Jacaranda Propaganda 

Greetings, friends:

I hope all is well with you and yours, all factors considering. We’re well into #jacarandapropaganda season, and as Nanjala Nyabola frequently reminds us on Twitter, this is a time to remember that there is still tremendous beauty in the world. Every year I’m reminded of something else though, that nothing, not even jacaranda trees, are politically neutral. A few years ago I wrote a piece on the politics of trees, where in my research I discovered that jacaranda trees are actually indigenous to South America, and along with the ornamental shrub bougainvillea, was beloved of British colonials across the Empire. 

In almost every major city in British Africa, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the continent, the colonials made an effort of planting the trees. Many cities across former British colonies in Africa bear the stamp of jacaranda including Pretoria in South Africa; Blantyre in Malawi; Harare and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe; Nairobi and Nakuru in Kenya; and Kampala, Fort Portal and Mbale in Uganda.

Even in Kenya’s dusty little border town with Ethiopia, the jacaranda tree stands out as a marker of British presence – Moyale on the Kenyan side has jacaranda trees around its administrative centre, while Moyale on the Ethiopian side has none.

Jacaranda season reminds me to read the political in the ordinary, in the quotidian, in the architecture and built environment – and that these stories are everywhere, if we know how to look.

At Baraza, it’s been a hectic couple of weeks, where momentum is picking up and we are getting busier every day. We’ve curated some exciting events that you can find out more about in this newsletter. In the meantime, here’s —


  • What We’re Reading: What Africa and Asia can Teach Each Other by Vik Sohonie, published on Africa Is A Country. Did you know that when independent Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated in 1962, over 100,000 people protested in Beijing Workers’ Stadium? Vik’s article highlights that once African and Asian leaders looked towards each other for guidance. What possibilities can a renewed cross-continental solidarity offer?
  • What We’re Watching: Journey of an African Colony, a docuseries on the history of Nigeria on Netflix, produced and narrated by Olasupo Shasore, a historian, writer and former attorney general and commissioner for justice in Lagos State. As a history buff I started watching this thinking I was at least familiar with the major events in Nigerian history. But no, there is so much I didn’t know.
  • What We’re Listening To: It’s Related, I Promise, hosted by  Muthoni Muchiri, Julia Gaitho and Sharon Machira, this podcast is a delightful window into the experiences of Nairobian millennials – fresh, funny, and totally worth your time.

Yours in solidarity,

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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