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Wednesday, January 21st, 2015
Letters from Africa


If it’s not mail from your bank, electricity company or any other equally assiduous correspondent, there’s something magical about receiving a letter. Literary startup and online publishing platform, The Pigeonhole, are letting you experience that pleasure with their new non-fiction series ‘Letters from Africa’.

Every week, you’ll receive a ‘stave’ – a crisply designed download for your Kindle, Android, or iOS device rather than a creased and finger-smudged envelope – in which four writers give their impression of everyday life on the African continent. Your four correspondents range from more established voices to the newly discovered. But each provides – in the way only a letter can – an intimate snapshot of a place, a time and an individual.

Mboya Tolu Ogunlesi is a Nigerian journalist, poet and blogger (whose ‘profile pic’ was taken by author and New Yorker regular, Teju Cole). His account of living in Lagos is the most satisfying of the four. He relays the practical realities of existing in a city teeming with anywhere between 12 million and 21 million inhabitants, beautifully capturing Lagos’s heady mix of aspiration, uncertainty and clumsy modernity.

‘This is Lagos … we are not allowed to be anything less than hopeful. Hope is what we breathe, what we excrete. Because everything is possible here. The ‘No Parking’ signs are not meant to dissuade you from parking. Instead they are there to make you slow down and nervously cast your gaze around in search of the self-appointed ‘Chief Parking Officer’, the one who uprooted the sign from wherever it once belonged and relocated it here hoping you would properly translate the gesture.’

Tilly Kingston is the only non-native, a disillusioned political risk analyst who has just moved to Cairo. Her first stave covers the election process; it’ll be interesting to see where her reflections take her as the political situation unfolds. Tawanda Mudzonga is an art commentator who writes from Zimbabwe although her horizons stretch further:

‘Being brought up mostly by my mother, who grew up in the same south-side Chicago neighbourhood as Michelle Obama, I ended up with a solid set of African-American working-class values with a Pan-Africanist bent. My mother married my dad and moved to Zimbabwe believing in the deep cultural roots of Africa, hopeful to escape the segregation of Chicago and raise her children in newly independent Zimbabwe.’

Tom M Mboya, a Kenyan governance consultant with a healthy Twitter following, is perhaps the best known of the four. His reflections on the state of traffic, infrastructure or law-enforcement, with occasional glimpses of his childhood and a Nairobi long gone, barely conceal future political ambition:

‘As a governance professional, I have always been keen to help steer Kenya to achieve her potential. I have worked in and around governance, anti-corruption and politics throughout my career to date, with my sights now set on the rough and tumble of a political career in the not so distant future… but that is a story for another day.’

We’ll be waiting for that story.

‘Letters from Africa’ on The Pigeonhole.

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