Professor Sean Jacobs’ Africa is a Country has partnered with the Jacobin Foundation! We caught up with Sean to learn more about the development of his intellectual project into a full-on digital destination for sharp, current analysis on African affairs, news, and culture. In addition to Jacobs, the sites Founder and Editor, Boima Tucker, SGPIA ‘12 serves as the site’s managing editor. Current SGPIA student Zachary Rosen is on the editorial board, and SGPIA graduate Sarah el-Saarawi, who lives in Cairo, is a contributing editor. Yousef Khalil, Shona Kambarami, Aubrey Bloomfield, Aaron Leaf and Yael Even Or have all contributed articles to the site during their time as students at SGPIA and continue to stay engaged. Further, Camilla Osorio (Sociology, NSSR) and Pablo Medina Uribe (Media Studies) have also contributed and edited the Latin America is a Country page on the site.
The partnership with Jacobin was first initiated in 2016. The interim years were used to take care of the technicalities – transferring Africa is A Country’s considerable archives to new servers, sorting out website hosts, and redesigning the site. The official announcement came in March this year. Completed by Jacobin’s Creative Director Remeike Forbes, the website’s makeover was “design-driven” and intentionally continent-neutral. It seems as if Forbes didn’t want viewers to look at the design and automatically think “Africa” (for example: motifs from kente cloths, and outlines of the continent). “The point”, said Jacobs, “was to be different.”
Although he had been approached multiple times in the past to collaborate, consolidate, and in some instances sell equity in the site, Jacobs has rebuffed offers. He didn’t want to turn the site into a content farm. To Jacobs, a native of Cape Town who has experience with media and South Africa’s student movements in the late 1980s, it was more important to continue building a roster of contributing writers and editors, serving up increasingly focused critiques of mainstream depictions of Africa and counter-cultural perspectives on issues pertaining to the continent. The partnership with Jacobin is based on three foundational aspects Jacobs finds important: a shared ideology coupled with a commitment to alternative media and opinion, an ambitious, long-term strategic plan, and the keeping of progressive company. He said that something Africa is A Country and Jacobin already shared was a leftist orientation and strong value set without being doctrinaire. Jacobs, compared reading Africa is A Country to reading an analytical op-ed page. “But it’s not just critique”, he pointed out. Moving beyond its initial project of being a site of media criticism, and somewhat of a community watchdog, Africa is A Country also signal boosts examples of exemplary coverage found in the mainstream media, “pushing journalists to do a good job – and [then] praise them.” Then, Africa is A Country also exists as a space that incentivizes writers to continue doing good, constructive work.
That being said, the partnership with Jacobin has opened the site to a wider pool of writers, and a more organized back-end that enables the homepage to highlight different topical themes. For example, the homepage at the time of publication hosts a selection of pieces focusing on the life and legacy of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. These pieces fill in some of the gaps that the mainstream media missed in the coverage of Madikizela-Mandela. Being able to spot those gaps, and then utilize a vast network of writers, historians, academics, and critics to fill it is what makes Africa is A Country a unique voice in media. The recent partnership with Jacobin will allow them to continue to leverage their influence to continue their imperative coverage of Africa and African affairs.