Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Pan-African voices"

Satellite photo of Africa: NASA
Here in North America, it’s not always easy to get news about Africa. There’s the occasional article in the local paper, on TV or radio. Then there’s the internet, which gives us a little more: BBC News Africa,, and even a wide range of African newspapers. But how to get a sense, from a critical perspective, of what’s happening on the continent?

One option is Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News is a website and weekly newsletter that presents news perspectives from across Africa. It provides analyses of current events by academics, social activists, writers, bloggers and other commentators. But Pambazuka News is also much more. It’s a network with a couple of thousand members, and an advocacy organisation for social justice and human rights.

Every week, Pambazuka News publishes something like 20-30 articles and dozens of links to other sites. On the Pambazuka website, as well as news you’ll find political cartoons, poetry, radio dramas, action alerts, e-newsletters, podcasts, videocasts, job announcements, training materials, distance learning courses, resources for African podcasters and filmmakers – and more.

Over 2,500 authors contribute to Pambazuka News, and half a million unique visitors have been to the open-access site, with over 25,000 subscribers to the newsletter. Pambazuka News is published in English, French and Portuguese. It also actively uses social media.

Pambazuka Press publishes books on social justice, human rights and politics. Recent titles include African Women Writing Resistance: An Anthology of Contemporary Voices; Global History: A View From the South (by Samir Amin); SMS Uprising: Mobile Activism in Africa; and Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa.

"Pambazuka" is a Kiswahili word meaning the dawn or to arise. Pambazuka News is an alternative to conventional news sources, describing itself as "a platform for voices that challenge mainstream perceptions and biases….It fosters a community of African citizens who hold their governments to account, supports pan-African campaigns for human rights and social justice, and enables African women and marginalised groups to develop their own blogs, podcasts and mobile phone campaigns."

Pambazuka News has won numerous awards: it was voted several times as one of PoliticsOnline/World e-Democracy Forum’s "Top 10 sites that are changing the world of internet and politics." It also won a Highway Africa award for the innovative use of new media by a non-profit, as well as several other awards for using technology for advocacy and human benefit.

Pambazuka News is produced by Fahamu - Networks For Social Justice -- Fahamu meaning 'understanding' or 'consciousness' in Kiswahili. Fahamu strengthens human rights and social justice movements through use of information and communications technologies, stimulating discussion and debate, publishing news and information, and developing and delivering education courses. Fahamu and Pambazuka News are based in Oxford, Cape Town, Nairobi and Dakar.

Pambazuka News and Fahamu were created by Firoze Manji, a Kenyan who has worked in development, social justice, human rights and health. Manji is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pambazuka News. He was the Founding Executive Director of Fahamu, where he was succeeded this year by Hakim Abbas. Before Fahamu, Manji worked as Africa program director for Amnesty International, CEO for the Aga Khan Foundation (UK), and regional representative for health sciences in Eastern and Southern Africa for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). He has served on various international advisory and steering boards, is a Visiting Fellow in International Human Rights at Kellogg College, University of Oxford, and has published several books. In addition to his PhD and MSc from the University of London, he has a degree in dentistry from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

I had the privilege of working with Firoze Manji quite a few years ago, when we were both at IDRC. I saw Pambazuka grow from an idea to the pan-African movement it is now, and can attest to Firoze Manji’s remarkable ability to make things happen. He first saw a need for an information and training service for human rights and social justice organisations. Pambazuka began as an email newsletter, then became both a disseminator and a creator of content through its website and other materials. Now, it's a force that is enabling "Pan-African voices for freedom and justice" to be heard around the world.

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