Africa writes back

European ideas of African illiteracy are persistent, prejudiced and, as the story of Libyc script shows, entirely wrong D Vance Smith is a medievalist and Old Dominion Professor in the Department of English at Princeton University. His books include The Book of the Incipit (2001); Arts of Possession (2003); and Arts of Dying: Literature and Finitude in Medieval England (2020). Edited by Sam Dresser Four different writing systems have been used in Algeria. Three are well known – Phoenician, Latin and Arabic – while one is both indigenous to Africa and survives only as a writing system. The language it represents is called Old Libyan or Numidian, simply because … Continue reading Africa writes back

See the horrifying place where your old clothes go to die

A landfill in Ghana is the final resting place for many of our fast fashion purchases. When author Maxine Bedat visited, it was literally on fire. BY MAXINE BEDAT One August day I found myself on top of one of the most impressive mountains I’ve seen. I’d scaled it with very little equipment, in the same Nike sneakers I wear on the treadmill. There were no harnesses, no guides, and no resupply stations along the way. In fact, it only took about 20 minutes to get to the summit, despite frequent picture breaks. At the top, I looked out into … Continue reading See the horrifying place where your old clothes go to die

After slavery

Abolition in Africa brought longed-for freedoms, but also political turmoil, economic collapse and rising enslavement Toby Green is professor of precolonial and lusophone African history and culture at King’s College, London. He is the author of A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (2019) and The Covid Consensus: Edited by Sam Haselby On one of my first visits to West Africa, more than 20 years ago, I went to the Fuuta Djalon (also known as Fouta Djallon) mountains of Guinea-Conakry. These beautiful mountains range across high waterfalls, cliffs and lonely paths leading from one village … Continue reading After slavery

What pastoralists know

Pastoralists are experts in managing extreme variability. In a volatile world economy, bankers should learn how they do it Ian Scoones is professor at the Institute of Development Studies, and co-director of the ESRC STEPS Centre, both at the University of Sussex in the UK… Edited by Sam Haselby What are the connections between a banker working on a trading floor in London and a pastoralist herding animals across the grasslands of East Africa? More than you’d think. Let me explain how they’re connected; and why they can both learn from each other. Both bankers and pastoralists must, as a matter … Continue reading What pastoralists know

Bringing Traditional Healing Under the Microscope in South Africa

Traditional and mainstream medicine have long been at odds. But Covid-19 may be driving a new, evidence-based reckoning. BY SARAH WILD IN JUNE, Artemisia afra was in high demand on the streets of Johannesburg in South Africa. To treat Covid-19 symptoms, the Indigenous herb’s silvery leaves were for sale at roadside vendors and in the city’s popular traditional markets. Some people even pulled the plant from private gardens. And on the sides of nearby highways, people held signs for “mhlonyane” (A. afra’s isiZulu name) and offered bushels to passing motorists like bouquets. Between February and July, the herb doubled in price. People in the region have consumed the … Continue reading Bringing Traditional Healing Under the Microscope in South Africa

Neither nasty nor brutish

The Ik – among the poorest people on Earth – have been cast as exemplars of human selfishness. The truth is much more startling Cathryn Townsend is an anthropology research fellow at Baylor University. She lives in Waco, Texas.Listen here Edited by Sam Dresser Slabs of sunlight break through the mist, illuminating the bright pastel ripples of Oribo Valley, the valley I’m named after. I’ve been given this name by the Ik people I’m living with, in the remote highlands dividing Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. The Ik woman I’m interviewing, Nangole (a pseudonym to protect her identity), rubs her baby’s … Continue reading Neither nasty nor brutish

Why South Africa’s Military May ‘Somehow Get Involved’ in Situation in Northern Mozambique

by Oleg Burunov Northern Mozambique has been in the grip of a jihadist insurgency since 2017, with the violence having reportedly already killed more than 1,000 people there. In an article published on the website Conversation, political scientist Theo Neethling from the Bloemfontein-based University of the Free State, focused on South Africa’s position pertaining to an increase in “deadly violence” in the northern parts of Mozambique. “There is now even a possibility that the South African National Defence Force might become involved in [Mozambique’s] most northern Cabo Delgado province, with a view to ending [… the] litany of atrocities, abductions and … Continue reading Why South Africa’s Military May ‘Somehow Get Involved’ in Situation in Northern Mozambique

A papyrus reveals how the Great Pyramid was built

A newly discovered papyrus contains an eye-witness account of the gathering of materials for the Great Pyramid. by ROBBY BERMAN The Great Pyramid in Egypt is the last of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. The tomb for Pharaoh Khufu — “Cheops” in Greek — sits on the Giza plateau about 3 kilometers southwest of Egypt’s capitol Cairo, and it’s huge: nearly 147 meters high and 230.4 meters on each side (it’s now slightly smaller due to erosion). Built of roughly 2.3 million limestone and rose granite stones from hundreds of kilometers away, it’s long posed a couple of vexing and fascinating mysteries: How did … Continue reading A papyrus reveals how the Great Pyramid was built

Africa, in its fullness

The West focuses only on slavery, but the history of Africa is so much more than a footnote to European imperialism Toby Green teaches Lusophone African history and culture at King’s College London. His latest book, A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution (2019), was awarded the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding and will be published in paperback in January 2020. Edited by Sam Haselby To understand the complexity and significance of West African history, there is no better thing to do than to go to Freetown. Sierra Leone’s capital is sited … Continue reading Africa, in its fullness

The First Three Times I Almost Died

Life in the Kenyan grasslands is magical. But danger lurks everywhere for a child. by Keena Roberts The first time I almost died I was six months old. We had just moved to Kenya and were living in a small green house far out in the middle of the grasslands in Amboseli National Park, close enough to the border with Tanzania to see Mount Kilimanjaro. My mother put me down to sleep in my crib with a candle burning on the windowsill since I screamed if the room was completely dark. As the story goes, when she came back a … Continue reading The First Three Times I Almost Died