Posts Tagged ‘Africa Oxford’
James Currey, co-founder of James Currey publishers (est 1984) has been called “The Godfather of African Literature”. His publishing house is responsible for producing vast numbers of academic books, journals, fiction and non fiction books about Africa, especially in a period when it was considered not profitable to publish books about Africa. He together with Chinua Achebe under the auspices of Heinemann publishers, produced the famous African Writers Series (AWS) which have inspired many African(ist)s around the world.
We know a lot about James Currey the publisher – several great articles have been written about that subject matter, and his book Africa Writes Back is an excellent source for that and more. In my interview with James, we spoke about his publishing work, but also his life before, around and outside publishing as we sat surrounded by books in his lovely upstairs living room overlooking the Thames.
His mother was a playwright and his father a poet, so it is really no surprise that James Currey has always been an avid reader. He first came to Oxford at the age of 16 where he met Clare Wilson (BA History, St Anne’s College, 1958) who later became his wife, and Terence Ranger (BA History, Queen’s College). After he finished his studies in History at Wadham College in 1958, he interviewed for a job with the Oxford University Press (OUP). In his interview he was asked to pick a country for his apprenticeship. He chose South Africa, and the rest is history. His choice to go to South Africa was rather surprising at the time, and he was not familiar with the place at all except for having a grandmother who was part South African. He was also curious to find out what apartheid was like, and so off he went in 1962 with Clare after convincing her to marry him, to begin an exciting 18 months in Cape Town.
Their time in Cape Town was memorable, James had a great apprenticeship and Clare recorded the last moments of the Rivonia Trial which led to the imprisonment of ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela. One of her articles about the trial was a reflective piece on what the wives of the accused were going through as they watched their husbands in that dock. The stint in Cape Town ended on a frightening and dramatic note – after helping their friend Randolph Vigne to flee South Africa to Canada without knowing about his role in a plot to sabotage the apartheid government, they found themselves in trouble. James recalls having to jump about 9 feet off the ship they snuck Vigne on at the last moment as it left the port. Luckily, they succeeded in fleeing the country in 1964 and returned to England and started a family. They had two kids – Hal and Tamsin. James continued to work with the OUP until 1967 when he moved on to Heinemann Educational Books to work with Chinua Achebe on the AWS.
African Writers Series published between 15 – 20 books every year, transforming the publishing landscape in many ways. By the time James joined, it had been going on for 5 years, published 30 books and had its biggest market in the educational sectors of African countries due to educational programs with required African students to study literature authored by Africans about Africa. In the 1980’s in a period of economic downturn, nearly all the major Western publishers stopped publishing African/ Africanist books. Cambridge University Press kept publishing, but only in hardback. James Currey was ordered to stop all his African publishing work by the new owners of Heinemann, and that was when he knew it was time to leave. By the time he left, the AWS had published 270 books.
In 1984, he and Clare founded James Currey Publishers and they worked out of their flat in Islington, London, a 12 minute cycle away from SOAS. As publishing books on Africa was no longer thought of as a profitable venture, most people thought that they would fail. It was quite the career change for Clare – her previous work had been at the Cambridge University Department of Aerial Photography where she worked on locating ancient Roman ruin sites from above. In her time there, they doubled the number of sites discovered in Scotland in one summer. She used to say that she was neither an Africanist nor a publisher, but had suddenly become both.Sadly, Clare passed away last year. She and James were together for 60 years.The children were also very involved in the business – James recalls they used to bring friends from university over to help stuff delivery envelopes in their basement. Their daughter Tamsin did much of the typesetting for books at the time and now works in theatre design. Their business thrived, and with authors such as Terry Ranger, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Ali Mazrui firmly in their camp, many of the best Africanist authors soon turned to them to publish their work.
For someone who did not set out to become a publisher of books about African topics – he wanted to work for Jonathan Cape publishing novels – James Currey is phenomenal in his impact on the Africa publishing field in the UK, in African Countries and around the world. He donated his AWS Collection to the Terence Ranger Reading Room at the African Studies Centre, and the new library at St Cross College will house all books by James Currey Publishers on Africa. His passion and dedication to supporting Africanist scholarship, especially for Africa – Oxford collaborations has resulted in a legacy of excellence
Hashi is currently practising as a barrister in England and Wales. One of his specialities is in Public Law, and predominantly in Planning and Environment. In addition to this, he is a part-time broadcaster for the BBC, presenting documentaries periodically on BBC Radio 4 such as The Boat Children and A Response to Terror.
He has been consistently listed as one of the highest rated planning barristers in England & Wales under the age of 35 in the Planning Magazine’s annual Planning Legal Survey, and serves as Special Adviser to David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of terror legislation in his work reviewing the UK’s anti-terrorism laws. Hashi has acted in a number of cases related to public law and human rights issues. He has also been instructed to act on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Department at Immigration Appeals Tribunals, appearing in over 100 appeals.
Before Oxford he was worked as a broadcast journalist for the BBC after graduating from university where he studied Law and French. For Hashi, attending Oxford was the next natural step, to not only enhance his qualifications but to widen his intellectual and personal horizons as well. He enjoyed playing football and cycling most in his time in Oxford, and excellent debating was a close third. When asked what the most exciting thing he did at Oxford was, his response was “giving a hug to the Dalai Lama”
Stefan Dercon, Sa’eed Husaini and Simukai Chigudu
Yasmin Kumi, Founder and Managing Director of Africa Foresight Group addresses the meeting
Robin Roberts in conversation with Frewyeni Kidane and other attendees
The 2017 Oxford Business Forum Africa commenced with a Gala Dinner on Friday the 9th of March in the historic Balliol College dining hall. Attendees were treated to great speeches by brilliant figures in the African business landscape such as James Mwangi [Executive Director of Dalberg] and Themba Baloyi [Founder and Executive Director of Discovery Insure].
Those who think they’re too big to do little things are often too little to do big things
This quote from James Mwangi, resonated with me as well as a good number of the people I interacted with after dinner. Mwangi is a refreshing, engaging speaker. His advice to Africans in the diaspora looking to go back home and “change” things was simple but not something that is often heard in spaces like this. Among other things, he said not to go back thinking you know it all, and have all the answers… not to go back without an attempt to understand the context or environment, or to assume everything is exactly the same as you last left it.
The main conference was held at the Nelson Mandela Lecture theatre at the Said Business School, and was very well-attended with a diverse crowd of participants and speakers from within Oxford and the UK as well as the USA, Europe and African countries.
The first keynote speaker was Sudanese-born Dr Mo Ibrahim, telecommunications magnate turned founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation which focuses on strengthening governance and leadership in Africa. He spoke passionately about the thinking behind the establishment of the prize named after him, doing business in Africa and his organisation’s confident insistence on awarding excellent leaders according to their strict criteria. On the latter subject, notably, he declared that “The Mo Ibrahim Prize is an award for excellence – it is not a pension.” The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has raised eyebrows some years for declaring that no former African president was deemed worthy of the grand prize, and Dr Ibrahim’s quip was in reference to this.
Some of the other speakers were Dr Carlos Lopes [former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and currently visiting fellow at the Oxford Martin School], Ambassador Amina Mohammed [Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya] and Phuti Mahanyele [Executive Chairperson of Sigma Capital].
Yasmin founded Africa Foresight Group (AFG) in 2015 to follow her passion of fostering local economic value creation in Africa. She is a Ghanaian-German senior business consultant with extensive working experience in the consumer goods and financial services sector, the research of family business groups and agriculture in African markets. She is a Harambean (’16) and has also been appointed Executive Director of the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance, the leading network for young talented entrepreneurs from Africa. AFG counters myths about doing business in Africa: that there is a talent scarcity in Africa, that reliable market data is difficult to find, and that there are no good African business models. Through its advisory practice, research desk, and think tank AFG provides access to high-quality talent, exchanges with successful business models, and connections to local industry champions. Prior to founding AFG, she worked as a senior consultant for McKinsey & Company for 5 years advising clients in Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa in the consumer goods and banking industry. She also led the monitoring division of an agricultural development project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Accra that promoted the integration of the cashew nut value chain in West Africa.
Square Kilometre Array
The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s leading instrument in radio astronomy for the next generation, and will be substantially based in southern Africa. The SKA is designed to answer questions about the fundamental physics of black holes, the evolution of galaxies, and to test General Relativity to breaking point. It is providing a vehicle for human capital development in physics and electrical and electronic engineering, as well as providing a high-speed fibre data network in African countries.
The MeerKAT telescope in the Karoo desert, is a precursor instrument to the SKA. It has been designed by a collaboration of European and African astronomers and engineers, and will be used for astronomical observations by international teams co-led by scientists from African universities and the University of Oxford, to investigate problems in Cosmology, the early history of the Universe, Black Holes, Transient phenomena, and Radio Pulsars. The full telescope will be made up of 64 parabolic antennas like the ones shown in the photos here, and preliminary operations have just commenced. We look forward to reporting the initial results in 2017!