Friday, 16 April 2010

Africa Confidential.... Confi what?

I came across "Africa Confidential" ("50 years of reporting in Africa", "one of the longest-established specialist publications on Africa") several weeks ago, that is in name only. My curiosity was intensely teased when I could get no access to it: none from media outlets, be they online or in print, none from archives, none in dissected parts in other magazines, none from universities' online digital resources (Africa Confidential is only available to read when logged on ON campus) and most certainly for me no access from the magazine itself - the price of an annual subscription being in direct competition with my food budget (the prices range from £665/US$1,128 to £737/US$1,290 for an annual subscription.... oh plus VAT).

"To preserve our readers’ information advantage, Africa Confidential is only available by subscription. You’ll not find it on high street news stands or other public outlets. Moreover, none of our commentary, news and analysis is syndicated to the international news services, or re-sold to any of the web-based information aggregators."

"So when you subscribe to Africa Confidential, you can be sure of receiving timely reporting and insightful analysis that is not available from any other media source."

Fair enough.... but this did not appease my thirst: confidential yes, but as in protecting its information from whom? Its online 'About Us' page reads:

"Why confidential?

This continent-wide, on-the-ground coverage enables us to identify and monitor upcoming issues before they are picked up by the general media – and analyse their real significance for our readers.

What’s more, all our contributors write for us on the basis of strict anonymity, a principle that was established from the outset in 1960 to ensure writers’ personal safety in the turbulent, early years of post-colonial African independence. Hence the newsletter’s title.

Ok, wonderful, honourable, prudent, whatever, but then it further develops that its readership includes:

"national governments, the diplomatic corps, defence & security analysts, academic institutions, humanitarian and relief aid organisations, and private and public corporations in a wide variety of commercial sectors, from mining, energy and telecommunications, to financial markets and automotive."

Being both innocent and naive I had anticipated that national governments and defence institutions may turn out to be the main source of troubles for their writers' safety but no no hu hu it says. If the personal safety of its contributors is not at risk from these saintly bodies then does it only leave one monster: the public?

This is where I have ax to grind: the elitism of information providers or gatherers. I wonder where their funding comes from other than subscriptions (tax money?). Well, this made me salivate even more: a promise of information available to few could only be a certainty to hit gold...

Anyways, I did reach base (I mean campus) eventually and all Africa Confidential's treasures shone through my screen, specifically its 8th January 2010 'Dry times for a quick election' feature, a report about Ethiopia's forthcoming election. A report I found particularly dumbfounding in 1) its title "The government faces elections against a divided opposition: its biggest enemies are the weather and Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki" and 2) its analysis of the Ethiopian people's concerns regarding the election thus surmised:

The people’s priorities
Many voters want to see a serious plan to develop the economy, to push down the ruinous costs of education and healthcare. That takes priority over concerns about human rights or military operations in the Ogaden and Somalia. Excoriated by Western liberals (but admired by ‘realist’ diplomats), Meles neither excites nor appals many Ethiopians; nor is he seen as especially authoritarian compared to his predecessors, Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam and Emperor Haile Selassie.

The EPRDF offers policies in droves. Almost every ministry is producing a new five-year Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty, of the kind encouraged by the World Bank and Britain’s Department for International Development. Such plans highlight the opposition’s policy weaknesses – and the government can point to much faster economic growth over the last few years.Inflation has fallen in recent months, as has the budget deficit. The prices of export commodities seem to be on the up, with coffee earnings predicted to reach US$900 million this year, with sales of more than 300,000 tonnes. There are massive plans for further power development; Gilgel Gibe III, the largest project, will have a capacity of 1,870 megawatts. It is on schedule and Gilgel Gibe II, with a capacity of 420 MW, will start generating in mid-2010.After last year’s drought, food will be short in eastern areas of Tigray, Amhara and Oromo, parts of the Afar, Somali and Southern Nationalities regions. Most of Ethiopia is ‘generally food secure’, but the midseason assessment is that 4.7 mn. people will need food aid in the first half of 2010. The United Nations World Food Programme says its funding for Ethiopia has a $127 mn. shortfall. Government food reserves are at 200,000 tonnes. Production in the Belg (February-June) harvest and prospects for the Meher crops (the main season, which normally accounts for 90-95% of annual production) are poor after the lighter than usual Kiremt rains.

And pray, what the heck is "southern nationalities" region?

So that's what was so confidential. Should I tell you about its 5th March article titled 'Target Eritrea'.... ? It's first paragraph is quite erm... peculiar... to me. Maybe in another post?

Incidentally, you may want to read their Who's Who list available online.

Notes taken by fingers blues-ing on Gil-Scott Heron's new Album 'I'm New here'

1 comment:

Bohashem said...

20 years ago i subscribed to AC at an annual subscription rate of £15 (for students). After one year, i could not find anything that was so confidential about any items the newsletter contained. Hence, never renewed the subscription and never bothered to check the newsletter again. I almost forgot about it until i read your comment this evening.