Mark Huband, who died at the age of 58 of pancreatitis and multiple organ failure, has built a solid and lasting reputation for more than three decades as a foreign correspondent and business analyst, specializing in Africa and the Middle East.
He and I met when he arrived in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in 1989 to work as a reporter for the Financial Times and I was working for Reuters. He entered the race and, despite his youth, he quickly became a well-known figure among journalists, diplomats and representatives of foreign companies covering the West African region. He was lively, committed and committed to history, and then worked as an Africa correspondent for the Guardian and the Observer before returning to London. He did not watch events from a distance but always saw something of himself in others.
His first mission was to Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire’s western neighbor, shortly after civil war broke out there at the end of 1989. It was a baptism of fire. The country has been devastated by long years of instability and sporadic fighting.
He was briefly captured by Charles Taylor’s wig-wearing rebels, the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) in April 1990, when they stopped the freight train on which he was traveling and took him hostage, the holding back for five days. It could have been his end but, probably impressed by this young journalist’s bravery, or because Taylor saw no point in harming him, his captors let him go.
Undeterred, Huband went on to report on the last years of Mobutu Sese Seko’s reign in what was then Zaire, as the Cold War drew to a close, and on many conflicts that marked the 1990s and the contemporary history of the African continent, such as the clan wars in Somalia and the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, he was among the first Western journalists to enter Kigali after the massacre of 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis.
He was based in Kenya for the Guardian and Observer from 1992 to 1995, in Morocco (1995-96), for the Times, and in Cairo as a regional correspondent (1997-2000) for the Financial Times. Upon his return to London from Egypt, he was instrumental in establishing the FT’s International Economics section and, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he was appointed to oversee coverage of Al -Qaida.
This then led to his appointment as the newspaper’s first security correspondent. The knowledge he developed on these issues served as the basis for his later book Trading Secrets: Spies and Intelligence in an Age of Terror (2013), which was shortlisted in the Paddy Power Political Book Awards.
Huband was a writer in the full sense of the word. The constant desire to tell the story from different angles led him to explore different genres. Beyond politics and conflict, he was interested in human nature and the desire to understand why things happen and not just how they happen.
His reporting led to a constant flow of factual and creative writing, from politics, essays and fiction to poetry which later became his main focus. In addition to Trading Secrets, he has written several well-received books, one focusing on the Liberian Civil War, another a detailed study of sub-Saharan Africa in the post-Cold War period, as well as four books on the Middle East and the Arab World.
Poetry brochures and poetry collections included Agony: A Poem of Genocide (2019) and The Siege of Monrovia (2017), which was shortlisted for the First Live Canon Collection competition. In 2017 he wrote a memoir, Skinny White Kids, rooted both in the England of his day (the 70s) and in the deeper journey of a boy who would later become a war correspondent. He was working on a new collection of poetry at the time of his death.
Huband’s departure from the FT in 2005 marked a turning point in his life. He became an executive in a business intelligence company before co-founding and managing his own business, Livingstone & Company, three years later. He has provided bespoke risk assessment on a global scale, for multinational operators in the US, UK and Western Europe in industries such as mining, gas and oil, telecommunications, financial services, construction, transport and law.
Mark was born in Low Bentham, Yorkshire, the son of Ann (née Greening), a secretary, and David Huband, a teacher. He grew up in Essex, attending Burnt Mill High School (now the academy), Harlow, where his father was responsible for English. Mark then studied Medieval, Modern and Economic History at the University of Manchester and obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism (1986) from Cardiff University.
In 2017 he ran as a parliamentary candidate for the Labor Party in the Cotswolds and in the next general election in 2019 he came second in Somerset North behind incumbent Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.
He and Marceline Guidy, originally from Ivory Coast, got married in Paris in 1993. With their two children, Olivier and Zara, they settled in the Cotswolds after 15 years traveling the African continent. Mark was an avid gardener and loved painting, making striking portraits of his son and daughter. He took up walking, played guitar and recently walked 350 km on his own through the French Pyrenees, raising funds and raising awareness about pulmonary fibrosis. He is survived by Marceline and their children.