David Pilling

Financial Times

David Pilling has taken a fresh look at travel writing from Africa. In the articles (and four-part podcast) submitted here, he travels to Congo-Brazzaville, Central African Republic and Socotra (off the Somali coast, but officially part of Yemen) to write not only about the extraordinary ecosystems of those places but also the people who live there and their complex relationship with the landscape they inhabit. The first two articles are standard, if very well written, feature-length text pieces that illustrate Pilling's sensitive and evocative style, often laced with wry humour. Writing for the FT, these experiences are inevitably packaged as holidays for the super rich, but Pilling manages to puncture that bubble and to evoke the places themselves - telling stories from the inside out and not the stories that outsiders would seek to impose. The most original part of the submission is the four-part podcast, part three of which is submitted as an entry and part four in the supporting material section (start from 2 minutes 50 seconds). (Parts one and two - including an episode on the science that has been conducted in Nouabalé-Ndoki - are available online.) This podcast treatment of a travel adventure/expedition was a first for the FT. It not only brought travel, adventure and complex questions of conservation and science to a broader FT audience, but it also enabled a multi-media evocation of a little understood environment. Pilling's recordings, collected meticulously on his travels, provide a rich soundscape. The podcast also probed some of the themes that often get marginalised in conventional travel pieces. In particular, part four deals with the controversies around conservation and the live debate in Africa about how white outsiders have defined the meaning and the practice of conservation. Part three involved the baaka people, who have lived in the central African forests for thousands of years, and included audio of a baaka net hunt. Another section concerns the "elephant listening project", an acoustic mapping of elephant populations that will eventually incorporate AI into understanding elephant (and poacher) movements. The podcast generated great interest among FT listeners and added a new dimension to the normal travel writing format.