2020. Year in Review
Note from the Publisher
The Elephant started publishing in 2017 dedicated to critical and cogent analysis, opinion and investigation informed by a commitment to fundamental Pan African ideals. As the year draws to the end I would like to especially thank the community of now almost 400 contributors who have kept the platform alive. Also, those partners whose resources have enabled us to keep going through assorted experiments and disruptions that come with the continuous experimentation and learning with this kind of platform. I would also like to congratulate the small dedicated team that manages the Elephant on a day-to-day basis. As a result of this community the Elephant remains small and growing but generally well-respected online platform for analysis, opinion and a few investigations, not only in Kenya but increasingly across the continent and around the world.
Since its inception in 2017 the Elephant has had over 5 million page views (we expect 3 million in 2020 alone); 1.8 million unique users; and, a community of writers who’ve contributed to the publication of 1,786 items of content. Every 28 days 96,000 unique users visit The Elephant website from 176 countries. A vast majority of them are aged between 25 and 44. On social media over the last six months 108 million individuals have come across the Elephant’s content online and it has been retweeted, liked or shared on Twitter over 240,000 times.
None of these achievements would have been possible without the hard work of everyone involved and remain committed to creating a community of actors determined to mitigate what sometimes feels very much like a crisis of imagination at a moment when Africa has the greatest opportunity in a generation to reimagine and chart its own reality in an increasingly multi-polar world. COVID-19 has proved a dramatic accelerator and intensifier of a range of trends both good and bad.
It will speed up changes in the media landscape exponentially and content consumption patterns are being transformed. Harsh economic realities are forcing some African leaders to make grown up sovereign decisions for the first time since the struggles for independence and political pluralism.
A range of countries across the continent face debt distress fuelled by reckless borrowing and corruption. By 2018, of Africa’s debt stock of US$514 billion, 78 percent of it – US$392 billion – was expensive commercial debt.
Much of this was accumulated after the financial crisis in the West in 2008 when the money was cheap and for leaders, had fewer strings attached to it.
Today a country like Mozambique with debt portfolio of US$14 billion (a 130 percent debt to GDP ratio) is consumed by a fiscal and economic crisis as a result. Angola, Cape Verde, Congo-Brazzaville and Djibouti all have debt to GDP ratios of over 100 percent. As of the middle of this year Kenya’s total debt stock was Ksh.6.7 trillion (US$62 billion) – 66 percent of GDP. That so much of this debt is owed to commercial lenders has no precedent in Africa’s post-independence history. Confronting this challenge is no longer amenable to bureaucratic technical fixes under the watchful eye of the World Bank and IMF. Some are trying this tired template – raising taxes in the middle of a pandemic, cutting spending to critical sectors such as health and education etc. Our debt conundrum is no longer just an economic and fiscal crisis – it is a governance and political one now. Just working to restructure commercial debt – a feat far more complex than renegotiating concessional loans – requires a level of commitment and trust that hasn’t always been evident among many elites. Managing the economic crisis that COVID-19 has accelerated is now a political challenge and may, hopefully, transform statecraft for the better. Those elites that don’t get with the programme will be dealing with the problem on the streets of their cities.
Best Op-Eds of 2020
In a prolonged crisis, formal establishment workers are more exposed to job losses and financial insecurity than those in the micro and small enterprise informal sector. The jua kali economy is better cushioned and, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, the “job insecure” jua kali workers are more economically secure.
There hasn’t been a pandemic control that has succeeded without social capital. How Kenya and Africa will deal with this pandemic will squarely depend on the strength, resilience and adaptability of our social capital to weather the storm.
Note from the Curator-In-Chief
The year 2020 began with a surreal global event and by mid March, the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. The COVID-19 global health crisis is now a lived reality and it has completely reordered the world in ways we are yet to comprehend. At the Elephant, faced with an unprecedented crisis, we reached out to our intellectual community, our thinkers, academics, journalists and cultural workers to reflect on these unusual times.
Over the last 10 months, The Elephant has accumulated a body of work, bearing witness and making sense of unfolding pandemic seen through African eyes. The great lesson of 2020 has been the value of social and international solidarity. Global cooperation is now more urgent than ever to overcome crises that affect all of humanity.
The Elephant since its inception in 2017, has pioneered a series of diverse conversations amplifying African perspectives on a wide range of social, economic and political issues. We have featured intellectuals and storytellers from within the African continent and the diaspora who have made rich contributions that envision the potential and possibilities of working together beyond the narrow confines of nation-states.
The Elephant has also emerged as a open public space for deep reflection on a range of ideas, realities, challenges, experiences, possibilities, and visions anchored in the collective imagination of a Global Africa point of view.
Our intellectual community of over 400 contributors has made a significant role towards this end. I would like to thank all our contributors
and partners who have continued to sustain the work we do at The Elephant. None of this would have been possible without your support.
I would also like to reserve a special mention to the editorial and production team at The Elephant who include Joe Kobuthi, Nahila Galole, Rasna Warah, Betty Guchu, Alan Kamawara, Juliet Atellah, Darius Okolla, Dauti Kahura, Vincent Muchangi and Michael Karinga for their invaluable contribution during this period.
As we close the year and look forward to 2021, The Elephant remains committed to the task of knowledge curation that is integral for the fulfilment of a common Pan African vision. At the heart of this mission is the universal quest for human dignity. In the words of Mwalimu Horace Campbell, a veteran international peace and justice scholar, ultimately Africa will be free and humanity will be emancipated.
The Elephant will continue to invite diverse voices to speak to the moment and share insights drawn from the lived experiences of Africans everywhere they may be located in the world.
In closing, please follow the link to read through a review of the best writing, videos, cartoons and podcasts that featured on The Elephant platform in 2020.
On behalf of the team at The Elephant, we wish everyone a rejuvenating Christmas season and a fulfilling New Year.
Mapping The Coronavirus Pandemic In Africa
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that started in Wuhan, China and spreading across the world at an incredible speed. As confirmed cases, recoveries and fatalities grew in Africa, The Elephant kept track of the numbers on this interactive dashboard, updated daily.
Journaling the Pandemic
At a time when good journalism is constrained by corporate interests, a deluge of fake news, state propaganda and sensationalism, The Elephant seeks clarity for its audience in this age of corona. In the face of an onslaught of harrowing and, occasionally, life-affirming news, we reached out to our storytellers and editors to reflect on the times. Even as we adhered to the health protocols of physical distancing, we leaned into the social solidarity of our intellectual community to help us make sense of the incomprehensible. The following is a journal bearing witness and foretelling the effects of an unfolding pandemic seen through African eyes.
Best Reflections of 2020
Mr. President, you need to get your act together for this. This is our last big ask from you. It’s also your last scene on the big stage. God knows your performance has not lived up to its billing—and that’s being polite about it. It is your chance for public redemption. It may not matter to you, but it matters to us— to the thousands, maybe millions of lives at stake.
Many organisations have raised the alarm about the sexual exploitation of women and children at the coast, but their warnings have had little impact because there is little will on the part of the authorities to address the issue.
Best Cartoons of 2020
Kenya and Coronavirus
Coronavirus and E-learning
Best Politics of 2020
President Magufuli’s response to the current coronavirus crisis has been far from exemplary. Some of his actions, like urging pubs to throw post-coronavirus parties and firing those who question his bizarre remedies for COVID-19, could actually put the lives of thousands of Tanzanians at risk.
Many believe that the pact between Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto prior to the 2013 elections ensured peace in the Rift Valley – the epicentre of the post-election violence of 2007/8 – and delivered the duo the presidency. DAUTI KAHURA speaks to Kikuyus who are wondering why Uhuru has now abandoned Ruto, and whether this politics of betrayal will have a devastating impact on the Kikuyu “diaspora” in the Rift.
Best Videos of 2020
Best Culture of 2020
The backlash against the women’s movement has seen a rise in the hypersexualisation and infantilisation of women, especially in music videos, says RASNA WARAH. This has had a negative impact on how women view their own bodies.
Best Data Stories of 2020
Best Ideas of 2020
What then, is Jerusalema, if not the finest distillation of a global desire for another city on a hill? And not by simply turning to another great power as America’s ready replacement—China is not the world’s savior—but one that like the dance challenge itself believes in the possibility of collective subjectivity.
The COVID-19 crisis has presented the Church with an immense challenge and the ACK now finds herself in a liminal space concerning her visibility, a place of transition from where she must open herself up to a paradigm shift.
Best Long Reads of 2020
For decades, Somalia regarded Kenya as a neutral arbiter, unlike Ethiopia, where long-standing resentments against Somalia have endured. Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia in 2011 and its meddling in the country’s internal affairs have ruined Kenya-Somalia relations and emboldened Al Shabaab.
Abdullahi Boru Halakhe
Leaked documents from Belgian biometrics company point to inflated pricing and political influence in license contracts.
Purity Mukami, Juliet Atellah, Kira Zalan and John-Allan Namu
Best Podcasts of 2020
What Wanjiku never seems to understand is that GDP growth doesn’t always automatically translate into higher incomes. In fact, GDP growth can be achieved while salaries, wages, commissions are declining. This is Wanjiku’s tough economic paradox.
Arror and Kimwarer Dam projects promised to deliver water infrastructure amidst forged documents, sleaze, collusion and outright theft. What really happened, as told by Lorenzo Bagnoli.
Kenya’s elite is founded primarily on corruption and conflict of interest. In Kenya, a sort of consensus has held sway among the elite since independence: during his tenure, the president’s tribe “eats” more than the others while they await their turn. The tribe “in power”—even if not in office—has the greatest access to economic opportunity and justice.