You’ve gone from war-chaser to story-teller, ensuring that the facts you provide are framed within the narrative conventions of journalism, the ones BBC promotes as empathetic, sympathetic, compelling to your public. There’s the additional barrier that no one mentions, that it is a white public, and you are a black man. You wanted the West African region but you’ve wondered many a time if there were other reasons they placed you there.
You’ve only left London recently, to see the Ebola outbreak for yourself. Senior editor Charlie hemmed and hawed before he allowed you to go, saying, “Doesn’t make a difference, does it? We’ve already got Giles down there.”
You couldn’t say: But I can do it better.
Giles Hall replaced you as BBC’s West Africa correspondent. He’s a young, bright-eyed, ambitious bloodhound like yourself. White, blue-eyed, blond, he’s the very picture of a good-old Briton-born boy. Forty-five isn’t old but he made you feel your age acutely when you met, when he laughed off being 31 and a rising star, when he shook your hand with both of his and said, “I idolize you, Ali. You’re the man I aspire to be.”
You know that’s code for I’m after your job, and I will have it someday.
Your colleagues say you’re being daft, you’re secure for life, but what do they know? They covet your position too. And there’s always that subtext, you’re black, how much can the public really identify with you?
It keeps you up at night, this fear, that Giles is being groomed to replace you.