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Born in Djerba on April 2, 1928, in Tunisia under French protectorate, Béchir Ben Yahmed, founder and editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique, died on Monday, May 3 at the Parisian hospital Lariboisière as a result of complications from Covid-19.
An activist of the ‘Neo-Destour’ group alongside Habib Bourguiba, Béchir Ben Yahmed was, at a very young age, a minister in the first government of the newly-independent Tunisia. But journalism had already called him: in 1956, he launched the weekly newspaper L’Action and then, in 1960, Afrique Action which, a year later, would become Jeune Afrique.
After having experienced both ministerial and journalistic careers, he finally opted for the latter. To allow himself independence, he decided in 1962 to leave Tunis for Rome. Then, two years later, for Paris where the group he founded is still based.
Created to accompany the emancipation movement of peoples gaining their independence at the dawn of the 1960s, Groupe Jeune Afrique has taken an active part in the many struggles that punctuate the history of the continent: against the single parties and in support of the democratisation process of the 70s and 80s, for economic independence in the 90s and 2000s, and for the inclusion of Africa in globalisation from 2000-onwards.
Considered at its origins as a challenger, the group he created is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. A veritable school of journalism through which writers like Frantz Fanon, Kateb Yacine and, more recently, the Goncourt Prize winners Amin Maalouf and Leïla Slimani have graduated; “JA” has marked generations of readers. Its influence has even earned it the title of “55th State of Africa”.
Around the weekly Jeune Afrique, a group was formed over the years, adding other titles such as The Africa Report, newsletters, a publishing house, a department dedicated to the organisation of events and, of course, online news sites.
At the end of the 2000s, Béchir Ben Yahmed handed over the reins of the group to his sons, Amir and Marwane, as well as to the editorial director, François Soudan. His wife Danielle, who played an essential role at his side throughout the history of the newspaper, had launched the group’s publishing house.
Always passionate about current affairs, he had invested himself in a new project in recent years: La Revue, a magazine of reflection on international (and no longer only African) current affairs, which was monthly for several years before becoming bi-monthly.
The Africa Report, or “The other Africa”
Here is the note Béchir Ben Yahmed wrote in the front of the very first edition of The Africa Report, launched back in 2005:
To change language and therefore culture isn’t easy. Groupe Jeune Afrique has been a leader in the francophone pan-African press since 1958. Its flagship title, Jeune Afrique/L’intelligent has covered the modern history of the continent for almost half a century. From the start, GJA’s team has wanted to leap over the linguistic barrier and reach the other Africa, the english-speaking one. Now at last this can be done with a publication that will reach from Cape Town to Lagos and Nairobi and beyond.
This first edition of The Africa Report, a quarterly publication, is the start of this pan-African project. It is a collaborative publication produced by anglophone and francophone journalists from all perspectives. This inaugural edition of The Africa Report is dedicated to an in-depth survey of all the 53 member states of the African Union. We hope it will be the first of a long series…
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