I am delighted to announce that after fourteen years, I am passing the baton at Africa Is a Country to some talented younger people I have been working with for some time, and I have every confidence in them moving forward.
Will Shoki is taking over as editor, and Boima Tucker is taking on the role of director of operations. My role shifts to that of the Publisher.
Boima has been the backbone of AIAC since he first became involved in 2010 as a contributor, he has played many different roles, including as managing editor from 2014. Apart from his steady stewardship of everything AIAC, more recently, Boima, who has formal training in media production, has been spearheading our move to produce film. He is producing and editing our new feature documentary, “After Oil,” which explores what a just transition to a green energy economy looks like on the African continent. We focus on energy politics in four locations: South Africa, Kenya, Algeria, and Morocco. We hope that by telling the story of energy in these places, we can give a wide picture of what the current reality for the transition away from fossil fuels means in the Global South and also give a warning about what unequal distribution of the benefits of the green transition might foretell for the future. We aim to shift policy from a transition driven by private businesses and wealthy governments in the global north to a more democratic global vision for a more equitable green energy future.
Will, who started as a contributor and then staff writer at AIAC in 2019, is one of the most exciting intellectuals in South Africa. He is already making a mark, and seeing how he is putting his stamp on AIAC, his tenure as editor will be exciting. Will is a political philosopher and a graduate student at Wits University in Johannesburg, where he lives.
Apart from the pivot to film, one thing I am excited about, coming from them, is a project to foster the next generation of intellectuals. Funded by Open Society Foundations, “New African Intellectuals” will recruit a cohort of young African thinkers involved in knowledge production (across various mediums), to mentor them and help them produce content for Africa Is a Country.
I don’t have any profound lessons to share or highlight the reel of my time creating, consolidating, and building AIAC. I leave that to our supporters and, inevitably, our critics to judge my work. For those who want a sense of my thinking and experiences as founder-editor of Africa Is a Country, I’d recommend these sources, written at various points in the evolution of the project: in African Journalism Studies, in Small Axe, for a talk at the LSE in 2015, and these interviews with AJ Plus, Columbia Review of Books and Gerda Henkel Stiftung. It is an interview with the latter during the pandemic that I think I provided a capsule summary of our work thus far:
“In 2001, I came to New York City as a visiting student at The New School. At the time I was doing a PhD in Politics at Birkbeck College at the University of London. Not long after, I started blogging about Western media debates about Africa, including as “Leo Africanus,” Mainstream media coverage of Africa in Europe and the US was abysmal. Outside of the large, mainstream, and most popular media outlets, the sources about African politics and culture were blogs that highlighted development debates, NGO issues, the pros and cons of US or EU foreign policy for Africa argued between Americans, and aspirational politics of African elites like the idea of the “Afropolitan” or the “African Renaissance.” They had little to do with actual African politics, aspirations, or perspectives. I saw Africa Is a Country (AIAC) as intervening in those debates. But I also wanted to introduce audiences to leftist perspectives on African affairs and to undercut the dominant media narratives about Africa. Much of the inspiration for such perspectives comes from my background coming of age in South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when an alternative or Left press—publications such as Grassroots, South, New Nation, The Weekly Mail, Work in Progress, and South African Labour Bulletin, had a lasting impression on me. I wanted to emulate that media. Outside South Africa, I was particularly influenced by the style of the Ugandan magazine, Transition.
“AIAC’s founding coincided with political debate moving from traditional media to almost exclusively online. I am not naive about the internet (we all know it is a cesspool of right-wing propaganda and misinformation). Still, the ability to self-publish has vastly contributed to democratizing the public sphere. I also know that despite our best efforts, most Africans still source the news they read about themselves or other Africans elsewhere on the continent via non-African sources. Nevertheless, I am very proud of the work we have done. We have managed, particularly in our early work, mainly media criticism, to make foreign correspondents think twice about how they portray Africa. We have created space for over 1,000 contributors, including several first-time authors, to write to a global audience. More recently, we want our work to be seen in languages other than English, and we are keen to produce more visual media. Today, Africa Is a Country is considered one of the leading sites providing thoughtful and incisive commentary from the Left about the continent.”
This is a significant moment. Today’s youth in Africa face war, privatized or nonexistent public services, racism, patriarchy, police violence, environmental degradation, sexual identity discrimination, and the most extreme fallouts from the climate crisis. Clearly, the “national liberation” generation—those who led decolonial movements and promised self-determination for African people—have run out of ideas and failed young Africans. Franz Fanon famously said, “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” So famously that it might ring trite. But with the global bend toward nationalist conservativism and authoritarianism in many places worldwide, an urgency rings through and reflects the realities facing young African intellectuals today.
The new generation of young and progressive African thinkers face several obstacles to fully participate in intellectual life during this important time in Africa’s postcolonial present: among others, universities are few, unaffordable, resource-poor, or out of reach; there aren’t enough news and opinion outlets to publish fresh and critically-engaged writing; gatekeepers only designate a limited number of voices that align with the mainstream consensus; they face authoritarianism and censorship; lack of translation; and, most importantly, funds to pay them for their work.
There is a widespread dearth of serious political commentary and cultural criticism. We want to continue building a vibrant and robust public sphere. I believe that Will and Boima will continue the legacy of publishing diverse voices for an international audience to strengthen a new generation of critically engaged intellectuals, while bringing their views into conversation with the mainstream.