Yalla Afrabia! Chimurenga’s First Arabic-language Edition

The new Chimurenga Chronic is hitting print, and this issue of “now-now, a pan African gazette – in print quarterly and online” is in Arabic:


Among the pieces in the newspaper is a conversation between myself and Towson University’s Ziad Bentahar. In the newspaper, the conversation will be in Arabic. But here is an excerpt, in English:

MLQ: You suggested that there is an “increasing will to bridge the divide between North and sub-Saharan Africa” in African Studies. What about elsewhere? I have gotten pushback, for instance, from sub-Saharan writers who say, “The Arabs already have their festivals and prizes, don’t come barging into ours.” Indeed, there seems to be a framework of limited resources (doled out by Western publishers and projects?) and a sense of competition for these.

ZB: I, too, have had my share of encounters with authors and scholars, both from North and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as from elsewhere, who consider the two to be separate. But there was a time when that was the only attitude I encountered. I do feel that it has changed in recent years, slowly but surely.  I suppose that time will tell whether it is durable change, or negligible fluctuations in an inevitable overarching drift between North Africa and the rest of the continent.

What I find problematic is that these exclusionary discourses are rarely based on any clearly articulated ideology.

Certainly the framework that you refer to is insufficient. If someone thinks that North African literature should not be included with Africa because Arabic literature has its own festivals and prizes, fair enough. But this strikes me as missing the broader question of why are “Arab” and “African” considered mutually exclusive, and what does it reveal about the very meaning of “African” and “Arab”? I think that literature and culture are ideally positioned to raise these important questions, and eventually direct us towards answers.

Meanwhile, I like to remind skeptics that no one seems to question North Africa’s place in Africa during Africa Cup of Nations. Maybe I should research football rather than literature.


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