Africa is a Country

Can an African team reach the World Cup semi-finals?

No European nation has won the World Cup when it has been held in South America, and the potential for teams such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to pose a major challenge should be taken seriously. Although the marketing campaigns of major multinationals sell the event as a stage for brilliant individual players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney, the last few tournaments have seen excellent team performances consistently overshadow outstanding individuals. Less-fancied teams such as Uruguay in 2010, South Korea in 2002 and Croatia in 1998 have all made it to the semi-final stage through discipline, drive and collective effort. This year, perhaps, an African team can make that step too.

On paper it is the Super Eagles, the champions of Africa, who go into the tournament with the best chance of making a big impression out of all the African sides. Nigeria have a strong squad of powerful and skillful players to call on, and have shown no sign in recent years of the kinds of internal divisions which plagued past campaigns. Their secret weapon is undoubtedly their indefatigable head coach Stephen Keshi, the man known affectionately as “Big Boss”. A no-nonsense centre-half as a player, Keshi won the African Cup of Nations as the captain of the Super Eagles in 1994, and after spells in charge of Togo and Mali he took over as manager of the Nigerian national team in 2011, with the team in disarray following its disastrous showing at the 2010 World Cup. A man possessed of great natural authority and charisma, Keshi has set about comprehensively rebuilding Nigeria into an attacking force that can once again pose a threat on the continental and global scene.

“My vision is to bring back our style of play, which is attacking football, with speed, power and technique, which I think has been lacking for so many years,” Keshi said in a recent interview. “It’s not going to take one day or six months to get that done. It will take time.”

With Keshi at the helm, many established players — the likes of Obafemi Martins, Taye Taiwo and Yakubu — have given way to fresh blood, with young, dynamic talents such as Lazio’s all-action midfielder Ogenyi Onazi and pacey winger Ahmed Musa bursting on to the scene. Vincent Enyeama, one of the top-performing goalkeepers in Europe this season, remains a bulwark of stability between the posts, while Chelsea’s vastly experienced John Obi Mikel is the lynchpin of the side, deployed in a more advanced, creative role than the holding midfield position he fills at club level.

The good news for Nigeria is that by the time they face the skilful Argentineans in Group F, they may already have qualified, if they can secure good results against Iran in their opening tie, and tournament debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina. A second-place finish in their group would see them drawn against the first-placed team in a weak Group E, likely to be France.

If Nigeria have the best coach of the African teams, Ghana’s strength lies in the depth of their very gifted squad and in the experience built up through good performances at the last two tournaments. Though the Black Stars have stumbled in recent Nations Cups, they have nonetheless looked by far the best equipped African team to challenge on the world stage over the past decade. Juventus star Kwadwo Asamoah is a key player, though given the range of midfield options available to coach Kwesi “Silent Killer” Appiah, his single most important squad member remains forward Asamoah Gyan, who is in line to become only the fourth African to score in three different World Cup tournaments.

A winner-takes-all tie against the Portugal of Cristiano Ronaldo looks likely, but if Ghana can rediscover the form that saw them blast six goals past Egypt in qualifying, the slick-haired Real Madrid superstar may be in for a shock.

Perhaps the African side whose performance is hardest to predict are Ivory Coast. Blessed with CAF African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure, who goes into the tournament as the world’s finest midfielder on current form, coach Sabri Lamouchi’s task is to find a system which allows the creative talents of Toure and the effervescent winger Gervinho to unlock defences. The inexperienced Lamouchi faces a major selection dilemma in the striker’s position. Didier Drogba is team captain and retains huge respect within the Ivorian game. But Wilfried Bony, a similar type of forward to Drogba, finished the English Premier League season as the outstanding form striker in the country and looks far more of a goal threat than his aging rival. The ideal solution might be to start Bony and use Drogba as a high-impact substitute — provided the legendary forward can be persuaded to put the team’s interests above his personal pride.Nigerian Rashidi Yekini screams 21 June

For all their high-calibre players, Ivory Coast have been hugely disappointing in recent competitions. This time the draw has been kind to the Elephants, who should have too much for both Japan and Greece. Their second game, against Colombia, should be a superb encounter and is likely to decide the group winner.

Algeria have never made it beyond the group stage, and will face three tough games against Russia, South Korea and much-fancied Belgium. Fans of the Fennecs can take heart from the recent emergence of the elegant midfielder Nabil Bentaleb and the good form of rugged centre-forward Islam Slimani. Their key player is Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli.

Cameroon, who always seem to qualify for the World Cup despite weak performances at continental level, face difficult games against Mexico, Croatia and hosts Brazil. Although their biggest goal threat is likely to be 22-year-old Vincent Aboubakar, all the focus, as ever, will be on Samuel Eto’o as he competes in his fourth World Cup tournament (btw don’t miss Ntone Edjabe’s brilliant piece on Cameroon for the FT). The four-time African player of the year recently dismissed Jose Mourinho’s suggestion that he is in fact older than 33, and promised to emulate his boyhood hero Roger Milla and keep playing until he is 41.

Asked about the challenge of taking on the hosts, “le petit Milla” insists he is undaunted. “We beat the Brazilians at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney,” he recalled. “There was a certain Ronaldinho in the team and many others. Eto’o is not scared. Cameroon is not scared.”

Think you know football? Test your skills against AIAC bloggers, top African football journalists and other fans by joining our World Cup fantasy league. Register, pick your team and join our league, “AIAC Superleague” — then invite all your friends to join too. But hurry! The tournament kicks off tomorrow.

We will be tweeting throughout the tournament — for all our football-related coverage follow our dedicated football handle @FutbolsaCountry.

This is an edited excerpt from a preview written for The Africapitalist magazine, and is republished with permission.

Africa is a Country Radio: Episode 3

Episode 3 of Africa is a Country Radio is live on Groovalizacion and the AIAC Mixcloud page. This month is a music only episode because I had been touring the U.S., and only just arrived back to Rio to record the show.

However, there is a still a bit of a theme. Brazil being on much of the world’s minds these days I had to open the show with a dedication to the World Cup host country. A special post-show big up to the Brazilian people — who stay challenging the status quo of global mega events!

Africa is a Country Radio: Episode #3 by Africasacountry on Mixcloud

Interview: On two important exhibitions devoted to African diasporas during the slave trades (Part II)

In this, the second, in a two-part interview with Dr. Sylviane Diouf and Dr. Joaneath Spicer, respectively the curators of two important exhibitions of African diasporas–Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europeand Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers ­—Jean-Philippe Dedieu and Noémie Ndiaye began by asking Sylviane Diouf about the juxtaposition of East African slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers.

East African slavery and the Atlantic slave trade are juxtaposed in your exhibition. It allows you to explore the question of the African diaspora on a global level. What is at play here?
Sylviane Diouf: Our exhibition doesn’t talk at all about the Atlantic slave trade. What we show, tacitly, is the difference between the Atlantic slave trade and the East African slave trade, whether it be Arab or Indian. We point out the differences. And one of the fundamental differences is Islam. How does Islam define slavery? How does it treat slaves? Slavery in India was more flexible than in Europe, but solely in its Muslim version. For example, slavery carried out by the Portuguese in Goa was the same as Atlantic slavery. With Islam, we see an enormous difference, and it is that which interests and surprises people. The fact that slaves could become prime minister, found dynasties, and achieve important positions, was impossible in the European system, but was possible in the Muslim system. In the European system, the children of an enslaved woman were born as slaves; in the Muslim system it was the opposite, the children inherited the father’s status. When the father was free — which was often the case with owners — the children were born free. Emancipation of slaves in the Muslim system was very easy — it was a means of earning God’s favour. There was no need to complete a large amount of paperwork. With regards to the recruitment of slaves — and they came from Africa as well as Europe, Turkey, and Asia, another difference with the Atlantic world –, there was no requirement for them to work the soil in India because there were already plenty of people available to do so. The people who were taken there – since it was a more complicated and expensive procedure — were generally, in the case of the men, soldiers, which allowed them to rise up through the ranks. Many of the women were domestic servants in the royal courts (in which there were thousands of people working), concubines, nurses, cooks… The concubines had a very prestigious status — well removed from the western view of them –, their children were born free, and the women themselves were generally freed, either at the birth of the children, or the death of the owner. The children were integrated into the family, which was completely different from the Atlantic system. It is one of the aspects, once again, which are of interest in this exhibition: to show people that the western model is not the only one, and that it could have been different.

The case of the African arriving as a slave in India and who, due to the flexibility of the Muslim system, managed to rise through the ranks – this was surely an exceptional case?
Sylviane Diouf: As regards the highest positions — prime minister, nawab, finance minister — the options are limited. But we must think in terms of the culture of those countries. To be a eunuch was very important — not as much as in Turkey, but important all the same. Army general, captain, religious leader or concubine: these were also important positions. Even in the 20th century, the domestic servants of the court who took care of the elephants and the horses were considered to hold significant positions. One of the first well-known Africans was in charge of the sultana’s stables in Delhi, and it is even rumoured that they were lovers. The position of stable master was a very high honour, an important position from a non-western viewpoint.

Is there a specific way to paint and portray an African person in Indian art?

Sylviane Diouf: In Indian art, we find real people, depicted with their true characteristics, shown as they really were. The impression that I have, after having viewed many items, is that Indian art is very realistic and treats Africans in the same way as others.

The Walters Art Museum insists that this exhibition constitutes an attempt to “create an increased sense of a shared heritage” with the African-American community of Baltimore, and to serve a more “diverse audience”. Do you feel that the attempt was successful in this respect?

Joaneath Spicer: Yes, I do. People care about other people, and people care also about their sense of their own role in history. There is a reason that traditionally African-Americans have not come so much to art museums to my mind. We should not be astonished by this. There is a feeling underneath that they are looking back at history. One of the reasons that there is a tendency to look towards more contemporary art or modern art in African-American culture is that the past is not necessarily a comfortable place, and people would rather look forward. African art is not necessarily appreciated more. Not everybody, just because they are of African ancestry, is going to care about African art. There is no necessary relationship there at all. So that leaves you a little bit in a vacuum. What I really want to share is: “I know you were there, I want you to know that you were there, so that we can just go on. Of course I’m expecting you, because this is your heritage too.” Not only does this seem to me absolutely true, but from a museum perspective I also think it is critical for us. One of the reasons that I kept pushing and pushing for this show is that I personally think that it is absolutely critical for how we operate as institutions. There are all kinds of layers here in which something operates, and I will certainly say that we sold apparently a record number of memberships during that show.

According to both of you, what are the contemporary stakes of the representation of the African Diaspora?

Sylviane Diouf: Here at the Schomburg Center, there has been a realisation that, when they are presented with their history, people are absolutely enthralled, sometimes completely incredulous: “We had no idea that this existed! We didn’t even know that there were black people there!” The academic research has been carried out and continues to grow; there is now a need to pass it on, to successfully repackage it, and present it to the public at large. That is what we are doing here, and we have noticed a great interest in the subject. It’s not only a discovery but there is also a feeling of connection to a much larger African Diaspora. And even though the experiences were  different, of shared history.

Joaneath Spicer: I think the stakes are actually considerable. If you are thinking about the Renaissance, just imagine yourself in an upland meadow. There are all these little streams running through it, and it’s all very interesting, it’s beautiful, it’s very lush, many sorts of possibilities here, and they’re all interesting in themselves, but you don’t know which ones, from just focusing on that, are going to be important 200 years later. After all, as a point that I kept having to make, we are not saying that this is a central issue of the Renaissance, this is one small thread within the Renaissance, because the African presence, numerically, was not so great. To my mind, one of the most compelling aspects of this subject, besides just the natural fascination of the untold story, is that I have the advantage of standing downstream. And I can look upstream. And I can see where that stream came from. And what was a little stream is now a river. And, in some degree, it waters our world.

* Image: Portrait of the seventh ruler of Sachin, Nawab Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan, 1930. The Kenneth and Joyce Robbins Collection.

Modi’s New India

In what has been called a historic general election, India elected Narendra Damodardas Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the highest echelons of power — the Office of the Prime Minister.  Modi was elected by a nation of “aspirational Indians”. His victory is theirs. As he took oath as the country’s fifteenth Prime Minister, men rejoiced on the streets and women cried before their 24/7 news channels. Under Modi, India thinks only of the dreams of the future, not the history of its past.

But, as you may know, PM Modi is a polarising figure. He has been called a strongman by some and saviour by others. Many in India’s intellectual class have repeatedly drawn comparisons to Modi’s emergence and statesmanship to fascism. India’s liberal left-leaning intellectual class—which rightly rallied against him for the atrocities committed in Godhra and the muscular Hindutva propagated by the RSS and its nexus to the ruling BJP Government—has never been able to carry out a dispassionate analysis of Modi and his style of governance. In my opinion, while Modi’s brand of politics is not quite fascism, it definitely shares the same structure that fascism does. It closely resembles what Stuart Hall described as “authoritarian populism”, rather than European fascism of 30s and 40s. Gramsci evokes Machiavelli’s famous metaphor of a centaur from the Prince—half man, half beast—to illustrate the concept of power as a combination of coercion and consent. Modi is like the centaur that both Machiavelli and Gramsci describe: “half man half beast, a necessary combination of consent and coercion.”

The rise of Modi and the mood in India today is not unprecedented or historically unique. History is full of men who have ridden the populist mood, of people who wanted to be saved by an all-encompassing charismatic leader who could get the work done. One only need to look at India’s recent past, when Indira Gandhi was the ‘Empress of India’, to note a parallel moment of projected desire. With her slogan “Garibi Hatao” (Abolish Poverty) she won the 1971 elections with a popular mandate and landslide victory. One of her cronies declared ‘Indira is India, India is Indira’: one that isn’t that far from the slogan that accompanied Modi’s rise to power—”Ab ki baar Modi sarkaar“, which, crudely translated, reads, “This time, Modi’s government” (“sarkar means “The Government” and colloquially refers to a “political overlord”). To borrow from Twain, history might not repeat itself, but can certainly rhyme.

While the event of Modi being elected to the highest office in India not unprecedented, men with the magnitude of power that Modi possesses today will shape and influence the India in an unprecedented manner. What does all of this mean to the country, its foreign policy and its engagement with the outside world ? Predictably, there’s been a lot of huffing and puffing and disagreement about what Modi will mean to India. One camp feels that Modi is no revolutionary figure, and business will go as usual. The other camp feels the rumble of a colossal shift in economic policy. Prof. Manjeri Chatterji, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, stated that Indian foreign policy has been broadly consistent and any changes had little to do with the Prime minister’s political ideology. “Predictability,” she argues, this “also applies to foreign policy.” Prof. Akeel Bilgrami has argued that BJP’s election campaign based on “change” is mere “rhetoric and pretence” and states that “… what it (Modi’s government) proposes as change and novelty is entirely continuous with policies that Manmohan Singh and his economic advisers have put into place.” Prof. Ashutosh Varshney has argued the opposite, that Modi will “reshape the entire political universe of India” and economist Arvind Subramanian stated that “Modi could be India’s Deng Xiaoping”.

Oddly, there are some salvageable truths in all these pronouncements. While India’s foreign policy has stuck to a certain predictable course over the last few years, it is also known for having a powerful Prime Minister who left an undeniable mark on the country’s foreign policy. In the words of Nehru’s (India’s first Prime Minister) biographer, “In no other state does one man dominate foreign policy as does Nehru in India. Indeed, so overwhelming is his influence that India’s policy has come to mean in the minds of people everywhere as the policy of Pandit Nehru… Nehru is the philosopher, the architect and the engineer and the voice of his own country… that foreign policy may be properly termed as his own monopoly…”. If he aspires to mimic Nehru’s levels of global influence, it is likely that people everywhere will begin to see India’s foreign policy as the policy of Narendra Modi.

Modi ran a Presidential campaign in a parliamentary democracy and won. Siddharth Varadarajan, former Editor at The Hindu points outs, “his means of governance might also be Presidential.” For the first time in 25 years, India will be governed by a single party with no real opposition. Prof. Varshney is partially right: Modi with this overwhelming political capital and power, might reshape and expand the powers of the Prime Ministers Office, if not the entire political universe.

Domestically, however, much will remain the same in India, because political change seldom leads to or guarantees social change. Even the greatest of social revolutions and political revolutions hold on to more continuities than usher in immediate change.

 

Mixed race kids a new phenomenon in the Netherlands? We think not.

This week cultural centre de Balie in Amsterdam will be hosting an event titled ‘LovingDay.nl: (In)visibly Mixed’ on “mixed race” families and relationships (BTW, the Netherlands uncritically accepts this terminology, along with the assumption that certain people are “pure” and others are “mixed”, thereby reifying 19th century race theories). Loving Day takes the end of anti-miscegenation laws in America in 1967 as its starting point to celebrate the growing number of mixed couples and children in the Netherlands. Mixed children are a growing phenomenon in the Netherlands (up from 30% to 37% from 2007 in Amsterdam) but oddly, the program claims, this growth is not visible in Dutch policy or imaging of the Dutch identity.

Being designated as “mixed race” ourselves, we don’t deny that there’s a lot to talk about, but we were mildly surprised to see that this program completely ignores the historical and socio-economical context of mixed race identities within Dutch colonial history. We say mildly, because it wouldn’t be the first time the Dutch conveniently forgot about their colonial adventures. There were clear strategies to instill and secure Dutch “purity” and a cultural sense of belonging in both South Africa and Indonesia. But of course, there were those “Others” that produced in both former colonies. Indos (people of mixed Indonesian European descent) have existed within the former Dutch-East Indies (and thus the Netherlands) for over 300 years, and the same can be said about the Coloured community in South Africa. Let’s not forget that there were and has been strong Dutch policy surrounding and creating these “mixed” identities beginning with the colonial period and existing well into the present.

The regulation of sexual relations was ingrained in the structure of the colonies and often also after periods of colonization. Many of us already know that in apartheid South Africa, sexual prohibitions were made very clear through the prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) and the Immorality Amendment Act (1950) that outlawed marriage and sex across the colour line. But back in the day, Dutch settlers eagerly married or fathered children with Khoisan women. As scholars such as Ann Stoler have pointed out (see here), the regulation of sexual relations was important to the development of the colonies itself. In South Africa. we see that in the initial period of colonization “mixing” was tolerated and even condoned. Actually the sexual relations between European men and colonized women aided the long-term settlement of European men in the colonies. Again, as AIAC readers may know, “Coloured” South Africans descend from European settlers—as well as from Cape slaves, indigenous Khoisan population, and other black people; because of that, they are regarded as being “mixed race” and often seen as distinct from the historically dominant white minority and the African population. There is of course much more to say about the Coloured identity and its fluidity, but the influence of Dutch settlers cannot be denied.

In Indonesia, the VOC and Dutch colonial powers specifically created the Indos (or IndoEuropeans) as an acclimatized, cheap workforce that would be loyal to the Netherlands. Within the colony, Indos had special privileges above Indonesian natives and below Dutch colonials, which ultimately resulted in their expulsion from Indonesia once it gained its independence. Needless to say a people of mixed origin—who were brought up and told they were European and were above the local populace during colonial times, only to end up in Europe where they discovered that they were in fact not European—have some serious identity issues to work through. That is, before they completely disappear off the map of Dutch self-knowledge and history. As with silences inherent in other parts of Dutch history, the Indo, too, is expected to disappear from the present, now that colonial times have ended.

Obviously, South Africa and Indonesia weren’t the only colonial territories that the Dutch set foot on. There is a clear need for more research when it comes to similarities (as well as the differences) between the different colonies and the influence of the Dutch. In the same vein, current Dutch race and gender relations have been greatly shaped by colonial endeavors. It is odd enough that the Netherlands takes on the end of American anti-miscegenation laws as a means to celebrate people of mixed backgrounds within the Netherlands, but it becomes problematic when these issues are presented as something new and unpoliced, when the Dutch have had such strong colonial policies related to the creation of new ‘people’ for their own profit.

Furthermore, current Dutch policies banning and preventing new immigrants from bringing over spouses from their motherland will have an obvious effect on the increase in mixed race relationships and children in the Netherlands. Often the idealized idea of mixed race children with “cute light eyes and curly hair” dismisses the ambiguous feelings of cultural belonging that underlie mixed race identities. For instance, it is not uncommon for a white mother to be asked if she adopted her child. In addition, it is often not recognized how mixed race children are privileged over black children in the media and popular culture, which further enforces the idea that ‘lighter’ children have more status and privilege.

Too bad that Balie and LovingDay.nl programmers ignore these serious identity issues and prejudices faced by both mixed race couples and their offspring as well as Dutch colonial history and the role it has played in creating people like us. But as usual, the Dutch just like feeling good about themselves as liberal and tolerant—they are happy to “celebrate” but not deal with anything difficult.

*Mieke Weismann: Corporate whore by day, writer by night. Mieke is currently exploring her place in the world as a model minority and the descendant of both the powerful and the powerless in the context of the Dutch-Indonesian colonial past and post colonial present

The State Of African Hip Hop In 2014

In 2014, African hip-hop has graduated from the bedroom and walked into the boardroom. It’s left its cape (baggy jeans) at the door and picked up a pair of tight-fitting pants. In extreme cases, hip-hop has shed the ‘urban’ look completely and chosen shiny suits; it’s lost its assumed roots in the underground and allowed the tastes of corporate organizations to percolate it. MTN runs the Nigerian music industry; alcohol brands own South African hip-hop; Nestle sponsors rappers in Senegal.

The concept of music as service has all but disappeared. “Ngixel’i download link” is the new ‘where can I buy the CD.’ By virtue of it being a niche market, South African hip hop is feeling the pinch. Social media have tilted the fan-artist nexus acutely; people demand free music, the result of a generation which doesn’t grasp the concept of music as a service.

It seemed to make sense – and still does – that giving away music for free makes more people aware of an artist while increasing the probability of retaining die-hard followers who’ll hopefully fork out money for the album. This is a refrain pummeled as chief gospel to anyone who has an Internet connection, five minutes to spare, and an interest in ‘music trends,’ a ubiquitous term which outright dismisses the fact that things are done a bit differently in Africa.

Yes, more people see an artist through free music giveaways.

South Africa-based Cassper Nyovest had his song “Doc Shebeleza” downloaded well over two hundred thousand times when it was released earlier this year. He trended on twitter even! The second part, the one about retaining fans who will want to pay, is flawed! Cassper, or Driemanskap, or any of the artists who’ve managed to push big on-line numbers through offering free downloads may have gained visibility, but there’s yet to be evidence of an increase in music sales. Driemanskap’s “Hlala nam” was, as of May 2013, the most downloaded song on the Kasimp3 portal.

The push has been to partner with big brands over an extended period of time, a practice which raises many moral questions (especially with alcoholic brands) but sustains many an artists’ livelihood.

Maftown Heights, a one-night celebration of artists who are affiliated – even tangentially – to Motswako, partnered with Flying Fish and Blackberry (and other media partners) to produce an outstanding event, all things considered.

In theory, and indeed practice, brand-artist relationships work. But the hippie in me refuses to accept the if sports people are doing it counter-argument which has been posited to me before.

One of the brands which has become vested in South African hip-hop, and hasn’t been afraid to say as much, is Miller Genuine Draft. Not only did they bring Kendrick Lamar to South Africa, but they included a broad range of mainstream South African acts as support.

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But this image of smoke and mirrors dressed in sleek television shows and punted as gospel is far from an accurate depiction of the majority of artists who still struggle to record, to get their music onto the radio, and to get featured in on-line and print publications. A war of intimidation happens daily on social networks; ‘struggling’ artists force-feed their followers links to their free music. It’s all still very agrarian down there.

Jozi’s weather can get really miserable really quickly. It’s particularly bad when you’re travelling in the traffic’s direction and stuffed – along with about thirty other human beings – inside a bus whose driver has yet to learn about safe driving.

I’ve a chance to chat to Sarkodie, the Ghanaian emcee whose affiliation to Akon’s Konvict Music label snowballed his already-rising star to greater heights at home and abroad.

I arrive to a locked gate in Houghton, the suburb at which Sarkodie will be shooting a video for ‘Pon di ting with the RnB singer Banky W. Fifteen minutes and two phonecalls later, the gate opens up. Samuel Forson, Sarkodie’s manager, ushers me inside.

“Anything you need to know about Ghanaian hip-hop, let me know,” he’ll later tell me.

Sesan Onguro is exchanging a few notes with Sarkodie and Banky W. Sesan, who’s also worked with D’banj and Ice Prince, is and energetic and easy-going director who, from first impressions, is like by everyone on the set.

Video models criss-cross from one end of the room to the other, up the stairs where the make-up room is located, and around the lounge area where some of the scenes shall be shot. In two weeks’ time, a day before Christams, the video will air on Channel 0 and MTV Base – new-age pariahs/messiahs/saviours of African music.

Prior to the arrival of MTv Base in 2005, Channel 0 had a monopoly on African music programming. That it was carried across different countries over the continent opened people on either sides of the equator to sounds other than the World Music rhetoric we’d been fed henceforth. It was an exciting time; 2Face’s “African girl” was just about the biggest song on the continent.

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This past December, Sarokodie concluded the last leg of his Rapperholic tour – Rapperholic being the title of his 2011 album which resulted from the (rumoured) venture with Konvict.

The terms and conditions of the relationship had always been contested. The rumours were finally allayed when Akon himself announced that Sarkodie was never signed to Konvict Music Africa, adding that the artist – affectionately known as the Number One Obidi among his devoted fans – was supposed to be their inaugural signing in Ghana. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get the deal together so the deal never closed,” he said. Regardless, Sarkodie’s profile is the highest it can ever be. His new album Sarkology has garnered him multiple awards at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards, and he’s been nominated for a BET Best International Act: Africa award, and an MTV Africa Music Award.

He’s also been the brand ambassador  for Samsung in Ghana.

The scope of hip-hop on the African continent is broad. There’s no one definitive sound that is distinctly African. Electro-chaabi is as much African as Didier Awadi’s mbalax-influenced rap songs; or AKA’s latest forays into sampling old-school house music songs. So are Blitz the Ambassador, Baloji, Youssoupha, or any of the myriad rappers across the diaspora.

While booking agents at festivals still yearn for a version of Africa sold to them under the ‘World Music’ banner of yesteryear, African hip-hop is more interested in trying new ideas out – new ways of distributing music, sometimes with no label support.

Blitz the Ambassador has spoken about how constant rejection from labels forced him into developing an independent mindset. Close to ten years since he started rapping, Blitz is one of the most widely-travelled musicians in the diaspora (alongside the Mighty Embassy Ensemble, his fascinating four-piece live band). His album Afropolitan Dreams is a work of wonder.

Hip-hop on the continent is fascinating in that, despite there being no formalized music industry in some countries, and a non-existent hip-hop industry to speak of in others, more artists seem to be emerging, be it through independently-run blogs, or wider-reaching media such as satellite television. Besides Blitz the Ambassador, this first half of the year is likely to witness releases from Tumi Molekane (South Africa), Zone Fam (Zambia), and E.L. (Ghana).

Review: The Square by Jehane Noujaim

The 16th Encounters South African International Documentary Festival opened on Wednesday with The Square, Jehane Noujaim’s documentary about the Egyptian Revolution. The film (available in the US on Netflix) holds the title of being the first Egyptian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. It is a filmic triumph and an apt portrayal of our times, both in content and form. Noujaim, who directed 2004’s Control Room about broadcast network Al Jazeera, shot the film on Canon 5Ds (for techie reasons, these cameras regarded as revolutionary by indie filmmakers) and this gives the documentary a distinctly cinematic feel. More importantly, The Square brings to light the complexities of the Egyptian revolution by situating the viewer right in the middle of the protests, the idealism, and the chaos. With Egypt’s recent elections resulting in the questionable landslide victory of former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the film remains a timely reminder of the power and limitations of spontaneous social movements in shaping history.

Werner Herzog once said that the most important aspect of making a documentary was “casting.” Director Noujaim skillfully assembles a diverse cast that allows us to experience the uprising through their eyes, starting with the young revolutionary Ahmed Hassan. Ahmed is instantly likeable; his idealistic exuberance almost literally leaps off the screen. He starts the film by explaining public life under Mubarak as characterized by a lack of dignity, and tells his personal story of having to work from age 8 to pay for his school tuition, only to find that he is unable to find work as an adult. He then introduces us via voice over to Khalid Abdalla, an actor (The Kite Runner) turned revolutionary spokesman, Ramy Assam known as “the singer of the revolution,” and a bearded Islamist named Madgy Ashour, a soft-hearted individual from the Muslim Brotherhood. The energy in the opening scenes is electric; change feels palpable, inevitable. Indeed, as we know, Mubarak steps down and jubilation erupts across Egypt. However, this is just the beginning of the film.

When The Square won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance, the film ended with the democratic election of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The revolution did not end at this historical moment, however, and in the summer of 2013 thousands of Egyptians took to the streets when Morsi was accused of grabbing dictatorial powers. Noujaim and her crew decided to go back and continue filming. During this time Remy Assam, who “turned the chants of the revolution into songs” was detained and severely beaten.

While the film does well to communicate the realities of fighting the revolution on the ground, it does have its shortcomings. When the Egyptian military aim their might against the Muslim Brotherhood, the film goes strangely silent. Max Fisher of The Washington Post described the film’s portrayal of the Muslim Brotherhood as “one-sided” and “polemic” and that the documentary could further entrench the current polarized political climate in Egypt. However, Noujaim treats the Brotherhood character Magdy Ashour with a great amount of warmth and empathy, and we come to understand his reasons for supporting Morsi and the Brotherhood. While her stance is clear, Noujaim never allows herself to reduce the conflict to binaries of good and evil. By the same account, she overlooks the military’s violent crackdown on the Brotherhood in August 2013, where hundreds of peaceful pro-Morsi civilians were killed. The Brotherhood has since been labeled a “terrorist” organization by the military-installed interim government, and all of its major leaders are either in jail or in exile.

Despite being a sobering and sometimes shocking account of the revolution, The Square ends on an upbeat, hopeful note. As Noujaim explained recently in an interview: ”What we’re going through in Egypt is a founding period. It’s not a transition period.” Even though Egypt’s revolution didn’t neatly end with a peaceful democratic moment, that doesn’t mean that this is a failed movement. In his book Networks of Outrage and Hope (Polity Press, 2012,) scholar and activist Manuel Castells names this expectation “a productivist vision of social action,” which seeks to apply economic logic to social movements. The biggest change in these movements occurs in the hearts and minds of the citizens who drive them, and cannot always be shown with clear results or data. As Ahmed says at the end of the film “We don’t need a new leader, we need a new consciousness.”

This is perhaps where Noujaim succeeds most in the film, conveying a sense of hope, resilience and the ongoing process of creating a new consciousness in the face of oppression. As Castells writes, “What matters most is the process, not the product… in fact the product is the process.” Never before has the revolutionary process been so beautifully captured on film (or in HD). The Square is a must see.

#HistoryClass: Nigeria’s Super Eagles

Our British colonial masters brought us a lot of good stuff. Stuff such as education, Christianity and corruption, among others. But probably the best thing the Brits brought to us was football. Today, in homage to the coming World Cup, we take a quick tour of the early years of the NFF and our national team, the Super Eagles.

There are no records of when the first official football match was played in Nigeria, but it started in the 1920s. The Nigeria Football Association’s own records tell us that the organisation was formed in 1945. However, there is evidence that the NFA (which later became NFF) was actually formed in 1933. A Daily Times article from 21 August 1933 invited people to the NFA’s first meeting at 7 pm that night.

This first meeting held at the Health Office in Broad Street, Lagos and was open to the football interested public. As of the 1938/39 football season in England, the NFA had been recognised by the English FA, with F.B Mulford as secretary. But it was not until 1945 before the association was formally inaugurated, and a national team put together.

In 1942, a cup competition, the War Memorial Challenge, limited only to Lagos based teams was started. The War Memorial Challenge was won by ZAC Bombers (1942), Lagos Marine (1943), Lagos Railways (1944 and 1945) respectively.

One of the first points of duty of the NFA was to inaugurate the Governor’s Cup to replace the War Memorial Challenge. The new competition, encompassed the whole country, and the first winners were Lagos Marine. By 1948, efforts were underway to form a national team built around players discovered at the Governor’s Cup. Early star players in the national team were Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC), Peter Anieke and Teslim Balogun (both of Lagos Railway). Nigeria’s first national team was named the UK Tourists, and after a few, unofficial, warm-up games went to the UK.

The team boarded the RMSS Apapa on 16 August 1949 for a playing tour of England and arrived Liverpool 13 days later. The players who made the trip were: Goalkeepers: Sam Ibiam (Port Harcourt), Isaac Akioye (Hercules, Ibadan); Defenders: Justin Onwudiwe (Lagos Railway), Olisa Chukwura (Abeokuta), ATB Ottun (Lagos Marines), Isiaku Shittu (Lagos UAC), John Dankaro (Jos), Hope Lawson (Lagos Marine), Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC), Okoronkwo Kanu (Land & Survey); Forwards: Mesembe Otu (Lagos Marine), Peter Anieke (Lagos Railway), Sokari Dokubo (Lagos Railway), Godwin Anosike (Lagos Railway), Tesilimi Balogun (Lagos Railway), Titus Okere (Lagos Railway), Etim Henshaw (Lagos Marine) and Edet Ben (Lagos Marine). Etim Henshaw was the team captain, making him our first ever national team captain. Teslim Balogun was the star.

The team had no shoes.

Nigeria’s first ever official game was against Marine Cosby, which we won 5-2. During the next game, against an Athenian League XI, the English refused to play if the Tourists didn’t wear boots. The Tourists wore boots and lost, 8-0. The third game, which was generally agreed as the best, was a 2-2 draw with a Corinthians League XI. At the end of the tour of nine games, the team’s record was P9, W2, D2, L5. All five losses were with boots on.

After the tour, Teslim Balogun was signed by Petersborough United becoming the first ever Nigerian football export.

On the return voyage home, the UK Tourists took on the new name, Red Devils, and stopped in Freetown, Sierra Leone. During that stopover in Sierra Leone, Nigeria played her first official game against another country, defeating Sierra Leone 2-0 on 8/10/49.

In 1954, after Tony Enahoro’s motion for independence had been made, the Governor’s Cup was renamed FA Cup. The 1954 edition of the renamed FA Cup was won by Calabar FC who beat Kano Pillars 3-0 in the final. Meanwhile the Red Devils were still active, playing a series of friendlies against Ghana, including a 7-0 loss in 1955. In 1959, the NFA finally joined CAF, then followed this up by joining FIFA a year later as we approached independence.

In 1960, Nigeria played against Egypt in a qualifying game for the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, our first ever competitive international. In that game against Egypt, the Egyptians trashed us, the team was made to wear green rather than the red they used to wear. It was from that moment that the name of the team was changed from Red Devils to Green Eagles. Also in 1960,as independence approached, the FA Cup was renamed the Challenge Cup. The 1960 edition of the Challenge Cup was won by Lagos ECN who beat Ibadan Lions 5-2 in the final.

Nigeria first participated in the Nations Cup when Ghana hosted in 1963, but the Green Eagles exited in Round 1. The results of our first AFCON were Egypt 6-3 Nigeria; Sudan 4-0 Nigeria. Okepe, Bassey and Onyia scored for us against Egypt. In the 1970s a new generation of players developed to national team level from the likes Stationery Stores, Rangers International and Shooting Stars. This development was spurred by our first major triumph. We won the gold medal at 1973′s All Africa Games, which we hosted. The likes of Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Muda Lawal, Segun Odegbami and Haruna Ilerika broke into the national team in the 1970s. This new generation of players qualified us for our second AFCON, which was hosted by Ethiopia in 1976. We got bronze.

We qualified for the AFCON again in 1978, hosted by Ghana, and again got bronze, beating Tunisia 2-0. Finally, our first AFCON title came when we hosted in 1980. We blasted Algeria 3-0 in the final match.

Interview: On two important exhibitions devoted to African diasporas during the slave trades (Part I)

Two important exhibitions devoted to African diasporas in the age of slave trades have just closed. The first, “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe,” was organized by the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, and then displayed at the Princeton University Art Museum.  Visitors were invited to explore the roles of Africans and their descendants in Renaissance Europe, as revealed in compelling paintings, drawings, and sculptures of the period. The second, “Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers,” was a unique opportunity to discover for the very first time the lives and achievements of East Africans enslaved in India in photographic reproductions of paintings and contemporary photographs. Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers was set up by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library, and was later on view at George Mason University as well as the Museum of African American History in Boston, before traveling to India. We interviewed the respective curators, Sylviane Diouf and Joaneath Spicer.

How would you describe the genealogy of exhibitions devoted to the African presence in Western Art? What are the main new perspectives offered by the exhibition you curated?

Joaneath Spicer (Walters Art Museum): Well, it is a fairly short genealogy. There have been scattered examples in the past, but the genealogy of exhibitions is very different from the genealogy of scholarship. Moreover, unlike those previous scattered examples, I did not want to do an exhibition about the “Image of the Black in Western Art.” What I wanted was not the image; I wanted to know who the people in the paintings were. I am sure that is part of my orientation: if I had remained an academic, it would not have occurred to me to think about the visitor’s experience and allow it to influence my scholarship. People are interested in other people. I knew perfectly well from talking to friends, museum visitors, and colleagues, that it was their first interest; and certainly, for visitors to the show who themselves are at least in part of African ancestry, the issue of identification was very strong. It seemed to me the absolutely natural reaction and, therefore, I was going to let that guide me. We are still getting requests from high schools, from colleges, certainly from historically black schools, who want to engage with the catalogue of our exhibition, and I am willing to bet it is partially because it is about the people. To me, that is the critical thing.

What led you to organise the exhibition Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers?

Sylviane Diouf (Schomburg Center): My aim was to show people that the African diaspora is not limited solely to the United States, because there is a great deal of that viewpoint here: people are aware of the Caribbean, Brazil at a pinch, but regarding all the rest, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru etcetera, people simply have no idea. So even just considering the Atlantic slave trade, there is insufficient knowledge. There is a distinct lack of awareness about the African diaspora in Europe, let alone in the Indian Ocean area! What I wanted to do was to shed some light on the other diasporas, starting with a digital exhibition  in 2011,which was very successful. Subsequently, I brought Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts of Africans (Siddis) in India; an exhibition curated by Henry Drewal of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It was enormously successful too. Two years later, in 2013, I decided to curate this historical exhibition, and that was also an extraordinary discovery for visitors.

3. Portrait of a Man in Armor with Two Pages, by Paris Bordone (1500-1571).The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1973. www.metmuseum.org

What difficulties are encountered by academics carrying out research on this region and on this subject in particular?

Sylviane Diouf: As regards the representation in art, identification is often difficult as opposed to the situation in Europe. In Europe, when you see a crowd in a painting, it is easy to notice a dark-skinned individual. In India, it is naturally more complicated because there is a gradation of skin colours. In Indian art you have people who are depicted as being very dark but who aren’t African, they are in fact Indian natives. In certain cases, Africans have been depicted with a type of colourful turban or particular hat, but that isn’t the case for all Africans. Generally however we are talking about the depiction of particular individuals here. They are often very well-known individuals due to their having attained very important positions. They are thus easy to identify, whether they may have been prime ministers or famous eunuchs.

Do we have a rough idea of the size of the African population in India during the period in question?

Sylviane Diouf: It is more complex than in the case of the Atlantic slave trade where we now have precise figures and databases relating to each ship. For the Indian Ocean area in general, the figures that we have are simply estimations, which range considerably, making it very difficult to be more precise. In saying that however, intercommunity marriage was practised to some extent, and there are therefore certainly some people who are not aware of the fact that they have African ancestors.

The various pieces you exhibited show both slaves and emancipated slaves. What kind of occupations did those free men of color have in Renaissance European societies?

Joaneath Spicer: In the first place, they are what you would normally call high-skilled manual labor, because people received money to set up their business, dowry, etc, but, even in the best circumstances, they hardly ever received an education. So that you often see them entering a subsistence class: they work as bakers, or in transportation, on boats, driving donkeys … Of course there are a few people who did receive really good educations — someone like the noted scholar Juan Latino, for instance, although he is highly unusual in that regard. So you do have some doctors and some lawyers and clerks of all sorts. In terms of religious figures you are much more likely to find the situation of Benedict the Moor, though. He was a Third Order Franciscan. Some free men of color could also be found at court. Within a court environment you could rise much faster than in a regular urban environment, which was ruled by guilds and craft groups — at court, all you needed to rise was the favor and gratitude of your owner or employer, In one painting depicting a scene in Lisbon, we see a black nobleman riding by in the foreground. He is easily identifiable as a nobleman because of the sign of the order that he is wearing on his cape. He used to be a witty court jester: he rose through the ranks, was eventually freed, kept rising, and then — what do you know — he was ennobled!

5. Detail of Sidi Said Mosque in Ahmadabad built by Sidi Said, a formerly enslaved Ethiopian in 1572. Wikimedia Commons

What was the role of black women in Western Renaissance societies? Are there some esthetic features specific to the representation of black femininity in the paintings you exhibited?

Joaneath Spicer: There is no question that what we know about jobs, moving up in the world, specific job descriptions or even a title that seems neutral like “baker” is about free men of color, not women. Black women suffered many disadvantages at this time, and first of all, you can imagine that a lot of the slaves that were bought for urban establishments, homes, would be women for domestic work. In domestic work you are not going to rise up. Additionally, when you have been trained in domestic work – if you are freed, what are you going to do? Probably more domestic work, which does not offer a way of rising up like a carpenter could by opening his own place, for instance. Domestic work does not work that way. And then, of course, there is the other side of the coin, which is that you were greatly in danger of being forced into a sexual relationship. However, in the paintings of the period, I would say that Black women are not necessarily sexualized. I don’t see them so much sexualized as estheticized, really. I think in real life there certainly was as strong exploitative dimension, but I don’t actually see it in the art.

Was there a specific way to paint and portray an African person in Renaissance Art?

Joaneath Spicer: I would have to say no. To my mind, Renaissance portrayal is much less stereotypic than what we have left over from Greek and Roman antiquity, which seems to be operating with very basic types. In the Renaissance, art is dealing with real people much more, and the minute you have real people, you are going to have tremendous variation. This is one of the things I was harping on in this exhibition – some of the general editors of “The History of the Black in Western Art” emphasized that painted Blacks are stereotypes, that there is just a stereotype. That is true in medieval art, but not in Renaissance art.

How were race and status intertwined? Would you say that the status of the subject depicted had any influence on the way they were represented?

Joaneath Spicer: It would be unavoidable that it had some, but on the other hand, some of the greatest and most sensitive expressive portrayals are of people we would have reason to think were slaves. So it can almost be exactly the reverse of what you might expect.

* Images:

1.  Adoration of the Magi, ca 1514. Worshop of Gerard David. Princeton University Art.

2. Portrait of a Man in Armor with Two Pages, by Paris Bordone (1500-1571).The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1973.

3. Detail of Sidi Said Mosque in Ahmadabad built by Sidi Said, a formerly enslaved Ethiopian in 1572. Wikimedia Commons.

Paul Kagame’s Rabbi

Shmuley Boteach seems to be everywhere these days. The right-wing rabbi’s new book Kosher Lust has just been released. Last week, he played host to a galafeaturing Chris Christie, giving the New Jersey governor a chance to make amends with Sheldon Adelson, the pro-Israel billionaire Christie offended when he used the words “occupied territories” in a recent speech.

Last month, Boteach’s mind was on yet another topic, one vastly different than sex or the 2016 presidential race. The consummate self-promoter was thousands of miles away from his New Jersey home, visiting Rwanda to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide that took the lives of some 800,000 people, most of them members of the Tutsi ethnic group. He was tapped to deliver a prayer during a memorial service, part of a set of events to pay homage to the victims of the Hutu-perpetrated slaughter that has left an indelible mark on the country.

Boteach was not some random pick to speak at an official event in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is seen by many as a hero who halted the genocide but has been accused of rampant human rights abuses.  In recent years, Boteach has assumed the mantle of promoting Kagame in the Jewish community and to other Americans. He has urged the Rwandan government to continue to strengthen its alliance with Israel, the rabbi’s other foreign cause.

The personal relationship Boteach forged with Kagame has intensified as Rwanda has become a leading African ally to Israel, despite the fact that Israeli dealers sent arms to the military when it was slaughtering Tutsis in the 1990s.  Israeli investors have poured money into Rwanda, which has cast itself as a renewed nation ready for investment after the devastating genocide.  Israeli arms continueto flow into the country.  Rwanda was one of 41 countries that abstained on the Palestinian Authority’s bid to obtain observer status at the UN; and Rwanda has acted as a dumping ground for a small number of African refugees who had fled to Israel, only to be rounded up in detention camps and deported. Rwanda’s alliance with Israel is part of the country’s decisive move into the Western geopolitical orbit, which includes economic ties and sending troops on UN and African Union missions.

Boteach calls Rwandans the “Jews of Africa,” and is one of many in the American Jewish community who sees a resemblance between Israel post-Holocaust and Rwanda post-genocide, though the analogy is flimsy.  As journalist Bill Berkeley points out in his book The Graves Are Not Yet Full, “there had been no Jewish tyranny in Germany, as there were Tutsi feudal tyrannies in Rwanda and Burundi, and there had been no Jewish-perpetrated genocides in, say, Austria, as there were Tutsi-perpetrated genocides against Hutus no fewer than three times in a generation in Burundi.”

The romance with Rwanda began after the rabbi, a “spiritual advisor” to Michael Jackson, saw the pop icon’s nanny return to her native Rwanda. Then, he wrote in 2013, he “finally made the decision to visit [in 2012] after my daughter, serving as a foreign military liaison in the Israel Defense Forces, met General Charles Kayonga, Rwanda’s chief of staff, who invited me.”  His second visit in 2013 wasbankrolled by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.  Boteach did not return requests for comment on this story.

“Your solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people is important, given that you have a unique understanding of the kind of security concerns that Israel has,” Boteach told Kagame late last year, when the president spoke at Cooper Union along with Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel.

Boteach likes to bring up the similarities he sees between criticism of Rwandan human rights abuses and criticism of Israel’s violation of human rights. And Kagame has met repeatedly with the rabbi, whom The Jewish Daily Forward’s Nathan Guttman called Kagame’s “key contact in the organized Jewish world.”

So when critics of Kagame pop up, the rabbi is there to push back.  Boteach sprung into action in late April, when Howard French, an author and former New York Times journalist who has reported from Rwanda, penned a Wall Street Journalcolumn harshly criticizing Kagame. French laid out the litany of crimes Kagame is responsible for–the slaughter of some 35,000 Hutu civilians and the devastating war waged in neighboring Congo–and argued that the West’s redemption narrative of Rwanda post-genocide has led it to turn a blind eye to these abuses.

Responding to French’s well-documented record, Boteach said forget about it. TheWall Street Journal piece was an “assault” that “re-roasts old chestnuts,” Boteach wrote in the Huffington Post.  He added that while there are “troubling allegations–”

“I raised these subjects with President Kagame on more than one occasion. I told him that as the only man alive to have stopped a genocide he is a hero to me and countless millions the world over.”

For good measure, Boteach called French’s assertion that Rwanda has “pursued coldblooded ethnic revenge” in Congo a “venomous” accusation reminiscent of “Roger Waters’ claim that Israel is now the Nazis,” despite the 2010 U.N. reportthat showed Kagame’s armed forces have killed hundreds of thousands of unarmed Hutus in  Congo. (Waters did not say Israel is like the Nazis, though he did sayright-wing Israeli rabbis’ statements reminded him of 1930s Germany.)  Kagame’s Rwanda has repeatedly meddled in the Congo, saying that the perpetrators of the genocide had fled there. But the brunt of the attacks in Congo have fallen on unarmed civilians.

“The Kagame government has a number of people who act like trolls, basically, who police discussion of Rwanda and Rwanda-related issues online and elsewhere…I took Boteach’s online piece as an example of this,” French, an associate professor at Columbia University’s journalism school, told me in a phone interview.  “Boteach can say whatever he likes, engage in semantics and try to call something an allegation or unproved. But he doesn’t really engage with the evidence, which is quite exhaustive.”

The evidence pile got more exhaustive in early May, when Canada-based newspaper The Globe and The Mail printed an investigation detailing how Rwandan exiles have been recruited by Kagame’s government to assassinate critics who are abroad.  The detailed record amassed against Kagame, though, has fallen on deaf ears in Washington–and in the American Jewish community.

“I became aware at a very early stage of writing critically about Rwanda,” said French, “that this displeased a number of people in the American Jewish community who had become convinced that based on their shared experience of genocide, that there was a special bond between Rwanda and Israel.”

This article first appeared on Mondoweiss.

Louis Henderson’s delicate journey through a real and virtual contemporary Ghana

Lettres du Voyant is a 40 minutes film made by Louis Henderson, a British filmmaker and artist. I met him during a dinner at Berlinale Talents last January, we had a fast chit-chat and after a couple of months I realise that he has done one of the most interesting film and document about Sakawa: a Ghanaian practice based on Internet scams and Akan religious rituals. As Louis mentions in the last part of the interview, Vice did a reportage on Sakawa titled “The Sakawa Boys.” If the Vice report’s reflects their gauche approach to field work, by contrast Henderson’s Lettres Du Voyant is a delicate journey through real and virtual contemporary Ghana. The film also leaves room for the viewer to imagine the Sakawa (un)reality. We touched many different topics throughout the interview besides Sakawa practice: Azonto, filmmaking techniques and post-internet animism.

First here’s the trailer:

How much was written and preprogrammed before you went to Ghana to shoot the film?

This is an interesting question that comes up often when talking about my work, because in fact I don’t write scripts or make storyboards; not in the classical sense anyway. For this film I was obliged to plan it beforehand in some respects, so I wrote a theoretical treatise (or intentional note perhaps) of the reasons behind the desire to make such a film, this was coupled with an outline of the locations I had imagined I could shoot in, and some images sourced from searches on the internet. I had been to Ghana once before as a child when I was 11 years old, but it has changed a lot since then and my memories of it are really foggy, so before going to shoot I was completely unaware of what the reality of Ghana might actually represent to me, but then this is how I make films; I go to a place with a series of ideas about something that are not necessarily fixed in my mind, and I allow the experience of being in the place change my approach to what I had imagined might be there, it is a process of research and discovery through first hand experience. My location scouting always begins on the internet, with google images and google maps, and then when I arrive in the actual place, I begin to shoot almost straight away, I shoot the processes of discovering a place for the first time in order to better reflect on my position to the story I am trying to tell, to configure my understanding of the world through the technology of the camera.

This for me is a method writing — writing with the camera, much Alexandre Astruc’s idea of the caméra-stylo, practiced by filmmakers such as Chris Marker or Pier Paolo Pasolini. I would say perhaps that at the foundation of my practice is the film Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana by Pasolini — a kind of self-reflexive approach to the possibilities of a literary camera, a cinema of poetry in the true Pasolinian sense.  My process is this, to quote Jean-Marie Straub: “First, there is the idea, then there is the matter, and then the form… The same goes for the sculptor. He has his idea and gets a block of marble and he works the matter. He has to take into account the nervures in the marble, the cracks, all the geological layers in it.”

PHOTO1

When I return home again, and get into the editing suite, and start to look back at the images I have filmed and listen to the sounds recorded – I begin to understand what I was trying to do with the camera and the sound recording device. It is then that I start to understand what I am able to do with the editing software, start to understand what parts of the fabric I will weave together to make this fictional tapestry that is based on a documentary reality of the world. And then I start to write the script, in post-production. Post-production is a very interesting term and a way of understanding my approach to filmmaking, that I make sense of the material world through the digital technologies of image manipulation (for a closer discussion of this I suggest the reader turns to Hito Steyerl’s essay Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead) In terms of literature in the case of Lettres Du Voyant, I was reading various texts at the time, particularly certain essays by Hito Steyerl and also a novel by Novalis called Heinrich Von Ofterdingen. This book actually worked its way into the voiceover quite considerably and I used large passages of Novalis, which seems fitting in terms of a certain romantic approach to filmmaking that I adhere to.

The soundtrack contains only one song: “Pum Pum” by Tic Tac (ft. Edem) – how did you choose it? Do you listen to a lot of hiplife or azonto from Ghana? If so, please tell me your favorites.

Whilst in Ghana we heard Azonto being played everywhere, everywhere! Before going to Ghana I was not hugely aware of Azonto, but I knew quite a bit of more old-fashioned hi-life, so for me it was a really amazing discovery, especially hearing azonto played out on a huge sound system as you get to understand the influence on it of certain techno and house rhythms. One evening at a really great ‘night spot’ in a village in the hills above Accra we were treated to some serious sound system battling as each bar would be playing their set within about 5 metres of each other, this resulted in an incredible medley of different tunes and quite a sonic experience as you walked up the road past each stack of speakers.

still04

So the idea of using Azonto in the film came again through post-production. During the shoot we would hear Azonto being played on the radio all the time, luckily I was with my cousins who are Ghanaian and they could tell me what song was playing at any given time, particularly Boafo who is an expert! When we had finished the shoot I had some time off and went to Jamestown in Accra to buy some CDs, I just had a few names of various artists and went to ask at a CD shack what he had. I ended up buying a stack of ripped CDs with Azonto mixes on featuring a few hundred different tunes, and started to play them back at our house in Medina. Here I discovered 4 x 4, Keche and Sarkodie for example, the big names of Hip-life.  However the tune by Tic-Tac I actually discovered back in France in my editing suite, I was watching through my rushes and there was a shot of a gold mine in Obuasi with this song playing in the background, caught off someone’s radio playing out of frame. I loved the song but didn’t know its name, and not having my cousin around I was kind of stuck. So I googled the lyrics that I could hear and luckily the song came up. The song begins with this kind of electronic beeping that sounds like mobile phones of technological gadgets and thus it seemed fitting for the film.

I can’t think of many Azonto recommendations right now, but two tunes that kept on going round my head whilst I was there were “Moko Ni” by 4 x 4

…  and “Aluguntugui” by Keche.

Are you aware of the ‘scambaiting’ phenomenon (this is a good reference: ‘Scambaiting’, DISmagazine)? In your film, you take Sakawa as a form of anti-neocolonial resistance, so ‘scambaiting’ can be considered as a sort of neocolonial answer to Sakawa. Would you like to comment on this?

I was not aware of scambaiting as an actual phenomenon, although I had come across various forms of this through stories on the web etc. I had heard that people were trying to get back at scammers through these rather futile means and attempts at humiliation. I am not sure that scambaiting could be seen as a neo-colonial answer to sakawa, as its interests are not at all based in economic gain (which is the fundamental definition of neo-colonialism).  Rather I would see scambaiting as an entirely racist, primitivist and in fact colonial way of thinking, completely stuck in the western tradition of ontological binary oppositions such as good/bad, honest/dishonest, modern/primitive, moral/immoral, for example. This mode of thinking in an oppositional logic is what partly led to colonial domination in the African continent (and beyond) and is something that needs to be re-addressed and un-thought consistently, it is a mode of thinking that has shaped Western attitudes to the rest of the world and thus needs to be de-colonised from Western thought. Sakawa, as a form of animism, could be argued to be part of a contemporary interest in the processes of this de-colonisation of thought, as it begs a rethinking of our understanding of these binary oppositions and our moralistic approaches to such social phenomena as cyber crime – on an individual level and, more pressingly, a global, hypercapitalist one.

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Sakawa as a form of neo-colonial resistance is a problematic and easily refuted subject, as the questions could be asked; how and what are they in fact resisting? Through stealing money from people are they not just falling into the same capitalistic system of thinking that they are apparently rebelling against? On what concrete level does this resistance actually exist in the face of, say, illegal Chinese gold mining in Ghana today? I wouldn’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, but I would state again that Sakawa as a form of animistic practice, works on the micropolitical level of resistance against a colonial form of thought that represses certain potentialities of subjectivity and agency. (To develop these ideas further I would really suggest the reader to turn to the recent work on Animism by Anselm Franke, and the thoughts of Suely Rolnik and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, particularly in the film Assemblages by Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarato.) Perhaps Sakawa is more post-colonial revenge than neo-colonial resistance, but currently I am researching into the possibility for a post-internet animism that works as a form of resistance to the colonialization of the internet by large corporations, I have yet to find a strong hypothesis, but I am working on it!

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To me, one of the most intense part of the film is after the religious rite, when the image fade into a colorful palette and the percussive sound of the ritual turns into a synthetic one. What’s the idea behind this choice?

From the first moment I thought about making this film I was interested in the question of what a trance-like vision could be. What does one see when one is in a trance and possessed by a spirit? And more particularly what could this vision be in the post-internet position of contemporary juju rituals used for email scams? What can a post-internet animist trance look like? I was particularly taken with the idea that Sakawa boys could travel through the internet by the means of juju-induced trances, so I asked myself what could someone see when travelling through fibre-optic cables or what would one see when spiritually entering a computer? In the end I realised that any attempt at a concrete representation, without having actually experienced said trance/state/travel, would render an impossible image; so I decided to move towards abstraction as a form of representation of the unknown. This becomes aestheticised firstly through the sound of the ritual gradually becoming less and less ‘real’ as such, and moving to a sonic, tonal representation of the recording — as might happen when experiencing a trance induced state; our perception of surrounding sounds would merge with subjective interpretations of the tonal space we are experiencing. Furthermore, the sound you hear actually travels around the room in a repetitive circular motion (this was made possible through post-produced 5.1 surround sound spatialisation) in the desire to produce a kind of trance like effect in the space of the cinema itself. This ties in with the narrative in that after the ritual I wanted to push the idea that the spectator had actually become possessed by these spirits working in the film, that the spirits we encountered when doing the ritual were actual able to come out of the space of the film into the space of the cinema (through digital technology) and put the viewer into a trance. When the viewer is in the cinematic trance they see only a slowly changing palette of colours (that could be said to represent a kind of computer screensaver!), these colours showing the flatness of the screen, the material reality of a projection of light and colour and the potential for depth and transference between spaces and different states of being – again made available through post-produced digital technologies. After this sequence we see the first 3D renditions of the post-colonial independence monuments, as if to work towards a potential outcome for an image of a post-internet animistic trance that has its aim a resurgence of interest in the revolutionary activity of Kwame Nkrumah. These 3D images were made through digital scanning technology that essentially transforms ‘real’ objects into 3D ones to be manipulated in computer animation software – again another form of techno-animistic representation.

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Would you recommend any readings or films to deepen the Sakawa practice?

There is in fact not a lot of material on Sakawa, and it is a dying phenomenon in Ghana, so I wonder if any more will come or not. There is a brilliant book by Jenna Burrell — a researcher at University of California — called Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana, which is available from the MIT press. She has a chapter on Sakawa. Otherwise I would recommend watching, if you can find it, a series of movies called Sakawa Boys produced in Ghana over the last few years by a Ghanaian director called Socrates Sarfo – he gives an interestingly fictionalised account of what is behind Sakawa, but tends to lean towards a moralistic depiction of the problems of leaving the Christian faith and turning to ancient traditional beliefs etc. Of course in his films the Sakawa boys end up in more trouble than they ever imagined and are essentially seen as corrupt and immoral. Another one to watch, with a huge dose of salt, is the vice documentary called “The Sakawa Boys” — the problem with the Vice video is that of course they fall into a very dubious, entirely primitivist and racist account of Sakawa, with a hugely patronising view on what is actually a very serious phenomenon and practice — so maybe give it a miss in fact.

James Baldwin at 90, Part 3: Black Style in an Age of Sights for the Speechless

In Take This Hammer, Baldwin’s guide, Orville Luster, positions him in San Francisco’s Lower Fillmore District across the street from the Booker T. Washington Hotel. As they approach the hotel on Fillmore Street, Luster says, “now, off to our left here’s one Negro hotel, that’s owned.” Baldwin, eyes intensifying, looks across the street from the car: 

The only Negro hotel, and it’s called the Booker T. Washington? 

Yes.

Naturally.

Though at that time Baldwin described himself as a stranger to San Francisco, he recognized the scene as if staring at a stage design: “This is the street that all Negroes are born on. The street all Negroes have to survive. The Booker T. Washington, the Baptist church, and the mosque. There’s really a great history, a great thing to be summed up in that if one could.” Lyrical as Baldwin’s stage set is, he leaves out at least one crucial historical detail. In fact, few of the black adults on that street were born there. Maybe re-born is the word? While touring the district, Luster explains that “redevelopment” means “removal of Negroes,” a phrase still used to describe “redevelopment” efforts by many black residents in the Lower Fillmore in the early 21st century. Luster relates: “in other words now the Negroes who came because the Japanese were pushed out are now being pushed out themselves.” So it goes. The two get out of the car directly across the street from the Booker T. Washington Hotel, the lounge of which was an important jazz venue in the Lower Fillmore in the years following WWII. Luster asks: “When you look at this street now. . . what comes to your mind about some kind of music or passage of the bible that describes this?” Baldwin responds:

Sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m sure those cats across the street can dance like, you know, like their white counterparts can’t. And the reason they can is because in a way they must. It is. . . it has got to come out somehow. It’s got to come out somehow. You know. And the pressure is great enough that it has to come out in a certain kind of. . .Negroes have great style. . .I think this is true even if it sounds chauvinistic. And white people don’t have much style. And one of the reasons that Negroes have a certain style is because they are aware of the conditions of their lives and they can’t fool themselves about it. You know. And when a Negro laughs or tries to make love or, or eats, or dances, it’s a kind of total action. I don’t mean this in the way white liberals are going to think I mean it I don’t mean that they’re more sensual more primitive or more spontaneous and all this, um, ethnic jazz. I mean that they live on another level of experience that doesn’t allow them as much room for make believe as white people have.

Midway through the comment above, the film cuts to images of a black family dancing on the street. The woman wears a fitted skirt and blouse. The man in dark slacks, white shirt and tie untied under his collar, moves while holding a baby girl in a Sunday-style dress. 

Baldwin is certainly in dangerous water here, and he knows it. He knows he’ll be misunderstood, knows he’s only partially understanding it himself, but he says it anyway. In fact, such working-while-out-on-the-limb is part of the style he’s describing. His points about black style being “a kind of total action” acted out in relation to a “level of experience” that, one, can’t be named according to mainstream American idioms and the assumptions that guide them and, two, that has relatively little “room for make believe” frame much about what we can see but not necessarily easily name in contemporary black aesthetics. It’s a lyrical condition in that it must communicate in ways more directly than conventional conversation and understanding can accomplish. 

It’s just over 50 years and 19 miles across The Bay Bridge and East on 580 from what Baldwin described in the Lower Fillmore to the corner of 90th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland where dancers, Garion Morgan a.k.a. No Noize, Leon Williams, Jr. a.k.a. Man, Tee “BJ” Stevens, and, the film’s central character, Darrell Armstead a.k.a. Dreal, perform on camera.

The quartet of dancers work in a vernacular dance idiom called “turfin,” descendent of black vernacular dance styles that lead back past the age of vaudeville. The film of the dance was shot (with a handheld, Canon 7D digital camera) and produced by Yoram Savion, the multimedia director at an East Oakland teen center called Youth UpRising. With three partners, Savion also runs an independent film company, Yak Films. 

At 3 minutes 57 seconds, the film is short, the plot fairly simple on the surface. A jam session. Ad hoc. A cutting contest. Baldwin’s lens on lyric and style contradicts assumptions (improvisation, all that ethnic jazz) about such plots and their characters and takes us much farther. The film opens with a pair of young men. One, Man, wears black jeans and a black jacket with the hood of a sweatshirt pulled up over his head. The other, No Noize, wears jeans and an orange hooded windbreaker, hood up with a bandana covering his face below his eyes. The two stand on a street corner in the rain as a soundtrack of synth-chimes and a shrill melody float behind the scene. Police pull up. The film cuts. We see No Noize talk to the police with the bandana pulled down to expose his face. Police drive off. The camera cuts and street signs come into focus through a hard rain in front of wind-tossed trees, MacAruthur Blvd and 90th Ave. The camera pans down to the pair standing beneath a bus stop sign. One early comment on YouTube asked if that was Richmond, CA? Someone else wrote back to say, only Oakland has the tree insignia on the street signs. Man finishes a cigarette, flicks it away. The film splices together moments that suggest (via missing intervals) that the 20 something seconds we see stand in for a longer period of time. Waiting. Still, all appears to be happening in what the computer age calls real time and according to basic Newtonian norms of space and place. The two are hanging out though standing in the rain suggests some kind of motive. Maybe that’s what the police thought? Maybe they’re waiting for the bus?

Then a bass and snare rhythm appears beneath the wind and rain of synths and chimes, No Noize makes the sign of a cross and his movements fall from the am-putative real time / space Newtonian norms of the street corner. He appears to hold invisible bars for a second. His feet twirl beneath him making him seem suspended from the unseen supports. His hands let go the invisible support and he steps into a dance space that seconds before looked like an ordinary East Oakland street corner. In two paraph-style pirouettes made of tai chi, figure skating and karate punctuated by hand gestures, say, borrowed from a ref calling a basketball player for traveling spliced into those of a traffic cop nearing the end of his shift on a Friday, in about ten seconds of film time, No Noize refigures the space between the bus stop and the stop light pole. Saddled with an experience “that’s got to come out” and that can’t be articulated in conventional terms, with relatively little room for “make believe” and where “the pressure is great enough,” the physics of diasporic presence emerge from the Newtonian norms. Lyric space. No Noize pauses against the pole and ends his lyric far enough out in traffic that a Cadillac has to arc wide to miss him while making its right turn. Realism. By the time the Cadillac disappears down MacArthur, Man and No Noize are in midst of an interactive routine where they watch each other’s moves while, at times, gripping hold of each other in such ways that it’s impossible to tell if they’re holding each other up or throwing each other down. Or, both. Breaking the supportive/restrictive mutual grip, Man glides out into traffic in a circle that suggests to passers by pausing in their Jeeps and Pontiacs that they’d not only mistaken a dance for a fight or a fight for a dance, but they’d also mistaken a skating rink for an East Oakland intersection. The two come back together, No Noize makes a no-bone-having wave of his arms and a shimmy of his shoulders and the camera moves across the street.

There we find two other young men, BJ and Dreal, on the corner in jeans and short sleeves. The camera frames the pair between a rusted pole holding a Vitamin Water advert at the boundary of the parking lot for Harry’s Drive-In Liquor and Groceries on the left and the stoplight pole on the right. In this frame, at the entrance of the crosswalk, BJ has already begun to dance. In twenty seconds, he continues the lyric refiguring of the space between the poles initiated by the two across the street. BJ’s space is far more abruptly percussive than were those charted by Man and No Noize seconds before. Using snare beats as markers, he dances, at one point—in a way that’s supposed to look accidental—losing a folded sheaf of papers from his pocket, as if he’s got no time for paperwork and an epic of invisible collisions and confrontations to describe in 20 some seconds. Having charted various of the contours of an invisible and brutal labyrinth, BJ freezes on a snare beat cueing the central dancer, Dreal, to step from behind the concrete support for Harry’s Drive-In’s Vitamin Water pole and into the lyric space. As was often the case for the leader of a jazz quartet, Dreal’s solo is twice as long as were the those of the other three. He’s taller, thinner. And, his footwork allows his long angles to float above the am-putative ground where ordinary people bound by laws of friction and gravity enter the crosswalk in real time. Dreal time takes over. He passes left to right and back and forth within the frame while BJ leans against the stoplight pole to watch though his eyes appear to abstract something fixed that the camera can’t deliver. Dreal’s dance is cursive script, at least, almost Arabic in its calligraphic grace and complexity. His style converts the frame between the poles into a space in which physical statements chart a dialectic of constraint (gravity, bone, what’s up, what’s down) and possibility (concrete acts like ice, feet move in an invisible substance erasing friction, bones and joints flex into rubber) that, finally, operates in the guise of a mathematical elegance in which all statements and functions, no matter the complexity, have been solved, broken down, into their most basic terms. Lyric elegance. Lyricizing “another level of experience,” indeed, Dreal’s dialectics of constraint and possibility write a note into the space as if a graffiti mural could be strung between those poles, written on the air in body language. Apparently it can exactly because, as Baldwin said of black style, “in a way. . .  it has to come out.”

In the first half of the film described above, each of the four dancers summons an unique, invisible realm of condition and possibility into lyric statements framed in the film. As Dreal concludes his first solo, Man shows up in the frame followed by No Noize. In the second half of the film, the dancers trade fours taking a few bars of the song to describe a new move. The others’ no longer abstract their attention into their own unseen realms or into passing cars. Now they watch and respond to the soloist and to each other. Man makes his statement, exits the frame slipping through the space between Dreal and the stoplight pole, goes around the back while BJ dances, picks up BJ’s papers off the wet asphalt, and stands next to No Noize who hands him his cell phone and replaces BJ in the frame. No Noize enters the space in a backward summersault but appears to vault himself to his feet by an action of his neck alone. Dreal, Bj, and Man simultaneously agree that something important, unprecedented, and not simply made up has been said. Lyricized pressure. Joy. Dreal enters again as if he’s skipping puddles, hopskotch or landmines, skates his script back and forth through the frame replaced by Man whose few bars of splits and spins call back to James Brown and Prince. The film cuts, the dancers acknowledge the camera in triumph; it ends while we watch the four exchange elaborate handshakes that seem to introduce the realms danced into the frame to the ones in daily life as much as one person to another. We watch as the young men we saw before the dances begin now talk to each other, listen, and punctuate the statements with glimpses from the lyric realm summoned moments before. The men introduce their characters to each other and each other to their characters in a presence dense with each other that—evinced in millions of viewings and thousands of comments—is somehow widely envied around the world. 

We watch Yoram Savion’s film depict the dancers in East Oakland from a vantage point not unlike that from which Baldwin watched the scene outside the Booker T. Washington Hotel in the Lower Fillmore. Extending his point about style to language, in a 1979 opinion piece for The New York Times, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What is?” Baldwin wrote “A language comes into existence by means of a brutal necessity, and the rules of the language are dictated by what the language must convey” (Baldwin Price 651). Of course, diasporic “pressure great enough. . .” is the crux of the brutal necessity; he argues that “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances or in order not to be submerged by a situation that they cannot articulate” (Baldwin Price 648). In “Uses of the Blues,” Baldwin’s depiction of the “passionate detachment” of the lyric pulse in black language by which people “kind of ride with” the texture of their experiences, “commenting on it,” and “accepting it” on a “kind of fantastic tightrope,” does more than describe what Savion depicts in his Turf Feinz film (Baldwin Cross 59). It provides terms through which one can look into the scenes, listen to the moves, look on again and again as the dancers watch each other. And, as with the case in all successful lyrics, one sees and hears the subject address an experience. One also hears, as Baldwin notes in “If Black English. . .,” to the extent one can “afford to,” one’s own experience at the same time.

In the rumor and chaos mill of thousands of Youtube commentaries, one learns a little more about the Turf Feinz film. Some of it’s true, some of it’s not. Rachel Swan’s 2010 piece, “Turf Feinz Go Viral” sets the record straight. Savion and the dancers know each other through association with the Youth UpRising teen center located a few blocks from the location of the film. Savion, a French-born, French-Israeli graduate of U.C.-Berkeley, works at the center. According to Swan’s piece, the film was shot in December, 2009, the day following an auto accident at 90th and MacArthur in which Richard Davis, Darrell “Dreal” Armstead’s brother, was killed. Swan explains: “They wanted to memorialize Davis and sanctify the corner where he died.” 

In so doing, as did Bessie Smith in “Back Water Blues,” , as do all real lyrics, the dancers created a document that not only honored Dreal’s brother and communicated between themselves, but said something to viewers about their own lives. In this case, over 7000 messages have been left on Youtube in over a dozen languages from places as far away as the Ukraine, Mauritius and New Zealand and as near as (and nearer than) Goofster 510 who wrote in “ay, that’s like five minutes from my house.” Among the exclamation marks and notes of all kinds in ALL CAPS, the racial slurs and rebuttals, the rumors (false) that Davis had been shot, that Dreal has been killed, one learns that the song behind the film was produced by Oakland producer Erk the Jerk, it’s titled “Love in Every Move.” That’s true. 

Baldwin’s ideas about the essential role of love in art and life require their own book. The Turf Feinz know, somehow, that sanctifying the location where Dreal’s brother was killed is complex, personal business involving all kinds of things well beyond the personal. Savion’s film over Erk the Jerk’s sound depicts more than articulation of such complexities, it depicts the lyric communication of them. The dancers listen to and see each other, face to face; they do seem to get part of it and enough of it to suggest it makes sense to keep on meeting up, talking and listening. Oh, and dancing. In a radically chimerical, hall-of-mirrors media world, out of which has poured millions of thirsty viewings, that alone suggests something of what’s worth what to human life in an era (as are all eras) of broken gauges and fraudulent markets, of rich people surprised, daily, to find they’ve got nothing in the bank and of others with no bank accounts at all who, because they’re lyrically liquid, make withdrawals and deposits every hour on the hour in a time that’s yet to be named. Till then, let’s call it Dreal standard time.

The Turf Feinz understand plenty about, in part their dances are stylized confrontations with and deft manipulations of, their profiles in the public eye. In an era where the Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin (to name just two) cases in Florida and Oakland has brought hoods, racial profiling, gun laws, and neighborhood watch programs into the public eye once again, I thought it’d be interesting to conclude the essay by turning Baldwin’s notion of changes and constants onto the black president of the nation that’s “not the country” in which Baldwin talked with the men in Take This Hammer. In this case, to comments he made linked directly to a global “neighborhood watch” program called the U.S. war on terror and on the role of Predator Drones therein. 

A Very Short Introduction to Peter Mutharika, Malawi’s new President

After a prolonged dispute, Peter Mutharika was sworn in as Malawi’s fifth president a few days ago. Whatever the ins and outs of the electoral process, nobody is in doubt that Joyce Banda, the darling of the international community, was decisively defeated at the ballot box. To find out more about Malawi’s new president and what we should expect, we asked our very own Jimmy Kainja for his thoughts.

So we hear Malawi has a new President and the voters sent Joyce Banda packing. Were Malawians not impressed by her being listed by Forbes as the 47th most powerful woman in the world 2013?

To be honest, very few Malawians would’ve heard about Joyce Banda’s inclusion on Forbes’ list of most powerful women. And being a country where the rural majority still see their leaders as folks to be worshiped and praised, her inclusion wouldn’t have raised eyebrows. Joyce Banda has lost simply because the glamourous “reformer” Joyce Banda that the international community knew was not the same Joyce Banda Malawians knew. At home Joyce Banda oversaw a government with more corruption scandals than any administration before it. At home she was an arrogant president who toured the country and the world on a daily basis, ignoring her people’s call to cut expenditure. It’s more a case of Banda losing elections than Mutharika winning.

So who’s the new guy? Haven’t we seen him before?

Peter Mutharika is a brother of Malawi’s former president, the late Bingu wa Mutharika who died of heart attack on 5th April 2012. Peter is an academic with 40+ years lecturing in American universities. Under his brother’s presidency, he served as minister of education and minister of foreign affairs. These portfolios brought some serious questions about his competency in terms of running public institutions. While at education, University of Malawi (Chancellor College) was closed for eight months due to various disagreements with unhappy lecturers and students – most notably lecturers’ demands for academic freedom. While at foreign affairs Malawi expelled a British high commissioner to Malawi, which sparked a diplomatic crisis between Britain and Malawi. It took Joyce Banda’s presidency to restore Malawi’s relationship with the UK.

Can you sum up President Peter Mutharika in three words?

Curious.
Resolute.
Inaudible.

We heard he was terrible as foreign minister. Any signs he’ll be any better as president?

He was. Whether he’ll be any better only time will tell. He’s an academic and we can only hope he learned his lessons. The team he chooses to work with will be crucial, even more important will be his willingness to take advice.

How old is he really? Is it possible he’s had years taken off his official age “for good behaviour”?

He’s officially 74 years old. I cannot speculate whether this is his real age or not, that’s hard to prove. There were no birth certificates in 1940 to prove it either way.

What were Mutharika’s key policies during his election campaign?

I think he had the best manifesto of all the 12 candidates. I’m being subjective on this because I believe a lot of problems in Malawi have to do with governance structures. He’s promised to have up to 20 ministers and deputies in his cabinet. This is half of what his three predecessors: Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda used to have. He also promised to reduce presidential powers, which again is another crucial area, power is too centralised in Malawi. We’ll see whether he’ll do it or not. But these stand out for me, the rest will follow.

Are people hopeful he can lead an effective government? What are the main changes you anticipate under a Mutharika government?

Mind you, 64% of Malawians did not vote for him, so he has a lot of people to convince. He can’t take his victory for granted. He doesn’t come across as a podium kind of a politician, as his brother, Joyce Banda and Bakili Muluzi all were. So he may spend some time in the office and work. He has hinted that he’s interested in building new friendships with the BRICS, alongside Malawi’s traditional donors. This is a give away that he’s not sure of the western support yet. So foreign policy will definitely take a different direction – an interesting one to watch.

What does his election mean for the University of Malawi? We remember Mutharika didn’t have the best relations with many academics during his time as Minister of Education?

Again, we are yet to see what happens now. These are some of the issues that pre-elections debates overlooked or deliberately left out. It would have been wonderful to have these answers. Though on education he has promised to introduce community colleges for people to learn trades and enhance their skills within their own communities.

What would an average Malawian say to Peter Mutharika if they met him in the street?

Pre-election surveys by CCJP (a local Catholic NGO) and Afrobarometer separately indicated that most Malawians were most worried about food security, economic stabilisation and national security. So I guess these would be the areas. Curiously, there’s no education and health but these are areas that also need a serious revamp.

What would an average Malawian say to Joyce Banda if they met her in the street?

It depends on their political affiliation but the truth is that Joyce Banda had the goodwill of a majority of Malawians. If the 20th May elections had been held a year ago Joyce Banda could have won, probably with a landslide. But she took people’s goodwill for granted so I guess she would be told something about that disappointment. Joyce Banda’s loss is an own goal.

Jimmy Kainja tweets at @JKainja

The Friendship Between China and Mozambique Will Last Forever Like the Heavens and the Earth

In Maputo, the “Garden for Sculptors” behind the Museu Nacional de Arte on Avenida Ho Chi Minh has become a kind of prison yard for Mozambique’s various Ozymandiases, a semi-public dumping ground where colonial monuments now crumble quietly away. A marble European baroness reclines in thick robes, the grasses growing up around her base. Both of her arms have been lopped off, but her amputated left hand still touches the midriff of a black male slave crouched in a loincloth by her side. Nearby, a decapitated Lady Justice presides over a small patch of weeds and bare earth. No longer public art, but not quite garbage, these are the monuments which were extracted like rotten teeth from the city’s squares and public buildings when Portuguese colonial rule finally ended, but which nobody could quite bring themselves to destroy.

One August afternoon I chanced upon the newest addition to this miserable collection. Facedown in the dirt lies an enormous bronze angel, wings stretched high over its head like some kind of massive avian Academy Award. Walking around it to its jagged base, ripped from wherever it had once been rooted, I found that the figure was completely hollow. Inside there was a small plaque whose Chinese characters I could not read. Intrigued, I went back into the museum, and asked the receptionist there where this gigantic statue had come from and why it had been dumped here. He answered with the air of someone patiently explaining something very obvious to someone very dull. The angel had been erected in 2011 by the Chinese government in front of the new national soccer stadium, to give the place some character and serve as a kind of focal point. But when Mozambican officials saw that the statue had “a Chinese face”, they decided it wouldn’t do to have a Chinese angel in front of their national stadium, tore it down, and trucked it into town to join the rest of Maputo’s unwanted colonial trappings in the Garden for Sculptors.

Mozambique’s new national stadium, Estádio Nacional do Zimpeto, is on the outskirts of Maputo, not far from the Chinese-built international airport. The Chinese have also overseen the construction of the new parliament building and a new “Palace of Justice” in the last few years. The main institutions through which a sense of Mozambican national life is constructed—the laws of the nation, international departures and arrivals, and its most spectacular public moments of heroism—now take place in Chinese-built structures.

China completed its first stadium construction project in Africa in 1970 with the opening of the 15,000-seater Amaan stadium in Zanzibar, Tanzania. That modest structure marked the start of four decades of so-called “stadium diplomacy” by China across Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the South Pacific. Today there are few countries in Africa that don’t have stadiums built by the Chinese government as gifts or with concessionary loans. There was a noticeable acceleration in construction in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Senegal, Mauritania, Mauritius, Kenya, Rwanda, Niger, Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) all got shiny new stadiums. But the real boom has come in the last ten years. Three recent host nations of the African Cup of Nations—Angola, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea—have had all their tournament stadiums built for the purpose by China. All three happen to be nations with significant off-shore oil reserves ruled by autocrats and small elites structured around a ruling family. But countries with more modest natural resources and more democratic structures of government—Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi for example—have also found room for new Chinese-built stadia within the last decade, as part of China’s much-documented program of economic expansion.

The impact of this most concrete form of soft diplomacy is difficult to assess in terms of hard cash. But there’s little doubt about how it’s supposed to work. For relatively small outlays—usually well short of $100 million—China constructs a sterile national arena that can be opened with long speeches and presidents in tailored suits kicking balls for the cameras, in return for sweetened access to natural resources, votes at the United Nations and the marginalization of Taiwan. Domestic politicians point to highly visible new infrastructure as evidence of their success as managers of the national development agenda; China and Chinese businesses gain, at the very least, an entrée into the highest circles of government.

All of this is officially carried out in the name of friendship, of course—there’s one Stade de l’Amitié, in Libreville, Gabon, and another Stade de l’Amitié in Cotonou, Benin. Fortunately, the pious fraternal rhetoric attached to the openings of these stadiums has on occasion been punctured by moments of mutual cultural befuddlement. In 2007, for example, it was gleefully reported that at the opening of the new cricket ground in Grenada in the Caribbean, the Chinese ambassador Qian Hongshan and assorted dignitaries displayed visible discomfort as they sat through the Royal Grenada Police Band’s stately rendition of the national anthem of the Republic of China—a country more commonly known as Taiwan. The bandmaster took the rap. “This unfortunate error breaks my heart,” said the Grenadian Prime Minister.

By 2010, over 50 stadia had been built with Chinese government support across the continent, and despite the always-repeated insistence that another new stadium is “needed” we are now approaching stadium saturation point. If there was a Millennium Development Goal for stadia per capita, Jeffrey Sachs would probably turn up one morning at one of his Millennium Villages and find that the Shanghai Construction Group had knocked up a 55,000-seater next to one of his newly dug wells, christened it Le Stade de la Fraternité, and carted off all the hardwood trees from the forest.

If the “agenda” of stadium diplomacy has been concealed, it hasn’t really been hidden very far from view. Yet all the focus has been on the not-especially-mysterious question of what it is that China expects in exchange for all these stadia, rather than on what this addition to virtually every African capital city means culturally and historically, let alone whether or not they’re actually enjoyable places to watch a soccer match.

It took three separate minibus rides from downtown Maputo to reach Zimpeto. I had arrived from Scotland the previous day and was finding Mozambican Portuguese tough going, but this was match-day, with Mozambique hosting neighbors Tanzania, and it was easy enough to find my way by following the crowds of people in bright red shirts and scarves wrapped around their heads, and the constant parping of vuvuzelas. Inside a vast paved complex ringed with a chain-link fence, a huge grey concrete bowl rose up. When I first saw the new home of Os Mambas, I thought those aliens from District 9 must have finally got their spaceship working and parked it in Maputo. Inside stood a suitably intergalactic prophecy, in Mandarin and Portuguese, written in red letters: “Amizade entre a China e Mozambique irá prevalecer como o céu e a terra.” Translation: the friendship between China and Mozambique will last forever like the heavens and the earth.

Read the whole of this article at Roads and Kingdoms here.

This is an excerpt from Roads and Kingdoms’ “The Far Post” series, in which writers take a look at the world’s game in relation to its social and political concepts. Several Africa is a Country writers have written for the series, including Laurent Dubois (“Afro-Europe at the World Cup” and his magnificent primer for the World Cup), Davy Lane (on Justin Fashanu and on Luis Suarez), Pablo Medina Uribe (on Faustino Asprilla), and Braden Ruddy’s guide to the best places to watch the World Cup around New York. AIAC’s Sean Jacobs also wrote up the incredible history of the Mamelodi Sundowns. Another Africa-related piece was by journalist Idil Abshir, who took a look at the history of Kenyan league football.

An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Chimurenga Chronic.

South African Hip Hop–An Outsider’s Perspective

One evening while channel surfing at home, I stumbled upon what sounded like a rap cypher* on the radio. Quickly, I got up to look for an empty cassette tape nearby. Once I found one (a see-through Sonotech C-60 if memory serves right), hurriedly inserted it into the tape deck, and pressed the record button. That moment marked my introduction to the Sprite Rap Activity Jam on YFM, a show less acknowledged than, say, Le Club for contributing towards the growth of South African hip-hop.

Involved in that specific cypher were Skwatta Kamp and Asylum Trybe, two underground crews which had unsettled beef with one another. The former went on to obtain a major label recording deal, sell thousands of albums, win awards, and tour the African continent before imploding; the latter remained unsigned and wallowed in obscurity. Rap Activity was a platform for emcees in the Gauteng province to showcase their music. Everyone featured at some point – a young Proverb hungry for recognition; an upbeat Skwatta Kamp excited about their first official release Khut en joyn; a lyrically-vicious Pro (formerly Prokid) rapping with the aforementioned Asylum Trybe way before he released his breakout song ‘Soweto.’ Anchored by Paul Mnisi (alias Rudeboy Paul) and Oscar Mdlongwa (alias Oskido), it became–alongside Harambe, another seminal show on the radio station–a chapel for me.

I made mental notes of the regulars–Gorgeous Flash was an interesting one–and the once-off thrillers who’d leave everyone in awe. Up until that point, all I knew about South African hip-hop was limited to POC, Black Noise, and the area called ‘the Cape Flats.’ Cape Town was the mother city of rap, or so went the conventional wisdom whose disparaging echoes can be heard to this day. In retrospect, that narrative was the sanitized version of events. The South African hip-hop story was being packaged as television inserts whose reality felt at odds with not only the people who told them, but with the environment(s) from which the stories being told emanated. The hood served as a meaningless backdrop; no back-stories for the sake of context, and definitely no space to honour those who either came before or came from elsewhere in the country.

What the Rap Activity Jam did for me was offer a means to discover what exists beyond the music; to know that besides Skwatta being one of the biggest groups in South Africa, they are also a couple of homies from the East Rand and Alexandra who would change how hip-hop was perceived in the country. Through radio, and through websites such as Africasgateway and sahiphop.co.za, it was possible to connect to a scene which I was physically removed from. Because YFM was a regional radio station, the only way to access it was through the digital satellite service DSTV’s radio bouquet.

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For me, it became a means to connect with what went on beyond Maseru’s close-knit circles, her preference for the familiar, and her absolute rejection of what mattered the most to me at that time–rap music. YFM was the definition of cool; people in my own hood would rave endlessly about it. The logic was that South African youth needed a voice to reflect them and the changing times. Impassively, we the outsiders embraced every detail of the marketing ploy. We were drunk with youth; fired up with passion; and high on life! To those who had a satellite dish, YFM was the it!

My introduction to the essence of South African hip-hop through this most unconventional of means spoke of the culture’s ability to transcend most barriers. I’d resort to recording shows on VHS tape when there weren’t any cassettes. Beyond the novelty of a youth-oriented radio station and a couple of niche websites (well, africasgateway was clocking huge figures at one point, to be fair), there was a desire to connect with and to understand hip-hop as a whole.

My view of South African hip-hop throughout this whole series of posts is therefore infused with these experiences of an outsider - these unknowns, on-going discoveries, and attempts to capture the culture’s evolution as honestly as possible. * The association is inspired by the circular shape on-lookers adopt as a rapper busts rhyme, oftentimes to the rhythm of a beatbox.

* Photo Credits: Image of Shaheen Ariefdien of Prophets of da City is screen grab from the video “Never Again” (top); Ready D image (Red Bull / Mail & Guardian).

History Class with Cheta: Who is Herbert Macaulay

Too many people have forgotten about the one Naira coin, and the chap on that coin. This is a big disservice to Nigeria. Today’s History Class is going to be about that fellow, the one who has roads named after him in Lagos and Abuja, but who, sadly, is slipping away from our national consciousness. Herbert Heelas Macaulay was born on 14 November 1864 in Lagos. He was the seventh child of his Sierra Leonean parents. His father, Tom Babington Macaulay, was the first principal of CMS Grammar School in Lagos. His mother’s father was Sam Ajayi Crowther.

Back then, Lagos was a segregated town. Europeans stayed in the best parts of town, migrants from Brazil and Sierra Leone stayed elsewhere, natives, elsewhere. Herb attended his father’s school, CMS, then Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He returned to Lagos in 1882 and got a job in the Department of Public Works. In July 1890, he left the Lagos Colony for Plymouth in England, to study Civil Engineering under G. D. Bellamy. He was there for three years. When Macaulay returned to the Lagos Colony in 1893, he was appointed Surveyor of Crown Lands by the colonial government. However, he resigned five years later, because of what he termed “racial discrimination against indigenous civil servants by the European elite”. Following his 1898 resignation from the Department of Works, Herb Macaulay established his own private practice in Lagos. However, Macaulay’s venture was not a success, and faced with financial distress, he defrauded a family dependent, and was caught and sent to prison for two years. This prison stint, effectively barred him from ever running for public office under the colonial administration. Upon his release from prison in 1908, Macaulay became more involved in the political arena, and began contributing a weekly column to the Lagos Daily Times. His articles were often critical of government policy, the liquor trade; the water-rate scheme; taxation; racial segregation; attempts to deny indigenous land ownership; and a free press. In 1915, Macaulay led protests which became known as the water rate riots and also led agitation against colonial plans for land reform. His articles often skirted the edges of sedition, and finally, he crossed the line, giving the government the chance it needed to put him in prison again. This second visit to the jailers (for six months) involved the publication of a rumour concerning a plot to assassinate the exiled Eleko of Lagos. After his release from prison, Macaulay took a somewhat more cautious line, but his writing remained highly critical. In 1921 he went to London with the Eleko of Lagos to act as his translator in the legal appeal of a local land tenure case. Macaulay proclaimed that the British colonial government was eroding the power and authority of the Eleko, who, he said, was recognized by all Nigerians as the rightful king of Lagos. This episode embarrassed the British and established Macaulay as a leading advocate of the rights of traditional leadership in Lagos. A brief synopsis of the Oluwa Affair: the colonial authority had bought a large parcel of land(255 acres) from the Oluwa Family, and underpaid for it. Chief Oluwa sued for better compensation, and following that trip to London, on 14 June 1921, the Privy Council ruled in favour of Chief Oluwa. The Privy Council’s ruling said that communal land-ownership was legally recognized and that due compensation should be paid. The Eleko Affair: Macaulay campaigned for the rights of traditional rulers within the colonial structure, and alleged that the colonists wanted to kill the Eleko. Again, the Privy Council, also on the same trip to London, ruled in favour of Macaulay’s side. These victories hardened political lines. In 1922 a new Nigerian constitution was introduced providing for limited franchise elections in Lagos and Calabar. In 1923, he started the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), which contested the very limited elections of African members of the Legislative Council. The NNDP’s motto was “salus populi suprema lex”, “the safety of the people is the greatest law” and it called for universal compulsory education for Nigerians. NNDP candidates won all the elective seats in the Nigerian legislature between 1923 and 1938. But then in 1938, things changed. The NNDP’s dominance was cut short in 1938 when the Nigerian Youth Movement beat them in the elections for the Lagos Town Council. Following that defeat, Macaulay, who up until the time was not too interested in politics outside of Lagos, adopted a more pan-Nigeria outlook. He saw prospects in Nnamdi Azikiwe’s NCNC’s struggle for independence for all of Nigeria, and by August 1944 had reached an agreement with Zik. Many of his own party members did not want to join forces with the NCNC, but he threatened to resign if they didn’t, so they played ball. By the time Macaulay’s merger with Zik’s NCNC was complete in August 1944, Macaulay was already 80 years old and in failing health. In 1946, Macaulay suffered an acute attack of rheumatism during a tour of Kano, and was brought back to Lagos. Herbert Macaulay died, aged 82, on 7 May 1946. Let us get one thing straight. Herbert Macaulay was no saint. He had an opportunistic streak. He was, in his time, certainly very controversial. Obafemi Awolowo described him as “ultra-radical, intensely nationalistic and virulently anti-white”. Piers Brendon described Macaulay in later life as “an angry old man in a white suit and a white moustache that stuck out like cat’s whiskers”. Fred Lugard, who was in many ways Macaulay’s greatest adversary consistently passed bitter comments about him and called him duplicitous. Macaulay was rumoured to have popped a bottle of champagne when he heard of Lugard’s passing in 1945. Margery Perham, Lugard’s biographer, who visited Macaulay in 1931, described him as “one of the ablest Africans I have met, and at one both dangerous and pathetic”. What is certain is that Herbert Macaulay was no saint. He did what had to be done, when it had to be done, and if needed, in a Machiavellian fashion. Macaulay once wrote a response to claims by the British that they were governing with “the true interests of the natives at heart”. Macaulay wrote: “The dimensions of “the true interests of the natives at heart” are algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the white man’s pocket.”. My thoughts: it is tragic that a lot of young people do not know about Herb Macaulay. He was the kind of leader that Nigeria needs today. Macaulay, like any other human, had his weaknesses. When faced with financial ruin, he moved towards the dark side, but he redeemed himself. He also recognised the value of education, unlike a lot of the excuses for leaders that we have parading around these days. He also showed that he was flexible. For much of his life, Macaulay was concerned with Lagos. But when the moment was right, he became national. Most importantly, the recognised the value of the law, and used it against the colonists to devastating effect.

Adam Sandler’s “Africa” (late night TV talk shows can’t get enough of it)

Just Based on the trailer alone, you could predict that “Blended,” the comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore about two single parents who after a dismal first date, magically end up on vacation at the same African resort, would scrape the bottom of the barrel. And Dylan Valley said as much in a post in December last year. Dylan wrote at the time that the trailer, “… features some tired tropes: smiling singing Africans, generic wildlife, and adventuring in the bush. While the characters exclaim ‘we’re going to Africa!’, the only place they end up going to is Sun City, famously boycotted in South Africa’s bad old days by United Artists Against Apartheid.”

Here, one more time, is the trailer:

The film came out two weeks ago. Most critics, who normally cut Sandler and Barrymore slack, didn’t hold back. Here’s two of the most prominent examples.

Richard Brody in The New Yorker called the film “grotesquely offensive” and “… packaged with such a repellent batch of stereotypes and prejudices.” Brody was talking about the racial and gender stereotypes. Brody also wrote of the other characters, especially Terry Crews, who plays the leader of a singing group which pops up to serenade Sandler and Barrymore’s characters. Crews’ “… eye-rolling and glad-handing, his lubriciously insinuating and exaggeratedly jiving, all seem to be taken straight from a minstrel show.”

Crews, BTW, thinks he was “showing another side of Africa” with his acting in the film; see this interview with BlackTree TV:

Brody especially blamed the filmmakers, director Frank Coraci and the screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera.

We were surprised Brody didn’t also call out the African (mainly South Africa) members of the cast and crew who agreed to work on this nonsense. Some of them are credited as “Tribal Villager,” “African storyteller” and “African barber.”

A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote about the film’s “quasi-zoological depiction of Africans as servile, dancing, drum-playing simpletons.” 

You’d think Sandler would hide after all this. No, he went on television to promote the film and proceeded to tell unfunny jokes about “Africa.” Worse, his hosts David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel didn’t call him on it. But what do we expect. Watch below, first with Letterman.

And here is Sandler on Kimmel talking about “room service in Africa”

(Jon Stewart only played along. He asked Drew Barrymore whether she needed injections for dengue fever to go to “Africa.” He kept up the “going to Africa” line of questioning for much of what followed. Watch here.)

There’s a black hole of these videos on Youtube. Just Google “Adam Sandler” or “Drew Barrymore” and “Blended” “Interview.” It’s all comedy apparently. And as we blogged a while back, the “Africa” joke is a standard among American comedians (there’s occasional smart takes on it, but they generally stink).

It’s like listening to a 4 year old repeatedly make poop jokes.

In the end it was fitting that Good Morning America had a group of kids ask Sandler questions about the film after they saw it:

The World Of Ridiculous Internet Videos: Who is Kwality?

I wasn’t sure of how to react when I opened the Youtube link to Kwality’s “Official Lion King.” video, first uploaded on May 17. What is this, and who is he, I wondered. While waiting for the video to buffer, I read the comments, nine in total at that time. (The video had 87 comments and 6,567 views by 10.30 this morning). “F*ck u dude!!” read the first one. “DAFUQ??!!!!” followed another later down in the comment thread.

Like myself, the people who left comments seemed to be in a predicament, uncertain of how to interpret this … this confusing visual concoction (though what he does reminds of IceJJFish; who later turned out to be part organic internet phenom and the product of some savvy marketing and production). If you can’t bear to watch and need a summary, here goes: an outside establishing shot is intercut with Kwality waking up from his bed to sit on its edge. It’s all very sudden; within the first ten seconds, we’ve heard the words “my lion king, my lion king” uttered repeatedly atop a beat whose direction I’m still trying to figure out. The irksome refrain is amplified by the equally-irritating (mis-)usage of auto-tune. What follows next you’ll have to see yourself.

Where is he from?

I was curious, so I reached out to the internet gods in an attempt to secure an interview with Kwality (he is on Twitter)–to hear, firstly, who he is. Most importantly, it was to acknowledge my own misgivings in judging him (, and to let him tell his story. I’m still waiting for the response. For now, enjoy the video.

* An earlier version of this post is crossposted on the African Hip Hop.

“Miners Shot Down;” a haunting and emotional documentary

When Mzoxolo Magidiwana, a miner from Marikana in South Africa’s Northwest Province, traces his family lineage of miners at Lonmin Mines, he invokes in me memories of how I narrowly escaped becoming a miner, breaking the lineage from my father. I spent my early twenties in Sasolburg, a small coal-mining town in the Northern Free State, where the air is murky, the soil is black and the smell of chemicals hangs in the air. The dust from the coal and the firms coats everything and deposits itself underneath fingernails. From the mine compound, where my father stayed, the Sasolburg town hid behind a mountain of coal and coal processing machinery. The road to the town is squeezed between a mountain of coal and firms that process the coal to make candles, oil, and other things. When the Marikana strike began in 2012 and ultimately culminating into the events of 16 August 2012, my father and other miners in Sasolburg were not merely empathising with the miners there but they were and still are in the same shoes. They drill coal in the depths of the earth to only emerge hours later, unrecognizable from the dust of coal, to earn peanuts. 

Miners Shot Down, the haunting documentary about the Marikana Massacre, has a horrifying stillness in its shots, the melancholic music seeps in and out of the narrative and it is because of these elements that it arrives at the viewer unhurried and sinks in. It shows police stalking the miners, trapping them in with barbed wire, provoking them with teargas and then gunning them down in cold blood.

“One thing was clear, I was dying but I was dying for nothing. I hadn’t even said goodbye to my family,” says Mzoxolo Magidiwana, strike leader at Marikana.

Overlaid over his interview is harrowing footage of him lying on the ground with his face down, on the threshold of death, after being gunned down by police. In the footage, he lifts his head up and stares at the heavily armed police officer that stands before him, not offering a hand to help him or the other men who were also gunned down. Another man in a red t-shirt, with a bloody mouth is violently turned over by police officers searching him. Minutes later his big body, riddled with bullets, wobbles, struggling to sit, life escaping him.

The fusillade from heavily armed police came to a halt when one policeman shouted, “Cease fire. Cease Fire. Cease Fire.” A voice of a policeman could be heard off screen make a callous statement to the miners, “I will shoot you.” When the dust settled, police stood in a line, holding their automatic weapons, taunting the miners lying on the ground and bleeding to death. None of the police officers bothered to call an ambulance, in fact, they did more than not call for it. They ordered the ambulance not to enter until after an hour of the shooting so that their path to being killers is not interfered with. In that hour police hunted other miners who ran up Small Koppie and shot them in cold blood.

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In Miners Shot Down, the narrative that miners were charging towards police with weapons is not only proved to be a piece of fiction but also to be a cover up of a police force that probably received an order from the upper echelons of the justice system days before the events of 16 August 2012 to end the strike in whatever means necessary. Death was a plausible option, illustrated by the booking of four mortuary vans to be on standby on that day.

Rehad Desai, the director, says his sense is that justice had not been done for the miners, as a commission of inquiry into the incident drags on. This is why he made the documentary. “I couldn’t ignore it, it was much too big, much too dramatic and upsetting for me,” he said. “I had to do something for these miners. I just felt that I had to give them a voice. If authority strikes in such a brutal fashion, artists have to pick a side and indicate which side they’re on.”

The documentary chronicles the 6 days before the Marikana Massacre and juxtaposed those 6 days with interviews of the miners, politicians and lawyers and snippets from the Farlam Commission of Inquiry sessions. The 6 days of protests at Marikana were not without deaths and violence. At the core of it all is the refusal by the Lonmin management to negotiate with the rock drillers’ demands of R12,500 per month. The strike was termed by Lonmin director and now South Africa’s Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa (in an email), as a criminal act when no violence had had happened yet.

The documentary is convincing in that there is strong visual evidence to tell the story of the massacre. The footage shot by the police and mine security and other documentary evidence that has emerged during the still ongoing Farlam commission of inquiry tells one narrative. The police intentionally shot 34 miners in cold blood.

The documentary also reveals the turf war between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). During the strike in 2012, NUM fell out of favour with the miners and AMCU became their only hope.

This haunting and emotional documentary is evidence of what unfolded in Marikana, unlike news reports, where one depends on the interpretation of someone else, the viewer watches the harrowing events unfold in front of their very own eyes.

* The film is screening at the Encounters International Documentary Film Festival in Cape Town and Johannesburg (5-15 June 2014). It is also opening tonight in Johannesburg. For a list of further screenings, see here. The image of director Rehad Desai courtesy of Miners Shot Down News.

What’s in the future for Lamu on Kenya’s Coast

Lamu Old Town is an ancient, bustling city of palm trees and artisans and stories, where trades and traditions are passed down from generation to generation largely unchanged. Acting as a trading hub for centuries, the archipelago’s food, architecture, religions, dress, music, and language are indicative of African, Arab, Persian, Indian, Asian and European influences, which together define the Swahili culture of Africa’s east coast.

Culturally and geographically separated from mainland Kenya, Lamu offers a rare window into the past, but is about to be launched into the woes and wonders of modern development. The archipelago is the proposed site of a 32-berth port that is meant to act as a key export corridor in a multi-billion dollar project to bring oil and other resources from East Africa to the world. Referred to as LAPSSET (Lamu Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor), the project includes highways and pipelines across the region, much of which will lead to Lamu. In addition to the port, the archipelago is envisioned to host a large airport, oil pipeline, oil refinery, railway, and resort city.

The government promises that LAPSSET will bring much-needed jobs, services, and infrastructure. “The reality is that we have no good hospitals, we don’t have good schools, and we don’t infrastructure,” says Lamu County Commissioner Stephen Ikua. “When we bring the port, we are going to improve the health care, we are going to improve schools, and we are going to become competitive. Without that, over 75% of my community lives on a dollar a day.”

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But many are worried that the port will degrade this age-old, tight-knit community—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and the archipelago that hosts it, which is home to several endangered species, such as the green turtle and Ader’s duiker, and a healthy fish population, dolphins, elephants, a chatty birdlife, and a delicate corral reef. In order to make room for the deep-water port, the ocean strip between two islands will be dredged, and acres of mangroves will be cut. The community relies heavily on the fishing trade, and residents are concerned about their ability to fish – and their prey’s ability to survive – if they have to compete against massive oil tankers.

Humans living on the archipelago will also face change. According to a feasibility study, the population of Lamu District is expected to jump from 101,000 inhabitants to 1.25 million by 2050. The proposed resort could bolster tourism, but also poses a threat to small family-owned businesses. The majority of the Lamu community has limited education and job skills, and so residents say that while jobs may come to Lamu, others may reap the benefit. (The government has agreed to make scholarships available for young Lamu learners to go to university, but none have yet been offered.) Given that most Lamu residents don’t own title deeds, they are concerned that their homes, farms, and traditional fishing grounds will be taken for the project. Due to the impending port project, the Global Heritage Fund has listed Lamu Old Town as one of twelve sites “on the verge” of irreparable loss and damage.

Of immediate concern is the port administration building. While discussions between partner countries continue and full funding for the project remains illusive, the building is already being constructed just outside of Lamu Old Town, which residents’ point to in explaining their fears about LAPSSET as a whole: Dozens of farmers in the Kililana community just outside of Lamu Old Town have already had their land seized to make way for the building. Despite compensation being promised by the government, not a cent has been given. When Africa Is A Country visited the site in July 2013, all of the construction workers came from outside Lamu County, a fact many Lamu residents bemoan in claiming that they’ll be shut out of future opportunities. Critics contend that an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) was not done before construction began, despite this being required by national law. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has also voiced concern regarding construction commencing before an ESIA was conducted, and without a Heritage Impact Assessment, as requested by the National Museums of Kenya.

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While an ESIA has been conducted for the first three berths of the port (not yet constructed), it was flawed. Water samples were only offered for two out of six boreholes tested, the number of bird and fish species was under-estimated, and the impact on coral reef located directly under the three berths and in the shipping lanes and surrounding archipelago was not considered.

Given Lamu residents’ host of concerns about the project, multiple organizations have grouped together under the banner “Save Lamu” to discuss what the port means for the community, and how to engage with it. Although concerned about the project’s potential impact on the environment and Lamu residents, the group insists they are not anti-port, but simply want greater consultation with and transparency from the national and local government before the project continues. In lieu of information from the government, the community is acting in the dark. The full plan for the port and its surrounds was only unveiled to the Lamu community in July, 2013, months after construction began on the port administration building and decades after LAPSSET was conceptualized.

Save Lamu is fighting back where and how it can. The group attends as many so-called “public consultations” as possible, which are often invite-only and held in inaccessible locations. They have penned a petition calling for the halting of the port until more consultations are held (thousands have signed the petition), filed an as-yet-unheard petition with the Kenyan constitutional court arguing that the government has acted unconstitutionally in the port rollout, and host a Facebook page and community forums that see spirited discussions.

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With access to little information and little means of redress, Save Lamu members spend most of their time doing what Lamu residents have always done: discussing, and building community. Walking the streets with Ernst is a test in patience, as she stops every few meters to greet people, with discussions of the port often arising. Other Save Lamu organizers face an equal onslaught of greeters. Walid Ahmed, a young man who joined Save Lamu through his work with Lamu Youth Alliance and recently—and unsuccessfully—ran for political office, also takes slow, meet-and-greet walks. He brings visitors and journalists to the new port site and meets with affected communities regularly.

Save Lamu is not without critics. Young men especially are hopeful that the project will bring more jobs, and think that Lamu’s slow pace of life needs a shake up in order to launch into the modern world. “There’s no jobs here,” says one, who sits on a wooden post along the Old Town’s main boardwalk, looking for fishing or tourism work. “Of course the port would be a good idea.”

People are discussing, as they’ve always done here. And whether LAPSSET is good or bad for the people of Lamu, and Kenya as a whole, is it up for the community and the country to decide. But If so many of its residents are so ambivalent about the project, shouldn’t that be something that the world listens to?

* The images are by photographer and filmmaker Philippa Ndisi-Hermann.  She is working on a documentary “The Donkey that Carried the Cloud on its Back,” which you can support here. Below is the trailer:

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