Africa's Media Image in the 21st Century

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Date & Time: Tuesday 13th September, 19:00 - 20:30

Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, Lower Ground Floor, SOAS, London, WC1H 0XG

This is the first book in over twenty years to examine the international media’s coverage of sub-Saharan Africa.  Moving discussion beyond traditional critiques of ‘Africa Rising’ vs ‘darkest Africa’ stereotypes, the contributors explore the news outlets, international power dynamics, and technologies that shape and reshape the contemporary image of Africa and Africans in journalism and global culture.

Case studies consider questions such as: how have new media changed whose views are represented? Do Chinese or diaspora media offer alternative perspectives for viewing the continent? How do foreign correspondents interact with their audiences in a social media age? What is the contemporary role of charity groups and PR firms in shaping news content?

To launch this book, we are joined by editors Mel Bunce and Chris Paterson, and contributors Abdullahi Tasiu Abubakar, Heba Aly and Olatunji Ogunyemi as they explore topics as diverse as the media strategies of Boko Haram, the market for humanitarian news and the image of the continent presented in African diasporic press in the UK.

Reserve your seat on Eventbrite Please note - we are oversubscribed for this event so seats will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis from 18:50. 

Copies of the book will be on sale: Africa’s Media Image in the 21st Century: From the “Heart of Darkness” to “Africa Rising” (2016) Edited by Mel Bunce, Suzanne Franks, and Chris Paterson. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-96231-6



RIP Abbas Idriss, the Somali Brit

Thursday, 28 July 2016
Richard Dowden

The remarkable John Drysdale was almost completely unknown in Britain but a national hero in Somalia, where he was known as Abbas Idriss. A short man with pebble glasses, he looked more like an old professor than a soldier-turned-activist. Last month he was given a state funeral in Hargeisa attended by the great and good of Somaliland where he spent the last years of his life (see photo above).

He first went to the Somalia during the Second World War in 1943 as a British army officer with the Somaliland regiment which fought the Japanese in Burma and Singapore. He stayed on in the region and wrote about Singapore and South East Asia and became an expert on the region, in particular on its ancient porcelain. 

He returned to Britain and joined the colonial administration and served in Ghana. But he was not a typical colonial officer. He sided more with the people he was supposed to be ruling than the imperial rulers. After Ghana’s independence, he became adviser to three Somali Prime Ministers in post independence Somalia. Drysdale spoke fluent Somali and wrote two books about the country, its people and their history and culture.

I first met him in Modagadishu in 1992, shortly after the fall of Siad Barre, when the UN and then the United States became involved in trying to impose peace between the clan warlords. He became adviser to the Americans after they had invaded the country in December 1992. He tried to bring together the clan leaders as well as warlords like General Mohammed Aideed. But the Americans would not listen to his advice. They decided that there were good guys and bad guys. Anyone like General Aideed who did not do what they wanted was a bad guy. They put a price on his head.

Aideed went into hiding but his fighters still attacked the American troops. Drysdale offered to go and talk to him and the Americans agreed. But every time he tried to meet the general he found he was being followed. This game went on for days and Drysdale got angrier and angrier and felt personally slighted and betrayed. In a typically Somali act he simply changed sides and became Aideed’s advisor.

The Americans were finally forced to declare a truce in October 1993 when Aideed’s fighters war shot down two US helicopters in the infamous Blackhawk Down incident. Aideed came out of hiding and the Americans announced their withdrawal. Had they listened to Drysdale the history of Somalia might have been very different.  

He returned to Somaliland in the 1990s as an adviser to the government and set himself the complicated, dull but vital task of conducting a survey and mapping the farm boundaries of Somaliland in order to prevent land disputes. 

Richard Dowden is director of RAS.

#HowToFixNigeria: Dismantling Patriarchy

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm


Date & Time: Wednesday, 31st August, 6:30-8PM

Venue:  The Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall

A special Africa Utopia edition of our popular #HowToFixNigeria panel series with Fatimah Kelleher, Dorcas Erskine and Elnathan John.    

Chaired by Funmi Iyanda – producer, broadcaster and CEO of Oya Media – this event discusses gender inequality in Nigeria, and looks at the ways in which women and men are fighting sexism and patriarchal oppression.  

Has the focus on gender in development projects made any progress towards dismantling the country’s patriarchy? What are the hopes, approaches and challenges that have defined the movement to empower Nigerian women? And what can we learn from Nigeria about the struggle for gender equality across the continent as a whole? 

This event is presented in partnership with Oya Media as part of the Africa Utopia festival.

This event is free and open to all - no prior registration is required



RAS Business Breakfast on Japan’s new relationship with Africa

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

This morning, The Royal African Society (RAS) hosted a business breakfast entitled “Japan & Africa: A new kind of relationship?”, in association with the Government of Japan. The event was a pre-cursor to the 6th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya from 27-28 August – the first ever TICAD summit to be held in Africa.

Today’s event moderated by our director Richard Dowden, featured renowned practitioners and academics in the field of international development, discussing the future of Japan-Africa relations; Professor Akihiko Tanaka, University of Tokyo and former President of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), Charles O. Boamah, CFO and Vice President of the African Development Bank & Dr. Kweku Ampiah, Associate Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Leeds.

The discussion highlighted the role of Japan in African developmental priorities such as improving human capacity, developing infrastructure and tackling energy deficit, and encouraging private sector engagement. 

This event took place as part of the RAS Business Programme for corporate members. To find out more about joining click here.

Africa-UK trade & investment agreements after Brexit

Wednesday, 20 July 2016 - 4:45pm to 6:00pm


The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group & Royal African Society parliamentary panel meeting to discuss-

Africa-UK trade & investment agreements after Brexit


Chair: Chi Onwurah MP




Edwin Laurent- Director of the Ramphal Institute


Liz May- Head of Policy at Traidcraft


Dr. Eka Ikpe- African Leadership Centre, Kings College London


Following the Brexit vote on the 23rd June, the Africa APPG is carrying out an inquiry into the future of trade & investment agreements between the UK and African states.
This is an initial exploratory meeting to begin reflecting on the EU Economic Partnership Agreements with African Regional Economic Areas and the UK's Bilateral Investment Treaties with African countries. What lessons can be learnt from their negotiation and implementation to date? Does Brexit provide an opportunity for bettering our trade and investment relationships with African countries?

Submitting questions for Q&A
Due to limited time and to ensure informative discussion, where possible, could interested parliamentary members please submit questions for the panel in advance to and no later than Friday 15th June.
Members of the public are also invited to submit questions, although priority will be given to questions from parliamentarians.
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 from 16:45 to 18:00 (BST)
Boothroyd Room - Portcullis House, House of Commons, London, SW1A 2LW
Register via Eventbite here

Mining for Prosperity - Kayode Fayemi at RAS Business Breakfast

Thursday, 30 June 2016
Site Editor

This morning, The Royal African Society hosted His Excellency Kayode Fayemi, Minister for Solid Minerals. He addressed RAS members on 'Mining for Prosperity' and on his ministry's objective of increasing the mining industry’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP. Among the key highlights of his address were: his ministry’s completion of a revalidation process to remove dormant license holders and opening up access to new and eager prospectors; Nigeria’s investment in infrastructure to support the mining value chain – and the ministry’s incentivisation plan for new entrants into the sector. The breakfast was chaired by Zeinab Badawi, Chair of the RAS. 

This event took place as part of the RAS Business Programme for corporate members. To find out more about joining click here

What will Brexit mean for Africa?

Friday, 24 June 2016
Richard Dowden

Sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas. Just over half British voters have just done so. Brexit is national suicide. The tribes of Britain will now be at war with each other. The Scots will demand another referendum and will vote to leave. Northern Ireland will be vulnerable to civil war again. Are they really going to build a fence along the border? Sinn Fein will go back to war if they do. And the Welsh will not be slow to realise they do not want to be tied to an impoverished England. 

Already the world's capital markets have shown their reaction and the fear that Britain is no longer a global leader in finance and international connections. I wonder if all those building sites in the City will remain building sites while other gleaming towers of steel and glass may soon bear "vacant" signs. 
What does it mean for Africa? All reports I have seen show a strong African belief in Britain staying in the EU. It saw Britain as an important voice for Africa in Brussels and at the UN in New York. Now England and Wales - outside the EU - and led by little Englanders will see British influence in the world diminish further. Could Britain even find itself squeezed off the UN Security Council? You can be sure that aid budget will be slashed. I am not a great fan of aid but I think it did represent Britain's commitment to the poor of the world and especially to struggling African countries. Will David Cameron's brave attempt to raise the issue of global corruption be shelved? Britain's weight in the world will be so diminished that few will take it seriously anyway.  
The exit will feed racism in Britain. There is little doubt that many of the Leave voters, frightened by immigration, want to stop foreigners coming to Britain. Africans - more visible than Europeans - will no doubt be targeted. The new government - presumably led by Boris Johnson - will stop foreigners coming to Britain and be far less willing to accept refugees under the UN Convention. Our universities will suffer as foreign students will find it difficult to get visas and many will turn to America or European alternatives. I also predict there will be a rise in racist attacks on Africans and other "aliens". 
For centuries, for good and ill, Britain has played a major role in world affairs and particularly in Africa. It is the most international country in the world and for centuries has been open to refugees and migrants generally - not least because they brought expertise, new ideas and ambition which broke through Britain's class barriers. Now it seems doomed to become an impoverished island off Europe. And when the Brexiters - fed false figures and lies by Britain's right wing press - realise they have made a dreadful mistake, it will be too late. 
Richard Dowden is director of RAS.
The Africa All Party Parliamentary Group together with the Royal African Society is holding an event on the 20th July exploring Africa-UK Trade & Investment Agreements after Brexit. For information and to register please see here.

'South Sudan: The Untold Story from Independence to Civil War'

Tuesday, 21 June 2016 - 5:30pm to 7:30pm



Date & Time: Tuesday 21 June 2016, 17:30-19:30

Venue: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre (BGLT) - SOAS, Russell Square, , London , WC1H 0XG

Speakers: Hilde F. Johnson, Barney Afako, Peter Biar Ajak, Clare Short

Chair: Professor Mats Berdal (King’s College London)

In July 2011, South Sudan was granted independence and became the world’s newest country. Yet just two-and-a-half years after this momentous decision, the country was in the grips of renewed civil war and political strife. Hilde F. Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary- General and Head of the UN Mission, was witness to the many challenges which the country faced as it struggled to adjust to its new autonomous state. In this book, she provides a unique insider’s account of South Sudan’s descent from the ecstatic celebrations of July 2011 to the outbreak of the disastrous conflict in December 2013 and the early phases of the fighting. Join us for a launch of the book, and a discussion with the author, Clare Short (Former Secretary of State for International Development), Peter Biar Ajak (Country Co-Director for the International Growth Centre in South Sudan) and Barney Afako (lawyer and expert on transitional justice).

Followed by a reception, where copies of the book, published by I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd., will be on sale.

Hilde F. Johnson was the Special Representative of the Secretary- General and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (2011-2014). From 2007- 2011 Hilde F. Johnson was Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, where she was in charge of the organisation’s humanitarian operations, crisis response and security issues. She was a key player in brokering the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for Sudan in 2005. She is the author of Waging Peace in Sudan: The Inside Story of the Negotiations That Ended Africa’s Longest Civil War.

Peter Biar Ajak is the Country Co-Director for the International Growth Centre in South Sudan and the CEO of South Sudan Wrestling Entertainment, a nonprofit that uses the cultural sport of wrestling to promote peace among South Sudan’s tribes. He was previously the World Bank In-Country Economist in South Sudan (2009-2011), and also previously, the Coordinator of Policy and Strategy in the Office of the Minister of National Security in the Office of the President (2011-2014). Peter is also a member of the SPLM Economic Taskforce.

Barney Afako is a lawyer, and also sits as a Tribunal Judge in London. He was born in Uganda and has extensive experience of work in Sudan and South Sudan. Since 2009, he has been an adviser to the African Union High Level Panel on Sudan and South Sudan chaired by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki. 

The Rt Hon Clare Short was the UK Secretary of State for International Development (1997-2003). She was Shadow Minister for Women (1993-1995) and Shadow Secretary of State for Transport (1995-1996). She was Opposition spokesperson on Overseas Development (1996-1997).  In 2003, Clare Short resigned from her role as Secretary of State for International Development over the Iraq war.  Clare Short is a member of both the Advocacy Panel of Cities Alliance and the Advisory Committee of International Lawyers for Africa, and a Trustee of Africa Humanitarian Action.

This event is free but registration is required. Please register your place on Eventbrite






Happy Birthday Somaliland

Tuesday, 24 May 2016
Richard Dowden

Twenty five years ago Somaliland declared its independence from the wrecked country called Somalia. The ceremony of raising the flag was held on May 18th in Burao, a small town down on the plain. It still had some buildings standing. The capital Hargeisa had been utterly destroyed.

I arrived with an ITN film crew a day later. After consultation the new government agreed to perform the independence ceremony again for the single TV camera. So any commercial footage you see of Somaliland’s second independence now is the repeat performance. A small band played, the trumpeter sounded as the flag – a tricolour of red, white and green with a black star in the middle – was slowly raised. The crowd cheered and guns – including  anti aircraft guns and howitzers and hundreds of AK 47s were fired. We were made very welcome.

Somalia, once a vital strategic country for Europe, on the Red Sea route to India and the East, had been divided up by the colonial powers. France got the strategic port of Djibouti to counterbalance the British possession of Aden in Yemen. Britain took the southern Red Sea coast of Somalia and Italy was given the Indian Ocean Coast although the British gave the southern third of Somalia to Kenya (Or Keenya as they called it then). The Ogaden, the north western part of Somalia, was given to Ethiopia as a reward for keeping silent about the imperial European take-over of Africa.

Unsurprisingly at independence in 1960 Somalis chose the five pointed blue star as its symbol representing the five colonised parts of Somalia re-united. Somalilanders, so keen to be reunited with the rest of Somalia delayed their independence day so it could be held on the same day as the rest of Somalia. In 1991 it declared its independence from the rest of the country. “No More Mogadishu” was the cry. Since then it has had its own government, a parliament and ministries and, despite tensions between different areas and clans, it has been largely peaceful and law-abiding ever since. Still no other country recognizes it although the rest of the world has to treat it as a legitimate government. But not a single African country would support its recognition and unless the African Union recognizes it, the rest of the world will not.

Until I flew to Hargeisa, I did not fully understand why the Somalilanders were so fierce in their demands for independence even though they had delayed their own independence in 1960. As we circled the small town I looked in vain for a single house with a roof on it. We went round again. There was none. Much of the city was rubble and not a single house had a roof. There had been terrible house to house street fighting and the government forces had two Mig fighter bombers flown by mercenary Rhodesian pilots that took off from the airport barely a mile from the town and systematically bombed the parts of the town held by rebels.

In the end the entire civilian population, realising they were going to die, gathered up their meagre possessions and walked for days to the Ethiopian border. Even then the bombers pursued them and bombed them as they walked. Today one of those Migs is on a plinth in the middle of town where in most places there would be a statue of a great war hero or leader. You have to have Somali sense of humour to get that joke.

The government troops also dug up the floors of houses looking for hidden jewelry or money which they stole. They also mined and booby-trapped the hiding places. Many people were killed when they finally returned.

Somaliland has not been recognized by the United Nations. The African Union – although forced to accept the separation of Ethiopia and Eritrea – has never recognised Somaliland. That lack of international recognition means it cannot borrow money on the international market though it does get aid. But Somalilanders have rebuilt the town and revived the country. It has several universities and a good hospital. The capital Hargeisa is now a thriving peaceful city. It even has a poetry festival every year.  Poets are rock stars in Somalia.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society