Africa is a Country recently ran a piece on the Guptagate scandal, in which the writer remarked that it is unique for the South African press to review/analyze its peer publications. This has inspired me to commit to offering a periodic analysis of the blogs administered by organizations and individuals in Washington DC that pertain to African affairs. My inaugural case study is Africa UP Close, the blog of the Wilson’s Center Africa Program, where I first gained Africa in DC experience as a summer intern several years ago. Keep reading for my thoughts and my report card on the blog and please leave comments about which blog you’d like me to review next.
I have previously faulted the Center’s Africa Program for placing too much emphasis on elite actors in Africa affairs and failing to raise questions on US support for the despots governing Burkina Faso and Uganda. Africa UP Close, which launched in September 2012 also has modestly grand ambitions that do not challenge the status quo.
Africa UP Close follows a rather formulaic format, with several posts a week offering a rather similar flavor. The Center’s Africa Program seems desirous of shaping DC’s African discourse as it provides a round-up of several major African news items on a regular basis. There is also a weekly French – English translation of a news article, some of which do not offer any particular insights to an Anglophone crowd (such as this one on the hospitalization of Desmond Tutu). Speakers at the Center’s events often submit supplemental articles, which are insightful, but I wish they were a bit less formal (although I have been criticized myself for being too academic with Africa in DC).
The Center’s staff seem to be on a somewhat tight leash, as the most substantive analysis comes in a recurring end of the month column (The Last Word) by the Program’s head, Steve McDonald. As far as I can tell, the other permanent staff of the Center’s Africa Program have contributed very little to the blog (at least with their name affixed to it). One exception is a piece by Derek Langford, a Program Assistant with the Africa Program on governance and health.
A very useful feature of the blog is a weekly round-up of African events in DC. I highly recommend this recurring column to those of you based in the area.
Overall grade: B
Explanation: Although I feel like the narrative above warrants a lower grade, I find the weekly events column to be very helpful. McDonald’s Last Word column also gives interesting insights on the thoughts of an elite figure shaping the African discourse in DC.
Recommendations: Drop the weekly news round-ups and offer translations of articles that bring something new to the table for Anglophone readers, such as updates on Charles Ble Goude and the status of former prominent officials who supported Laurent Gbagbo during the Ivory Coast’s civil war.
Analytical pieces by the Center’s administrative staff would be a welcome addition as well.