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On our year-end publishing break, we consider: what is the work and role of little magazines like our own?

Gaza sea coast. Image credit Anglican Video via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed.

We are taking our annual, year-end publishing break. This time, it can’t help but feel somewhat inappropriate to do so. On Sunday, 972 magazine published a report profiling some of the 14,000 rescue workers comprising Gaza’s civil defense teams, who lead the efforts after each Israeli airstrike to save the lives of those trapped beneath the rubble. One rescue worker, Ahmed Abu Khudair from Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, at one point heartbreakingly relays the relentlessness of the impossible task facing him and his colleagues: “For me, my day began on October 7, and it has not ended yet.” 

Since Hamas’ attack on October 7, 1% of Gaza’s 2.48 million people have been killed by Israel’s unprecedented retaliation, and 25% face the risk of death from starvation given the ongoing siege. 8,000 people—roughly 0.4% of the population—are missing in the rubble, presumed dead. Every day, we encounter rhetoric and statements from Israeli officials and authority figures pronouncing eliminationist intent. Every day, we are met with new evidence that there is no separation being made between combatants and civilians and that the goal is to inflict as much pain and suffering on civilians as possible. Israel’s retaliation is genocidal.

The world-historical terror we are bearing witness to is hard to watch. But it is also impossible to look away. And yet, somehow, our lives must be lived amid great catastrophe, and as we make sense of it. So goes the premise of the film And Life Goes On, which is the second in Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s “Koker” trilogy. A work of docu-fiction, in it, a filmmaker visits Northern Iran after it was devastated by the 1990 Manjil–Rudbar earthquake which killed 30,000 people. What he encounters, are scenes of calamity. Of families searching beneath the rubble for their loved ones. Of families mourning their dead. Yet, he also encounters startling normality—like newlyweds who married the day after the earthquake, or villagers scrambling to erect an antenna to watch a Round of 16 match of the 1990 FIFA Men’s World Cup, between Argentina and Brazil.

Of course, the destruction in Gaza is not the outcome of preternatural forces but premeditated, human decisions. It may seem as if nothing can be done about it, that the course has been charted. But here, we all have the power, in ways big and small, to do something. The incredible political mobilizations across the world calling for a ceasefire are working. The vast majority of the world supports a ceasefire, with the last resolution tabled at the United Nations calling for such prevailing with 153 in favor, 10 against, and 23 abstentions. Even the US, Israel’s staunchest ally, has occasionally shifted its rhetoric, with US President Joe Biden recently warning that Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” may cause it to lose global support.

Of course, that rhetoric has been followed with precious little by way of threat or action. So, the fight must continue. And not just against apartheid and oppression in Palestine, but against it everywhere. In Sudan, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere. The kind of internationalist consciousness that is being forged now, that is re-politicizing masses worldwide, can be harnessed toward a movement to rewrite the global structure along egalitarian lines, toward worldmaking. 

Thus, although it feels odd to be on our usual “Safari,” a break is what we all need. Last year, an issue of Jewish Currents was devoted to the topic of “rest,” discussing the meaning of Shabbat in Judaism. As the editorial observes, “Like the revolutionary vision of anti-work politics, the emphasis on rest in Judaism appears connected to its world-making capacity—its ability to reorder our priorities, returning us to ourselves and our communities.” 

My impulse—as I’m sure many have felt—is to think any kind of respite a privilege. How can we rest, especially now, when that is denied to many? But this is misguided; it is to invert something that is owed to every person by simple dint of their humanity into something that is enjoyed as something special. It may be in the world we inhabit right now that what is basic and what should be guaranteed to all is the preserve of few. But the goal remains for all to have it.

And our work remains to politicize this inequality. To rail against the elite consensus that these deprivations are natural or can’t be helped. Today’s political economy of knowledge is modeled on the reproduction of the idea that things cannot change and that at best, the future will be a slightly modified version of the present. At Africa Is a Country, we see ourselves as a space where we actively contest this, and where we reclaim our political imagination and expand the horizon of possibility.

Funded by Open Society Foundations, this September, we launched our “New African Intellectuals” project, whose aim is to recruit and support a cross-section of new intellectuals thinking and writing about Africa, and representing various regions and language blocs. But rather than pursue it as something in addition to our usual work, we’ve integrated the project into our core functioning. We’ve appointed three new regional editors, consisting of people who have contributed to Africa Is a Country in the past. Kenya-based Wangui Kimari will cover East Africa, Nigeria-based Sa’eed Husaini will cover West Africa, and Shamira Ibrahim, will be what we call the “Francophone regional editor” to cover French-speaking Africa and its diaspora.

In addition to our regional editors, we have also incorporated new writers into our fold by hiring Khanya Mtshali as a staff writer to cover cultural politics from the Southern African perspective, and Algeria-based sports writer Maher Mezahi is helping shore up our coverage of African football. We are funding his work on his new African five-a-side podcast, and he will be our on-the-ground correspondent at the upcoming African Cup of Nations tournament in Abidjan, writing pieces and curating content for publication on the site and across our various platforms.

In fact, for the entire month of January, we will be concentrating exclusively on AFCON. As Africa’s premier spectacle, our conviction is that rather than leave it up to the resource-rich, mainstream press to be the only voices framing the experience of the tournament, it is important to throw our weight in as a politically minded, grassroots-driven little magazine. The last year has vindicated the cause of little magazines and little media projects, as mainstream media continuously prove themselves to often be nothing more than mouthpieces for the state and vehicles for the interests of national and global elites. 

We will be in Abidjan where we will plant our flag as one of the international publications covering the African Cup of Nations football tournament from a cultural and political perspective. We will also host an event with special guests to talk about various cultural and political aspects of African football and will conclude with a pan-African musical performance bringing together Congo, Canada, and Cote d’Ivoire. 

And then, we will get back to our regular work of publishing informed political commentary and cultural criticism from a left perspective. On our last publishing break, we considered what the responsibility of African intellectuals is today. Israel’s brutal war against Palestine and Palestinians prompts us to consider the question more broadly: what is the role of the media? In particular, what is the role of media outlets that are concerned with social justice?  What would it mean to treat the exchange of information as a terrain of struggle? And how is this to be balanced with the imperative to write truthfully about the world—claiming no easy victories, and telling no lies?

We are one of many outlets contemplating such questions. Doing so also requires a kind of humility about how much we can do, and how much is left up to political struggle and activism. We cannot do everything. Still, we do not have to finish the work, but nor are we free to desist from it.

Further Reading

On Safari

We are on our annual publishing break until August 28th. Please check our Twitter and Facebook pages for posts and updates until then.

On Safari

The year that Prince Akeem, Queen Aoleon, King Jaffe Joffer and the “African” Kingdom of Zamunda made a spectacular comeback.