A Death Retold In Truth And Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder by Grace A. Musila (James Currey 2015)

Cover smallJulie Ann Ward was a British tourist and wildlife photographer who went missing in Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve in 1988 and was eventually found to have been murdered. Her death and the protracted search for her killers, still at large, were hotly contested in the media. Many theories emerged as to how and why she died, generating three trials, several ‘true crime’ books, and much speculation and rumour.

At the core of Grace A. Musila’s study are the following questions: why would this young woman’s death be the subject of such strong contestations of ideas and multiple truths? And what does this reveal about cultural productions of truth and knowledge in Kenya and Britain, particularly in the light of the responses to her disappearance of the Kenyan police, the British Foreign Office, and the British High Commission in Nairobi.

Building on existing scholarship on African history, narrative, gender and postcolonial studies, the author reveals how the Julie Ward murder and its attendant discourses o er insights into the journeys of ideas, and how these traverse the porous boundaries of the relationship between Kenya and Britain, and by extension, Africa and the Global North.




“A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour is a mix of erudite critical analysis of the range of stories that emerged from the death of Julie Ward; examining the conduct and narratives of officialdom, the pain and search efforts of Julie’s father; the seeming unwillingness of the Kenyan state to fully support Mr Ward’s quest for truth and justice, as well as the British government’s no-too-convincing involvement, among others.”

–  ‘Of the dead, politics and truth in Julie Ward murder’ by Tom Ohdiambo


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Annie Gagiano in Safundi 


Grace Musila’s exploration of the 1988 Julie Ward murder in the Maasai Mara is a work of extraordinary sensitivity, intellectual power and pioneering range. From histories of assassination to the role of wildlife conservation in imagining whiteness, Musila reveals the wider, layered versions of historical truth and the cosy complicities of interest in the British and Kenyan political establishments. …By contrast, as Musila demonstrates, popular rumour and speculation expose the manipulation of formal legal ‘fact’. A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour is an exquisitely crafted, multi-dimensional and brilliant book that will reshape scholarship in postcolonial African Studies and the Environmental Humanities.

– Brendon Nicholls (University of Leeds, UK)

Grace Musila eruditely and convincingly demonstrates the continuities
and tensions between ideas of modernity and how these are understood and practised in postcolonial Kenya and Britain. The historical connection between Kenya and the former colonial ruler enables the author to look beneath the black/white binary in her interrogation of local particularities that articulate Kenya’s linkages to global modernity. This book challenges conventional notions of both ‘text’ and ‘narrative’, a gesture that will no doubt interest literary theorists. A Death Retold is an exciting achievement and a useful contribution to the existing corpus of cultural studies texts from and on Kenya.

– Mbugua wa Mungai  (Kenyatta University, Kenya)


About Grace A. Musila


DSC_4461Grace A Musila is an Associate Professor in the English Department, Stellenbosch University and a research fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies (STIAS). She holds a PhD in African Literature from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Her research interests include Gender Studies, Eastern and Southern African literatures and African popular culture. She is the author A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder (James Currey, 2015); which looks at British and Kenyan interpretations of the 1988 murder of British tourist Julie Ann Ward in Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya.  Musila has also co-edited Rethinking Eastern African Intellectual Landscapes (Africa World Press, 2012).


Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition: Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney by Ruth Daly

6308201._UY200_The next Finding Africa seminar, hosted in association with the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), will be on 24 May 2016. Ruth Daly will present a reading of Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney in her paper titled ‘Liberating the Female Voice from the Patriarchal Order of the South African Pastoral Tradition’.

The seminar will take place on 24 May 2016 at 4pm in Seminar Room 1 of the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (physical address: 31-2 Clarendon Place, Leeds). Entrance is free and all are welcome.



Literariness takes precedence over fiction as social document in Anne Landsman’s The Devil’s Chimney, a text which engages with storytelling as a means of escape from hegemonic control. Landsman’s iconoclastic novel echoes the feminist-socialist model of Olive Schreiner, dismantling constructed binaries of sexuality, gender, and race. Dominant myths of the pastoral genre are deconstructed from within in playful and innovative ways. While an undermining of the plaasroman is not new to South African writing, I propose that Landsman’s re-writing of the genre takes it into a new literary sphere in its suggestion of a new symbolic order, one in which ‘women’s [inexhaustible] imaginary’ is explored. This paper will offer a reading of the novel through the lens of French feminist psychoanalytic theory in an attempt to examine the ways in which this new symbolic order is suggested.

About Ruth Daly



Ruth Daly is a PhD student in the School of English at University of Leeds. Her research interests include postcolonial literature, psychoanalytic theory, feminisms, and social and political concerns in post-conflict societies.

‘Let’s start with the covers’: Depicting Icons of Black Women, Fashioning Markets for African Women’s Literature by Matthew Lecznar

The next seminar on our calendar will be on book covers of novels by African women writers and will be presented by Matthew Lecznar. This event is brought to you in association with the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS) and is hosted by the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI).

*This seminar has been postponed until further notice*


Never-AgainSince the release of the Nigerian author Flora Nwapa’s first novel Never Again (1966) by Heinemann’s African Writers Series, which was the first work written in English by a Nigerian woman to be published in Britain, the profile and reach of novels written by African women and women of the African diaspora has steadily increased. Now, in the second decade of the 21st-Century, a prominent group of female African writers including Taiye Selasi and Orange Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie command substantial international readerships and media interest. However, while the content and impact of African women’s literature has changed profoundly in the last 50 years, the cover designs used to market these works return again and again to the same motif: the image of the lone black woman.

This paper traces and explores the development of this now central genre of African literature through a study of the cover designs of selected novels by African women. By grounding these cover designs in their particular publishing and political contexts, which traverse the feminist activism of the 1970s and 80s and the chick-lit explosion of the 1990s, I argue that the repeated employment and signification of an iconic image of the black woman on the covers of African women’s literature has helped fashion a visible and marketable genre of literature by African women. I also suggest that this recognition and visibility is predicated upon the repetitive evocation of stereotypical and exoticized images of black African women, which both reaffirm the expectations of white Western readers and limit the creative scope of the genre.

About Matthew Lecznar

IMG_1224 (1)After graduating from the University of York with a BA in English and Related Literature, Matthew Lecznar moved to the University of Oxford to read for a Master’s degree in World Literatures in English, which he graduated from last summer. Matthew is broadly interested in postcolonial literature and theory, and in the ways these have been marketed in West. He is particularly interested in 20th and 21st-Century West African literature and African women’s writing, and different cultural forms such as fashion, film and photography. He wrote his Master’s dissertation on different forms of textual and textile fashioning in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and other fictional narratives of the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70). Matthew is currently applying to do PhD research, through which he intends to further interrogate the ways the Biafran war has been culturally represented and refashioned through different media and material forms, both in Nigeria and internationally.


Ryan Topper and Thando Njovane on Yvonne Vera

Yvonne Vera

The next Finding Africa seminar will be two papers on the Zimbabwean author and scholar, Yvonne Vera.

Ryan Topper will present on “Life Beyond the Archive: Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins” and Thando Njovane will give a paper on “Architectures of Voice and Language in Yvonne Vera’s Under the Tongue” at 5.30pm at the University of Leeds’ Humanities Research Institute on 25 November 2015.

*Entrance is free and all are welcome*


Life Beyond the Archive: Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins


It is estimated that the Gukurahundi Massacres of 1980s Zimbabwe left somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people dead. Considering the fact that victims were often burned, buried in mass graves, or dropped in abandon mine shafts, however, a numeric count of the dead remains impossible. Consequently, when, in The Stone Virgins, Yvonne Vera narrates the Gukurahundi while explicitly leaving out dates, names, or overall historical precision, she is responding to a historiographic problem: how does one write of that which cannot be archived? Using the historiographic questions raised by Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever as a point of departure, I read The Stone Virgins as a latent burial rite for the victims of the Gukurahundi, Vera’s attempt to write an ancestral history beyond the parameters of archival history.


Architectures of Voice and Language in Yvonne Vera’s Under the Tongue

420461Yvonne Vera’s Under the Tongue is a novel saturated in silence, in the word unspoken and unspeakable. As such, it has prompted much scholarly research on the feminist issue of voice, women, and the national identity politics of Vera’s Zimbabwe. More recently, the novel has also been the subject of deliberation around aesthetics of trauma, specifically as these pertain to the child protagonist, Zhizha’s muteness. Bearing these questions in mind, my paper is concerned with Vera’s construction of Zhizha’s consciousness through the dialogical interplays she establishes between the motif of voice(lessness) and speech via the vehicle of language as understood in its discursive manifestations. Above all, I am interested in how Vera’s aesthetic simultaneously mobilises and undermines language itself in this literary project.

*Ryan Topper is a PhD candidate in the School of English at University of Leeds, where he studies postcolonial literature and critical theory. He is currently writing a thesis exploring the relations between trauma and spirit possession in post-deconstructive psychoanalysis and Sub-Saharan African literature.

Thando Njovane is a literature PhD candidate and a Flanagan scholar at the University of Leeds. She is interested in trauma, psychoanalysis, mourning, children/childhood, ethics and aesthetics in African and Japanese literature.

Noo Saro-Wiwa Remembers the Ogoni Nine


The Ogoni Nine were a group of nine activists from the Ogoni region of Nigeria, including outspoken author and playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine, who were executed by hanging in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha and buried in Port Harcourt Cemetery.

In what follows, Noo, daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa and writer remembers these heroes twenty years on.

remember sarowiwa

“In 1992, when I was 16, my father Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote me a letter. Among other things, he told me that the Nigerian military dictatorship might kill him as a result of his campaign for human rights in the oil-polluted Niger Delta. I thought he was exaggerating, and I was angry with him for scaremongering.

They say that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to overcome it. My father pursued his objectives, knowing the huge risks. On the morning of November 10th, 1995, when he and eight of his colleagues were hanged, he was reportedly the only person who didn’t cry as they placed the rope around his neck.

The murder of a relative can, paradoxically, make you risk-averse. My father taught me a lot about courage, and each year I’m gaining a bit of what he had. One day I will write about Ogoniland.

The Ogoni Nine risked their lives in order for our people to enjoy the basics of life: clean water, rivers filled with fish to eat, schools for the children. Nobody should have to die for such meagre requests. But their deaths were not in vain.

The Ogoni Nine: Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuine, Ken Saro-Wiwa.

We remember you and thank you.”

*Noo Saro-Wiwa is a Nigerian writer and journalist based in Britain. Saro-Wiwa is the author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, which was nominated for the Dolman Best Travel Book Award and named The Sunday Times Travel Book of the Year in 2012.

Elinor Rooks to speak on The Radical Developmental Politics of Bessie Head’s A Question of Power

Bessie Head
Bessie Head

The next event on the Finding Africa calendar is a seminar by Elinor Rooks (University of Leeds). Rooks will give a paper on “Cattle, Gardens and the Madness of Power: The Radical Developmental Politics of Bessie Head’s A Question of Power” in Seminar Room 008 of the Berrick Saul Building at the University of York at 5pm on 30 September 2015.

*A podcast of this seminar is now available here: Finding Africa Podcast.


PAW-QuestionPower-FA.inddAs a novel recounting the mental breakdown of a mixed-race South African refugee in Botswana, A Question of Power by Bessie Head is often assumed to be a highly personal depiction of liminal identities. In this paper, however, I will demonstrate that Head’s novel can be read as critically involved with questions of political power, economic ethics, and conflicting visions of development in Botswana. Through her engagement with these issues, Head produces a far more profound and communal understanding of identity than that usually seen by her critics, one which is both local and worldly, wild and rooted.

Underdeveloped and situated between South Africa and Rhodesia, Botswana maintained its political independence largely by sacrificing economic independence. Politics were dominated by traditional aristocracy and wealthy cattle ranchers, who ignored agricultural development and discouraged rural political involvement. Faced with vast inequalities rapidly increasing because of drought, politicians regarded subsistence farmers as a potential threat.

In this context, we can see the political significance in Head’s depiction of a cooperative garden, which provides the protagonist, Elizabeth, respite from nightmares in which she is tormented by cruel “power people.” I will show that one of her hallucinatory persecutors, Sello, clearly corresponds to President Seretse Khama, while the another, Dan, is described as a “cattle millionaire.”

Opposed to the madness of their cosmic power-plays, Elizabeth discovers the rooted magic of agriculture. Furthermore, through the garden, Elizabeth becomes connected to an organic flow of activity which liberates her from the paralysing spells of commodification and identity.

Head’s novel is a passionate theorisation of political and developmental possibilities. It claims the right of participation for those who do not and cannot speak the language of power, those who exist beyond the realities of power: it is a novel of madness, wildness, and radically practical vision.

Southbank Centre’s AFRICA UTOPIA 2015

africa-utopia-brand-web_0Africa Utopia

Art and Ideas from Africa that are Changing the World
10-13 September 2015

Southbank Centre

Can the hashtag transform African activism? What does it mean to be an African man? Or an African woman? Who is telling Africa’s queer stories? Debate these topics and many more at our weekend of talks at  Africa Utopia.

Africa Utopia is back for a third year celebrating the arts and culture of one of the world’s most dynamic and fast-changing continents. The festival looks at how Africa can lead the way in thinking about culture, community, business and technology and includes topics ranging from fashion, gender and power to politics, sustainability and activism.

Kassé Mady Diabaté
Renowned West African Singer, Kassé Mady Diabaté from Mali

This year’s festival features some of Africa’s greatest artists across music, dance, literature and the arts. Highlights include: legendary drummer Tony Allen, one of the acknowledged co-founders of Afrobeat, performing with special guests; Senegalese supergroup Orchestra Baobab; powerfully soulful West African singer Kassé Mady Diabaté; the ground-breaking launch of Europe’s first Black and Minority Ethnic classical symphony orchestra, Chineke!; an original play called Star Boy Productions charting the migrant’s story of survival; emerging African musicians including Cameroonian Blick Bassy; and a club night showcasing the influence of Africa on a new generation of UK artists and DJs, including Afriquoi and African Head Charge.


With something for everyone across the festival, join us to take part in lively Talks and Debates, free events, and workshops delving into the many faces of modern Africa. There’s also African-inspired fashion, a buzzing marketplace and delicious African street-food to enjoy.

Special offer: Get a three day pass for just £35 by quoting ‘TRIPLE’ when booking. Available over the phone and in person only.

*For booking details and the full programme, visit the Southbank Centre’s Africa Utopia site*

Southbank Centre