Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version News has a 10-year track record of publishing articles that present a direct counter to the status quo. Moving beyond its 500th issue and into its second decade, the Pambazuka News community will be able to connect and share information on an unprecedented level, thanks to a forthcoming new web platform. This, believes editor Firoze Manji, makes Pambazuka News well placed to reflect a mood in Africa that is one of ‘discontent, of a search for alternatives to the ideology of looting and personal enrichment’.

Today we publish the 500th issue of the English language edition of Pambazuka News and in a few months, we celebrate our 10th anniversary. It is hard to believe that what started out as a casual initiative to enable activists and human rights organisations in Africa to keep up to date and in touch with each other via email should have evolved to what it is today.

So what has Pambazuka News become today? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer, for it is many things to many people. Despite its name, it is not a news service: yes, there is news to be found, and yes we try to summarise what we believe to be the most important developments across the continent in our Links and Resources section of the e-newsletter. But it’s more than that. The articles we publish are not (with very few exceptions) generated by journalists, but by a large (and growing) community of over 2,500 writers, academics, bloggers, activists, organisations and movements. In that sense, Pambazuka News is probably the most well established, yet completely unacknowledged, example of citizen journalism - and the newsletter came into being well before that jargon passed into common usage. Yet it is more than just a site for citizen journalism.

Pambazuka News was developed to nurture and support the development of a progressive pan-African movement that is committed to ensuring that the people of the continent can and will determine their own destinies. It was developed to enable people to ‘organise to emancipate themselves from all forms of oppression, recognise their social responsibilities, respect each other’s differences, and realise their full potential.’ [1]

What we have sought to do is to provide a platform, a space, for critical analysis from a pan-African and emancipatory perspective, that informs and arms those engaged in the struggles for social transformation and that enables them to have their voices heard above the cacophony of the outputs of corporate media. We have actively sought to enable connections of solidarity to be made across the continent and the African diaspora. We have sought to demystify ‘development’ by exposing the pillage and exploitation of Africa’s people and natural resources by the corporations, aid agencies, by the so-called ‘emerging powers’, and by our local elites. We have enabled numerous social movements and campaigning organisations to use Pambazuka News to advocate for progressive social policies. We have provided safe spaces where subjects such as sexuality and LBGTI issues can be discussed without fear. And we have encouraged debate and discussions on the critical issues of the day. In doing so, we have published perspectives that counter the superficial, patronising and often racist caricature about Africa that is so prevalent in international media, that counter the begging-bowl mentality of development NGOs and the aid industry who present Africans as passive objects of pity awaiting their patronage. But above all, Pambazuka News portrays the people of Africa as agents of change, people who, despite all the impediments, write their own histories in their every day struggles.

But if our goal has been to nurture a pan-African movement, we recognise that even within the movement there will be diverse perspectives that need to be aired and discussed. We have not shied away from airing the differences over subjects such as Mugabe’s land reform programme in Zimbabwe, on Darfur, and on Rwanda. Open, and non-sectarian discussion of differing perspectives is a precondition for clarity and, paradoxically, for building unity.

One of the guiding principles of Pambazuka News has always been that we have no competitors: where others develop newsletters, create new websites or take initiatives that are similar to ours, we celebrate and seek to give them publicity in the pages of Pambazuka News.

Our readership is relatively modest. We have about 26,000 subscribers, and some 600,000 unique visitors to the website over the last year. This readership has been built principally by word of mouth. We don’t know the actual size of the readership: articles from Pambazuka News are regularly published at, and on numerous other sites. Our reader surveys indicate that on average each subscriber forwards the newsletter to five other people.

The degree to which this community of readers and the 2,500 contributing authors have been able to interact with each other has hitherto been limited to writing articles, sending letters to the editor, or commenting on articles online. This is something that we are seeking to address. In the coming months we will be launching a new website that will enable greater interactions, space for members to post information about themselves, upload articles, initiate debates, organise campaigns, and participate in online forums to which leading intellectuals and activists will be invited to facilitate. A preview of what the new home page will look like is shown below.

Five years ago, we used to publish three or four original articles each week. Today, we receive so many submissions of thoughtful material that we have little choice but to publish between 20 and 30 articles a week. We know from many of you that the volume - and indeed length - of these articles is too great. Even we have problems reading and editing it all. If we had the resources, we would certainly want to provide shorter versions of many of the articles.

Are we just victims of our own success? In part, yes. Given the popularity of Pambazuka News, there are growing numbers of people who would like to be published with us. But I believe this increase in the volume of contributions is also a reflection of something much larger than Pambazuka News: over the 10 years of our existence, we have become increasingly aware that we are living in a new era of the rise of protest, the resurgence of activism, the re-emergence of social movements that refuse to be bowed, a clamouring for another world. There is, we believe, a growing loss of credibility in the empty mantras of many of our nationalist ‘leaders’ who have sold so many of the hard-earned fruits of independence, who have overseen the privatisation of public services, of land, of natural resources, created landlessness, unemployment (and even never-employment) and in the process accumulated vast amounts of personal wealth. The concept of ‘development’ has been emptied of any real meaning beyond being a process of accumulation by dispossession. There is a mood of discontent, of a search for alternatives to the ideology of looting and personal enrichment. It is that mood that is being reflected, we believe, in the content of the articles that are published in Pambazuka News.

In the coming period, as the world capitalist economy continues to spiral into crisis, as the drive to maximise profits prevents any reasonable measure to halt and reverse climate change, and as competition for access to natural resources escalates, Africa faces the threat of losing ever more of its control over its own destiny. An effective movement for justice and freedom is needed today as in no other time in history. If Pambazuka News can contribute towards building such a movement, then we will indeed have lived lives worth living.

[1] Mission statement of Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice


* Firoze Manji is editor in chief of Pambazuka News.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.