This year the White House Correspondents’ Association held their annual dinner and, for the first time in years, the President of the United States attended. For over a decade I have faithfully made sure to watch the most notorious or perhaps the best part of the dinner: the comedian’s speech.
This year, the good-natured President Joe Biden shook Trevor Noah’s hand on his way to sit down to be roasted by South Africa’s best export to America in recent years.
We don’t talk about Elon Musk, and Charlize Theron lost her accent.
Comedians kept me (almost) sane and motivated to continue engaging with the news for the past six years. Whereas before I used their wit and satire for entertainment, creative inspiration since the arts do cross-pollinate, and occasionally therapy and stress relief, they became a lifeline when we entered the Dark Timeline roughly six years ago here in Tanzania and in the US with the election of Donald Trump. Journalists in the US were being aggressed at public events where Trump appeared, in the “Land of Freedom.”
In Tanzania I had lost my blog due to hostile legislation. Newsrooms fired promising young talents, got bullied, raided and quieted down. Investigative journalists disappeared and with them the practice of investigative journalism.
There was no more comedy on the TV. Just propaganda, day after day, after day of footage of roads and bridges and trains and machines and buildings and Dodoma and the dam and the port and sellouts singing praise songs… but no people. No ease. All edges, no laughing out loud.
We learned to hide our national conversations deep in Kiswahili, which is a magical pocket of a language: simple on the outside and infinitely vast on the inside like a genie’s bottle.
We told each other cryptic coded messages and complex jokes that took ages to decipher. Online we battled brigades of trolls and bullies waging psychological warfare.
I spent a lot of time listening to the few who could still find the funny at home and a lot of time “checked out” hooked on late-night comedy shows and stand-up comedy from the US.
Both countries shared the same distress: the Fourth Estate was under siege and losing the battle. The business of telling the truth had to seek refuge in the art of comedy.
Then came Covid-19. You know the rest. But here we are, in 2022, and I was on an online video platform the other night watching a miracle.
Noah, a biracial man born during Apartheid, was standing at the podium at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner roasting not only the President of the United States but the entire media corps that was in attendance. Yes, I cried.
Let me “Wikipedia” for you a little bit. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) might have invented public broadcast and, frankly, the news as we know it now, but the White House Correspondents’ Association put the Fourth Estate inside the Executive.
In 1914, journalists freaked out about a rumour that Congress would basically be in charge of selecting who could cover the President’s press conferences — Woodrow Wilson in this case.
Just process that for a minute. They already had press conferences in the White House in 1914! Ask me if we have press conferences here in Ikulu in 2022, I dare you! Just ask me! Makes me so mad I could just about do a handstand right now.
Anyway, long story short. American journalists made sure the state could not be in control of the Fourth Estate at this critical location by forming a professional association and they have been the bane of the White House people ever since.
Their annual dinner is an event that celebrates excellence in journalism and raises funds to help young, up-and-coming talent in the Fourth Estate.
And the comedian, the entertainer? Their job is to diss the “Most Powerful Man in the World” (he isn’t) for a solid 20 to 30 minutes. Free. Fearless. Speech!
Noah killed that night. He is an infuriatingly talented man, intelligent and authentic and compassionate. Whereas in the comfortable days before 2016 happened to us all the presidential roast could afford to focus on current events and politics mostly, Noah shone the spotlight firmly not on partisan politics but on the Fourth Estate.
Sure, current affairs came up but he carried this theme through his whole speech and ended it on a message directly to journalists, reminding everyone in that room what the event was really about. The timing couldn’t have been better.
One does not improve on perfection so consider this my long introduction speech to Noah’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner 2022 remarks. And now, go watch it.
I am writing this on Africa Day 2022 so let me end thusly: Thank you, Noah. As for you America, you are welcome.
For everything the sons and daughters of African soils have done to build you into the country you are today for better, for worse. Stop killing each other. Stay blessed, diaspora.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]