Womxn’s writing, queer stories, history and spirituality highlighted at the seventh edition of Africa Writes festival - Press Release

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Africa Writes, the UK’s biggest annual African literature and book festival brought to you by the Royal African Society, returns to The British Library and Rich Mix from Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July 2018. Bringing together over 60 of the most influential voices in contemporary writing from Africa and its diaspora, this exciting literary weekend features writers from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Somaliland, Uganda, South Africa, UK, USA and Zimbabwe, and highlights womxn and queer writers who are changing the face of African literature.

Celebrated Somali-British poet Warsan Shire appears on Sunday 1 July, the first writer under 30 to headline the event in the festival’s seven-year history. In her first UK public appearance since her poetry reached millions of people in Beyoncé's visual album Lemonade, Shire will be in conversation about her work, process and inspiration, and will speak about her new projects that explore the intersections of art and healing. She was awarded the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2013 and appointed as the first Young Poet Laureate for London.

Fellow young poets Yomi Ṣode and Octavia Poetry Collective will appear in the festival headline events. Following sold out shows at the Roundhouse and Battersea Arts Centre, British Nigerian Yomi Ṣode opens the festival at the British Library with his one-man show, COAT, exploring themes of identity, migration and displacement while cooking up a stew live on stage (29 June).

The womxn of colour poetry group Octavia hosts the Africa Writes 2018 Party (30 June, Rich Mix). Taking their name from the American science fiction writer Octavia Butler and inspiration from the $1 billion-grossing Marvel film Black Panther, Octavia presents a Wakanda-themed event featuring art displays, gal-dem DJs and a line-up of poets including Sarah Lasoye, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Hibaq Osman, Rachel Long, Belinda Zhawi, Amina Jama, 2018 African Poetry Prize winners Theresa Lola and Momtaza Mehri (the 2018 Young Laureate for London). Celebrated author and long-time advocate for writers of colour Bernardine Evaristo will deliver a speech on ‘Warrior Womxn Writers’.

Exploring themes of identity, migration and displacement, award-winning writer Leila Aboulela launches her new book Elsewhere, Home at the British Library – a collection of intimate stories of longing and exile set between Sudan and the UK (30 June). Hit books and pop-culture podcast Mostly Lit host a live version of the show with Afua Hirsch, journalist and author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (30 June).

Historical fiction and non-fiction is the focus on 30 June: Ayesha Harruna Attah launches her third novel set in 19th century Ghana, The Hundred Wells of Salaga, and we delve into the intriguing history of African literary figures Phillis Wheatley and ABC Merriam-Labour in Georgian and Edwardian London.

As Zimbabwe prepares for national elections in August, and the nation reconfigures following the deposition of Robert Mugabe, young writers Panashe Chigumadzi and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma  launch their new books These Bones Will Rise Again and House of Stone , presenting inventive new ways of telling the nation’s story and discussing its future (1 July). Highlighted in these books are the interactions between the world of spirits and the self, also a feature of Akwaeke Emezi’s highly-anticipated debut Freshwater. The writer presents a pre-launch of her novel that explores the obanje of Ibgo spirituality and religion, and the metaphysics of identity and being (30 June).

Stories of queer womxn are highlighted in an event featuring narratives from Nigeria, the UK, and Equatorial Guinea, and appearances by Cassava Republic publisher Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, UK Black Pride Founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, and gal-dem founder Liv Little (1 July). Writer and activist Trifonia Melibea Obono will join by video link to speak about her book La Bastarda – the first book by an Equatoguinean woman to be translated into English.

A key aspect of the festival programme each year is inspiration, discovery and new writing. Audiences and readers can get an introduction to Cameroonian literature, read new work by young people in Uganda, hear from the festival authors on their favourite pieces of writing in African Books to Inspire, and meet the 2018 Caine Prize shortlisted writers (30 June - 1 July). Poets and secondary school students will present their creative writing in a free showcase event, alongside the launch of the Africa Writes Young Voices Anthology produced in the festival’s education programme (30 June).

Looking at translation and inter-generational interaction, Numbi Arts will host a discussion on contemporary Somali literature with writer Hanna Ali, whose work explores themes of womanhood, blackness, forced migration, religion and family trauma. The Hargeysa International Book Fair of Somaliland is showcased in an event to launch a collection of poetry entitled Hargeysa Breeze (30 June).

The programme includes workshops to develop skills and encourage participation: a masterclass in literary translation presented by Wangui wa Goro of SIDENSI, a workshop of Afrofuturist literature art, literature and fashion presented by FUNCTION, and a pitching event for budding writers to meet publishing industry experts. Also included are a workshop on small magazines and African literary networks, and a discussion on podcasts – the publishing industry’s single fastest growing format – with Not Another Book Podcast, BakwaCast, 2 Girls & a Pod, and Africa in Words.

Festival Programmers Marcelle Mateki Akita and Caitlin Pearson said: “We are excited to present a huge range of voices from the continent and the diaspora at the seventh edition of Africa Writes. Young people from countries with uncertain and shifting political climates such as Zimbabwe, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya are writing some of the most inventive and exciting fiction around at the moment. In an apparent new era of insularity and hardening borders, we look at both the history and the present of what it means to belong in Britain, and through books, poetry and performance we celebrate Africa and the diaspora in its fullest sense”

Audiences can also enjoy family storytelling events, a lively atmosphere and an international book fair with classics, recent publications and rare finds. All tickets are now available to book at bit.ly/AW2018Tickets.

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Press Accreditation is now open via this link.
For Images, Logos and Artist Bios, Download the Press Pack on Dropbox.
Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @AfricaWritesUK and Facebook #AfricaWrites2018

CONTACT: Caitlin Pearson, Events Programme Manager ras_events@soas.ac.uk or 0203 073 8337


Notes to Editors:

  1. Africa Writes festival is an annual celebration of contemporary literature from Africa and the diaspora brought to you by The Royal African Society. Launched in 2012, every year Africa Writes showcases established and emerging talent from the African continent and its diaspora in what is now the UK’s biggest celebration of contemporary African writing. www.africawrites.org
  2. The Royal African Society is a membership organisation that provides opportunities for people to connect, celebrate and engage critically with a wide range of topics and ideas about Africa today. Through our events, publications and digital channels we facilitate mutual understanding between the UK and Africa across academia, business, politics, culture and education. We amplify African voices and interests, reaching a network of more than one million people globally. www.royalafricansociety.org.uk
  3. The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. www.bl.uk
  4. Rich Mix is East London’s independent arts venue, based in the heart of one of the most diverse and vibrant parts of London – Shoreditch / Bethnal Green. Rich Mix is a charity and social enterprise that offers over 600 events each year across live music, film, dance, theatre, comedy, spoken word and a range of creative activities for people of all ages and all cultures. All profits go back to support arts and community activities which nurture new and local talent. www.richmix.org.uk
  5. Africa Writes 2018 is made possible through the financial support of Arts Council England and the Miles Morland Foundation, and the partnership of these institutions and organisations:  AFREADA, Africa in Words, Afrikult., Bakwa Magazine, bookshy, Brittle Paper, Department of English, University of Bristol, Enkare Review, FUNCTION, Hargeysa International Book Fair, Mostly Lit, Numbi Arts, Octavia Poetry Collective, SIDENSI, The Caine Prize for African Writing, The Literary Consultancy, Writivism, Africa Book Centre, Atlantic Books, Cassava Republic, Faber & Faber, Hurst, Market FiftyFour, New Beacon Books, Saqi Books, Team Angelica, The Indigo Press, October Gallery, Alt. Africa, gal-dem, Granta, Bare Lit Festival, Centre of African Studies, University of London.
  6. Confirmed Line up: Warsan Shire, Yomi Ṣode, Leila Aboulela, Afua Hirsch, Akwaeke Emezi, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Panashe Chigumadzi, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Chike Frankie Edozien, Trifonia Melibea Obono, Sarah Lasoye, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Hibaq Osman, Rachel Long, Belinda Zhawi, Amina Jama, Theresa Lola, Momtaza Mehri, Bernardine Evaristo, Kinsi Abdulleh, Nancy Adimora, Hanna Ali, Dfiza Appeah,  Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Joanna Brown, Candice Carty-Williams, Emma Dabiri, Nonyelum Ekwempu, FUNCTION, John Gordon, Stacy Hardy, Jama Musse Jama, Danell Jones, Maria Kakinda, Madhu Krishnan, Mostly Lit, Liv Little, Sharmaine Lovegrove, Dzekashu Macviban, S.I. Martin, Layla Mohamed, Zaahida Nabagereka, Ziki Nelson, Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, JC Niala, Irenosen Okojie, Olufunke Ogundimu, Makena Onjerika, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Martin Orwin, Not Another Book Podcast, Deirdre Osborne, Christopher Ouma, Ranka Primorac, Farrah Serroukh, Ade Solanke, Wole Talabi, Wangui wa Goro, Kate Wallis and 2 Girls & a Pod.

117th AGM of the Royal African Society (members only)

Monday, 30 April 2018 - 4:15pm to 6:15pm

117th AGM of the Royal African Society (members only)  
Date & Time: Monday 30 April, 16:15 - 18:15
Venue: Royal African Society, 36 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

Members are invited to the Annual General Meeting of the Royal African Society, which will be followed by a reception with RAS staff and Council members. 

Copies of the 2017 Annual Report will be available on the day.

To RSVP, please send your name and contact details to RAS Administrative Manager Lizzie Orekoya at ras@soas.ac.uk

Image: Amos Ruiz


Royal African Society events during CHOGM 2018

Thursday, 19 April 2018


This week the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, with various activities for 53 Commonwealth member states, including 19 African countries.

We were delighted to organise the following three events for our corporate members and partners on Tuesday 17th April:


‘Economies to Watch: Driving Ghana's transformation & growth’ with H.E. Ken Ofori-Atta, Finance Minister of Ghana at The Holborn Bars, moderated by Afua Hirsch

In partnership with Prudential, the RAS hosted Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta for a breakfast briefing on his ministry's ambitious plans for infrastructural and industrial development. An economist by trade, Hon. Ken Ofori-Atta worked as investment banker at Morgan Stanley and Salomon Brothers on Wall Street in New York, he then went on to co-found the Databank Group, one of Africa’s most successful regional banking groups in Ghana in 1990.


‘Opportunities for international business in Malawi’ with H.E. Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi at The Cinnamon Club

At this high level lunch-time roundtable, H.E. Prof. Arthur Peter Mutharika shared his strategy for socio-economic development in his country and highlights crucial sectors for partnerships with international business. The event was organised in partnership with CDC Group and De La Rue


‘Women and leadership: Driving economic empowerment in Africa’ at One Great George St, moderated by Zeinab Badawi

This roundtable discussion was organised in partnership with CDC Group, the UK’s development finance institution, and Members of the Women's World Banking/ FSDA Africa Advisory Council. We hosted a dynamic group of speakers and attendees for a discussion on how women leaders can unlock and drive Africa’s economic and social potential. Speakers included Laurie Spengler, NED, CDC Group and CEO of Enclude; Dr. Jennifer Riria, Chair, Kenya Women Holding; Anne-Marie Chidzero, CEO, Alitheia Identity Fund; Debra Mallowah, General Manager, GSK East Africa and Nunu Ntshingila, Head of Africa, Facebook.


To find out more about joining our corporate network and attending such events, please email ras_corporate@soas.ac.uk

Photography by Ivan Gonzalez

Warsan Shire headlines the 2018 Africa Writes festival - Press Release

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


17 April 2018

“Warsan Shire headlines the 2018 Africa Writes festival”  

In her first UK public appearance since her poetry reached millions of people in Beyonce's visual album Lemonade, poet Warsan Shire will headline Africa Writes festival in London, Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July 2018. The UK’s biggest annual African literature festival brought to you by the Royal African Society will be held at The British Library and Rich Mix London.

Ahead of the publication of a new collection, Shire will close the festival on Sunday 1 July in conversation about her work, process and inspiration, as well as discussing living and working in LA, and her new projects that explore the intersections of art and healing. Shire was awarded the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2013, and in 2014 was selected as Poet in Residence for Queensland, Australia, and appointed as the first Young Poet Laureate for London. She is the first person under 30 to headline Africa Writes festival.

Fellow poets Yomi Sode and Octavia Poetry Collective will perform at the Friday and Saturday headline events of the festival, which brings together over 50 of the most influential voices in contemporary writing from Africa and its diaspora over an exciting literary weekend exploring themes of migration and identity, and celebrating the poetic form.

Following sold-out shows at the Roundhouse and Battersea Arts Centre, Yomi Sode adds a special date to his UK tour of his one-man show exploring themes of identity, migration and displacement, to open the festival on the evening of Friday 29 June at the British Library. Coat is an honest and emotional story of Junior, a child born in Nigeria who leaves behind a life he loved to move to London at the age of 9. Whilst cooking up a stew on stage, Sode confronts the difficult realities of growing up in south London as a young man, and the expectations of family, blending poetry and drama in a unique performance style rich with lyricism, humour and hard truths.

The celebrated Octavia Poetry Collective hosts the Africa Writes 2018 Party on Saturday 30 June at Rich Mix, London. Following last year's sold out R.A.P. Party which saw the main British Library space full of 600 young poetry and hip hop fans, the 2018 party will be a celebration of the words, art and song of women in Africa and the diaspora. Taking their name from the American science fiction writer Octavia Butler and inspiration from the $1 billion-grossing Marvel film Black Panther, the womxn of colour poetry group will host a Wakanda-themed event featuring art displays, a live band, DJs and a line-up of guest poets.

The Africa Writes daytime programme of more than 20 events includes book launches of writers from across the continent and the diaspora, panel discussions, workshops and an international book fair with classics, recent publications and rare finds. Tickets are now available to book at africawrites.org/tickets/africa-writes-2018 and the full festival programme will be announced at the end of May.


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For further information or to arrange interviews with guest writers and contributors, please contact:
Caitlin Pearson, Events Programme Manager ras_events@soas.ac.uk or 0203 073 8337

For Images, Logos & Artist Bios, Download the Press Pack on Dropbox

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @AfricaWritesUK and Facebook #AfricaWrites2018

Listing Information

FESTIVAL (Adults and family)
Africa Writes 2018
Friday 29 June, 20:00 – Sunday 1 July, 19:30
The British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB www.bl.uk
Nearest tube: King’s Cross
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA www.richmix.org.uk
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street / Old Street
Ticketed headline events & day passes £8 - £18
Festival website: africawrites.org
Ticket booking link: www.bl.uk/events/africa-writes-2018
Confirmed line-up so far: Warsan Shire, Yomi Sode, Octavia Poetry Collective

Notes to Editors:

  1. Africa Writes festival is an annual celebration of contemporary literature from Africa and the diaspora brought to you by The Royal African Society. Launched in 2012, every year Africa Writes showcases established and emerging talent from the African continent and its diaspora in what is now the UK’s biggest celebration of contemporary African writing. www.africawrites.org
  2. The Royal African Society is a membership organisation that provides opportunities for people to connect, celebrate and engage critically with a wide range of topics and ideas about Africa today. Through our events, publications and digital channels we facilitate mutual understanding between the UK and Africa across academia, business, politics, culture and education. We amplify African voices and interests, reaching a network of more than one million people globally. www.royalafricansociety.org.uk
  3. The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. www.bl.uk
  4. Africa Writes 2018 is organised in partnership with the British Library, with support from the Arts Council England, and the Miles Morland Foundation.


Africa and the Commonwealth

Monday, 16 April 2018
Nicholas Westcott

Commonwealth Heads of State and Government meet in London this week. Of the 53 members of the Commonwealth, 19 are African, the largest single group. There are of course historical reasons for this. But it is striking that the two newest members of the organisation (leaving aside welcome re-joiners like The Gambia) are both from Africa: Mozambique, which joined in 1995, and Rwanda in 2009. More are waiting.

So the Commonwealth is beginning to spread beyond the strict Anglosphere, as the Francophonie has expanded its scope to include a growing number of non-French speaking countries. But there is a difference. What holds the Commonwealth together, and what makes it more than a meeting of historically linked partners, is not just The Queen nor the language nor the link to the United Kingdom, but its values and willingness to enforce them. That countries have left - or been forced to leave - and then rejoined is a testament to the reality of those principles and practices. 

Africa has been the crucible in which these values have been tested, proving that arguments and negotiations within the community have their place. The rows over South Africa, from its departure in 1961 to its return in 1994, were not comfortable but were a testing ground of the principles on which the Commonwealth should be based. It was Zimbabwe’s unwillingness to respect the (ironically-named) Harare Principles that led to its departure from the Commonwealth in 2003. Zimbabwe’s re-admission, like South Africa’s before, is devoutly to be wished for but cannot be taken for granted. The conditions for membership must be met, and only once free, fair and transparent elections have been held should they be re-admitted.

Many argue that there needs to be more to the Commonwealth than principles and declarations. There have been proposals for a development bank, bigger aid programmes, a privileged trade area, more educational exchanges. It is worth looking at these, where they do not duplicate or overlap or detract from existing multilateral institutions or programmes. But it is more valuable to focus on what the Commonwealth is already providing to its members and build on that.

This means developing the communities of interest and the sharing of best practice between countries in Africa and beyond on the critical issues of democratic practice and the rule of law. Only real accountability will enable governments to tackle corruption, crime and terrorism as well as build development and growth. The meetings between Electoral Commissioners, Chief Justices, Police Chiefs, lawyers and parliamentarians - including from political oppositions - enable exchanges of experience, mutual problem solving and solidarity in adversity which helps build a political culture that is founded on accountability, and government practices that respect it.

This is a precious quality the Commonwealth can bring to all its members, large and small, in Africa and beyond. It is an issue on which the small can teach the large as much as vice versa, and which makes the Commonwealth something to treasure. Let us hope CHOGM reaffirms that and pushes it forward.

Free Trade for All?

Tuesday, 3 April 2018
Nicholas Westcott

The news that leaders of the African Union, under the Chairmanship of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, had signed up to the next phase of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in Africa at their meeting in Kigali on 21 March was greeted with a certain degree of cynicism by many commentators. The cynics have a point; but they miss a wider one.

It is true that only 44 of the 55 countries in the AU had signed the agreement, and the non-signers included Nigeria, one of the largest economies on the continent. Many think the AU has a better track record in making declarations than in making things happen, and building a continent-wide free trade area is a major undertaking not only of great technical complexity but of great political sensitivity. Constructing the EU’s single market took 50 years and many thousands of hours of painstaking negotiation and thousands of pages of legislation - a huge bureaucratic effort, though in the end producing big benefits for all. Recent studies (eg Amcham, Feb 2017) show that it did indeed increase GDP growth for EU member states by an average of 1% pa since 1995, creating nearly 2 million extra jobs. 

It is also true that there are far greater impediments to intra-African trade than tariffs. Infrastructure networks are still heavily oriented towards export rather than internal or neighbourly trade. Rules of origin and phytosanitary regulations can be as big an obstacle to trade as tariffs. And corruption and incompetence in national customs services mean that processing bilateral exports and imports can take weeks or months rather than days, and both governments and individuals may be reluctant to lose the revenue (and kickbacks) that this trade provides.

The case of Nigeria is also symptomatic. Though it stands, with South Africa, to gain most from a CFTA, through its dominant industries and strong domestic market base as well as the reduction in cost of living for its citizens, the government has succumbed to lobbying from a few sectoral interests that fear they would lose from regional competition if their protected national market was opened up.

So there are indeed plenty of reasons to be sceptical that the agreement signed will lead to much progress in the short or medium term. But there are four important reasons not to be too dismissive.

Firstly, the ambition is not only still there but being acted on. The champions of the CFTA, Rwanda prominent among them, know that most African countries are too small to prosper alone. To develop viable and profitable industries, they need access to larger local as well as global markets. Business begins at home. The larger that home, the easier to be competitive globally. This is as true in agriculture as industry, and, as Kofi Annan and other champions of AGRA (A Green Revolution in Africa) have been arguing for a decade, transforming African agriculture is an essential precursor for faster development. The point is that in Africa, at least, protectionists are in a minority and not in control of the agenda. 

This points to the second reason: that in fact the multilateral structures of world trade are essential to protect the interests of poor countries as much or more than those of rich ones. As the saying goes, when elephants fight it is the grass that gets trampled. A trade war between the US and China would have serious implications for Africa. A CFTA would not only give Africa more of a voice in the WTO, but ensure that it suffered less from such global squabbles if a greater proportion of its trade was internal.

Thirdly, African countries have so far defied the sceptics in making more progress than expected. That an agreement was reached and signed in Kigali by 44 African states demonstrates a level of political will which, if sustained, can force genuine progress. Kagame himself is a true believer, but he is not alone. Presidents Akufo-Addo of Ghana, Sall of Senegal, Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire, Kenyatta of Kenya and Ramaphosa of South Africa are all signed up and determined to press forward. And with Morocco and Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia all supporting the CFTA, as in Europe it may ultimately help dissipate not reinforce political rivalries.

Finally, the CFTA is a potentially powerful tool in the fight against corruption on the continent. If free trade can be established, customs officers will have less leverage to demand a “consideration” for allowing goods to pass the border or the port. This would reduce a few individual incomes, but greatly enhance the prosperity of ordinary Africans. 

In a world where the shadow of protectionism and of nationalistic economic policies is spreading, there is reason to celebrate Africa’s ambition and actively support the CFTA’s implementation.

What does economic empowerment mean for women in Africa today?

Wednesday, 18 April 2018 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm

What does economic empowerment mean for women in Africa today?
Date & Time: Wednesday 18 April, 18:00 – 20:00
Venue: Djam Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square,WC1H 0XG

The promise of women’s economic empowerment in Africa always creates a buzz, and for good reason. Women face high barriers to entry across myriad sectors, leading to a gulf of unfulfilled potential across the continent. Closing this gap could have huge implications, not only for gender equality, but also economic prosperity.  McKinsey estimate that closing this gender gap could add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025.

This vast untapped capacity is partly why governments and corporations are attempting to empower women in business. This includes addressing imbalances in access to savings, credit and insurance and understanding how women use these services. Moreover, as the technological revolution becomes increasingly central to African economies, narrowing the gendered digital divide is becoming an urgent necessity.  At the moment, just a quarter of the continent’s internet users are women.

Questions remain not just around how to solve these complex problems, but as to where solving them leaves us. Does an approach focussed on employment take into account the huge expenditure of labour exercised daily by women in the care economy? Will women’s economic empowerment necessarily lead to social, political and cultural empowerment? And will the extra national growth driven by the inclusion of more female workers in Africa actually improve their lives? Join us to debate these questions with a panel of guest speakers:


Nunu Ntshingila-Njeke, Head of Facebook Africa 
Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President & CEO, Women’s World Banking 
Fatimah Kelleher, International Women's Rights and Social Development Advocate 
Dougie Brew, Africa Advisory Council of Women's World Banking / Unilever
Mark Napier, Director, FSD Africa
Dr Catherine Dolan, SOAS
Chair: Eliza Anyangwe, Writer, Editor & Moderator

Presented in partnership with Women’s World Banking, Unilever and FSD Africa.

Photo: Women's World Banking, Uganda

This event is free and open to all but space is limited. Please reserve your ticket through Eventbrite




Contemporary Writing from Uganda: Celebrating Writivism at 5

Thursday, 12 April 2018 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm


Contemporary Writing from Uganda: Celebrating Writivism at 5
Date and Time: 
18:00 – 20:00, Thursday 12 April
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square,WC1H 0XG

Back in 2012, the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) based in Kampala, Uganda, launched Writivism - an initiative that identifies, mentors and promotes emerging Africa-based writers, and hosts an annual literary festival in Kampala. In the years since, Writivism has gone from strength to strength and in 2017 celebrated its fifth anniversary. To mark this achievement, the initiative produced a short documentary film, exploring the ways in which social media has disrupted the traditional ways of publishing and circulating African Literature. Writivism is also publishing a fifth anniversary anthology of short fiction by emerging Ugandan writers.

At this event, Writivism hosts the London launch of ‘The Real Writers Documentary’, a presentation and reading from the anniversary anthology and a discussion on social media and contemporary African writing, with a line-up of exciting speakers from within the Writivism network.

Roland Byagaba (remotely) - Writivism Director
Esther Mirembe (remotely) - Writivism Editor and contributor to the Writivism At 5 anthology
Lizzy Attree - Writivism Board Member, Co-founder Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize and former Director of the Caine Prize
Nick Makoha - Poet, Author and Workshop facilitator + mentor for the Writivism at 5 Anthology
Sumayya Lee - Writivism Advisor, Judge and Coordinator Mentoring and Residencies, and Author
Nancy Adimora - Founding Editor of AFREADA

Moderator: Marcelle Akita -  Co-founder Afrikult, Project Co-ordinator at Royal African Society

This event is free and open to all but space is limited. Please reserve your ticket on Eventbrite.

#WritivismAt5UKtour - Read the Press Release.




What do the SDGs mean for business in Africa?

Friday, 23 March 2018
Boko Inyundo, RAS Council Member




Article by Boko Inyundo following the Royal African Society's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) event held on 22nd March 2018



What an inspirational event we had on the evening of 22nd March 2018 that was led by the Royal Africa Society and Dalberg Advisors with The Africa Club at London Business School kindly hosting the gathering. Together with a stellar cast of speakers and a fantastic audience of business executives, investors, social entrepreneurs and development actors, at this event we explored the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that have been set by the United Nations (UN) and which are geared to transforming our world, while we specifically looked at what the SDGs mean for investors and businesses with current or potential interests in Africa.

This event was framed around 2 panel discussions, one with representatives from business and the other with investors, while each panel was preceded by keynote speeches from Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, the former UN Deputy Secretary-General and now Chairman of Smartmatic, the leading electronic voting company that helps hundreds of millions worldwide cast their votes in elections, and Nick O'Donohoe, the CEO of CDC Group, the UK's development finance institution.

Keynote: Lord Mark Malloch-Brown

The keynotes offered deep insight into the opportunities the SDGs offer the private sector as well as the challenges that will need to be navigated, noting that the investment bank UBS states that "the UN's 17 SDGs, each year, cost $5 to 7 trillion to finance, and aim to end poverty, protect the planet, and bring prosperity to all by 2030, though to date, the world is falling well short and needs to raise $2.5 trillion to bridge the gap and this will only be achieved using private capital as well as public investments".

Lord Mark Malloch-Brown emphasised that "meeting social needs are the opportunities of the future" with real prospects in Africa for private sector impact with regards to the SDGs that relate to agriculture, the food chain, communication, renewable energy and healthcare. He highlighted that "the opportunities are enormous for fast movers in Africa" and reflected on his experience of a "real spirit of innovation particularly in East Africa".

Panel with representatives from business

David Croft, the Global Sustainability Director at Diageo, identified micro-power generation as a real opportunity to be grasped in Africa with him forecasting that we're set to see great strides in small-scale, local power generation as investors and entrepreneurs innovate and deploy solutions that address the gaps in access to power across the continent while lowering the cost and price for urban and rural populations across Africa. Yemi Babington-Ashaye, the Head of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community, a network of young community leaders based in cities across the world, echoed this sentiment by highlighting that 600 million Africans do not have access to power while Africans, in relative terms, often pay the most for electricity.

Diageo's David Croft also emphasised that plastics recycling is a huge opportunity in Africa and foresees tensions rising exponentially with regards to plastics waste not least because China is now looking to stop importing that waste. Africa will therefore need to build processing and waste re-use networks to address the consequences and Dougie Brew, the Director External Affairs, Communications and Sustainability for Africa at Unilever, highlighted another driver here being the rapid urbanisation of Africa will mean that the continent is set to rely more heavily on processed food and packaging as consumption grows and expectations of quality food products evolve.

H.E. Dr Hailemichael Aberra Afework PhD, the Ethiopian Ambassador in the UK, observed that Ethiopia's priorities included building local capacity for food processing by, for example, strengthening the links between farmers and processing centres, as well as responding to the demands from urbanisation by, for example, the building of hospitals and clinics across the country equipped with the technology required to better meet growing and evolving public healthcare needs.

Yemi Babington-Ashaye highlighted that in surveys that the Global Shapers Community regularly conducts with its constituents across Africa sees the youth always saying that healthcare and education are the two areas ripe for disruption. Kate Robertson, the co-Founder of One Young World, the global forum for young leaders and former Global President of Havas, agreed, adding that "the primary driver of disruption in education is connectivity, with every form of digital learning being soaked up by the young in Africa".

One Young World's Kate Robertson continued by stating that many are focussed on the issue of transparency in the context of multiple domains across the public and private sectors. Kate stated that there is "real potential for a huge jump in transparency on the continent" with her citing how the youth are passionate about deploying web-based solutions that, for example, provide greater transparency around procurement. Yemi Babington-Ashaye echoed this view by pointing to findings from the 'Global Shapers Survey', a research study conducted with +30,000 young people from more than 180 countries, which shows that government accountability and transparency weigh heavily on the minds of young people.

Unilever's Dougie Brew felt that the defining feature in Africa with regards to the SDGs is the young and the need to create opportunities for those entering the labour market.

One Young World's Kate Robertson emphasised that the SDGs will, ultimately, be delivered by the youth while the Global Shapers Community's Head, Yemi Babington-Ashaye, stated that the SDGs present an opportunity to develop a shared language, between business and development practitioners, in the context of enabling sustainable progress.

Unilever's Dougie Brew outlined how the SDGs link social needs in Africa directly to a business, like Unilever that, amongst other consumer goods, sells toothpaste globally, in that he highlighted that the no. 1 reason why children do not make it to school across Africa is due to tooth decay resulting in truancy and the consequence that has on the quality of education!

Diageo's David Croft observed how the launch, this past few weeks, of the Guinness 'Made of Black' TV commercial that features the female Kenyan Premier League referee Tabitha Wambui has resonated powerfully in an arena, the beer market, that is largely perceived as male-orientated, and the brand return has been overwhelmingly positive while chiming with the narrative surrounding the SDG goal on gender equality.

David Croft continued by stating that "helping and engaging in Africa is critical to Diageo's global growth" given Africa is a key market for the business. He also reflected on the company's supply chain by highlighting that "strengthening Nigerian farmers has a direct impact on Diageo's bottom line", with the Ethiopian Ambassador observing that his experience of Diageo doing business in Ethiopia was that the company "was not making a hit-and-run investment in Africa but was in the continent for the long term and, as a result, winning love from local communities".

Unilever's Dougie Brew stated that distribution and route-to-market were key issues for Africa’s transformation, where logistics and distribution supply chains were often slow while ensuring affordability is important. He also emphasised the need to develop solutions with local communities for local needs and large companies such as Unilever "rests on a supply chain down to the smallest duka (Swahili for 'shop') in Kenya and therefore has an impact not just through its direct employee base but also the many more indirect employees its influences".

Keynote: Nick O'Donohoe

Nick O'Donohoe, the CEO of CDC Group, stated that "there has never been a time when development finance has been as front and centre in the debate as it is today and the SDGs have played a key role in focussing attention on the role of business and the private sector". He continued by saying the audience, as UK tax payers, should be very proud of the work CDC Group has done to date, citing recent examples where it has invested in a company in Malawi offering affordable nutrition and one in Kenya providing low cost, quality education, and all this through investments, not grants, which earn market leading returns and which will endure for the long term.

The CDC Group's Nick O'Donohoe acknowledged the challenges such as the funding gap of $2.5 trillion needed to finance the SDGs. He observed that while you would have thought investment into Africa is growing, sadly foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to Africa have been in decline as a result of economic headwinds and the retreat of banks and Private Equity, with investors feeling that Africa lacks scale. Recently when asked by the Secretary of State for International Development what needed to be done to address this his answer was the need for:

  1. Better governance and more consistent economic policy on the continent
  2. More risk appetite amongst investors
  3. Greater innovation (in financial services and technology) 

On the subject of governance, Nick O'Donohoe felt that no country in Africa was currently more focussed on attracting private capital than Ethiopia while the Democratic Republic of the Congo was, at the moment, an almost impossible place to do business. Zimbabwe, after +30 years of turmoil, was now "one of the best investment opportunities available if the country were to do what Ethiopia was doing". Ghana has been moving forward while, recently, developments in Tanzania would suggest it was moving backwards.

With regards to risk appetite the CDC Group's Nick O'Donohoe observed that while looking back to the 1980's when hardly anyone made significant investments internationally, things have changed as, today, we have better data to enable us to understand risk. However, whenever the risk status shifts adversely investors will tend to move out fast. He felt CDC Group is in a position to play a major part in disseminating data while it can also help build local capital pools which tends to be more patient capital that's more likely to be in long term equity rather than debt with that capital coming from the likes of pension funds.

With respect to innovation the CDC Group's Nick O'Donohoe highlighted developments relating to finance such as impact bonds, volume guarantees and blended finance models while technology transformations have been seen in mobile, solar (citing M-Kopa) and the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-related technologies in, for example, healthcare diagnosis. However, all must recognise that some things are challenges that are more pronounced in Africa than they may be elsewhere, with Nick O'Donohoe citing water sanitation, house building and credit bureaus / finger printing technology as some examples. The funding of innovations to meet such challenges will require people and partnerships to come together to build the necessary solutions that are relevant to communities on the continent.

Panel with investors

Shami Nissan, the Head of Responsible Investment at Actis, a leading investor in growth markets across Africa, Asia and Latin America, highlighted that Actis saw opportunities in Africa where it already has a strong track record and this includes: energy; power; electricity; healthcare; education; financial services; and infrastructure. She observed that whereas 3-5 years ago Actis and its clients did not talk about investments in terms of the SDGs, it does do so now.

Geetha Tharmaratnam, a Partner at T5 Africa Capital Partners, a venture capital firm focused on investing in early stage innovative and disruptive technology companies, emphasised that "the focus now needs to be about more than just capital" and that there was a "need to address the capital stack" as the current industry fund structure was, arguably, not fit for purpose, and "needed to focus on the way and quality of investing with the SDGs critical here in giving us a common language". Her view was that the real opportunity and challenge lay in establishing an enabling environment for investing in small and medium-sized businesses while the fundamental challenge was matching the opportunities with the risk appetite.

Tracey Austin, the Global Head, Impact Investments, at Palladium, a global leader in the design, development and delivery of Positive Impact, highlighted that the key is for any investor to, from the start, have a point of view and value system that is in tune with the SDGs, otherwise one risk's simply "green washing" traditional investment approaches. In looking to engage in this arena "it is key that you hire policy and governance experts and put your own money into the game".

T5 Africa Capital Partners' Geetha Tharmaratnam championed the need for Africa to nurture local capital pools that invest in local businesses as that is ultimately what led to transformation in Asia. She also advocated for the Diaspora to return home to help build the human capital base of the continent.

Christoph Scaife, an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) analyst at Investec, the international specialist banking and asset management group, emphasised that impact investing needed to be benchmarked against other forms of investing as a means of positioning it as an attractive and competitive model. He also proposed that investors needed to tell their stories better in order to help dispel the myths that investors were just in the game for profit and enriching those that are already rich, inferring that the SDGs provide such an opportunity.

All the investor panel agreed that the SDGs provided a shared language and vocabulary around which to frame the investment of capital and pursuit of sustainable returns.


The opportunities for the private sector to transform our world by operating and investing through the lens of the SDGs are clearly myriad and an event like this can only scratch the surface in playing its part to propel discussion into action and collaboration.

For me the discussions throughout this event and in our well attended drinks reception afterwards really brought into focus the key opportunities and challenges facing the private sector today. Namely how to exercise its responsibility to pursue profit with purpose, as well as being a means of stimulating productivity that is sustainable for not only their immediate stakeholders (e.g. shareholders, customers, supply chain or employees) but also wider society. Any growth or progress will need to go hand in hand with investments that strive to nurture or responsibly use/re-use our natural resources, not deplete them, for the common good.


Many thanks to Aly-Khan Jamal, Noa Gafni, Adesoji Solanke, Amine Bendriss, Sheila Ruiz and Shushan Tewolde-Berhan, and to the latter two it was a real honour to have been asked to make the brief opening remarks to welcome our eminent keynote speakers, panellists and the full house of inspiring Africa-interested and Diaspora delegates that joined us!



Boko Inyundo is a Council Member at the Royal African Society as well as a member of the Board at the African Foundation for Development, a Non-Exec Advisor to the Africa + Tech-focused consultancy De Charles and a Senior Business Development professional aligned to the Technology Sector at the global law firm DLA Piper.