Africa calling


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A little over a year ago, a group of New York Times journalists met in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss story ideas for the coming year. Laurie Goodstein, deputy editor of International and Africa editor at The Times, led the charge. Many of the correspondents covering the continent attended: Declan Walsh, Abdi Latif Dahir, John Eligon, Ruth Maclean, Elian Peltier and Lynsey Chutel.

One of the most interesting conversations revolved around a question Declan had been mulling over for months: What does it mean for Africa, where the average age is 19, to be the youngest continent on the planet? The result of that conversation was the beginning of what became our new series this fall called Old World, Young Africa.

As Declan writes in the opening article of the series: “As the world turns grey, Africa blossoms with youth. By 2050, one in four people on the planet will be African, a seismic shift that is already beginning to take place. You can hear it in the music the world listens to. You can see it in movies, fashion and politics. It can be felt in the entrepreneurial drive of young Africans and the urgent struggle to find employment. “You can see it in the waves of young people who risk everything to migrate and in the dilemmas of those who stay.”

As an editor in The Times' Projects and Partnerships team, I returned from that week in Nairobi full of ideas and eager to get started. Our team decided to focus on how, across the vast African diaspora, the world was becoming increasingly, culturally, more African. Our guiding question: How is what one academic calls the “youthquake” in Africa shaking and shaping creativity abroad?

We started with dozens of names, anyone who used Africa as a touchstone in their work. We knew we wanted to include visual artists and artisans, chefs, musicians and writers.

In the end, we photographed and interviewed 12 extraordinary people on four continents. The story involved a huge team of Times editors and reporters, including Abdi, Lynsey and Elizabeth Paton, who reported from Nairobi, Johannesburg and London.

In the piece, you will hear Mr Eazi, the Afrobeats superstar; Ruth E. Carter, two-time Oscar-winning costume designer; Omar Víctor Diop, photographer; Nnedi Okorafor, science fiction writer; Mory Sacko, chef; Grace Wales Bonner, fashion designer; Adamma and Adanne Ebo, two filmmakers; Lesley Lokko, architect; Toheeb Jimoh, actor; Zhong Feifei, singer and model; and Nkuli Mlangeni-Berg, textile artist.

Kenyan academic Keguro Macharia once wrote: “Sometimes the black diaspora calls and Africa answers. Sometimes Africa calls and the black diaspora responds. Most of the time we exist in the tangled frequencies of call and response, as we seek freedom.”

Our article, a treasure trove of voices, ideas and perspectives, is exactly as Macharia describes it: a series of calls and responses, all of which point towards a deeper understanding and appreciation of what Africa has to offer the world.

One more thing: If there are countries in Africa, or anywhere else in the world, that you want to stay up to date on, you can subscribe to our new Times newsletter, Your Places: Global Update.

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