The Killers of Swaziland – recommended longread

Over at The Big Rountable, Shaun Raviv weaves a fascinating (real) story part-True Detective, part- portrait of the Kingdom of Swaziland.

It’s a gripping narrative that brings together murders, witchcraft, the AIDS epidemic in the country and the social and political context in which this takes place alongside the voices of those directly touched by this horrific story.

Very much recommended.

click here to read The Killers of Swaziland:

A different way into a (much recommended) book

This week I attended a speed-reading course. One of the exercises required us to pick a book we had not read but wanted to, and spend 30 min speed-reading it to get as much info as possible from it.
I picked Séverine Autesserre’s “The trouble with the Congo” and it looks like this:


This is clearly not the same as carefully reading something, but it is definitely a good way to become acqainted with a book to see if it is worth reading it entirely.

Which is precisely the case for Autesserre’s book, since her writing is extremely good and the wealth of information (330 in depth interviews!) makes it a brilliant research piece. I was able nonetheless to get a general understanding of the book thesis:

that the international intervention in eastern DRC has largely failed to promote durable peace due to the dominant peace-building culture. This culture is focussed on the national and international contexts and thus has prevented the local conflicts that cause much of the violence from being sufficiently acknowledged or adequately addressed. Autesserre’s recommendation is thus to give a much greater role to local peace-building initiatives.

This is an extremely insightful thesis, valid also for other conflicts outside eastern DRC or the African continent.

Whilst doing some research for this post, I have seen that Autesserre recently recorded a TED talk explaining the thesis of her book.
She does a much better job that I can explains it much better than I can ever do, so please, watch it below (incidentally, also a new – and possibly more effective way – to learn about this very much recommended book!)

Elements for a future ‘mission statement’ (interview with Achille Mbembe)

When earlier this year I wrote about taking up blogging again (after a break of two and a half years), I mentioned that there would be changes in the content and the format of On Africa. Since then, I have thought more about this new direction, and I think it will be a significant change. Things will take a while to get going, and in the meanwhile I will continue to update the blog more or less regularly.

I bring all this up because I would like the new On Africa to have a clear “editorial” line behind it, a “vision” for what it wants to achieve. I do not want to simply write about what is happening, but to try to build certain coherence in what I write, or ask people to contribute (I am hoping this will be another novelty too!). In any case, this “mission statement” is still being developed but I have already certain guiding references. One of the most important ones, are the ideas of Achille Mbembe (whom I consider Africa’s most interesting and relevant intellectual at present).

Achille Mbembe (Africultures)
Mbembe has recently published his new book, “Critique de la raison nègre“, and given various interviews. A recent one has been included in Le Monde special on Africa that was published last week. Some excerpts of this have been posted online today. The interview is very much recommended if you can read French.
Below I translate a few paragraphs that I find extremely interesting. They constitute a central element of the vision that On Africa will try to contribute to:

On Africa’s future

“All in all, Africa is evolving simultaneously in various directions. Which ones, among the many centrifugal and centripetal forces, will be victorious? The outcome will depend on the shape which the social struggles will take. It is in the interest of our world that Africa becomes her own centre and she constitutes herself as a vast space of circulation. This is an essential condition for its future, and for the future of our world”

On Africa’s relation to Europe

“What strikes me is that Europe herself is also ‘provincialising’. She makes things easier for us. We don’t need to turn our back her, she turns her back on us herself. I have the impression that it is a profound movement, that feeds on the myth of the community without foreigners. A desire for apartheid at a global scale. Europe is about to turn her back to the kantian moment that will have founded her modernity and attractiveness.
Africa mustn’t turn her back to no one. She must open herself, open her borders and become a land of migration. We need to reflect at this point on how to include Chinese migrants among us. We have to open Africa! Welcome all of those that come, integrate them. Retake the role that Europe has played. Those educated people who don’t find jobs in United States or in Europe, those floating brains, they should come to Africa. Come to us!”

Afropeans are coming…

If you happen to be in Brussels this Saturday, please be sure to check out the Afropeans + festival at BOZAR (I will most certainly do so!):

Along the lines of the artist Pitcho Womba Konga’s Congolisation project, Afropean+ highlights the added value of the African diaspora in the European cultural landscape. Taking place within the context of the Belgian launch of the European Year for Development, this project affirms the interdependence between North and South, and promotes freedom, diversity, creation and solidarity as driving forces for our future.

More info and complete programme of debates, projections and concerts here.

Photo: Johny Pitts

But what is Afropean? Who are Afropeans?

Writing at Africa Is A Country, Johny Pitts writes:

That’s why I chose to use this rather new word that was born in the early ‘90s when these musical mixtures were being born. Afropean is a term that I felt reflected new identities on the continent and seemed appropriate for a number of reasons. Firstly it hints at cultural influence, rather than simply racial identification, and secondly, for the first time in my life it is a word I’ve been able to use to describe myself that sounds cohesive and whole — isn’t mixed this or half that or hyphenated in any way. Rather, it’s a portmanteau — something whole but born of duality.

Pitts is a photographer and one of the founders of Afropean:

an online multimedia, multidisciplinary journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European cultures, and the synergy of styles and ideas brought about because of this union.
We hope to fill the void left by Erik Kambel’s Afro-Europe blog, which closed down in 2013, and, under Erik’s guidance we will continue to shed light on art, music, literature, news and events from the Afro-European diaspora, as well as produce and commission original essays and projects.

Afropeans are indeed coming!

RIP Terence Ranger

Airport Farewell at Deportation of Professor Terence Ranger in 1962: Left to right: T. O. Ranger, Shelagh, Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Robert Mugabe, and John Reed (Photo courtesy of David Wiley, African Studies Center, Michigan State University)


2015 began with the sad news of the passing of Terence Ranger (85) – one of the most reputed scholars of Zimbabwean and African history.

Ranger’s is perhaps best-known for the volume on “The Invention of Tradition” (1983) which he co-edited with Eric Hobsbawn (another towering figure in academia). Ranger’s essay in the book: “The Invention of tradition in colonial Africa” generated and intense academic debate – and Ranger himself revisited these arguments a decade later.

Ranger began his career as lecturer of Medieval and Modern History in the University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1957. In 1962, following the country’s unilateral declaration of independence, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia and he established himself in newly independent Tanzania, where he directed the  University of Dar es Salaam’s History Department. There he assembled a stellar academic line-up that included John Iliffe and Walter Rodney.

In many ways, the origins of the modern African history scolarship can be traced back to those ‘Dar es Salaam school’ days and to Terence Ranger.

One of the many things for which he will be remembered.


PS You can read a very extensive and extremely interesting inverview with Ranger done by Diana Jeater in 2009 here.

On blogging hiatuses…

So, yeah, that was a long one!
Blogging is usually rather irregular (unless you are very disciplined, or do it for a living), but a pause of 2 years and 5 months is something pretty big for any blog. And it deserves a bit of an explanation. In fact, I am sure that most of the people reading this (if there is any) actually thought this was a dead blog. Another one for the virtual cemeteries.
But no. Not yet in any case.

The reasons for such a long pause are many (some good, others not so). The fact is that life has changed quite a bit for me in the intervening period. Since July 2012, when I last posted here, a great deal has happened: I got married to M (the love of my life, with whom I have been together for over ten years now); I changed jobs and moved countries as a result (I stopped working for FRIDE in Madrid after getting a job in the European Parliament and moved to Brussels); I traveled to some African countries (many of them for the first time): Mali, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa; we adopted a dog (Max, a lovely Jack Russell); went to back to Waterford in Swaziland where it all (my interest in Africa, my relationship with M) started ten years ago. And plenty more, as you can imagine!

All these changes – especially the professional ones – meant that I did not know whether, or how, to continue blogging. So I stopped. Yet, I kept thinking that I would re-start at some point, so I did not delete the site. And it seems that now I am ready to retake On Africa (I hope this is not an ill-fated New Year’s resolution!). Nonetheless, the changes of the past two and a half years, will undoubtedly be reflected in On Africa. I will also slowly tweak things here and there (starting with this new layout) to fine-tune the blog visually and adapt it to this new period.

So, what to expect from On Africa now?
Well, the truth is that I am not really sure, although I have some ideas. For starters, more frequent updates and posts! Also, the blog will continue to look at issues arising from or related to some or all of the countries in Africa. Nonetheless, the blog may have a less political focus (I do this this during my day job, so it is good to keep things separate – this blog reflects purely personal views). Instead, I would like to include more cultural notes; some general reflections on society, technology, economy, etc in Africa, and (hopefully!) a lot more posts on ideas and debates that are emerging and important for the future of Africa and beyond. Because I am now even more convinced that Africa will be able to provide answers not only to the challenges facing its own societies, but also to many important global questions. So, we better start paying careful attention!
On Africa hopes to become my humble contribution to this.