Africa Confidential was founded in 1960 as a print newsletter analysing the situation throughout Africa at a time of rapid decolonialisation, not only in British colonies and protectorates but also in French and Belgian ruled countries. There was a great need for trusted interpretation of events in the African continent and this was provided by the fortnightly report, then called by its year of publication - Africa 1960, then Africa 1961, until the late 1960s when the title became Africa Confidential.
The newsletter has followed on the ups and down in the continent of political, military and social groups, of the great changes in political power, of the roles of armies and armed struggles, and of financial and economic development. Africa Confidential has never editorialised. It is not - and never has been - the mouthpiece of officialdom; it is trusted and compulsory reading for many movers and shakers on the continent, as well as governments and interests outside Africa which seek to learn about and influence African decision-making.
Who writes for AC?
A network of correspondents was established, which is still growing today. Initially, in the era of anti-colonial struggle against often repressive governments, it was decided that no bylines be published for correspondents who, in some cases, might be in danger of their lives. This principle continues.
Africa Confidential was owned first by a group of British individuals, who did not interfere with the editor, his role or work. Until 1989 the newsletter was based in Rutland Gate, Knightsbridge, London SW7, and was managed from 1962-1995 by the late Judith Morison, who joined Africa Confidential from the Foreign Office. In 1981 Mrs. Morison became Director and Co-Proprietor, together on the Miramoor Publications Board with James Lemkin CBE, Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Duke of Richmond, Lord John Vernon, Charles Janson and, later, Xan Smiley, a former editor.
The origins of Africa Confidential are mentioned by Alan Hoe in his biography of David Stirling, the founder of the Special Air Service. The Duke of Richmond remembers: '. . . I got together with Chris Chataway and Charles Janson, and the idea of this little newsletter emerged. Charles Janson invited me to play some part in it so he and I and John Vernon and others came together, as partners originally, now directors, and out of it grew Africa Confidential which is still going and pretty highly regarded in Africa. We just set it up to try and produce something reasonably objective about what was going on; so much of the news then was slanted in one direction or another.'
From January 1994, Africa Confidential was owned by Blackwell Publishing of Oxford, a reputable international publishing house. Blackwells honoured the respect shown by the former publishers to their editors, all of whom have been journalists of experience and people who were esteemed by a wide spread of parties and people in Africa and the international community.
On 17 July 2006, a British-registered company Asempa Limited, bought Africa Confidential from Blackwell Publishing. Asempa, which translates as 'good words' in Ghana's Twi language, was founded by Africa Confidential's Editor, Patrick Smith, and Bryan Pearson. Under its new ownership, Africa Confidential, has maintained its critical and analytical coverage of political and economic developments in Africa and the continent's main trading partners. The company launched a companion newsletter, Africa-Asia Confidential, in 2007, in recognition of the growing international interest in relationships between these two continents.
Former editors include Charles Janson (1960-64), Richard Kershaw (1964-1968), Alan Rake (1968), the late Godfrey Morrison (1968-1977), Xan Smiley (1977-1981), Charles Meynell (1981-1986) and Stephen Ellis (1986-1991). Africa Confidential has been edited by Patrick Smith since 1991; Gillian Lusk, the first full-time Deputy Editor, joined in 1987, following an interview over breakfast at the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington.