Contact us      Members Login    

Hi, Quartz Africa readers!

WRITING ABOUT AFRICA

It’s been overwhelming to read the seemingly endless tributes to the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, who passed away this week at the age of 48. Binyavanga was nominated for our inaugural Africa Innovators list in 2015. He showed up to the Nairobi innovators event in a resplendent red gown, teeming with irrespressible charm and generosity like almost everyone has noted in their tributes. He was funny, wise and shared remarkable stories about Africa and African people deep into the night.

My colleague Abdi Latif Dahir describes him in a similar fashion, “he stood out not just in his idiosyncratic dress habits but as a foremost witty contrarian, a sharp intellectual, and a beautiful writer with preternatural competence.”

Binyavanga’s passing made me go back to read his most famous essay, How to write about Africa from 2005. It is, of course, a must-read. It’s crisply written with great humor, cutting satire and immense insight. It was a delight to revisit because it holds up so well. But it was also a bit disappointing, precisely because it holds up so well. I don’t know if the great man believed he had written what we call in the business, “an evergreen”, but things haven’t changed as much as many of us would have hoped in the nearly 15 years since he wrote his tongue-in-cheek instructional essay:

“Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa’s situation. But do not be too specific.”

Much of what Binyavanga handles with humor and grace in that essay sums up some very real pitches till today both from PR people and writers who have long assumed there was a certain way to “write about Africa”. Needless to say there isn’t—not anymore than there’s one way to write about the United States or Europe.

With hindsight, Binyavanga’s influence on African literary and media thinking was much more profound than I understood. It has touched many writers and publications including our own and for that we will always be grateful.

Rest in power, Binya.

— Yinka AdegokeQuartz Africa editor

STORIES FROM THIS WEEK

African countries lead the world in plastic bag bans. Governments across Africa have collectively raised the bar in the global bid for increased regulation of plastic bags with a mix of deterrents including large fines and multi-year jail terms. Ephrat Livni explainshow this made African countries some of the world’s leaders in ridding the planet of an increasing menace.

The United Nations says Britain must give up its last African colony. The battle over the future of the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Islands off the eastern coast of Africa has raged on for a few decades now but might have finally been decided. A UN resolution passed this week demanding Britain hand the islands back to Mauritius. But it won’t be as straightforward as it sounds as one of the islands has long been a key US military base under Britain’s watch.

As measles spreads, should African countries issue health travel restrictions for Westerners? The anti-vax movement, driven by disinformation questioning the safety of vaccinations, has become most prominent in Western countries in recent years. And with unvaccinated visitors proving a significant risk in African countries even with high immunization rates, Ciku Kimeria considers what the response to the threat would be if the shoe was on the other foot. 

Malawi votes, loses internet, gets it back, delays results, ends up in court. Malawians went to the polls on Tuesday and mostly voted without incident. But the first sign that everything was not as it seemed was when people started experiencing internet outagessoon after polls closed in the evening. Now the biggest issue seems to be getting hold of verified results after the incumbent, president Peter Mutharika, ended up in court with the two leading opposition parties, reports Rabson Kondowe in Blantyre.

A “Made in Rwanda” ethos is breathing life into Kigali’s fashion scene. Young fashion designers in Rwanda are determined to make the East African country the next big thing in the industry with a mix of style, panache and streetwise hustle. Abdi Latif Dahir met up in Kigali with some of the talented names who are starting to get their designs on to major catwalks and Hollywood red carpets.

These photos of everyday South Africans show the country’s lived realities long after apartheid. South African photography legend David Goldblatt didn’t just leave his work behind when he died last year, but also a photography workshop where young South African photographers practice their craft. This collection of photos by different photograpers captures the country in the most vivid way, finds Chidinma Irene Nwoye.

CHART OF THE WEEK

Nigeria’s ongoing middle-class brain drain is costing it two generations in one swoop. As thousands of Nigerian professionals emigrate, or try to, one common theme for their move has been to seek better education for their children particularly in their primary target country, Canada, reports Yomi Kazeem. But, one long-term consequence of this trend is many of those who make the move are unlikely to encourage their foreign-educated children to return home. In the short term, their concerns won’t be alleviated as the Nigerian government’s “Economic Recovery and Growth Plan” has failed to turn the country’s economic slump around.

OTHER THINGS WE LIKED

The investors that stole Uganda’s future. Uganda has a long history of poor public administration and weak debt management and Mary Serumaga for The Elephant, is worried things are coming to a head again if care is not taken. She wants to know what the role of the IMF will be as concern continues to mount. “The organization has a permanent office in the ministry of finance and its headquarters sends multiple missions every year to monitor economic progress. To solve Uganda’s perennial economic distress, citizens must first understand the IMF’s mission in Uganda.”

A chef tells the story of the African slave trade through dinner. Eric Adjepong, a Ghanaian-American chef and finalist on reality TV show Top Chef, delighted the United States’ African diaspora with the way he introduced many Americans to African foods like fufu and egusi stew. He also linked the food to the wider pan-African story and its links with the slave trade writes Korsha Wilson for the New York Times ($).

Let’s grow trees, not carbon. A somewhat controversial practice of paying landowners like farmers to plant trees to help businesses with carbon offset has at times been difficult to get right. But for Christian Science Monitor Christopher Bendana and Ryan Lenora Brown met some farmers in Uganda and an NGO who are trying something different and might be succeeding.

ICYMI

Lambda developer school opening in Africa. Students over 18 are invited to apply for a full-time, nine-month full stack software development training program at no upfront cost in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. (May 28th)

Innovative startup pitching program in Japan. Startups are invited to apply for this fully funded program organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UNDP and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). They will jointly prepare a pitching stage for eligible startups from African countries in place Yokohama, Japan. (May 31st).

L’Oréal UNESCO Maghreb Fellowships for Women in Science. Five female scientists, who are up to doctoral and post-doctoral level, from Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia are invited to apply for this fellowship (July 31).

*This brief was produced while listening to Dissan Na M’bera by Super Mama Djombo (Guinea Bissau).

Our best wishes for a productive and thought-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, more Canadian work visas and cool Rwandan fashion to africa@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

If you received this email from a friend or colleague, you can sign up here to receive the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief in your inbox every week. You can also follow Quartz Africa on Facebook.