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Books on Cities: Tim Cocks, Lagos: Supernatural City (2022)

About a year after its publication, Tim Cocks’ Lagos: Supernatural City received a positive review in the Los Angeles Review of Books with the unfortunate headline “When a White Man Writes a Good Book About Africa.” I call it unfortunate not because of its untruth — for indeed, Tim Cocks, a white man, has written a good book about Africa, or at least a part of Africa — but because of its tendentious clickbait-adjacency. That belies the nature of the review itself, whose author, a New York-based Nigerian journalist called Kovie Biakolo, concedes the potential advantages of Cocks’ “outsider perspective.” She also admits that he actually does know Lagos “more fully and better than I do,” in the face of the assumption to which fashionable lines of thinking tend to lead: “I am Nigerian, he is not, and therefore I should know Lagos better than he does.”

An Englishman with South African roots, Cocks has been (as his Twitter bio indicates) reporting from the “mother continent” for a couple of decades at this point. He now lives in Johannesburg, but previously lived in Dakar and before that in Lagos, where he worked as Reuters’ Nigeria bureau chief from 2011 to 2015. He makes that clear right at the beginning of the preface, shortly before stating that “this is not a book about my own experience of Lagos.” As a reader, I always find such a declaration somewhat dispiriting, though it’s also unsurprising coming from a writer of Cocks’ professional formation. For better or for worse, reporters get habit drilled into them of staying out of (or minimizing their presence in) the “story,” which, of course, should involve only their interviewees and the people to whom those interviewees are connected, a cast in this case 100 percent Lagosian.

Read the whole thing at Substack.