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Hartley was born in Nairobi in 1965. He attended Sherborne School, in Dorset, England. He read English at Balliol College, Oxford University and went on to the School of Oriental and African Studies, (SOAS) to study African politics and history.
As a foreign correspondent for Reuters news agency, Hartley covered Africa in the 1990s - wars in Somalia, famine in Ethiopia and genocide in Rwanda. He is the author of The Zanzibar Chest: A Story of Life, Love, and Death in Foreign Lands, which was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize. As a correspondent for the Channel 4 award-winning current affairs series Unreported World and "Dispatches" he made nearly thirty documentaries.
His film, "Warlord Next Door", about Somalia won a Banff World Television Award in 2009. "Terror in Sudan" about Khartoum's bombing campaign against civilians in Sudan's Nuba Mountains won a Rory Peck Sony Impact Award in 2012 and "Master Chef of Mogadishu" won a One World Media Award in 2013. He writes the "Wild Life" column for The Spectator. 
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