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Kaye Whiteman – tributes pour in for respected Africa specialist

Kaye Whiteman
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Written by pat_perkel

Kaye Whiteman, a distinguished journalist, expert on African affairs and much-loved and respected member of the CJA, passed away on Saturday May 17, 2014 at the age of 78.

Condolences and expressions of sorrow immediately flowed in from friends and colleagues, demonstrating how deeply Kaye will be missed.

Over five decades he amassed a remarkable knowledge about Africa and particularly Nigeria. He was editor of West Africa Magazine and author of several books on Africa, including what is regarded by some as the definitive book on Lagos. In the 1990s, Kaye was head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Information and Public Affairs Division.

The Commonwealth and Africa meeting at Chatham House held a moment of silence in Kaye’s respect before hearing an address by the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba.

“I had known him for the best part of half a century,” said Derek Ingram, founder of the CJA.

“We spent so many fascinating times together around the world covering and attending Commonwealth, and especially African, events. He was always great and often most amusing company and a fount of knowledge and wisdom. In a way his passing is the end of an era.”

The following tribute comes from Kayode Soyinka, Publisher of The Africa Today Group:

“This sad – very very sad – news of Kaye Whiteman’s death just reached me while in Nigeria where I am presently. I still spoke with him a few days ago before I left London for this trip. And my wife just told me this morning when I broke the shocking news to her that he even called me at our UK home on the morning of my departure on the 8th. We produced the June edition of Africa Today together. And he invited me to a CJA meeting at the House of Commons, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend.

Kaye was a distinguished journalist and editor who, over five decades, developed an immense knowledge of Africa and reported on African Affairs for the international media, including our newsmagazine – AFRICA TODAY, where he was for many years a Contributing Editor. His contributions in Africa Today are usually masterpieces.

He was for years deputy editor and eventually editor of the renowned West Africa Magazine. He appropriately took over as editor of West Africa from the legendary David Williams. Whiteman was Williams’ protégé. He did his tutelage on Nigeria under Williams. He had covered the Nigerian civil war as a young reporter for The Time of London. He was a repository of African history. He knew something about nearly anyone who had served in public service in any African country. Nigeria was his favourite Africa subject. Particularly, he wrote on Nigeria and Africa with such authority, understanding and, indeed, affection, that is rare among Western writers on Africa, that made some of us to consider him an honourary Nigerian. His article on Nigeria at 100 in the April/May 2014 edition of Africa Today will continue to be a reference point. He was also the author of several incisive books on Africa, including the book, LAGOS, which was launched only last year.

Kaye Whiteman was head of Information for the old European Economic Community (EEC) before it became the European Union (EU). It was after leaving the EEC in Brussels that he returned to London to become editor of West Africa after the retirement of David Williams. Perhaps his biggest career regret is that, despite doing everything within his power, he could not prevent the demise of the fabled “Methuselah” West Africa Magazine when the Daily Times of Nigeria that owned it collapsed and the Nigerian government under President Olusegun Obasanjo was no longer interested in funding it. Sadly, West Africa was placed under administration in the UK until Whiteman was able to get the Ghanaian government to buy it. The new owners couldn’t sustain the magazine either and it finally collapsed.

Kaye Whiteman was also head of the Information and Public Affairs Division in the Commonwealth Secretariat serving under Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku in the late 1990s. Nigeria and, indeed, Africa has lost a great and dependable British friend and a powerful figure – a powerhouse -in the British and Commonwealth media. I remember when I was chairman of the London Management Committee of the Commonwealth Journalist Association (CJA) and he was editor of West Africa, he took strong interest in the activities of the CJA and became a member of the UK branch. The association now has a very strong and active UK branch thanks to the efforts of people like Kaye Whiteman and Rita Payne, the former Asia Editor of the BBC, who is now the International President of the CJA. Recently, before his death, he tried to get the Nigerians to re-establish a branch of the CJA in the country. He spent his last trip to Nigeria early this year visiting newspaper editors in Lagos and encouraged them to re-establish the Nigerian branch.

Personally, I will miss him greatly. His death is a huge loss to me. He was for many years a close personal friend, confidant and colleague. I consistently shared with him the very challenging experiences of publishing on Africa at global level. He was particularly a Pillar of Strength to me in my Africa Today project. I will for ever be grateful to him for the consistent support he gave me at Africa Today, where he wrote perhaps his very last piece in the June edition on a subject on which he was an authority – EU/Africa Relations. The Africa Today edition just came out and on the distribution chain – not even on the newsstands yet – when the sad news of Whiteman’s death was announced in London. He is irreplaceable. I am delighted though that he was able to read that his last article in print before he died, because I made sure I sent him a copy before I left London.

He will be sorely missed. My condolences to his wife and family. May his soul rest in peace. And God Bless His Soul. Amen.”

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