'You need empathy to be a correspondent in Africa' - Xavier Aldekoa
After more than a decade working in Africa, the journalist keeps the same enthusiasm to continue living that dream
Journalist Xavier Aldekoa (Barcelona, 1981) has been working as a correspondent in Africa for newspaper La Vanguardia for more than a decade. His devotion to the continent has led him to cover multiple stories in many different countries across Africa.
In 2014 he debuted as an author, and has since published three books on the world’s second largest continent. In 2015, he co-founded the 5W magazine, dedicated to international journalism and long distance articles. His latest book, 'Indestructibles', went on sale in March and was a success on Sant Jordi day, when lovers buy one another books.
You have been working as a correspondent in Africa for more than a decade. What brought you there?
It has always been my dream because Africa is full of stories. When I was 20, I traveled there for the first time looking for stories to write in the future. So, being a correspondent in Africa has always been my goal and everything I did was always to bring me closer to living that dream.
How is your daily life in Africa? Do you follow defined or improvised goals?
I don’t have too much of a routine because I try to improvise a lot. I am very open to what I see and what I find because this allows me to be more attentive to what surrounds me. When I’m in Africa, I have the feeling that I’m learning every day and this is a gift in my profession.
And improvisation always works for you?
Not always, but I accept it quite well when things don’t go well. I’ve just returned from Mali where we did a story on a girl suffering from malnutrition, but when we arrived it was a boy that had already recovered. So, to find a story was a challenge but we ended up finding something different and interesting.
Being a correspondent in Africa seems testing. Do you think everybody is capable of it?
Everyone would do it in their own way, but I think you need empathy to be a correspondent in Africa. That’s what makes people feel that you are interested in what they are telling you. You also have to be patient and have a certain optimism because you do face difficult situations.
You speak Catalan, Spanish, English, French and Portuguese, but more than 2,000 different languages are spoken in Africa. How do you communicate with local people?
Usually, the languages that I know are not very useful. Since I can’t pay a translator, I always try to find someone to help me. I know that the language is a very important factor and the intermediary for me is crucial. Sometimes, I want someone involved in the story and in other cases it’s better that the person is not involved.
And what does it depend on whether you choose a person that is involved or not?
It depends on the story. For example, if I do a topic about abuses of women in Congo, the last thing I want is to have an intermediary who knows the victim. Likewise, there are stories in which a woman will make the other person more comfortable, whereas in patriarchal situations perhaps the opposite is better.
How do you find the intermediaries and how do you trust that they can provide good translations?
Sometimes it's people I already know and with whom I already have confidence, but on some occasions, I have to look for them when I'm in the place of the story. In these cases, I speak a little bit in French or English with the other person until I see that they are fluent in the language so I can trust them.
Your real name is not Xavier Aldekoa. Why did you choose this name to publish your works?
Aldekoa is the last name of my grandmother who became blind when I started in La Vanguardia. I decided to use her surname to publish because she only has about 10% of her vision now, so at least she can read it with a magnifying glass. It’s a tribute for her.
In March you published your third book, Indestructibles. What was the purpose of this book?
Like the previous ones, it’s a book about Africa and Africans, but in this one I wanted to tell stories with a special depth. I wanted to tell stories of people who try to change things. My purpose was to show the courage to fight and move forward that the Africans have.
Looking to the future, do you plan on continuing with this job or do you have other plans?
As long as I am curious and want to continue following it, I am happy. I’ve received offers before to do other things in other places that were much more stable, but I always said no because in Africa I am doing what I always liked and dreamed of. It’s more likely that I run out of possibilities and opportunities here than my enthusiasm for being here ends.