Our (Hi) Story
Sahifa is the product of a two-year-long conversation amongst a group of Kenyan academics, writers, journalists, and poets, regarding the lack of a medium that brings together rigorous research, public intellectualism, long-form journalism and creative writing under one platform. From a strictly Kenyan perspective, the idea of starting Sahifa was also informed by the collapse of a number of other Kenyan-based journals, and was presented as a way of fashioning out a new and more sustainable model.
Sahifa was launched on the 9th of October 2020, and two weeks later, announced its first open ‘Call For Stories’ for its inaugural issue, ‘Futures and Dreams’. The journal has since expanded its remit and will be publishing work from the wider Eastern Africa region: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mozambique.
Sahifa is inspired by a journal of the same name that was published between October 1930 and February 1931. The double-size sheets of paper covering a particular topic each Monday attempted to provide intellectual energy for the citizens of the East African city of Mombasa, under the context of British colonialism and the veritable advance of Western culture. The journal’s editor and publisher, Al-Amin bin Ali Mazrui (1891-1947) is now renowned as one of East Africa’s most important champions for social reform in a large expanse along the Western Indian Ocean. In the original Sahifa pamphlets, Mazrui drew first from Kiswahili’s rich resource of discursive traditions, and then from Mombasa’s pre-colonial diasporic networks with the Indian Ocean World – so as to interpret the colonial experience and reimagine a distinctive African vision for the future.
The term Sahifa, the Swahili alternative for ukurasa, the term for “page”, signifies the claims to originality, and hence, universality, of our agenda. In Arabic, from which Swahili loans a significant number of its words, it refers to a “blank surface for writing”. We believe in the spirit and the possibilities of the blank page for new thought, and are inspired by Mazrui’s attempt to imagine, think and write from a non-Western perspective.
The story of Sahifa remains a tiny piece of evidence amongst the multiple examples that show that Africans have largely been thinking beings, who have not only produced knowledge in relation to themselves, but also about the world, in their own terms.
Sahifa is registered in Kenya as a company limited by guarantee, and operate as a not for profit organisation.