A Passage to Africa


George Alagiah is describing a visit to Africa. He is discussing the horrors that he saw on his visit and how they have haunted him since.


George Alagiah is a BBC newsreader. He used to be a reporter and he was sent to Africa to cover the events that unfolded in the 1990s in Somalia. At this time, there was a civil war and the people encountered many difficulties.

A Passage to Africa, figure 1

author’s purpose

He is writing reflectively and his attitude towards the events seems to have changed since he originally reported on the event. This seems most clear in the final line, when he discusses his regret at not knowing the man’s name. It suggests that his purpose and empathy level is different now that it was then.


Emotive Language

Emotive Language is any language that makes you feel something for a person or situation. It is an umbrella term and there are many different devices that create emotive language:

‘I saw a thousand hungry, lean, scared and betrayed faces’.

It is the list of 3 adjectives that create the pity and empathy that we feel for the situation. Another example is:

‘simple, frictionless, motionless deliverance’

Note the contrast between the two quotes mentioned above. Whilst the first set of adjectives are harsh, the second contains much gentler and softer description. It is almost as though Alagiah is contrasting the harshness of the incidents with the human empathy that he feels.

However, emotive language is not only created through adjectives:

‘The degeneration of the human body, sucked of its natural vitality by the twin evils of hunger and disease, is a disgusting thing’

The use of the verb ‘sucked’ creates the lack of control that the people encountered and the noun ‘evils’ represents the disgust he has for the situation.


A simile is when you compare one object with another. A simile uses the words ‘as’ and ‘like’ to compare.

As a highly experienced journalist, Alagiah becomes critical of his profession:

‘The search for the shocking is like the craving for a drug: you require heavier and more frequent doses the longer you’re at it’.

He compares reporting to addiction. It is as though they are always wanting something more controversial and more repulsive.It also seems as though the profession is bad for him: much like a drug.

Rhetorical Question

Rhetorical questions are questions that require no answer. The question remains unanswered in the piece.

Alagiah is haunted by the question: ‘What was it about that smile?’ It is as though all these years later, he remains haunted and he is unable to forget the man who smiled.


He lists incidents that he has seen over the years that will forever be in his head. It is as though he is traumatised by all he has seen, from a mother with her children to an old woman.


It is interesting that the description of the place comes before we understand why Alagiah was in Africa. This creates a sense of disgust and repulsion.

Alagiah lists incidents that have remained strong in his mind. He finishes the piece with the haunting image of a man. Despite the fact the image is haunting, the man was ‘smiling’.. It is as though it is a contradiction to the emotion Alagiah was feeling.


Within your examination, you will be asked a series of questions about the article.

Some of the questions will be short questions. For these questions, you must look at the number of marks in brackets. It is important to answer in full sentences.

Other questions will be long questions. For these questions, you must look at using analysis. You will also be asked to compare. Think carefully about the key comparisons and plan your answer first.

Assessment features are __coming soon: ____check back here in the next few days for the opportunity to ____unlock assessment ____and access ____teacher-written questions ____with ____model answers.

What years was Alagiah in Somalia? (1 mark)
Your answer should include: 1991 / 1992
Explanation: He was in Somalia between the end of 1991 and December 1992.
Where was the hamlet? (1 mark)
The hamlet was just outside Gufgadurad.
Explanation: The hamlet was just outside Gufgadurad.
How does Alagia use language and structure to present his emotions?
In this extract, there is an attempt to build disgust. Evaluate how successfully this is achieved. Support your views with detailed reference to the text. (15)
Provide 3 facts about George Alagiah
What is emotive language?
What structural devices are used in the piece?