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Vol 47 No 14

Published 7th July 2006


Charles Janson

Charles Janson, who died on 15 June aged 88, was the founding Editor of Africa Confidential. His early inspiration, flair, integrity and courage established the newsletter as an authoritative source of news and analysis of African affairs. Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford (where music and languages were his forte), Janson became a poet, a translator (mostly from Russian), a musician, philanthropist and champion of the underdog. As well as creating Africa Confidential, he also, in 1972, founded Soviet Analyst, a newsletter that drew plaudits from such luminaries as Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. After spending most of World War II as a prisoner in Germany, Janson, who spoke French like a Frenchman, was appointed by The Economist as its correspondent in Paris, where he became a noted commentator on the travails of the Fourth Republic. Partly inspired by his friend Laurens van der Post, the writer and explorer, Janson first visited Africa in the mid-1950s, with trips to Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. There he became close to Michael (later Sir Michael) Wood, founder of a flying doctors' service which evolved into the Nairobi-based African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref). Wood, who was a friend and (at first) an admirer of Julius Nyerere, was prominent in the Capricorn Society, a movement that impressed Janson with its aim of creating multiracial harmony and political partnership between black and white people. The founder of the Special Air Service, David Stirling, was an early supporter of Capricorn. After trips to Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) and South Africa, Janson soon realised that black nationalists, gusted along by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's 'wind of change', wanted power, not just partnership. Backed by other British figures in the Capricorn Society, notably James Lemkin (a friend of Zambia's future President, Kenneth Kaunda), Charles March (now the Duke of Richmond) and John, the late Lord Vernon, a former colonial officer and diplomat, Janson began to publish a newsletter with the title Africa 1960, hoping to 'make people take Africa seriously'. After changing its title yearly until Africa 1967, it was renamed Africa Confidential, retaining its trademark formula on blue paper until the present day. Janson set its tone for sympathetic yet frank analysis. He predicted, for instance, that Ghana's charismatic leader, Kwame Nkrumah, would become an erratic despot and that Julius Nyerere would bankrupt his country with his unwieldy ujamaa model. And though his other interests, especially in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, tilted Janson towards a Cold War stance in those areas, he was persuaded by all subsequent editors of Africa Confidential that Africa's problems were far too complex to be interpreted through a Cold War prism. Africa, he understood, has its own special character and genius. Passing the editorship on after 1963, he was delighted that among the paper's more recent admirers are Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan. Though never driven by commercial considerations, he was also pleased that, for the two decades before its sale to Blackwell Publishing in 1994, it had become solidly and steadily profitable. Charles Janson is survived by his wife Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, a daughter and two sons, the elder of whom, Alistair, Lord Strathnaver, is heir to the Scottish earldom of Sutherland. Another son predeceased him.

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