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Spotlight: Richard Ali

Spotlight: Richard Ali

Spotlight is a monthly series showcasing work by a member (or member emeritus) of Jalada Africa. Each month, we explore poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photo/video essays, comics, films: it could be anything, as long as it’s produced by a Jaladan. We also highlight their past and present contributions to the Collective, whether editorial, managerial, or organizational.

Richard Ali is a founding member of Jalada Africa. He is a Nigerian lawyer, novelist and poet. In 2018, Richard was elected as the Collective’s Board Secretary. Author of the warmly received 2012 novel, City of Memories, Richard was Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine and was a runner-up at the 2008 John la Rose Short Story Competition. He has been Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (2011 – 2015).

He sits on the board of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, based in Kampala, Uganda, which runs BN Poetry Award—Africa’s only in-Africa continental poetry prize. He has served as a consultant, holding a public policy-shaping role as Technical Assistant to the Honourable Minister of Interior from 2015 to 2017, working on the Ministry Strategy Group (MSG). 

He co-founded Parrésia Publishers Limited in 2012 and practices law in Abuja, Nigeria. His debut collection of poems, The Anguish and Vigilance of Things, was published in 2019 by Konya Shamsrumi. He recently co-authored a chapter titled Governance, Climate Change and Security Challenges: The Case of Lake Chad in Governance and Security in the Sahel published by the Foundation for European progressive Studies, Rome.

Richard has spoken publicly about Arabic as a language bridge between the Middle East and Africa and in 2020, he translated one of the maqamats of al-Hariri of Basra (d. 1122) to Naija Langwej as part of Professor Michael Cooperson’s new book of translations—Impostures (NYU Press). He read from this translation at a seminar at Princeton in August. 

This month, he shares the essay, Biafraland and the Doppelganger of a Never Past that makes an argument for a shared African identity.

In his own words:

“I wrote this because the ways that identity is defined and misconstrued are important. Personally, I have always had a continental scope for where I am local. I am local to an island called Africa; an island of diverse people, for sure, but all my people nonetheless. Each of them is a variation of my heritage and sensibility. So, I have a problem with the #AfricaIsNotACountry argument when it privileges colonial or ethnic borders in an African history that I know, for a fact, has been fluid for tens of thousands of years. I am insisting on larger frames for belonging and rootedness—ones that are cooperative and collaborative, not narrow, exclusionary or divisive. The issue of Biafraland—a current Nigerian separatist movement—is merely illustrative.”

Biafraland and the Doppelganger of a Never Past

Nigeria—Britain’s colonial project and Africa’s most populous country with well over 200 million people, whose sheer energy gave us the urban nightmare that is Lagos and the immense foundry of dreams that is Nollywood, suffers a crisis that finds its roots in that collision with Europe a century ago. Europe’s impress lingers in the geographical and anthropological categories they created or emphasized, such as tribes and ideas about boundaries. Continent-wide, these lie at the root of the profusion of separatists battling formal states, led by men who take up the guise of revolutionaries and are anything but that. The newest of these, in my country’s context, is Biafraland.

Biafraland is rooted in the 2012 hijack of the earlier Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) by its London guerrilla radio station operator, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu (MNK). Naming his faction the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), MNK continues to cultivate a cult of personality through vaguely Jewish symbolism and the image of an enfant terrible jingoist. Where MASSOB spoke of self-determination for an administrative unit created by the British, IPOB desires the supremacy of a tribal solidarity that did not exist before the Europeans arrived.

Read the rest HERE. 


Richard contributed “Continental Spaces” to Jalada 06: Diaspora x DWF (2018),  “Arabic as a Bridge to the Rest of Africa” and “The Myth Of The Ethiope (Or Mustrema)” in Jalada 04: The Language Issue: Bonus Edition (2016),  “Only Will” and “Djenebu” in The Language Issue: Bonus Edition (2015), “Rebel Music and the African Country” in Jalada 02: Afrofuture(s): Bonus Edition (2015) plus “A Dark Ghazal, Suite of Blue, and Maybe Things” to Jalada 02: Afrofuture(s) (2015).

He served as Editor in Jalada 04: The Language Issue, Jalada 03: My Maths Teacher Hates Me and other stories and Jalada 02: Afrofruture(s). Richard was also the Poetry Editor in Jalada 09: Nostalgia, Jalada 08: Bodies, Jalada 07: After+Life and Jalada 05: Fear Issue (Bonus).

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