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A protester in Sudan. A pro-democracy protester flashes the victory sign during a protest against a military coup, Khartoum, Sudan, Oct. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Ashraf Idris).

Taking Stock of a Year of Africa Watch

Friday, Dec. 17, 2021

When I first joined the WPR editorial team and took over Africa Watch, I wrote an inaugural edition introducing myself and my guiding principles, as well as the trends, topics and developments you could expect to see me cover in the newsletter as well as in my other writings for WPR. 

It’s now been six months since I began writing these newsletters, an experience that has been as remarkable as it has been exciting. And while the newsletter’s format has since evolved, I would like to believe that the orientation I set out in that edition has largely remained intact. 

During that period, I’ve covered major news stories, including the largest social unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid; a presidential election in Zambia; military coups in Guinea and Sudan; vaccine nationalism and its impact on Africa; the globalized web of corruption in Zimbabwe; Africa’s climate transition; and the future of the continent’s international relations with powers including the United States, China and France.

In taking stock of the past six months, instead of just noting some of the news highlights, I thought I’d offer a broader review of some of the big themes I’ve explored in previous editions, as well as a look ahead into 2022 and what you can expect from this space. But before doing so, I would like to share two major lessons I learned from writing this newsletter every week, inspired in part from the feedback I get from readers, which I try as much as possible to incorporate into future editions of the newsletter.

Clarity of mission and defining what sets you apart are crucial. A major part of why I was excited to write this newsletter was because, for my entire life, I have always lamented the state of international news coverage of Africa—and the ramifications of that coverage. I had no illusions that my newsletter alone would magically fix all those problems, but I recall my mother’s advice when I was a young boy: Always be the example you would want to see. In my first newsletter, I said that I aimed to foreground discourse undergirded by “decolonial frameworks that put Africans at the center of narratives about themselves,” and that I would prioritize “underexplored, humanizing insights from people with lived experiences of the continent.” In other words, I aimed to draw on African perspectives directly from Africans themselves and pay more attention to a broader range of issues than commentary on Africa typically affords. 

I did not expect, much less realize, how many people would gravitate toward that framing, much less that they might come to consider my weekly newsletter a part of their media diet, one that provides a different way of thinking about issues that are relevant to Africans. (It’s especially gratifying that this group of people includes my father.) It has been a privilege to speak with those of you, across the continent and in the diaspora, who have shared their stories, perspectives and opinions with me over the past couple of months.

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Curation is not an effective newsletter model. A curated newsletter—where secondary sources are aggregated but original content is not produced—is easy to put together but difficult to add value to. We at WPR choose a different approach, where the author picks a story and explains why it matters, giving it a “voice” and a sense of perspective, while keeping it concise. That approach suits me much better, all the more so because it allows Africa Watch to stand out from a lot of Africa-related newsletters that tend to follow the curation model. I also find it to be a more valuable format for the rest of WPR’s regional newsletters, which I am responsible for editing.

Now for some of the major themes I identified in 2021 as being likely to drive events across the continent. Regional and continental integration and the growth of non-electoral forms of civic participation were two dominant ones, and much of the newsletter’s content over the past six months reflects that. But I’ve also addressed equally important trends, such as the growing contest for geopolitical influence in Africa by outside powers including, but not limited to, China, the U.S. and Europe—and the ramifications of that competition for Africa’s international affairs. 

That competition highlights the ways in which Africa is very much central to global politics, even if media and academic discourse does not always reflect that. Any doubt about that proposition should be dispelled by the events of the past year, which featured visits to the continent by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; major international gatherings—including COP26, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the ongoing third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit—in which African perspectives figured prominently; the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area; and global recognition of Africa’s immense contributions in music, literature, technology and sports. 

In particular, Africans’ desire to be actors in their own affairs, and not mere auxiliaries to great-power competition, is a development I have explored at length, and one I expect to continue writing about next year. Issues of vaccine geopolitics and pandemic-related travel restrictions, of course, continue to be major drivers of debates about the global order, something I also expect to remain topical for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

As for what you can expect from me in 2022, for the most part, I will write about more or less the same themes, with the expectation that real-time events and developments may require some adjustments. I’ll be keeping an eye on some of the big elections taking place next year in Djibouti, Angola and Kenya, and potentially in Mali as well. 

The Africa Cup of Nations is scheduled to be held from Jan. 9 to Feb. 6, with many of the continent’s major football powerhouses participating, including Egypt, Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. So you can be sure to see some coverage of that from me. 

And perhaps what I’m most excited about, I will be looking to do more Q&As on a wide range of topics affecting the continent’s present and future with different guests, including civil society personalities, journalists, scholars, entrepreneurs and activists. 

I hope you will continue to find Africa Watch as useful and satisfying in the coming year as I tried to make it for you in 2021.

That’s it for this week, and for this year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance. See you in 2022!

Chris 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.

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