With Pambazuka News publishing its 200th French-language edition this week, Tidiane Kassé – Pambazuka’s French-language editor – discusses the importance of alternative, Africa-led media and the challenges for the future.
When in the 1980s UNESCO was calling for a new world communications order in the name of allowing Southern voices to be heard within a fairer global system, the concern was to exist. The media landscape was at a mere embryonic stage in Africa, with poor content. The exchange had never been equal, and the terms of exchange were not even laid down in full, because beyond a new information order there was also the question of calling for a new world order of thought. What was a right also had to be linked to a cause.
Not only did Africa suffer from being almost silent within the global communications space, it was also subject to particular ideas and judgements, clichés and false perceptions. Behind a Western prism of ‘facts’ oozed grotesque interpretations of a caricatured reality – whether conscious or not – within devious conceptualisations serving to perpetuate mental subservience. Everything functioned to ensure African consciousness would be unable to ‘make history’ and remain mere tragic puppets on a global stage. Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa and Mobutu Sese Seku spring to mind.
But four years of running the French-language edition of Pambazuka News has led us to dive deep into the immense ocean of African thought, around the continent and within the diaspora alike. This is a contemporary thought, one reactive to a world made and unmade day by day and which both seizes the challenges of the moment and looks to the future. Putting Africa as the centre of reflection backed by an established history of pan-African thought, this is a tradition of initiatives and solutions rooted in a struggle to see African alternatives triumph and a new day dawn.
Each week Pambazuka acts as a kind of open book on Africa. Its readers are able to engage with the financial and food crises, the inequality that underpins social injustice, the destructive conflicts – as much serious as they are superficial – that tear people apart, chaotic governance, the remnants of Françafrique and the problems of a false democracy – themes which are far from historical accidents. Having broken the chains of subservient thought, Samir Amin, Demba Moussa Dembélé, Aziz Salmone Fall and so many other contributors continue to reveal the effects of the West’s efforts to dominate the South and the consequences for the global South of a system in crisis.
Yash Tandon has written, pertinently, that ‘all history is one of “the included” and “the excluded”, those within the kingdom and those outside of it’. In other words, exploiters and ‘the wretched of the earth’. Tandon is among those who through Pambazuka aim to deconstruct and rebuild thinking left over from the colonial era. He is one of the regular contributors to Pambazuka who show that Africa must not live trapped by notions of inevitability and immobilisation. The continent’s potential and energy, though betrayed at the dawn of independence and at the altar of compromise, treason and assassinations (Lumumba, Sankara, Um Nyobe, Moumié, Biko), are alive and well. It is simply a matter of awakening what is dormant. Pambazuka now finds itself in a year of reflection, while the popular uprisings that have run through the Arab countries of the continent and swarmed those south of the Sahara – from Dakar to Lilongwe, passing by Lomé and Ouagadougou – represent a year of action.
Pambazuka reflects the expression of active and conscious citizens. It puts the emphasis on citizen journalism through an open space of expression where renowned intellectuals, engaged grassroots activists and knowledgeable researchers share their reflections and challenge the misplaced media representations which define Africa as a land of chaos. It is not for ‘development’ that Pambazuka aims to nourish Africa’s cause, but for questions of sovereignty, social justice and human dignity.
Africa needs a more assertive collective consciousness, especially at a time when the West’s dominance is based to a great degree on control of the means of communication and information, as well as the flow of that information.
At 200 issues, the French edition of Pambazuka News has marked out space for reflection, but immense challenges remain along a difficult road – greater challenges still for those who believe in and are working for a new destiny for Africa.
Naturally, much work remains. The 2,500 contributors – who for the last 10 years (beginning with the English-language edition) have selflessly developed this newsletter while seeking nothing in return but to contribute to the emergence of a resurgent Africa – are more determined than ever. Equally, meeting each Tuesday over the internet from Dakar, Cape Town, Oxford, Nairobi and Salvador de Bahia to discuss the pulse of the world and exchange views of the contents of the three issues in English, French and Portuguese, the passion of the editorial team remains very much intact.
This passion is driven by new ambitions. The Pambazuka website will develop a new interface in which its contributors will have greater scope to exchange and where its readers will have access to greater resources. Put simply, our 500,000 readers from around the world – in one way or another – will be able to get more involved and take greater advantage of this more dynamic space.
Firoze Manji, editor-in-chief of Pambazuka, spells out the near future: ‘In the coming months, we’re going to be launching a more interactive website, with space for members themselves to post their own information, download articles, hold debates, organise campaigns and participate in forums with well-known intellectuals and activists invited to facilitate online talks.’
Our road is a difficult one. Pambazuka’s resources are not sufficient to guarantee its financial viability, in complete independence, and to sustain this reflective space where resistance is nourished and where challenges are spelled out with a view to redressing the injustices present in our world. We’re pursuing a variety of means to ensure that Pambazuka goes on, but the most vital contribution will be donations from each reader to ensure our work together can continue. Let’s continue to share this space, because the more that our community of readers enlarges, the greater the potential for support.
The publication of this 200th edition brings these challenges into even sharper focus. Seemingly harking back to old footage of Biafra in the 1960s, Ethiopia in the 1970s, the Sahel in the 1980s, currently we have images of malnourished children in Somalia inundating our television screens from the cameras of international media, of aeroplanes delivering food parcels and the theatricality of reporters deployed to report on and witness crises that they understand nothing about and whose analysis relies on easy shortcuts.
In these images we find ourselves back in an Africa seemingly incapable of escaping the inevitability of conflict and war, epidemics, genocides and massacres … with stories half-told or merely presented in their last scenes. The children from the Horn of Africa we see suffering and crying on the evening television are the victims of a globalised logic of exploitation and of pillage (with the complicity of local auxiliaries and support), and of a system of resource-grabbing of all kinds which sees more graves grow than granaries and grain – despite Africa’s rich land. For the past 10 years Pambazuka has sought to explain how and why resistance develops against such conditions and to propose alternatives.
For 10 years Pambazuka has sought to sound the alarm through nurturing this consciousness as a means of saying ‘rise up’! With the 500th issue of the English-language edition celebrated in October 2010, the 200th French edition is a further milestone in the struggle to fan the flames of freedom and sovereignty and to overcome social injustice.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Tidiane Kassé is editor of Pambazuka News's French-language edition.
* This article was published in Panbazuka's French-language edition as 'Le combat pour un nouvel ordre mondial de la pensée'.
* Translated from French by Alex Free.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 See 'L’empire décadent et les barbares africains'.