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In this contribution to the special issue on Fakery in Africa, I examine the booming “fake essay” industry and draw on the role and perspectives increasingly occupied by of tens of thousands of young and highly-educated Kenyans. These so-called “Shadow Scholars” are part of a vast global online marketplace, an invisible knowledge production economy, where students and academics in the global North solicit and pay for their services in exchange for confidential and plagiarism-free essays, theses, dissertations, qualifications and publications. This article centres on descriptions of these writers as “shadows” as a means of complicating not only the most popular description of Africa in the global imagination – as existing in the shadow of an infinite number of different entities – but to challenge the notion of the shadow in relation to African knowledge production as being fake. It pays attention to the Kenyan writers’ protestations that their knowledge, experiences and labour are all real and that analogies with shadows reduce them and the impact of their work to something that is non-existent and not alive. From their perspective the term shadow is pejorative because it further reduces the intellectual contribution of Africans, presenting them as derivative.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of African Cultural Studies

Publication Date





297 - 304