Africa Is Changing Rapidly. The Discourse Around It Should Also
Editor’s Note: This is the web version of our subscriber-only weekly newsletter, Africa Watch, which includes a look at the week’s top stories and best reads from and about the African continent. Subscribe to receive it by email every Wednesday. If you’re already a subscriber, adjust your newsletter settings to receive it directly to your email inbox.
If you’re a regular reader of Africa Watch, it’s possibly because you were tired of reading about “Africa” as if it were a monolithic country of 1.3 billion people with all the same traits, habits and perspectives. Or better yet, that might have been your own impression of the globe’s second-largest continent, and you decided you wanted to change that.
In any event, if you want to learn more about Africa as it exists—a dynamic, varied and fast-growing continent with the globe’s youngest population, as well as idiosyncrasies, paradoxes, risks and opportunities just like everywhere else—you have come to the right place.
Hello, readers. My name is Christopher Ogunmodede, and I am delighted to join World Politics Review as an associate editor and the new author of the weekly Africa Watch newsletter. As regular readers of the newsletter, you deserve transparency about my views. To that end, I would like to introduce myself with this edition of Africa Watch and talk briefly about my background and guiding principles, as well as what I see as the major issues affecting African politics and international affairs, and the trends shaping and driving developments across the continent.
Who am I? I am a scholar-practitioner of diplomacy, international security and development, with a specialist focus on West Africa and its history, political institutions and foreign relations. My areas of interest include governance, trade and regional integration, military dictatorships, social movements, authoritarianism, elections, security sector reform, migration and diasporism.
I describe myself in my Twitter biography as an “Afro-realist,” reflecting my rejection of both fetishized, colonial depictions of Africa as the “dark continent” and “Africa Rising”-style sunshine journalism characterized by uncritically positive, context-free obsessions with rapid urbanization, technology and entrepreneurship.
I make no pretense toward neutrality of any kind. Indeed, I have biases, and I want to be clear about where I am coming from and where my sympathies lie. First, I bring a decolonial lens to my understanding and analysis of international affairs, meaning that more often than not I am critical of the international system—including the policies of foreign governments and international organizations as they pertain to Africa and more generally—as well as the journalistic, scholarly and academic discourses on Africa that revolve around this order. I am opposed to authoritarianism, militarism, social inequities and racism, and am biased in favor of human rights, democracy, a free press and social justice. I treat these issues affecting African politics not with a sense of detachment or as a spectator sport, but as fundamental matters with life and death consequences for millions of people, including myself.
Why am I doing this? These are consequential times on the African continent. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, or AfCFTA, has entered its operational phase, with the potential to transform Africa’s economies—and indeed the global economy. African democracies continue to demonstrate their resilience, despite constraints that include a reversal of the gains from more than a decade of economic growth since 2000; democratic deconsolidation and entrenched authoritarianism in many parts of the continent; lingering tensions affecting social cohesion across Africa’s 54 countries; and, of course, COVID-19. Cultural and artistic developments portend to position the continent as a pacesetter and global center of excellence. Some of the most vibrant protest and social movements in the world are happening today in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Zambia. In other words, there is no single “African” narrative in any direction, and the many narratives I’ll try to do justice to in the newsletter are of global importance.
There are several avenues to get information and analysis about developments on the African continent. With respect to other commentators, I intend to offer readers of Africa Watch something distinctive and atypical of coverage of African affairs, and that is reorienting commentary toward decolonial frameworks that put Africans at the center of narratives about themselves. Put differently, instead of talking about Africans but not to them, I will try to magnify the voices, knowledge and ideas of Africans about the issues and events that affect their lives.
There is a tendency for commentary on Africa to be dominated by so-called “Africa watchers” and “Africa experts,” in ways that are counterproductive to multidimensional, realistic and accurate portrayals of the continent. This does not benefit either Africans or outside observers interested in learning about events on the continent. I do not suppose that only Africans can or should write and speak about Africa or do credible work on it, or that “Africa-watching” and “Africa-living” are always mutually exclusive. I do think, however, that divesting from entrenched hierarchies and putting Africans at the heart of discourses about their lives is fundamental to creating better knowledge of Africa in international affairs.
What can you expect from me? I aim to balance continuity in terms of what you are accustomed to reading in the newsletter with developing a voice of my own. What that means in practice is that I will do the usual news rundown for each African subregion from week to week, while pursuing thematic and idea-driven angles in the top story to provide in-depth analyses of developments across the continent. The prominent issues will vary according to events and developments, but two dominant themes I expect to drive national and regional events across the African continent are the steady shift toward regionalism and multinational cooperation on security, trade and commerce; and the resurgence of protest movements and other participatory forms of non-electoral politics, as broader dissatisfaction toward elective politics and poor governance grows across Africa.
I seek to use this newsletter to create and share informative commentary around trending topics and developments across Africa, prioritizing underexplored, humanizing insights from people with lived experiences of the continent, whether professional, academic, creative or something in between. When you read Africa Watch, you will be getting insights on Africa written by someone with firsthand experience dealing with many of these topics. I hope you continue to find this newsletter to be engaging and informative.
Christopher O. Ogunmodede is an associate editor with World Politics Review. His coverage of African politics, international relations and security has appeared in War on The Rocks, Mail & Guardian, The Republic, Africa is a Country and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.