http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/500/10_500.gifPambazuka News distinguishes itself by exploring the issues the continent faces ‘without reinforcing stereotypes about Africans’, writes Mandisi Majavu, challenging ‘the way we understand African politics’ and the way in which ‘African politics are presented in the mainstream media’.
What distinguishes Pambazuka News from other online newsletters that focus on African issues is that Pambazuka News explores challenges facing the continent without reinforcing stereotypes about Africans. In other words, the newsletter does not portray Africans either as objects of pity or as photogenic objects. Instead, journalists and academics who write for Pambazuka News often write about Africans as active subjects of history who are capable of changing their circumstances.
The newsletter strives to make sure that people it gives space to are writers who are based in African countries they want to write about. It is people who have considerable knowledge of whatever African country’s politics they want to write about. It is not always a simple task to find Africans who are privileged enough to have the time to research and write articles, sometimes for free.
High levels of illiteracy prevalent in many African countries further preclude people from participating in academic debates. This is a challenge faced by many publications in Africa.
Perhaps, it is worth noting that this problem was partly created by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). When these international financial institutions imposed structural adjustment programmes on African governments, they also forced African governments to cut government funding to education (Caffentzis, 2000). In addition, the World Bank launched what it calls the African Capacity Building Initiative (ACBI) in 1991. The ACBI’s basic purpose is to build a ‘critical mass of professional African policy analysts and economic managers who will be able to better manage the development process,’ according to the World Bank ACBI document. To this end, a number of training institutions have been established. These institutions are supposed to offer ‘new or refresher training courses on issues critical to development management – for example, the exchange rate, agricultural pricing, industry tariffs, privatisation, social sector financing, and decision-making processes in general.’
It is not foolhardy to suggest that graduates from these institutions will probably not be too eager to write for a progressive newsletter like Pambazuka News.
Another challenge faced by the newsletter is that many people in Africa are not connected to the internet. It is reported that Africa has the lowest number of internet users in the world. This is because many African countries have no infrastructure and lack resources to improve the situation. Even a country like South Africa, which comparatively speaking is more developed than most African countries, has a small percentage of the population connected to the internet. A recent study found that out of the 50 million people living in South Africa, only about 5.3 million people use the internet.
Pambazuka News exist in this milieu. And, these are some of the factors that the newsletter has to overcome if the journal is going to remain relevant to people living in Africa.
For me, however, as I have explained in the introduction of this article, Pambazuka’s major achievement so far is that it is one of the few online newsletters that publish essays and articles that challenge the way we understand African politics and the manner in which African politics are presented in the mainstream media. Mahmood Mamdani (2009) argues that when Western media reports on African politics, ‘it seeks the dramatic, which is why media silence on Africa is often punctuated by high drama and why the reportage on African wars is more superficial than in-depth.’ He adds that reporting on African affairs is seen as an entry point for novice journalists, hence there are no Africa specialists.
In contrast, Pambazuka News publishes journalists and academics who write seriously about African politics. Unlike the Western media which operates on an assumption that ‘African tragedies happen in isolation’, devoid of any historical context, Pambazuka News publishes stories and news analysis that aim to contextualise social unrest or civil wars happening in the continent.
To deviate from the Western hegemonic modes of writing about Africa is a fundamental task of African critical thinkers. This is the decolonisation project that Ngugi wa Thiong’o speaks of, it is the idea that Frantz Fanon addresses in his writing. Thus, for me, Pambazuka News represent a forum that aims to give voice to the kind of counter-hegemonic criticism that celebrates an intellectual heritage embodied in the books such as the ‘Black Athena: The Afroasiatic roots of classical civilisation’ and the ‘African Origin of Civilisation: Myth of Reality’.
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* Mandisi Majavu is an activist, writer and a social scientist by training. He was online news editor of Pambazuka News in 2006.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Caffentzis, G. (2000). The World Bank and education n Africa. In S. Federici, G. Caffentzis & O. Alidou (Eds), A thousand flowers: Social struggles against structural adjustment in African Universities (p. 3 – 18). New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc.
Mamdani, M. (2009). Saviours and survivors: Darfur, politics, and the War on Terror. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
The World Bank. (1991). The African Capacity Building Initiative: Toward improved policy analysis and development management (This report was prepared under the direction of Edward V. K. Jaycox). Washington D.C.: The International Bank for Reconstrcution and Development.