When I founded Africa Is a Country in 2009, one of my goals was for the website (then still a blog) to emerge as a stage for a vibrant exchange of ideas about issues affecting Africa and its diaspora. I wanted to provide thoughtful, informed and critical analysis on politics, culture and social change by the very people in the middle of these situations—and get that analysis to new audiences. I mainly felt this because a vital world of ideas, opinion, artistic production, political innovation and social ferment existed in Africa, but was hidden from most of the world. And sadly today, the media construction of Africa by the rest of the world continues to be largely the same.
We have worked over the years to fight back against the one-dimensional and caricatured portrayals of Africa and Africans in the western media. Then, as the website grew we shifted our focus to bringing you original and insightful perspectives on contemporary African issues. But still, many of these viewpoints came from writers and artists already visible for their work in some platforms, even if they themselves felt marginalized in the global public sphere. So my thinking evolved: what if we provided the space for a next generation of African and Africanist writers and producers to emerge and build a body of work with us?
After many years of the website being run without funding, last year I was awarded a generous fellowship by the Shuttleworth Foundation to create an infrastructure for “a world where Africans are in control of their own narrative.” One of the projects we are launching to that end is the Africa Is a Country Fellowship. As we wrote when we announced the fellowship in January 2020, “the purpose is to support the production of original work and new knowledge on Africa-related topics that are under-recognized and under-covered in traditional media, new media, and other public forums. It particularly seeks to amplify voices and perspectives from the left that address the major political, social, and economic issues affecting Africans in ways that are original, accessible, and engaging to a variety of audiences.”
We had planned to announce our eight winners in March 2020, but then COVID-19 happened. We also received an unprecedented 800 applications. While we were surprised at the volume, it reveals the need for increased funding for creatives working on Africa. As a result, we created two additional fellowship slots.
We are now thrilled to announce 10 fellows, who will each be awarded $3,000 to work on a writing project for one year. They represent a diversity of regions, backgrounds and are each exploring exciting ideas related to politics, culture, sports or social movements. We hope they will make our inaugural class proud—please stay tuned to read their work over the next year on AIAC.
- Youlendree Appasamy, a freelance writer and editor from South Africa, will explore South African Indian class identities, particularly in Kwazulu-Natal province.
- Lassane Ouedraogo, a media scholar from Burkina Faso, will explore radical student movements in that country.
- Omar Robert Hamilton, an Egyptian writer, will explore how colonial structures persist in hydrocarbon economics, including oil extraction from the Niger Delta, coltan and cobalt from Congo and the web of dark money that centers around Luanda.
- Anna Karima Wane, a Dakar-based artist, will trace the history of protest movements in Senegal via oral histories.
- Mariga Wang’ombe Thoith, a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya, will investigate the political economy of the homegrown porn industry in Africa.
- Amar Jamal Mohamed Ali, a Sudanese journalist based in Egypt, will explore the post-revolution future of the Sudanese left.
- Suzana Sousa, an art curator and writer based in Luanda, Angola, will dive deep into Angolan cultural politics.
- Liam Brickhill, a freelance journalist from Zimbabwe, will unearth stories on Zimbabwean cricket.
- Ricci Shryock, an American journalist based in Dakar, Senegal, will explore the role of women in Guinea-Bissau’s liberation war.
- Fatima-Ezzahra Bendami, a journalist from Morocco in Tunisia, will explore racial politics, especially the marginal position of black Tunisians.