer, the difficulties of being a good journalist in a world which seemed only interested in big business information and paying a pittance. That evening I learned that he began his life as a reporter in the slums of Bamako, Mali. He lived in a shack and it was from there that he wrote his reports. He knew West Africa so very well, especially the so-called francophone countries. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Mali, Guinea and Senegal, among many others. But what struck me most was his huge heart. He was interested first and foremost in people, and poetry and politics.
I may be wrong. I only met him twice, in person, but we spoke often on the telephone and shared long long emails. He always offered advice, insisted I didn’t lose faith, first in the BBC World Service, then in a series of journals and magazines for which I’d done some reporting. He told me it didn’t always matter if I didn’t receive money for what I wrote because, he said, what is important is that ‘we write, Lara’. When everyone else was slowly falling to the market, accepting the new rules of play in the world of the media, he would carry on chasing a vision of truth that really mattered.
He once rang me and asked me whether I could help him with a proposal to the BBC World Service: to do a series of programmes on the relationship between Africa and France. But it was too late: I’d already left the corporation, slamming more doors behind me, and the Africa Service was being squeezed and squeezed with ever tighter budgets. While Jonathan Ross bought gold taps and marble baths…
He wrote, last year, saying he was off to demonstrate against some pop-star who was marching ‘for Africa’. Feigning that he didn’t really care… though of course he always did: “If I can be arsed, I’m getting them up here to generally make noise and cause trouble. As a post-adolescent Motorhead roadie in a previous existence but two/three, it’s the least I can do. After that I’m off to Bouake to watch it all fall apart spectacularly from about November onwards, at a guess. Hey ho…”
I’m sad that I never got up north to see him. I’m sad I never shared that final drink, nor read his words that were not to be published. He wrote masses and masses. The last thing he ever wrote to me were these words, “I bow in the presence of a true member of the awkward squad: I am a mere apprentice.” But in truth, Andrew was always much more than a mere member of the awkward squad – for me, he was one of the leaders.