Africa is a Country

Yes, we have some #AdviceForYoungJournalists

It’s been a glorious week for journalism, hasn’t it? Those fearless warriors for truth and justice, standing up for the weak, giving voice to the voiceless. I think we can all agree it doesn’t matter which mosque you left, or which helicopter you weren’t in, the main thing for journalists is to get ahead with their careers. In that spirit, here is our contribution to the ongoing #AdviceForYoungJournalists hashtag that got going on Twitter. Speak truth to power? You must be joking.

If you're in USA, home of freedom, don't write anything critical of Israel or your cowardly bosses will fire you. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Make shit up that plays to white people's fears. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Never publish info that make the US government look bad. Write an op-ed denouncing those that do as traitors. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Never question or attempt to independently verify anything the police say. They never lie to reporters. Ever. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Write about Africans as if they're not real people. Never interview an African. Always use a "bridge character." #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Never read or cite a book that wasn't written by a white man. Especially if writing on Africa or the Middle East. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

To become a successful editor, never commission black writers. Especially black women. That white guy can do it. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

If making a documentary or extended report in, say, Uganda, only interview white people. That's very important. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Ride in the second helicopter, but remember being in the one in front. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

If you have a NYT column, never — upon ANY account — do any research. Just reheat what you wrote last week. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

If asked to write obituaries, part of your job is to deride the lives and achievements of dead black scholars. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Go to the mall. Order some mac & cheese. Observe the Macedonian waiter. Your Pulitzer will be along any second. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Report on US wars so that the killing of brown people appears somewhat sad but totally inevitable. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Report on Israel's massacres so that the killing of Palestinians appears somewhat sad but totally inevitable. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

US military bloodshed must be reported ONLY in the passive voice. Thanks to @AndyBarenberg for the reminder #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

The best political stories are the ones that show you got to talk to, or just stand near, a famous politician. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Ask the nice man from the Israeli Defence Force for advice on what to call the things you see before you. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

US politics are best reported on like a horse-race. Ignore the details of why people are screwed either way. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

If in doubt, the topic of your next op-ed should be: Why Iran is the real threat. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

If reviewing, say, Jamaica Kincaid's novel, deride everything except the "encantatory" quality of her prose. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Write a story about white men saving brown women from brown men. Repeat. Your Pulitzer will be along shortly. #AdviceForYoungJournalists

— AFRICA IS A COUNTRY (@AfricasaCountry) February 10, 2015

Image at the top is from Humor Times.

Teca #2: Latin America is a Country’s Suggestions for the Grammys

Did you watch the Grammys? It doesn’t matter for our purposes, anyway, since the “Latin” categories were not shown on the TV broadcast. And, while the “important” awards were held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the “Latin” categories were given out at a “Premier” award ceremony at the Nokia Theatre, also in L.A., a few hours before the main ceremony.

Here are the winners (and here you can see the full list of nominees):

Tangos, by Rubén Blades for Best Latin Pop Album.

Multiviral by Calle 13 for Best Latin Rock Urban or Alternative Album.

Mano A Mano – Tangos A La Manera de Vicente Fernández  by Vicente Fernández for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) (heh).

Más + Corazón Profundo by Carlos Vives for Best Tropical Latin Album.

So, let that sink in. Rubén Blades, one of the forefathers of salsa (and a man who shaped Latin America is a Country’s staff teenage years), won the Latin Pop award for an album in which he reworked 11 of his Salsa classics into Tango songs. Ranchera legend Vicente Fernández won a “Regional Mexican Music” award with an album of his covers of Argentinian and Uruguayan Tango standards.

It’s not like the Grammys are relevant, truly, but in one of the few chances Latin American music gets to be recognized, we get this. Even though we like both those Tango albums, we have a suspicion that maybe there were other worthy, non-cover, pop albums and Mexican works that deserved some acknowledgement last year.

And Calle 13… Again Calle 13? They have won a record-shattering 21 Latin Grammy awards and have won three out of eight Latin Urban/Latin Urban-Rock-Alternative awards that have been given at the Grammys. Some of the other nominees this year wouldn’t have bothered us. Anita Tijoux’s Vengo, was one of our favorite albums from last year. ChocQuibTown’s Behind the Machine is a beautiful pop reinterpretation of Colombian Pacific music that we hold dearly. Jorge Drexler’s Bailar en la cueva might be our favorite work of his. But, no, it had to be Calle 13 once more.

Aren’t you tired of Calle 13 being, apparently, the sole face of contemporary Latin American music in the U.S./Europe? Well we are. Which is why we compiled this brief list of Latin American artists who put out albums last year(ish) which could have been a good choice for the (completely absurd) “Best Latin Rock Urban or Alternative Album” category:

Our “Urban” nominees:

EveryDay Fight EP, Zalama Crew

The rapping crew from Cali, Colombia, has some of the best beats being done right now in Colombian hip-hop, fusing Colombian Afro-Pacific sounds with Colombian Afro-Caribbean cumbia and Afro-Caribbean reggae and dancehall. And with this EP (which is actually from 2013, like ChocQuibTown’s album), you’ll get to dance while listening their heavily socially-conscious lyrics. Listen to the full EP here.

Bidireccional, Pounda Ranks & NoModico

The duo of rappers from Lima, Perú, released this album for free in 2014. They dubbed it an “experimental, independent, free” production. Check it out for yourself.

Contraforma, Aerstame

The rapper from Santiago, Chile, is part of a crew known as Movimiento Original, but it’s the flow of his solo work that has us enamored. This album, from 2013, is maybe the best example of why you should follow him.

El presidente de la champeta, Mr. Black

The big guns over at Africa is a Country have their host of life presidents. Well, we have our own life president too, Mr. Black, the self-proclaimed president of champeta. The Cartagena, Colombia, native is probably the inventor of champeta-pop and has been filling out clubs around his country and abroad with his particular, party-heavy, breed of the Caribbean rhythm.

Our “Rock” nominees:

Conducción, Ases Falsos

We have said it once, and we might say it again. This album, by the Santiago, Chile, band Ases Falsos, might very well be our favorite from last year. With great lyrics, catching hooks, and great flow between songs, this is an album you want to hear from start to finish. Which you can do below.

Eclipse total del corazón, Los Waldners

Los Waldners, from San José, Costa Rica, bring us this bittersweet album which might make you cry, or look outside the window reminiscing about lover, or i might make you want to dance, or all at the same time, why not?

Eclipse Total Del Corazón by Los Waldners

Alkaloides, Alkaloides

The Quito, Ecuador, based group makes its debut with this wonderful sci-fi-inspired, punk influenced, shoegaze record that talks about bacteria, Nintendo 64 and time-travelling girls. What else do you need?

Our “Alternative” nominees:

Ada, Adanowsky

Adán Jodorowsky, the son of multifaceted Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky and Mexican actress Valerie Trumblay, was born in Paris, France. There, he recorded this funky, 80’s poppish album, in which he sings in English about his feminine side. In the press release for the album, it is stated that Adán’s parents thought he would be born as a girl and were planning to call her “Ada.” When their mistake was revealed, they named him “Adán” instead. This is Adanowsky’s attempt to come to terms with Ada. Fun stuff, right?

Otra Era, Javiera Mena

In our humblest of opinions, this is Santiago, Chile’s Javiera Mena’s finest work yet. Full of techno and electronic beats, this indie pop record gets very easily stuck in your head. Dance away:

Historia, Los Actors

Melancholy, romance, dark bass-lines and sadness all around, all the way from Mexico City. Listen (if you have Spotify) to the full album here.

Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them on the comments below, or send them to our twitter or Facebook.

Also, see the rest of Teca here.


Here are our Africa Cup of Nations 2015 Awards

That was AFCON 2015. It was like 1992 all over again. The Ivorians are African champions after a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out, and a Black Stars side led by an outstanding Number 10 named A. Ayew are still waiting for the cup after 32 years. The tournament was a bit of a weird one, like a cantankerous old uncle whose grouching plays on your nerves, but is full of surprises. Here’s our rundown of the best things about AFCON 2015.

Best quote: Boubacar “Copa” Barry, Cote d’Ivoire’s much-maligned veteran goalie (and alleged Tupac lookalike), who saved two penalties and scored the decisive kick, having twice lost AFCON finals on penalties. A triumph that would melt the hardest heart, and then, in his post-match interview, this:

Boubacar Barry after winning AFCON '15: "I am not big in size or talent. But I thought of my mother who loves me" #mA

— Muslim Footballers (@TheAMF) February 8, 2015

Best player: Serge Aurier. The dogged, skilfull Ivorian right-back was awful in his first match, and divine for the rest of the tournament. Apparently he had to shave his beard off in the dressing room after the final (he wasn’t the only victim of enforced hair removal, as we shall see.)

Best fan: Didier Drogba. We’re not sure if this instagram post of the great man watching Copa Barry slot the final penalty is the greatest thing ever posted to instagram, but it’s in the top one.

Instagram Photo

Best coach: Florent Ibengé. Took DRC to the semis and added a touch of class throughout, in a tournament stacked with mediocre foreign coaches. Plus Herve Renard can’t get to win everything. Ibengé’s players obviously loved him.B9Rn3leIQAAPlfV

Personality of the tournament: This award had to be shared. First, there was Gervinho. He started by punching Naby Keita, finished by hiding behind the bench during the shootout. Yes, there were some memes.


And then, of course, there was DRC goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba. We already knew about his famous bum shuffle goal celebration, and got to see it over and over again as DRC kept scoring. This was how he celebrated clinching 3rd place:

The highlight came just before that. As he was facing Equatorial Guinea’s star player, Javier Balboa, Kidiaba, 39, casually pulled off a perfect back-flip. Balboa blazed his effort wide.

Best goal: Mandla Masango for Bafana vs Ghana. This was the best AFCON goal in a long, long time. Shades of James Rodriguez’s famous goal in the World Cup — watch how Masango has just gotten back onto his feet as he strikes the ball. Incredible. Unfortunately for Bafana, this was as good as it got.

Best game: DR Congo 4-2 Congo. There won’t be a better 45 minutes of football than the 2nd half of that one for years. Jude Wanga wrote a memorable post for the LRB about it, here’s a snippet:

When DRC went 2-0 down, less than twenty minutes into the second half, the colourful language broke out. Lingala has seven vowels and 29 consonants, and my family put them all to good use criticising the defence. New and inventive ways of swearing were learned by all. My aunt shouted that there were children present. It had no effect. Then came 25 minutes of pure magic. A dramatic and scarcely believable four-goal comeback saw Congo collapse against their stronger neighbours. I gave up tweeting just before the third goal. When Dieumerci Mbokani sealed the win in the 90th minute, the living room erupted. Six different languages were being spoken at once.

Reports began pouring in of people taking to the streets in DRC. Car horns blared in Kinshasa, roads were packed in Goma. DRC were through to the semi-finals for the first time since 1998, and people were in the mood to celebrate. Ibenge’s name rang out in the streets of Kinshasa, children ran around waving flags, even people carrying the dead home to prepare for the customary period of mourning got caught up in the celebrations.

I spoke to my father on the phone after the match. He told me he had known all along we would win. He is 79 years old, and has lived through two coups and two civil wars. ‘The Congolese are a resilient people,’ he said. ‘Look at our history. Look all we have been through. We are never beaten. We will never be beaten. We will always go forward.’

Best tweet: This was a tie as well:

Herve Renard. Post-colonial African hero with a job for life somewhere in Africa. He’s like a World Bank employee. Uh oh. #AFCON2015

— Miriti Murungi (@NutmegRadio) February 8, 2015

My people may not have access to good schools or clean water, but look at the amazing stadium I built for #AFCON2015!

— President Obiang (@PresidentObiang) February 8, 2015

Baldest studio analyst: Sammy Kuffour. He bet that his Black Stars would win. They didn’t. He was shaved live on SuperSport. First by Robert Marawa, and then by a specially appointed Nigerian barber. We couldn’t find a vine of it, probably because of Eskom.Kuffour-shave

Best hair: The one and only Yannick Bolasie. He was fantastic throughout, a wonderful addition to AFCON, and another good reason to celebrate CAF’s inspired decision to invite fans to present man-of-the-match awards to the players. This resulted in some truly epic player-fan encounters:B7p4l1GIEAMk3hn



Rogue’s Gallery: The medal ceremony: Issa Hayatou, Teodoro Obiang, Sepp Blatter.That’s a lot of autocrats for just one stage. Life presidents of FIFA, CAF & Equatorial Guinea. In power longer than these players have been alive. As usual, the beautiful game had to triumph in spite of those in charge.B9XOCo-IcAE-Hzm

Abderrahmane Sissako’s film Timbuktu complicates the Jihadist narrative

Timbuktu, a new film from acclaimed Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako has won a string of international awards, is nominated for a foreign-language Oscar, and is a firm favorite to take the best film award at FESPACO. We decided to publish a few reviews of this momentous film.

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu begins with a scene of a truck of armed jihadists chasing a gazelle. One screams to the other, “Don’t kill it. Tire it out.”  It’s a fitting metaphor for the occupation of northern Mali. For, it represents the gradual, often confounding, regulations and punishments that jihadists enforced in the name of shari’a. It also represents the physical, economic, and emotional exhaustion that so many Timbuktians experienced under the occupation.

Timbuktu, which opened in the United States on January 28, centers on a Tuareg family living in a tent on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Both honor and fatigue make the family reluctant to flee with their family and friends. This leaves them worried and lonely. It also makes them vulnerable to the jihadist regime, as well as fellow Timbuktians, who are equally frightened and on edge. But the film also highlights other residents—including locals and jihadists—as they negotiate the demands of the occupation.

Many film critics have lauded Timbuktu as a “visual masterpiece,” praising Sissako’s use of vast landscapes and captivating cityscapes. However, the cinematography accomplishes more than stunning images. Instead, it evokes the loneliness, confusion, desperation and sense of abandonment that so many Timbuktians experienced. Who could they rely upon and trust aside from the few who remained? How were residents to gauge the jihadists’ often conflicting motives?

Others critics have also applauded the film’s supposed comedic and satirical script. Such praise is somewhat misleading in my opinion. Timbuktu does not portray the jihadists—at least not all of them—as either purely ideological or bumbling buffoons. Many are depicted as critical thinkers in their own way. Others—(former) lovers of rap music and soccer—are depicted as youths who are way over their heads. Contrary to certain criticism following the Charlie Hebdo attack, however, this is not to suggest that Sissako is an apologist for extremism. Far from it. Instead, he depicts the jihadists as real, not as a caricature.


Sissako also demonstrates local resistance to shari’a. He includes a scene of a fishmonger critiquing new regulations that force her to wear gloves. And he includes another of lower-level jihadists searching for singers and guitar players. Some viewers and critics find these scenes amusing, and perhaps they were partially intended to be. Nonetheless, rules enforcing public veiling and prohibiting music were far from amusing to the Timbuktians with whom I worked in 2013. And as Sissako accurately illustrates, the jihadists brutally countered these local expressions of resistance.

Timbuktu is not a documentary… which is not to suggest that it should be. The film excellently depicts many of the hardships that Timbuktians encountered under the occupation. It also excellently depicts the numerous creative ways in which locals—particularly women—subtly and not so subtly rejected shari’a. But viewers should remember that Timbuktu is very much in medias res. Aside from a scene of a brief conversation with a Tuareg mercenary from Libya, there is little historical or regional context, which is perhaps a means to avoid a more complicated discussion of the role of the MNLA and Tuareg-led independence movements. Furthermore, the occupiers are regularly referred to as “jihadists”. This is surely what they called themselves. And it also facilitates Sissako’s critique of religious extremism. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to consider that most Timbuktians themselves refused to identify the occupiers with Islam. Almost every time I referred to them as “jihadists” or “Islamists”, my friends would (sometimes angrily) correct me, saying, “No, these people know nothing about Islam. This is not Islam. They are terrorists, pure and simple.” Of course, it’s not that simple. But it is important to reflect upon this local perspective while viewing Timbuktian characters on screen critique the occupation.


Many of my Timbuktian friends were disappointed that Timbuktu’s global transformation from “mythical town” to “real place” occurred as a result of terrorism. Similarly, I find it somewhat unfortunate that this is the context for what is more or less the town’s contemporary cinematic debut. Nonetheless, Sissako tells an incredibly accurate story of Timbuktu. Without romanticizing it, we find an urban center that is also equal parts Sahara Desert and Niger River. We find a place of ethnic and linguistic diversity that has historically championed cosmopolitanism and more moderate expressions of religion. What Sissako’s Timbuktu highlights—and perhaps this is the film’s most important lesson—is that, despite inflammatory rhetoric that suggests otherwise, those in the West are not those most affected by terrorism. Those who are regularly forced to confront such violence are in Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia, Libya, not to mention Syria and Iraq… places that rarely make it into the Western press.

#SAHipHop2014: When South African Hip Hop Met The Internet

It’s all my father’s fault!

Sometime towards the end of the nineties, I remember him bringing along a heavy-set, pale-skinned man into our home during a lunch break from work. The man wore one of those green-gray shirts which only come in size XL and above, a pair of shorts, and veldskoens. This look rendered him more a farmer than a technician who’d come to fiddle with our computer.

He asked for the telephone end-point, the one onto which the telephone receiver gets plugged in, and began fiddling with that too. In no time, I’d figured out that either that evening or the next day (it all depended on ‘activation time’), I’d be able to access ohhla, spitkicker, and a small fortune of websites I’d only heard of or read about. The World Wide Web had landed on my desktop at a record-breaking speed of 56kbps and I was going to usher in every bit of it!

Around 2002, I was set in my ways; I’d become an Internet-dependent delinquent prowling night and day for hyperlinks to rap music websites which I’d spot on magazines, see written at the end of television shows, and hear as they were announced radio. It was during these solitary digging missions that I discovered Africasgateway. Almost instantaneously, I fell in love with its forums – a buzzing community of like-minded heads waxing fanatical about rap music from the African continent and beyond.


“I’m from an area of South Africa that is very secluded in many ways,” says Rushay Booysen – community activist, public speaker, connector, and Internet prowler of note. Rushay was an early adopter of Africasgateway and its forums. Speaking over a Skype connection from his house in Port Elizabeth, he shares invaluable information about the website which was founded by Shane Heusdens, a Dutch national who’d migrated to Cape Town from Namibia in 1989.

Rushay was alerted of Africasgateway’s existence by his then-girlfriend who understood just how much he loved hip hop and desired to connect with like-minded heads from all over the world. It’s the same desire which still informs his world view to this day. Through Internet communities, Rushay has connected with heads from all over the world.

“When you looked at the web at that time and you [didn’t] know the specifics and the dynamics of running or hosting a website, it just [looked] like a corporation. It [didn’t] look like it could be one person doing that thing,” says Rushay.

He drafted an e-mail introducing himself and stating his intention to get involved and sent it over to Milk (short for Milkdaddy, Shane’s alias on the website). Milk, whom Rushay had spoken to over the phone a few years earlier, responded by inviting him over to his house in Cape Town. “He had this coloured accent,” he recalls.

“I just took a bus to Cape Town and knocked on the guy’s door,” he adds.

Arriving in Cape Town, Rushay’s perception of how Milkdaddy might look was completely altered. Milk was still living with his wife at that time; she’s the one who opened the door when he knocked.

“You meet this woman with her husband and it’s a white dude, a white Dutch [who] grew up in Namibia. It was just like ‘this is crazy!’” says Rush, relaying the shock of that initial meeting.

Other website at the time

Africasgateway didn’t exist in isolation. There was also Africanhiphop and Hip Hop Headrush (HHH). The latter is the first ever website to exclusively documenting South African Hip Hop and the culture around it. The site was last updated in September 2007.

Africanhiphop, Milkdaddy notes, is what inspired Africasagateway. He’d connected with its founder, an Amsterdam native called Thomas Gesthuizen, through music exchanges.

“He was interested in stuff coming from where I was [Cape Town], so I would send him stuff that I would come across, and he would send me stuff from the Netherlands or from [wherever], you know?”says Milk, who’d begun teaching himself how to code using html while not working his day job.

Milk registered the domain name and started populating the website with local hip hop news and album reviews. In true web 1.0 fashion, the site was static, meaning he had to manually update all sections everytime new content became available. Eventually, he decided to use a Content Management System (CMS), enabling Africasgateway to scale well with increasing traffic. Forum functionality could be enabled within the CMS. “The forums [were] primarily just about local African music, African hip hop. And then it just went massive. I mean, it got so large at one point it was…I had to move servers several times,” says Milk.

A community of users could log in and partake in any of the topics being discussed – anything from general issues, to audio production-related discussions, to rap battles, to epic discussions about the latest rap releases. Initially, users could comment anonymously on the thread, but a username was later required as a means of discouraging trolls.


South Africa-born, UK-based Massdosage of HHH was a Computer Science student at Rhodes University during the mid-nineties. The website was an off-shoot of a prototype he’d built while hosting the Hip Hop Headrush on RMR, Rhodes’ campus radio. He’d publish the show’s tracklisting on the website and, occasionally, put up “a really bad, short [real-time] audio clip” for people to listen to and/or download. This was late 1995.

He completed his studies and moved back home to Johannesburg where he started work at a multimedia company in 1999.

“The account I had at Rhodes was going to get closed. I had to keep paying for it but I was like ‘what’s the point?’ But then I realised I was going to lose the web space,” says Massdosage of the free server space allotted to him while still a student. He decided against letting the website go, aided in part by the potential he saw in the Johannesburg media space. He had contacts who helped him with interviews. “I thought we can make this bigger than just the radio show,” says Massdosage.

After trying and failing to register (the initials of his radio show), he began thinking of alternatives. It turned out that was available so he snapped it up, got a designer with whom he completely overhauled the website, then went live in 1999.

Massdosage would go to events at clubs like 206 to film the likes of DJ Ready D during their performances. Through the website, he was able to host a live chat with Dead Prez during the South African leg of  their Black August tour.

“I’d also get certain artists to give me songs to put on-line, to distribute. But I would always discuss it with them first…it was like promotion for them,” he says. These artists included the P.E.R.M collective (Zee, Strawmoon, Space2wice, Kju52, Tumi, Richard III, McWillie, Neo Shamiyaa, and Diliseng), Skwatta Kamp, and the late Mizchif.

Rushay recalls this period: “[Massdosage] was the one guy running the site, he was updating it. It was very basic, but it allowed us to share. We did an event, we shared photos, we shared the story of the event. It was this sharing platform which was one of the first of its kind in South Africa.”

The status quo

Nowadays, Africasgateway is but a shadow of its former self. It succumbed to the ripple effects of Myspace and Facebook.

“Having sites that had that control—not the control but like, where you could kind of congregate everybody—everything just kind of like went flat. And so that’s when the site just kind of died. And a lot of sites around the world went the same way,” says Milk of the website’s demise. is still being updated, but is more active on twitter. They have archived their once-vibrant forums which helped in facilitating many a cross-continental collaborative projects.

There are more websites and blogs focused on posting South African Hip Hop-related content, from the African Hip Hop Blog’s editorials, to Heavyword’s snapshots of the latest gems. Chekadigital, more a lifestyle blog which sometimes focuses on hip hop, is also doing its bit, as are blogs like Kasi Music Kona, Sistersnrap, and others.

Slikour Metane, solo artist and [former?] member of Skwatta Kamp (and participant to the Africasgateway community) runs a (Jay Z’s) Life + Times-style blog focused on easy-to-digest content. “I am not a blogger, but I love the music, so if I am going to write it with my bad writing skills, know that I did it for the music. I haven’t even scratched the surface as it is a five-year plan,” he told one publication in an interview.

Phiona Okumu was a contributor to Hip Hop Headrush in its heydays. Nowadays, when she’s not travelling the world, she writes about urban African music for The Guardian and is part-owner of Afripop. As one of the earlier purveyors of South African Hip Hop writing, both on-line and in print, does she see a future for the movement on-line?

​“I can’t imagine why ​not,” she responds via e-mail. “​S​outh ​Africa has had no real ​definitive ​Internet place ​for hip hop ​to call home since the days of hiphopheadrush ​or [Africasgateway].”

Phiona points out that it’s not only with hip hop, but “with pretty much all the urban musics.” She recalls the days of the Black Rage Productions-owned, and says it’s strange that “no site has taken up the baton to represent SA urban culture in the way that Rage did.” (Black Rage went under with the 2008 financial crisis).

“​Today, for better or for worse, anyone with a WordPress and the time can set up shop. ​That’s why it blows my mind that there aren’t more kids doing it,” she says after noting that the Internet was a different place during the days of Rage. She also credits artists such as Okmalumkoolkat whose on-line presence has been instrumental in catapulting them to mainstream acclaim.

Journalist Mookho Makhetha expresses another view in her article entitled For the love of music:

As large as the online music blogosphere is, it is still left on the fringes of “normal” life. Most bloggers have day jobs and do not have the resources to invest in exhaustive tales about an artist’s music. Some blogs while engaging and well-written (even better than most journalistic pieces) do not have access to the artists. That music writing is not a worthwhile pursuit, that it is something that one does in their spare time and will often play second fiddle to people’s “real” careers is precisely the problem.

We should be recording this

The comparatively low costs of webhosting coupled with the rise of blogs and social media have democratised the playing field for South African Hip Hop. It’s important to recall a time when this was not so, and to celebrate the prospects and promise of a South African Hip Hop which fully embraces the internet. As it stands, most artists treat these platforms as a stopover, a mere mask to cover up their ultimate desire to congregate at the behest of radio and television so as to feel like their music genuinely matters. Phiona, in closing says:

Many from my generation feel like there was something of a golden era that played out between 2003-2004. I think that now, ten years later, the real dawn of an era is happening where for once, hip hop is being given the same weight as Kwaito was. We should be recording this…

Footnoteboth Milkdaddy and Juma 4 of reference Shamiel Adams (alias Shamiel X, formerly of the DJ collective The Beatbangaz) as having influenced them to start their individual websites. Attempts to get input from him proved unsuccessful.

Digital Archive No. 12 – The African Rock Art Digital Archive

Last summer, I got the chance to visit the Origins Museum on the University of the Witswatersrand campus in Johannesburg.  A major feature of the Museum’s collection is an installation of San rock art.  As the Rock Art Research Institute’s website attests, rock art is a key medium through which to understand our collective pasts (pasts which evade the written word).

Rock art is one of the most evocative of all the pieces of heritage left for us by our ancient ancestors. By looking into its symbolism, we can look into the minds of people who lived thousands of years ago. Rock art can take us back to a time when the world was very different, to the time when Egypt was home to the greatest civilization on earth. At that time people were painting rock art in the centre of the Sahara. But, even then, the rocks were not clean. The painters were covering over rock art that was already some 6000 years old. And, while Pygmy dancers entertained the great Pharaohs, their womenfolk painted the shelters of central Africa with a geometric art that remains amongst the most sophisticated of all the world’s arts. These great traditions, and hundreds of others, remain on the rocks to be discovered by anyone willing to take the time. The following pages introduce you to some of our great painted and engraved treasures, but words and pictures are a poor substitute for a visit to a site to witness the real thing.

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The Rock Art Research Institute (RARI), based at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, aims to not only research Africa’s rock art, but also to publicize, preserve, and conserve these treasures.  And one of the ways that they have worked to achieve these aims is through the South African Rock Art Digital Archive.

Some of the images from RARI are available through the Google Cultural Institute.  But while the Google collection only contains five images, this site contains over 270,000 images of rock art from 30 institutions around the world.  The digitization of the RARI collections began in 2002, thanks to funding from the Ringing Rocks Foundation.  In developing their preservation schema and digitization methods, this organization realized it could use their newfound expertise to preserve other private and institutional collections, including materials owned by the Analysis of Rock Art of Lesotho project, Iziko Museums of Cape Town, Natal Museum, National Museum, University of Cape Town, and the University of South Africa (the specific collections and their digitization dates can be found on this page).  This collaborative venture (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) resulted in the website that you can access today.

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There are multiple ways to navigate the site, which are laid out in these guidelines on how to search the database.  The most straightforward way to explore the archive is through the Browse options.  You can search by subject (ranging from animals to equipment to human figures), traditions (focusing on African hunter-gatherers, farmers, and pastoralists/herders), researchers and institutions, and locations (specifically Southern African public rock art sites–though this project also features rock art from throughout the continent).  For those planning trips to Southern Africa, this site also acts as a hub of information for public rock art sites that you can visit (as well as proper etiquette for interacting with the artifacts).

It is useful to go through each browsing function to explore all of the options available, since the organizational scheme of this site seems to obfuscate as much of its content as it presents.  For example, there are brief essays with each browsing category that are only accessible if you click through each section.  Take, for example, this introductory essay on KhoeKhoe Rock Art.  Or this essay on Chewa Rock Art in Malawi and Zambia.  On that same note, this is not just, as the title suggests, a South African Rock Art Digital Archive, but an African Rock Art Digital Archive.  There are artifacts included from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Mali, the Sahara, Kenya, and, of course, South Africa.  But you do have to dig for them.

Find out how you can get involved with SARADA’s efforts here.  You can also follow the Rock Art Research Institute on Facebook.

White History Month 2015 is coming and we want your submissions

Last March was the inaugural White History Month here on Africa is a Country, and without tooting too loudly on our own vuvuzela, it was kind of brilliant. So we’re going to do it again.

We featured stuff like Kathleen Bomani’s Leather from Human Skin in 1880s Philadelphia and pulled together a wide range of material, from Britain’s mass torture regime in 1950s Kenya to that time the South African government sent a delegation to the USA to find out how “reservations” worked. Check the whole series here.

White History Month should be a resource for all kinds of people, not just those as confused by history as the likes of Michael Elion. In November, Elion thought it was cool to exploit Nelson Mandela’s struggle against white supremacy, by making a repulsive advertisement for Ray-Bans in Cape Town. That’s him pictured above, after his PR campaign had been converted into something more resembling a piece of art, thanks to some beautiful graffiti by Tokolos Stencil Collective.

Ignorance of White History is real, people, and it leads to all kinds of BS.

This year, we’re inviting Africa is a Country readers (you too, Elion) to contribute to White History Month 2015. Get in touch using editorial [at] africasacountry [dot] com and let us know what you want to write about. Take a look at what was featured last year to get an idea of what we’re looking for.

The inspiration for White History Month comes from a 2007 column in the Nation by Gary Younge.

Here’s what he wrote back then:

… So much of Black History Month takes place in the passive voice. Leaders “get assassinated,” patrons “are refused” service, women “are ejected” from public transport. So the objects of racism are many but the subjects few. In removing the instigators, the historians remove the agency and, in the final reckoning, the historical responsibility … There is no month when we get to talk about [James] Blake [the white busdriver challenged by Rosa Parks]; no opportunity to learn the fates of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, who murdered Emmett Till; no time set aside to keep track of Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, whose false accusations of rape against the Scottsboro Boys sent five innocent young black men to jail. Wouldn’t everyone–particularly white people–benefit from becoming better acquainted with these histories? What we need, in short, is a White History Month … The very notion of black and white history is both a theoretical nonsense and a practical necessity. There is no scientific or biological basis for race. It is a construct to explain the gruesome reality that racism built. But, logic suggests, you cannot have black history without white history. Of course, the trouble is not that we do not hear enough about white history but that what masquerades as history is more akin to mythology. The contradictions of how a “free world” could be founded on genocide, or how the battle for democracy during the Second World War could coincide with Japanese internment and segregation, for example, are rarely addressed … It would offer white people options and role models and all of us inspiration while relieving the burden on African-Americans to recast the nation’s entire racial history in the shortest month of the year. White people, like black people, need access to a history that is accurate, honest and inclusive. Maybe then it would be easier for them, and the rest of us, to make history that is progressive, antiracist and inclusive.

White History Month 2015 is coming. Someone better tell all those folks who love to whine about how “racist” it is that there isn’t a White History Month.

5 Questions for a Filmmaker–Jim Chuchu

Hyper creative visual artist, filmmaker Jim Chuchu lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was born in 1982 and has lived since.  He is the Creative Director at the NEST- a multidisciplinary art space, and a member of the ten people strong collective. In addition, he is also a singer-songwriter and former member of the group Just a band.

Chuchu, who has directed short films – among them two fashion films and one of African Metropolis Project films – is currently working on his first solo exhibition of images and video works, scheduled for May this year. With the NEST, he is working on the Stories of Our Lives book, to be released in March. The film Stories of Our Lives has been selected to the Panorama-section of Berlinale, and is screening four times between February 8 and 14 (see the schedule here).

1) What is your first film memory?

I remember watching a cartoon in a film theater sometime in the 80s. I can’t remember what it was called, but it involved tails and mice, and I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing. I was too little to sit properly on the folding theater seat, I kept falling through the gap in the back and my mother had to pull me out several times.

2) Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I was an escapist child, who spent a lot of time in the imaginary. Filmmaking seems to me to be the adult version of the games I used to play when I was a child. Bringing my family at the NEST, stories, pictures and sound together to create something immutable. Lately, I’m starting to discover that film has the capacity to dissect and soften those many, unyielding and convoluted castles of privilege and nonsense that one encounters in the universe of Being Black, and Being African, and Being Different. It’s a capacity that I was only dimly aware of until now, and I am relishing the opportunity to explore it.

3) Which film do you wish you had made and why?

Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron; an almost silent film featuring lovers who never speak to each other, mysterious and ambitious, and that deliciously unaffected sleight-of-hand at the end. Breathtaking! When I grow up, I want to make films that are as simple and confident as this.

4) Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.

I’d always been interested in the story of the Zambia Space Program, and the way those guys were and still are ridiculed. That story was, for me, more evidence of how little room there is for contemporary African dreamers, how pervasive the idea that Science does not (and cannot) belong to Africans and how much fantasy and the unknown are derided as being useless and dangerous for and by the continent.

I heard about Frances Bodomo’s Afronauts and waited years (YEARS!) to see it. Because of the way African films work these days, where you’re more likely to see them in Europe than in Africa (sigh), I finally got to see it in Sweden, and it was worth the wait. I haven’t seen anything so spectacular and awe-inspiring, I haven’t seen black bodies move with such grace. My heart was beating fast throughout its 14-minute run-time. This is what film can do; demonstrate the truth of things that are beyond the boundaries we place on black bodies and minds. I met her afterwards and had such a fan-boy moment, rendered absolutely mute!

5) Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.

What has the little voice inside your head been saying lately?

Stop resisting chocolate.

The protest tradition of Maputo’s masked Mapiko dancers

Signs of Mozambique’s booming economy on the one hand and rising inequality on the other can be noticed all over the country. Now even the welfare of those who have fought for the country’s independence has become subordinate to business interests. The “Zona Militar” in the capital Maputo, where demobilized soldiers from both the independence and civil wars live, is threatened to be demolished to make space for high rises for the rich. But the people found a form of expression for their protest–the Mapiko dance–the focus of a new documentary, “The Sounds of Masks,” which is currently filmed and produced. The dance is part of an initiation ritual of the Makonde from northern Mozambique, during which youths are introduced to the world of adulthood–life and death, social and political struggle. According to University of Western Cape Historian Paolo Israel, the dance features “idioms through which Mozambican youth expresses and negotiates its post-socialist modernity.” How that modernity is negotiated in the context of the threats to the Zona Militar is focus of the film. We spoke to the directors, Sara Gouveia and Kofi Zwana about their project:

What is your new film about?

Our film focuses on a group of Makonde people living in the military zone in Maputo. They were given this land as a reward for fighting in both the independence and civil wars. Ironically, they are currently facing eviction by the very same government they fought for to make way for housing and complexes for the rich.

Using their Mapiko dance, which has become a living archive of their history from colonialism to the present day, we look at this current situation against the backdrop of a longer struggle over time. We will blend poetic observation with experimental dance sequences in order to create a dynamic interpretation of Mozambique’s journey and its peoples’ struggles.

How did you come across the subject for your film?

We came across a particular Mapiko dance group called “Massacre de Mueda” when they performed in Cape Town during the Out Of The Box Festival in 2011. They actually got nominated for “best puppet manipulation”, “for showing how masks are ‘originally’ used in an African ritual context.”

We had been filming some of the shows at the festival with a colleague and we were asked to film the group by Paolo Israel, an anthropologist and Professor at the University of the Western Cape, who had organized for the dancers to come to Cape Town. When we saw the show we knew that there was something really beautiful there that should be taken to a broader audience, but we had no idea how. We are not anthropologists so we knew that we needed something more than the dances to turn this into a film that could travel to a general audience. In 2013, Kofi and I decided to take a chance and travel to Maputo as a holiday/work trip (more work than holiday…) to try to understand if there was a story we could explore using film. At this stage we still believed most of the story would take place in the North of Mozambique, which is where the Makonde people are originally from. But while we were in Maputo interviewing various people in the Zona Militar, we found out about the possible evictions and realized that the story we wanted to tell was right there.

We spent 10 days in Maputo with Atanásio, who has become the main character in our film, and in the community in order to identify the people that could help us tell this story. Atanásio was formally considered one of the best Mapiko dancers in the country and is currently heading up the research department of the National Institute of Dance and Song. It is through his eyes that we are introduced to the Zona, the dance and the history of the country. He is a fiery and passionate character who is not afraid to say what is on his mind, so this fearlessness combined with his anthropology and philosophy background ensures us some challenging discussions and thoughts as we follow the eviction process.

How does music and dance help people who will be expelled from the Zona Militar confront the injustice?

Outside of being a form of expression and celebration, the Mapiko dance has long been used by the Makonde as a form of satire. While they tell many stories of the past to remind the younger generations of their history, they often use the dance to comment on what is happening in the present, and so the dance becomes a form of social commentary and expression. One of the key elements of the Mapiko tradition is its ability to unite people and rally them together which is how we believe the dance will help the community during this struggle.

The Zona Militar is an important historical neighbourhood that is about to be completely remodeled. It sits on one of the richest areas in Maputo, Sommerschield, so it’s very likely that the government will evict them sooner rather than later, as the area has potential for investors and businesses. But some of these people have been living here for more than 30 years. They fought for the country’s independence and fought for the government in the civil war. They have raised their children and grandchildren there. To move them to the outskirts of the city is not only disrespectful to the influence they had in the country’s struggles, but it also means that the people will be split up and the traditional ceremonies they still perform in the Zona will get eventually lost, as they won’t have a “base” anymore. I think we will be able to capture these conflicts through their dances. The Makonde people have been sort of outcasts in the Mozambican context, and keeping certain traditions alive is what allows them to keep hold of their identities in a contemporary, cosmopolitan and modernized Maputo. In the last elections, that took place in October, the newly elected President, Filipe Nyusi, became the first Makonde person to ever hold such a position of power, so we are curious to see whether that will make any difference in the fate of the Zona and how people feel about it.

What has been the reaction of the Maputo administration so far to the people’s protest?

Due to 2014 being an election year, the reaction of the administration has been quiet. The evictions were initially set to happen in 2015, but no specific date was given, so we are trying to follow the news to see if something is confirmed or not. We haven’t had a chance to talk to people in the administration yet but this is the plan for our next trip. It’s really important to us that we get both sides of the conflict because obviously nothing is ever as clear cut as it seems. It’s also important to understand from the administration what the community’s options are. We have watched a couple of interviews with the previous Minister of Defense, who argued that this is the best option for the community at this time, as in the future other people could simply evict them without giving them an alternative, leaving them homeless.

One of our characters, Moisés, suggested that even though they wouldn’t be able to keep their houses and gardens, that the government could at least build blocks of flats in the area and offer them to the current residents, so that they can at least carry on living and working in the center of the city. We are curious to see if that will become a possibility. That would be a small victory, but a victory nonetheless, the other options are far worse.

In your view, what do the problems of the people in the film say about the broader struggles Mozambique lives through currently?

Mozambique is going through a lot of changes. Since they have found oil and natural gas in the country there have been a number of foreign investors interested in exploring these opportunities. Though this will help grow their economy we fear that more of these eviction cases will happen throughout the country and the gap between rich and poor will grow even further. So in a sense, this story looks at the present and in a strange way also predicts the future of people living in similar situations. Unfortunately, this is not only happening in Mozambique. Gentrification has been happening in many cities around the globe, so we think this story works as a microcosm that can open up discussion about a much bigger problem.

The film will be released sometime in 2016. Receive updates on the production process on the film’s facebook page. The film is being produced by Lionfish Productions

Football, Disappearances and Disasters in Haiti

  1. Disappearance

Tonton Macoute is the bogeyman of Haitian myth that steals misbehaving children in the dead of night into immortal slavery. That’s why, during the 1960’s, the members of a 25,000-member paramilitary group that carried out President for Life François “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s every vindictive whim, were known as Macoutes. Their official name was the Milice Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (MVSN). They stole away citizens displaying signs of political dissent to torture, dismember, or disappear them. Women were routinely raped by the MVSN to subdue rural protests and tanks of acid were specially prepared for political prisoners.

One of its unfortunate victims just so happened to be one of Haiti’s greatest football heroes. Joseph Edouard “Joe” Gaetjens was born in 1924 straight into the cushioned arms of the (minuscule and prominently white) German-Haitian elite. His lineage can be traced back to a business emissary sent to the island by King Frederick William III of Prussia. This German elite, while remaining an incredibly small percentage, was and still is staunchly in control of much of the country’s financial sector.

Regardless of Gaetjen’s removed genetic history, by all accounts he was an impressive footballer and the upstanding pride and joy of many Haitian fans. His debut came in 1938 for Etoile Haïtienne, a Port-au-Prince side. When he first donned their kit at the age of 14, the Fédération Haïtienne de Football had already survived an explosion at the National Palace, two violent Presidential overthrows, and a brutal occupation by U. S. military forces. Nevertheless, the sport had grown immensely in the country.

Yet, unable to make a living from playing football, Gaetjens accepted a scholarship from the Haitian government to study Accounting at Columbia University in New York, where he played for the Brookhattan Football Club. There, he was noticed by U. S. scouts, eventually securing a spot on the 1950 World Cup’s squad of his new country.

In the tournament, held in Brazil, England was the favorite to win by a long shot. The inventors of football had a stacked lineup and a royally stacked bank account. But thirty-eight minutes in at the game against the United States, Walter Bahr’s shot from 25 yards out was deflected by his teammate Gaetjen’s charging forehead, sending the ball to the left and just passed the reach of England’s keeper.

“Whether Joe’s getting a piece of it was by accident or design I don’t know, but I know he went after it with his head. It’s the mystery goal,” Bahr said years later.

The Three Lions were unable to recuperate and, when the final whistle blew, Belo Horizonte’s Estádio Independência erupted. The unlikely hero was carried off the field on the shoulders of beaming fans, wave upon wave of cheering Brazilians following behind.


After the goal there was instant fame and glory for Gaetjens and an international playing stint for French clubs Racing Club de Paris and Olympique Alès. Then, in 1954, he went back to Port-au-Prince where he settled down with his new wife, opened a small dry cleaning business and resumed his spot on Etoile Haïtienne.

Ten years later, on July 8th, 1964, about a month after Papa Doc’s self-proclamation as “President for Life,” Gaetjens was thrust into the back seat of a MVSN car, with a gun pressed to the back of his head, never to be seen again.

A football star with absolutely no political aspirations seems an unlikely target. But for a dictator that once ordered the ice-packed head of a rebel to be sent to his office for spirit communication, or that all the black dogs in Haiti be exterminated, anyone is fair game.

Gaetjens had the added misfortune of his younger brother’s association with a group of exiles in the neighboring Dominican Republic with aspirations to overthrow Papa Doc. But his death didn’t erase his memory. Ask anyone over the age of 30 in Haiti about football and most will mention the legendary 1950 goal, Gaetjen’s murder, and the injustice committed by the Duvalier regime.

  1. Disaster

“According to witnesses and U.N. investigators, they stormed into a soccer match during halftime, ordered everyone to lie on the ground and began shooting and hacking people to death in broad daylight as several thousand spectators fled for their lives.”

This is an excerpt from a Miami Herald article in 2005 reporting on an August 20th attack in Port-au-Prince. Caught on video, the brazen murders were carried out during a football game that was sponsored by the U. S. Agency for International Development to promote peace in the shantytown of Cité Soleil.

Small-time gang lords run these slums, a legacy of the MVSN. After the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963, the United States reluctantly entered into a soft alliance with Duvalier, providing support of upwards of $15 million per year. The Cuban Revolution and the United States’ Cold War strategy positioned the Caribbean as a bulwark to impede the potential spread of Communism and Duvalier took advantage: “Communism has established centers of infection… No area in the world is as vital to American security as the Caribbean… We need a massive injection of money to reset the country on its feet, and this injection can come only from our great, capable friend and neighbor the United States,” Duvalier said in that same 1963.

Most of these “injections” were placed in the pocket of the dictator himself or his Macoutes. Several accounts point to the high probability that the MVSN were trained by U. S. military forces in the early 1960’s and were outfitted with donations of U. S. weaponry.

And though the regime’s guns may have been American, their repressive strategy was distinctly Haitian. Many of those that made up the MVSN legion were Vodou leaders and wielded cultural clout to terrorize the countryside adorned with flashy clothes and sunglasses, a trademark of the powerful deity Baron Samedi. They killed mercilessly and without provocation, randomly stoning or burning victims alive. Bodies were strung up on the streets as warnings and signs of fidelity to Duvalier.

The reign of the Tonton Macoutes officially ended in 1986 when Papa Doc’s son Jean-Claude Duvalier fled the country. The vestiges of the MVSN came to be known as “attachés” that would work as vigilante government security forces or crooked political organizations. Some attachés ran minor drug cartels in the country; others rooted themselves in Cité Soleil, their younger counterparts responsible for the 2005 football stadium attack.

The brutality and randomness of the stadium massacre is directly handed down from MVSN tactics–an exercise of aleatory violence in a space of Haiti’s most beloved sport. This self-obliteration of core Haitian identity is a keystone of the Cult of Duvalier. Luckner Cambronne, the head of the Macoutes, a man known as the “Vampire of the Caribbean” once said: “a good Duvalierist is prepared to kill his children [for Duvalier] and expects his children to kill their parents for him.”

This totalitarian psychology helps explain why Joe Gaetjens and the targeting of football in its entirety were targeted–they were symbols of a game that represents a certain Haitian individualism and independence from the clutches of the ghosts of the regime.

In 2010, economy and infrastructure severely weakened from decades of abusive leadership, a 7.0 Mw earthquake hit Haiti, laid waste to many of the urban centers, and chalked up a death toll of over 200,000. Included in the devastation was Haiti’s prized Sylvio Cator football stadium, leveled with team members and FHF officials inside.

Out of 50 people present at the stadium when the quake struck, 32 died and 12 were severely injured. National football memorabilia was devastated, “We also lost inventories of national equipment; the federation’s archives were not recovered. Our trophies, the awards we have received throughout the history of the federation, pictures of witnesses of our glorious years were not found in the rubble. It was a complete disaster,” recalls FHF president Yves Jean-Bart. Thousands of displaced Haitians relocated to the dilapidated stadium in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, but were forcibly removed in April of that year as rehabilitation efforts began.



  1. Resistance (or Hope)

But in the middle of those rehabilitation efforts, the whole of international football was witness to Haiti’s determined resilience. Only two months after the disaster and loss of their coach Jean-Yves Labaze, the women’s national under-17 team competed in a qualifying tournament for the World Cup. A team gleaned from the Haitian diaspora together with a few national players was gathered to compete in a men’s World Cup qualifying match in Port-au-Prince in 2011.

Jean-Bart reveals the collective hope embedded deep within Haiti’s football community, “Since 2003 we’ve been going from one catastrophe to the next. Personally, I never imagined that there was so much solidarity in our family, such a passion to get back on track, everyday I see that the courage and the willpower is getting stronger and stronger.”

Edson Tavares, the team’s Brazilian coach, is constantly moved by the thousands of Haitian fans that simply want to be around football, in any way possible. They turn up in droves for warm ups, cool downs, and crowd around the team buses.

After the earthquake, football in Haiti was stripped of what little it had, in a larger metaphor for the country itself, truly revealing the fervor and passion of its essence. Football is married to the Haitian identity, for better or for worse. The violence of the Caribbean nation is played out in the political theater of the pitch along with its joy. The game holds generational memories that not even the cruelest of dictators or disasters can strip away. In the tired tradition of Latin American development, international funds from FIFA and private corporations are being injected into new Haitian stadiums and kits, but the lifeblood of football will always come from the island’s streets. As National Team player James Marcelin said in 2011: “We only have one thing left, and that’s football. You can play and all the world is watching you. The flag can fly everywhere because of football. It’s the one thing that people live for now.”

Campusnotes No. 1–Listening to the Black Messiah

This post, is the first in a new series for Africa Is A Country; Campus Notes. The series adapts research papers by undergraduate students and reformats them for readers of the blog. Many of the AIAC editorial collective are academics; we and are colleagues are fortunate to meet students from around the world whose own research interests are moving the study of Africa in exciting and vital new directions. Please, enjoy this piece – and then submit your own work, or that of your students.

In the liner notes of his newest record – the artist’s first in 14 years – neo soul virtuoso D’Angelo acknowledges the obvious: “Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album.” Among the many reasons for the title’s resonance is that the figure it imagines – a messianic leader for the black community – is such a tantalizing and hopeful notion. With the flames of protest still smoldering across the US, the need for a black messiah feels as urgent as ever. Many have cast D’Angelo for the part, but he’s been loath to assume his own audacious title, explaining that “the title is about all of us.” Perhaps the artist rejects the idea of a singular black savior, who speaks through music – one whose songs provide a profound sense of political and spiritual salvation for listeners. Or maybe he realizes that the position is already taken.

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, an album that elevated the saxophonist to quasi-divine status. In Coltrane’s life and work, we see the burden African-American artists have carried beyond their artistry, particularly in times of social upheaval. For many, Coltrane was, and remains, a prophet of global black power, who musically and metaphorically broke down barriers that had constrained the lives and imaginations of black people around the world. Coltrane’s emergence in the Fifties and Sixties coincided with the growth of anti-colonialist Black Nationalism in Africa and Latin America, the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and demands for equality throughout the world. Given this context, his music revolution could not help but become entwined with the broader social struggle. Although Coltrane never asserted publically that his music was intended as a vehicle to promote political change, his sound was so distinct, such a break from the status quo, so of the moment, that others imputed to his work political and cultural motives that continue to define him. His music served as a kind of auditory Rorschach test for its listeners. What did you hear in those riffs – politics or spirituality? Abrasiveness or empowerment? What was his responsibility as a black artist: to please the ears, soothe the soul, or get feet marching in the streets? To return to the music scene at this incendiary moment in the national debate on race, what if anything is D’Angelo saying about a musician’s role in that conversation?

Coltrane developed his sound in the eye of a musical maelstrom that saw young African American artists defying the rules of standard jazz, even as their contemporaries were challenging societal norms. Coltrane played first with Dizzy Gillespie and then with Miles Davis, before stepping out as a truly independent voice in 1960, when Atlantic Records released Giant Steps, the first recording on which he was the lead musician for the label. The break from bebop that Coltrane initiated with Giant Steps was so revolutionary that other jazz musicians at the time embraced it as the essence of “freedom.” Coltrane kept going. That same year, he recorded the album My Favorite Things, which Atlantic released a year later. The title track reworks the song Julie Andrews sings to her charges in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music;” it is difficult to imagine a song having two more different iterations and faces. In the quartet’s rendition, accented by Coltrane’s relentless soloing, a distinctly white song becomes a composition rich with blues, with pain and joy and abandon. Coltrane’s Favorite Things was a revolution on the stage that reflected and refracted the revolution in the streets.

Not everyone was enamored immediately with Coltrane’s new sound. Nat Hentoff, the historian and jazz critic, initially dismissed the saxophonist in terms that continue to resonate today. Like many other white reviewers, Hentoff called Coltrane’s work ‘angry’ and ‘strident;’ as some white critics heard it, Coltrane’s sound was the abrasive musical complement to the anger of the mass protests. As with a changing politics, many white reviewers had a harder time than their black colleagues and audiences appreciating the way in which Coltrane was pushing back against traditional jazz. Philip Larkin, the English poet and occasional jazz reviewer for The Telegraph, would not abide what he saw as the joyless radicalism of the new. Coltrane, he wrote, played with a “willful and hideous distortion of tone that offered squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.”

Whereas Larkin and other conservatives saw Coltrane’s innovations as a heedless rejection of the musical past, many black critics and audiences saw a vital and resonant thrust in a new direction. Many African Americans contended that the very fact of being white rendered Hentoff, Larkin, and others incapable of comprehending fully Coltrane’s music and how it was inseparable from its political context.

As the music changed, so too did politics. As controversy raged about his sound, Coltrane mostly refrained from linking his music to contemporary events. After four little girls were killed by a bomb in Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, however, Coltrane could no longer hold back. Among a torrent of artistic tributes that followed that event was “Alabama,” a plaintive jazz elegy that Coltrane composed and recorded just two months later. In his cadence and tone, many claimed to hear echoes of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eulogy for the girls. For his part, Coltrane remained coy, saying, “It represents, musically, something that I saw down there translated into music from inside me.”

Coltrane fans grew used to responses like this. When Frank Kofsky, a Marxist historian at California State University at Sacramento and an expert on jazz, asked Coltrane directly whether there was a relationship between his music and Malcolm X’s ideas. Coltrane replied, obliquely, “Well, I think that music, being an expression of the human heart, or of the human being itself, does express just what is happening. I feel it expresses the whole thing – the whole of human experience at the particular time that it is being expressed.” Coltrane never explained his reticence, but the jazz historian Lewis Porter, who wrote a foundational biography of him, told me in an interview that Coltrane was wary of the press and reluctant to appear to be supporting any particular political approach to promoting civil rights. His apprehension stood in contrast to more directly political figures in the jazz world, like Max Roach, the great drummer who put out an album called “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” a collaboration with Oscar Brown, Jr. that included tracks with lyrics explicitly about slavery, the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, and the black freedom struggle.

Yet even though Coltrane was not direct in his approach, by pushing against the constraints of previous generations of music, he was, deliberately or not, encouraging resistance to other forms of control. African American audiences and critics frequently drew parallels between his bold musical works and acts ranging from the fiery speeches of Black Nationalist leaders to nonviolent protests at lunch counters, marches, and bus terminals. For Amiri Baraka, Coltrane was a ‘Black Messiah,’ a Malcolm X of music: “Trane’s constant assaults on the given, the status quo, the Tin Pan Alley of the soul, was what Malcolm attempted in our social life.”

The poets of the Black Arts Movement brought Coltrane into the belly of political debate in both the content and form of their works. In his poem “Extension,” Askia Muhammad Toure figured Coltrane and other jazz musicians, including Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, and Milford Graves, as the sonic complement to Black Power:

Let the Ritual begin:

Sun Ra, Pharoah, Coltrane, Milford tune up your Afro-horns;

let the Song begin, the Wild Song of the Black Heart….

Michael S. Harper’s poem “Dear John, Dear Coltrane,” describes Coltrane as an everyman of black tragedy and longing. Harper contended that whether or not Coltrane claimed to be involved in politics, he was: it was his obligation, his inevitability. “The blues and jazz are the finest extensions of a bedrock of the testamental process,” Harper wrote, words that conferred on Coltrane the mantel of a Black Messiah.

Coltrane was not blind to his political allure. He agreed in 1960 to headline a concert for the Students for Racial Equality chapter at the University of California, for example, and although that event was never held, Coltrane’s willingness to perform signaled a desire to support political causes. Coltrane did play at other overtly political events, including eight concerts to benefit Martin Luther King, Jr. He also wrote several songs inspired by the civil rights leader, most notably “Up ’Gainst the Wall” and “Reverend King.”

In his own writings, however, it is clear that Coltrane envisioned a politics of a different order than that in which King was engaged, a politics that might transcend the social struggles of the mid-century US In the liner notes to A Love Supreme, Coltrane wrote a very intimate admission of his personal failings, and offered the album as a plea for others to join him in a search for “spiritual awakening.” The album resonated in a deeply emotional way, particularly among African Americans. “A Love Supreme is to cultural politics as ‘I Have a Dream’ and ‘Beloved Community’ are to King’s acolytes,” says the poet Elizabeth Alexander. Coltrane’s journey – his quest for wholeness and awakening – was one that many shared. As Frank Kofsky wrote, “Coltrane’s ardent young black followers discovered in his work…the clearest possible expression of the African-American mentality in the second half of the twentieth century.” D’Angelo says the same of his own musical vision when he insists that his startling title “is about all of us.”

John Coltrane died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967. He was 40 years old. His death was easily overlooked in the litany of loss that marked the mid-1960s: Medgar, Malcolm, Martin, so many others. Yet more than a thousand people attended his funeral at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City. As his casket was borne out of the church, Ornette Coleman’s quartet played “Holiday for a Graveyard.“He ascended, and then he was gone, in 1967, as American cities burned,” says Alexander, whose 1990 poem “John Col,” celebrates and mourns Coltrane. “The seer was gone. He was a piece of all the black leadership and hope that was extinguished in the Sixties.”

That illusory sense of hope has continued to evade black Americans, even as symbols of progress abound. Cornel West seemed to be grasping for a piece of that Messianic leadership this past summer when he invoked Coltrane’s legacy in lambasting Barack Obama for failing to live up to the promise African Americans had invested in him. The people were “looking for John Coltrane,” West stated, but instead they got a “brown skinned Kenny G.” Coltrane’s own words belie West’s easy characterization of his individual value; rather, Coltrane seemed to have wanted others to join him, not look to him for salvation. D’Angelo similarly chides West and others, by claiming that the title ‘Messiah’ is best understood as a collective identity, one that does not reside within any one individual, no matter how messianic he might seem. It is collective mantle and a collective burden. Coltrane pushed forward in search of a widespread awakening. If we are all Michael Brown and Eric Garner, then perhaps we might all strive to be John Coltrane, too.

The news from South Africa

Last year we declared March White History Month.

This year it seems South Africa is in a hurry to get there.

Jared Sacks pointed out the logics of the Democratic Alliance’s move to rename Cape Town’s busiest highway, the N1, F.W. de Klerk Boulevard (despite the vociferous protests of the ANC and others).

Eugene de Kock, aka “Prime Evil,” the handmaiden to De Klerk’s duplicity in the treacherous 1980s, will receive parole this year, despite a sentence of two life-terms plus 212 years. But as De Kock himself has noted, he was jailed, rightfully, while others walk free with blood all over their hands.

The point about political elites being free while their henchmen serve time, suffer PTSD, and do the hard work of dealing with the violence they wrought, has been made again and again. The image of forgiving black South Africans, ruined Afrikaner scapegoats, and free-wheeling elites is getting old. How much more privileged reconciliation without justice can South Africa take before the rainbow fades?

Achille Mbembe put it this way recently in a Facebook post: “As long as South Africa does not put in place a set of coherent anti-racist laws, with institutional bodies endowed with robust investigative resources, deracialization will not happen. Racist incidents will not decrease. The cost of being racist has to steeply increase if any progress has to be made on this front. Unfortunately, the ANC seems to have lost the plot. Intellectually and morally bankrupt, it has dropped the ball insofar as racial justice isconcerned. The new elites are happy to sleep in the former master’s bed, as Fanon rightly predicted.”

The bottom line is this: the ANC has made a pact with capital. All bets about when racial justice and equality will be delivered are therefore, sadly, off.

Will Plan Central America be another Plan Colombia?

In an op-ed published by The New York Times, The United States vice-president Joe Biden announced the Government’s new plan to fight violence and poverty in Central America:

“President Obama will request from Congress $1 billion to help Central America’s leaders make the difficult reforms and investments required to address the region’s interlocking security, governance and economic challenges.”

Central America here refers to three Governments: Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Poor and violent countries like Nicaragua, run by left-wing Daniel Ortega, are not included. Neither are Panamá nor Costa Rica, both U.S. allies enjoying a better economic situation.

How will the U.S. dollars be spent? First, “through community-based policing, says Biden. It will “eradicate transnational criminal networks that have turned Central America into a hotbed for drug smuggling, human trafficking and financial crime.”

Biden has the credentials to talk about crime, he says. He crafted the 1994 crime bill to reduce violence in the U.S. during the Clinton presidency. The law funded community policing in the U.S., gave more money to the FBI and the DEA, incentivated the construction of more prisons and created new death penalty offences. It was a bill celebrated for allocating money to fight violence against women, but criticized for ignoring racially discriminatory laws. Is that the model Central America needs?

Biden also wants “good governance” (meaning effective tax collection), “foreign investment” (meaning free trade agreements) and “transparency to ensure that international assistance is spent accountably and effectively.” To exemplify what he understands by “effective” international assistance, Vice-president Biden quotes the very controversial Plan Colombia.

“In 1999, we initiated Plan Colombia to combat drug trafficking, grinding poverty and institutional corruption — combined with a vicious insurgency — that threatened to turn Colombia into a failed state. Fifteen years later, Colombia is a nation transformed. As one of the architects of Plan Colombia in the United States Senate, I saw that the key ingredient was political will on the ground. Colombia benefited from leaders who had the courage to make significant changes regarding security, governance and human rights. Elites agreed to pay higher taxes. The Colombian government cleaned up its courts, vetted its police force and reformed its rules of commerce to open up its economy. The United States invested $9 billion over the course of Plan Colombia, with $700 million the first year. But our figures show that Colombia outspent us four to one.”

Once again, the Vice-president says he has the credentials, he was one of the architects of Plan Colombia. Fifteen years have passed since the Plan was approved and, although Plan Colombia keeps being celebrated in Washington as a ‘success story,’ there is an ugly side of that ‘international assistance.’

Plan Colombia made the country the biggest recipient of U.S. aid outside the Middle East. It is the reason why the deceased Hugo Chávez once called Colombia ‘the Israel of Latin America’.

But, “Colombia’s security gains are partial, possibly reversible, and weighed down by ‘collateral damage’”, as Adam Isacson, director of the Washington Office for Latin America, wrote in 2010. Yes, kidnappings by the different armed groups decreased and the military force doubled its budget. But Human Rights groups estimated that, amid the military violence, around 14,000 non-combatant civilians were killed. “Had that money been invested in education and infrastructure, Colombia today could be alongside Chile and Brazil,” says Isacson, who also recalls that, by 2010, Colombia’s Prosecutor-General was investigating 1,302 cases of extrajudicial killings by the security forces.

Another U.S. aid recipient in Colombia, the intelligence service called DAS (which has since been dismantled and transformed into two different units), has been under scrutiny for illegal surveillance and collusion with paramilitaries, writes Isacson. He is not alone.

José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch in Latin America, has also been one of the international critics of Plan Colombia. Mentioning the alliances between the military and paramilitary groups, Vivanco said that the U.S. didn’t know where the funds to fight the drug-trade guerrillas would end up. In 2000, when Plan Colombia was being discussed at the U.S. Congress, he said:

“Human Rights Watch remains convinced that the most important way that the United States can contribute to improving human rights protections in Colombia is to enforce the strict conditions on all military aid. Enforcement of the conditions contained in Public Law 106-246 would have contributed greatly to improving human rights protection, in my opinion.”

Unfortunately, the money from Plan Colombia ended up in some cases (not all of them investigated), in the hands of paramilitaries. (Here is a story called ‘The Dark side of Plan Colombia’ on how U.S. aid ended up financing agro-industrial projects owned by paramilitaries)

“Amnesty International USA has been calling for a complete cutoff of US military aid to Colombia for over a decade due to the continued collaboration between the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies as well as the failure of the Colombian government to improve human rights conditions,” wrote Amnesty International ten years after Vivanco’s warning.

There are hundreds, thousands, of critiques to Plan Colombia, ranging from extrajudicial executions to poisonous chemicals in indigenous and peasant territories, where the coca plant grows [criminalizing those communities as well]. There are social movements, scholars, conferences and even movies talking about the failures of Plan Colombia. And the conclusion is loud and clear: it is not a success model. It is not a Master Plan.

The critiques have been useless to stop the ‘exportation’ of Plan Colombia. The Mérida Initiative or Plan México is one of those exported models to fight Mexican drug cartels. Some have linked the U.S. financial aid to the disappearances of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa and other disappearances in other regions of Mexico.

“Besides the nearly $3 billion that have come through the Mérida Initiative, there’s also Department of Defense money, and that money is going to train police forces and armed forces, that now we find are directly involved in attacks on the people, and particularly attacks on youth,” said Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy. “The State Department has admitted that in that battalion [accused of killing 22 students in Tlatlaya, Mexico], although we don’t know because they won’t give us the names, there are five individuals that were trained in the United States.”

(Carlsen full interview on min. 37:02)


NACLA (the North American Congress for Latin America) concluded in an essay that “the United States will be using the same anti-drug policies in Central America as it has used in Colombia and Mexico, where results have been murky at best.” The analysis also reminded that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, just as Joe Biden, recommended Plan Colombia for Central America.

The U.S. Congress has to approve Obama and Biden’s Plan for Central America, while the details on how militaristic it will be, or what approach on crime it will have, is still to be determined. It doesn’t seem it will open the needed debate in the U.S., on how the war on drugs has been a failure and the direct cause of many of the problems the Plan tries to address.

If the Plan turns out to be an initiative to replicate Plan Colombia, it will just add to the extensive list of U.S. interventions that began in the Cold War and have brought more violence than peace to Central America. Just as a reminder, historian Greg Grandin explained for The Nation some months ago that the “Kaibiles” (an anti-communist unit in Guatemala, modeled after the United States Green Berets), which committed several massacres in the country when the U.S. financed an authoritarian regime and its death squads there, are now part of the drug cartel ‘Los Zetas’.

“You will find out why the Cold War and the drug war really is just one long war,” he wrote.


Welcome to Teca: Bogotá’s Music

Welcome to Teca, Latin America is a Country’s own jukebox for up-and-coming Latin American music. Every Friday (or so) we’ll bring you some of the newest, most interesting artists from around this huge country continent politically-linguistically defined space of ours.

We’ll try to explore cities’ scenes, some more mainstream than others, as well as look into international connections. We won’t feature Ricky Martin, or Jennifer López, because you have already heard them, so what’s the point? Nor will we feature Shakira, because boy, did she lose us with Laundry Service.

But have no fear, there are amazing musicians coming up from the mountains and the plains, from the coasts and the rivers, from south, north, center, east and west. We’ll try our best to show you your next favorite band. And don’t worry: we’ll make sure to keep you dancing.

To inaugurate this new section, we head over to Bogotá, Colombia, the hometown of our two editors, where the Festival Estéreo Picnic announced the lineup for its sixth edition. Estéreo Picnic has been trying to be Colombia’s response to American summer festivals such as Coachella and Lollapalooza, and een if much smaller in scale, it has been growing in audience.

Though the festival costs money to attend (unlike the larger, older and public Rock al Parque festival), its appeal lies mostly in inviting better known international bands and mixing them with rising local acts.

Yet, the festival has been criticized this year for lining up too many Colombian “unknowns”. So we wanted to highlight their effort to showcase some of the most interesting local music. So here you have them, five Bogotano bands attending the 2015 Estereo Picnic that you should not be afraid to hear.


Planes (Estudios Universales)

Lead by Pablo Escallón, Planes is not so much a revival, but a rethinking of new wave and shoegaze, with a distinctive Bogotano accent and vocals that you either love or hate, no middle ground (we’re fans, of course).



Erick Milmarías, Kike Milmarías and Gregorio Merchán know how to make catchy tunes and they also know how to have fun. Yes, they might be laughing with you, or they might be laughing at you. But it doesn’t really matter for now.


Salt Cathedral

Ok, not all of the band is from Bogotá, and they have been living in Boston and New York City for a while. But their name is a reference to one of the favorite day-trip destinations for Bogotanos: an actual cathedral made from salt in the nearby town of Zipaquirá. And, anyway, you shouldn’t miss their mesmerizing beats with beautiful vocals.



Mitú is named after a Colombian city in the Amazon. And it’s the brainchild of Julián Salazar, the guitar player from the Bogotá-based, Caribbean electro-tropical band Bomba Estéreo, and Franklin Tejedor, the son of “Lámpara”, the legendary percussionist from San Basilio de Palenque (the first ever free black town in the American continent!). But their home is definitely Bogotá. And their sound is a sort of tribal, folkloric electronic music that you have never heard before. Or maybe you have. But Mitú is the kind of electronic music you actually want to listen to again.


Andrés Correa

Andrés Correa made his career selling his music in burnt CDs inside plastic bags after his concerts around Bogotá. Now he has made a name as an author with special attention to lyrics and has become a staple of another festival, FICIB (Festival Internacional de la Canción Itinerante de Bogotá). His musical style often changes from song to song, but his quality remains constant.


They are not in this year’s festival, but do not miss some of Bogotá’s finest: Meridian Brothers.

PS.: If you want to contribute to Teca, send us an email to with your five picks of current musical acts from a Latin American city and a brief description for each.

Follow Latin America is a Country on Twitter and Facebook.

Digital Archive No. 11 – African Hip Hop

This week I thought I’d try something a little different, inspired by some links I came across on Twitter.  Earlier this week, John Edwin Mason tweeted a story from The Guardian featuring five African musical acts to watch in 2015.  Three of the five acts featured in this article were either hip hop acts or heavily influenced by hip hop.  Reading this story made me think about the huge number of artists that are virtually unheard of here in the United States, but enjoy large followings throughout Africa and the diaspora.  Many of these talents are featured on African Hip Hop, the focus of this week’s post.

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 11.57.09 AM

This site first appeared in 1997 under the name Rumba-Kali Home of African Hip Hop (the remains of the original site are available here).  It’s original focus was, and continues to be, on “unifying everybody who’s inspired by hip hop and by the cultures of Africa and of African origins.”  While at different points in time the site was sponsored by organizations like the Madunia Foundation, the Africa Server or This Is Africa, currently the site is independently run by a team of contributors spread throughout both the continent and the diaspora.  These contributors present a range of stories, from posts on recent hip hop releases to music videos to feature stories with more substantial content.  Readers can explore the history of Nigerian hip hop or a critical appraisal of American artists using African nations as backdrops in their videos or hip hop’s role as a political tool in Gabon.  Though the site isn’t updated on a regular basis with stories of this type, there is a lot already available and it’s definitely worth exploring.

In addition to individual blog posts, the site hosts regular columns, including The Hip-Hoppreneur by Cedric Muhammad on the business side of things and Bottom Juice by MissJackee which focuses on new sounds from the continent. also hosts several monthly radio shows, including the newly launched Africa Is Hot and African Hip Hop Radio.  The team producing African Hip Hop Radio consists of presenters from sixteen different countries, providing a broad range of musical selections.  You can listen to the first episode of Africa Is Hot below.

There are also several documentary projects linked to the site, including Hali Halisi: Rap as an Alternative Medium in Tanzania and a series of videos from Nomadic Wax on Global Hip Hop Culture, hosted by Zimbabwe Legit’s Dumi Right.  Finally, in addition to enjoying music and content on the site, a number of mixtapes have been made available for download, including songs from Ghanaian artist Blitz the Ambassador and Gambian-American Say-hu.  Such a wide range of perspectives and so many different styles of hip hop are collected on this site, making it a phenomenal resource for not only learning about African hip hop but also exposing more listeners to these infectious sounds.

This project is entirely independent, so the creators invite any one with information on the development of hip hop in Africa to contribute any materials or stories that they might have.  You can contact the team via this form.  You can also follow African Hip Hop on Twitter ( and Facebook.

As always, feel free to send me suggestions in the comments or via Twitter of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive!  We’ve been getting some good suggestions from readers that will be reviewed soon!


Roger Young’s ‘Keys, Money, Phone’ explores the heart of young whiteness in Cape Town

Something is shifting in South Africa. White privilege is a hot topic, specifically in print and social media, and for good reason. In the past few months, a number of racially motivated assaults on black people in Cape Town’s affluent suburbs have surfaced. This month Nelson Mandela’s former personal assistant Zelda La Grange had a racist twitter meltdown, downplaying the effects of colonialism in South Africa and claiming white people are not welcome in Zuma’s South Africa. An excellent tumblr was started to highlight overt racism on the Facebook pages of the (mostly) white suburbs in Cape Town. White privilege is on the table, and in an unprecedented scale.

So, the award-winning short film Keys, Money, Phone by Roger Young can be seen as a kind of cultural by-product of this racially charged environment. Young has written extensively on white privilege in South Africa, including excellent pieces on that Mandela Rayban sculpure and the absence of memory of slavery in South Africa.

The film follows a young jock named Seb (played by a  young jock named Anton Taylor), stranded after a big night out at Tiger Tiger, the notorious student hangout in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. Passed out drunk, he gets dropped off by his cab driver outside his security complex only to find he has left his keys, money and phone in the taxi, which has driven off.

In an interview with Grolsch’s Canvas site, Young explains that he actually didn’t set out to make a film about white privilege:

“Originally I wanted to just make a fun film about a guy who got locked out. I do a lot of writing about white privilege and I wanted to get away from that. But when I started working with my script editor, Genna Gardini, she totally side-eyed me and I knew I had to just go in. I tried to make it really subtle though.”


In a pink golf shirt with an unsightly vomit stain on the chest, Seb wanders the streets, going back to Tiger Tiger only to get bounced for not having money to enter. He tries in vain to get help or find a place to dos (crash) for the night. Through strained interactions with friends, strangers and his ex-girlfriend, writer/director Young pieces together a portrait of a young man who, while seemingly popular, has no real relationships, no community, and yet no sense of humility. His patronizing interactions with black people are brief (even when they’re the only ones helping him) and they are mostly with service providers: taxi drivers and security guards.

Young manages to make the ingratiating Seb watchable by allowing the viewer to revel in his misfortune. He exercises admirable restraint in trying to get us to like him or to force him to undergo some kind of transformation or redemptive character arc. With each scene we actually like him less and less. This treatment of a protagonist is quite rare in South African cinema, and most films that get funding seem to need some kind of nation building agenda. “The phrase ‘social cohesion’ has been in the Department of Arts and Culture mandate for about 6 years now,” explains Young via email. “The problem is interpretation, if a film shows ‘social cohesion’ then the audience is not forced to think about the work we need to do toward being a socially cohesive society.”


Part of the impetus for Keys, Money, Phone came from a conversation with a black consciousness academic who had told Young that as a white South African, he couldn’t tell the stories of black South Africans. Young agrees, but acknowledges that it’s complicated: “I don’t think white people can tell black stories. But not all stories are purely black or white. Authentic entry points, collaboration, double checking with various experts on cultural issues, these are things we must be vigilant about as filmmakers always, in any endeavor, on any subject. I think some ‘black’ filmmakers would struggle to tell some ‘white’ stories as well, although I do think the results would be illuminating.”

As with the broader discussion around race, this is the kind of frankness and authenticity that is needed in South African cinema if we are to progress at all. Young’s next short is called Boat Girls and will be released soon, followed by a feature film called Love Runs Out. You can watch Keys, Money, Phone via Vimeo on Demand here.

(NOTE: the film will only be available in the USA from 9 Feb, after its regional festival premiere.)

Oualid Khelifi wants to challenge your concepts of African belonging

El Foukr R’Assembly is a collaborative music and film project initiated by Algerian filmmaker Oualid Khelifi. It “looks to foster independent cultural production between North Africa and the rest of the continent, away from state-funding and its sub sequential censorship and demagogy.” Their’s is a bold, political statement of purpose, laden with centuries of historical baggage. The project’s aim is not too far in concept from initiatives such as The Nile Project, but it’s core aim at working independently of state funding gives the mission a bit of a sharp (dare I say punk?) edge. If successful in its aims, El Foukr R’Assembly could challenge dominant concepts of African belonging, race, nation, and cultural diffusion on both sides of the Sahara.

The project’s first edition took place in Djanet, Algeria, between four musicians from different parts of that country. It resulted in a six-track album, and short film documenting the process. Oualid Khelifi is currently in Ghana, trying to raise funds to complete a second collaborative album and short film:

Akwaaba Music founder and Africa is a Country contributor, Benjamin Lebrave, sat down with Oualid to talk about the project and delve deeper into some of the project’s motivations:

Oualid, tell us a bit about the background story for your project in Djanet: how did you and the musicians come together? What sparked the project? What is your respective backgrounds?

Having lived, travelled and worked in various West African countries as an independent multimedia journalist, throughout the years I’ve grown increasingly convinced of the need to foster mobility and exchange between different regions of the continent.

As an Algerian, I’ve brewed a frustration of seeing my co-citizens and other North Africans missing out on incredibly vibrant regions south of the Sahara, as we remain in the Maghreb exclusively locked to the Middle East, Europe and former colonial powers.

In my eyes, a very fruitful synergy could develop, be it economic, cultural or artistic, between North Africa and the rest of the continent. To overcome preconceived erroneous stereotypes, music and short documentary film are accessible tools, which are more likely to carry this rapprochement message without risking alienation of heavily charged political and historic discourses.

I met the musicians through my ordinary social circle in three different parts of Algeria, hence the rhythmic and melodic variety in our ‘Look South’ debut album. To begin with, we became friends. For a few months, I knew they were into music, but had not idea what they were capable of, especially that half of them did not record professionally nor performed on major stages.

Having covered and attended several world music festivals in North and West Africa, I felt a burning urge to make something out of these encounters. I then brought forward to the guys the idea of a film-music ensemble, it made sense to all of us, everybody is into Sub-Saharan music, storytelling and human vibe. The rest just followed.

Why Djanet? What was the creative process like in Djanet?

In early 2014, I went to shoot a short documentary in south Algeria. After production, I decided to take a short break a few hundred kilometres east of where I was in the Sahara, so I headed to Djanet, a province which had for long teased my curiosity.

This ancient crossroads oasis has hosted for over ten centuries nomadic and semi-sedentary communities whose ethnic origins are Berber, Hausa, Peul, Songhai and Arab. Today, they are mostly settled, sharing Tamasheq Touareg as a common language, but still deeply rooted in their varied heritage.

Djanet borders Niger, Libya and is home to communities who still have active extended family links as far as Chad in Central Africa. One could only imagine the human and subsequent musical wealth in that isolated spot of the African Sahara.

What made you want to come to Ghana, and why this Algeria/Ghana collaboration?

In early 2013, I made Abidjan/Ivory Coast a base of my freelance professional life. During summer of the same year, I crossed the border to Ghana with a few friends merely to travel for a couple of weeks. Upon my return to Abidjan, I began flirting with the idea of trying to live in Accra. My instinct and very short experience there told me it would be a place full of visually strong stories on one side, and a city where one could make things happen artistically on the other.

I therefore moved there in June last year and was glad to realize right away that my hunch wasn’t off. The local scene throbs of savvy youngsters rigorously launching projects in photography, multimedia, music, street art and theatre.

Choosing Ghana as the first art-residence destination of El Foukr R’Assembly film-music ensemble followed naturally. Bridging Algeria and Ghana independently isn’t solely a matter of two different regions of Africa, but also a dialogue between Francophone and Anglophone parts of the continent, given that African nations and societies usually remain within their colonial languages’ comfort zones. We want to transcend these handicaps, we may not be able to talk to each other in words, but visuals, sound and music will do it beautifully.

I co-founded Afreekyama Collective with my Tunisian friend and multimedia maker colleague Selim Harbi. The platform now acts as the official production behind El Foukr R’Assembly project. Two years ago, when I drafted the philosophy document for Afreekyama Collective, I wrote: ”we believe that common struggles of the past and mounting dares of the future dictate that divisive notions of two distinct ‘Sub-Saharan’ and ‘North’ Africas are to be transcended, for the sake of cross-border social cohesion, empowerment and exchange

Today, we are coming to Ghana in this spirit.

What were the biggest shocks in Ghana? Both good and bad, within creative and artist circles as well as socially, culturally or economically?

Like everywhere, I’ve had my share of pleasant and slightly less pleasant surprises. Compared to neighbouring Ivory Coast, I was glad to find out that people in the creative scene were more entrepreneurial, punctual and straight to the point.

For instance, I had the chance to attend and cover in photo and video Chale Wote street festival in Jamestown, Accra. Those 3 days filled me with hope and positivity.

On the other hand, the zealous rising of church influence and role in collective spirituality in Ghana is something I find of concern. Mushrooming panels of pseudo prophets and money-making priests are a social threat. Coupled with economic grievances and political ill management, religion could turn into an instrument of hatred, division and violence overnight. We saw it happen in Algeria in the 1990s, we still suffer its dire consequences today. I personally would like to see the African youth everywhere in the continent mount its guards against such dangers.

Music, art, culture and the creative industry are usually the first to suffer from these hits.

Do you have an idea where this collaboration may go? Whether creative or social or other?

El Foukr R’assembly’s vision is to transport through documentary film and visuals bits and pieces of ordinary life. We are more connected by the day across the continent, so we aim to reach out to as many Africans as possible, to get to know each other online through collaborative performances.

After Ghana, we will go elsewhere in the continent and take back visuals and sound to Algeria and North Africa. On an ad-hoc project basis over the medium to long term, the idea is to also invite artists we will have worked with in Ghana and beyond to Algeria to perform and interact with us as well as other artists.

I ask this next question in the days following the Paris massacre. Do you feel your project has a particular social or political role? If so, where and for whom?

Paris incidents are to condemn regardless of ethnicity, religion and political ideology. Similarly, one should stand firmly and in equal measure against Boko Haram massacres in Nigeria, the forgotten conflict in the Central African Republic and the mayhem in Libya – just to name a few — during which lives of journalists, activists and innocent civilians are being taken regularly.

El Foukr R’assembly is an independent Pan-Africanist & multi-disciplinary project, which calls for the empowering of all Africans through creative means. According to me, the only way for us Africans to defend our human dignity and combat the worthy-vs-unworthy victims paradox is to work together within the continent, learn from each other, gradually become a cultural, economic and geopolitical force. The rest would ensue, and it would be a win-win situation for Africans and the rest of the world.

Do you have a message for creatives seeking a purpose in or out of Africa?

Hard to tell, given that there is no one formula. I believe people should follow their natural tendencies and create within their spheres of passion. That said, Africa isn’t a country just to sarcastically cite the anecdotal reductionist tag, so getting out of one’s comfort zone, be it collaborating, trying out new artistic genres, traveling, working or living in another region is monumental for a realistic and true sense of African belonging. The youth today is more pre-disposed than ever to do so, so let’s just do it.

Let’s end on a lighter note… tell us a funny anecdote about your first trip to Ghana.

During my early days in Accra, a taxi driver asked me about my country of origin. When I said Algeria, he replied “ah, North Africa, the land of rich Arabs”. We laughed, then discussed how my part of the continent is of an African Berber ethnic descent, and that celebrating and taking advantage of the continental diversity is what we all ought to do to strive forward beyond divisive post-colonial notions.

Towards the end of the ride, he jokingly teased me: “well, it is just confusing when it comes to colour. I see that your people are different from Lebanese and Middle Eastern Arabs, but you have so much petrol and gas too, so just bathe yourselves into it, you will all become black, and things will be much easier for everybody.”

Some of the music highlights you came across while in Accra?

It was such a pleasure to meet Wanlov and Fokn Bois crew. I love how they venture into film and musicals to get their voices and message further out. Doing it in pidgin, claiming roots and embracing that continental open spirit to funk out projects with like-minded youngsters is a promising trend, which will go far.

I am also very glad to see people like Villy & Xtreme Volumes working to revive the Afrobeats scene. Ghanaians and Nigerians have for long made wicked music together, but to witness it still happening today in modern fusion style is to my eyes constructive and forward-thinking resistance.

I had the chance as well to check out Siaka Diarra and his band swinging between their native Burkina Faso and Ghana, they maintain a traditional sound while incorporating elements of groovy high life. It is promising for Accra to become hopefully one day soon a West African and continental artistic hub.

I shouldn’t forget the electro-house scene. DJs seem to be increasingly connected to what the African diaspora is doing elsewhere in the world. I had listened to some South African mixes in London, and was surprised to see DJ Steolo in Accra spinning them locally.

Many Terence Rangers

This is not an obituary of Terence Ranger; I am not qualified to write it. Nor is this a journal article; there are already a good number and there will be many—and much better. This commentary is just what it professes: a personal reflection on the Terence Ranger who matters to some of us as Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean scholars writing a Zimbabwean story. In that narrative one cannot avoid a posthumous conversation with Ranger the person and Ranger the author, humanist, and teacher.

There is not one but many Terence Rangers. Hence the one I reflect on is only confined to the politics of knowledge production his work participated in, as seen from personal perspectives of a male Zimbabwean scholar. They are neither the only ones, nor the last. The most formative years of my remarks relate to the period of the 1990s-2000s in an important period in the University of Zimbabwe’s History Department, caught between colonial Rhodesian legacies and students’ demands for decolonizing the meaning and practice of History. Of what relevance was a history that was merely a study of the past, with no career benefit outside secondary school teaching or, at most, having to go all the way to PhD and become a university lecturer? Could history be more?

Personal Reflections

I knew T.O. Ranger before I met him. In the 1980s, anyone taking a history class in Zimbabwe’s postwar secondary schools could not avoid him. His book, Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, and Martin and Johnson’s The Struggle for Zimbabwe, were required reading. Granted—the Ordinary Level and Advanced Level History syllabi followed prescribed, catch-all textbooks. However, if you wanted to pass and go to university, to do law, instead of languishing in the “arts subjects” and “end up a teacher in Mudzi or Binga,” you had to read extra. In those days that meant reading Revolt.

I first met Ranger in person as a History honors student at the University of Zimbabwe in 1994 thereabouts. At the time I was a supervisee of the late David Norman Beach. Ranger was good buddies with Ngwabi Bhebe. It was during the time when they were organizing and coordinating the conference that would usher in the publication of two edited volumes, Society in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War, and Soldiers in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War, arguably the most ambitious project to involve actual guerrillas in writing their own history. Regrettably, of course, the ordinary people came to the conversation as the subject matter, not participants in the Harare indaba itself or authors as co-authors. It is part and parcel of the Western methods of producing an elitist national narrative of great men through formal(ized) institutions, disciplines, and academicians that excluded what the educated elites derisively now refer to as “uneducated village pumpkins.”

As honors and masters students of the History Department in the 1990s, we also always wondered about the territorialization of History and who got to research what. Ranger was the colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe professor who was a prolific publisher visiting here and there from Oxford. We found it curious that he focused on the ‘Shona,’ as if the Ndebele, Tshangana, Hlengwe, Venda, Tonga, Nanzva and so on had no history. Ray Roberts was the postcolonial Zimbabwe professor, who does not seem to have published much. Chengetai Zvobgo was the church history go-to, while Ngwabi Bhebe was seized with Ndebele history. It was a very territorialized discourse from which we are yet to recover not only as intellectuals, but also as a country studied on the basis of ethnicity. Ranger participated in this politics of ethnicized territorialization along with his contemporaries. The question for us now: Do we still need that or are we better off reinventing—even decolonializing—the meaning, practices, and ends of history?

Also bothersome was the very modular tradition of teaching history in the History Department. ‘History of Africa to 1800’ this, ‘History of Central Africa’ that, not calibrated to address any important theoretical questions. This empirical approach, I would find as I traveled wider, was a product of the British tradition, exported to us through colonialism, and slavishly upheld after the end of colonialism—at least politically, but never mentally. It was a rigid studying of the past that sterilized it of any relevance to what I was studying, who I am, and who I want to be, not the singular “I” but “I” as the “we” called “the nation.” History was, as given to us, the study of the past. With Beach, the archives were history; the public secret among us students was that he moved around with the National Archives of Zimbabwe catalogue in his famous brown leather duffel bag. From Ranger, the lesson perhaps is: What’s the point of writing a Zimbabwean history that is more relevant to academia than to the ordinary people? To have a larger than life international name, and yet the history one writes doesn’t ask or address tough questions relevant to the people, to Zimbabwe’s needs. Is this a case of mobilizing Zimbabwe as fodder for intellection, to show Zimbabwe’s past and yet not point the way forward?

Ranger’s writing later seemed to veer more to address an Africanist audience enchanted by his concept of invention of tradition rather than what would have been more useful to Zimbabwe. Namely, a usable past that did not end with using pre-colonial histories to galvanize the armed struggle against dictatorship by a white colonial minority, but also that deep past and the struggle for self-liberation as solid platforms for engineering a robustly democratic, economically prosperous, and all-inclusive post-Rhodesian nation. As far as I remember, those discussions took place indeed, but outside the History Department or the “proper” historical narratives Ranger, Beach, and others were writing—in African Languages, Literature, Law, International Relations, Social Anthropology, and Business, and even Economic History, where the most exciting discussions ended up happening.

We could sense the sharp difference between Ranger and Beach profoundly in their interactions during the History Seminar Series—or should I say their lack of interaction and what we as History students sensed as mutual hostility to each other. Upon researching further in the archives, it did not take long to find that the two men were at opposite sides of the struggle for self-liberation. Up until 1994, and despite having read Peasant Consciousness (1985) and later Norma Kriger’s Zimbabwe’s Guerrilla War: Peasant Voices, and not liking both because they fed a narrative of excluding non-Shona voices on the independence struggle, I had assumed that the  dissent between Beach and Ranger was purely intellectual.

To cut a long story—I discovered that Ranger’s sympathies lay with the nationalists, and he did get photographed with his head bedecked with animal-skin regalia and all. He was also subsequently deportated alongside other white liberal scholars like Giovanni Arrighi and John Reed in one of the most politically explosive atmospheres at the University College of Rhodesia (now University of Zimbabwe) in 1963. This was the time of Zhii, the year Ndabaningi Sithole, Robert Mugabe, Enos Nkala, Leopold Takawira, and others split from ZAPU to form ZANU, triggering violence pitting the two parties as much against each other as against the state itself. One year later, in 1964, the entire leadership of these two organizations inside the country were arrested and detained for the next decade. In 1965, the white settlers of Rhodesia announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain and refused to hand over power to Africans. Ranger might have sympathized with the nationalist cause but I am not sure he supported the turn to taking up arms as a self-liberation option. He was comfortable with a non-violent option yes, but when it comes to armed struggle I don’t think Ranger was a Basil Davidson. The most we can credit him for is his sympathies for African independence.

The paths of choices that Ranger and Beach took would, seen from our perspectives as students simply deploying the historical analysis they had taught us, determine the palpable hostilities we observed between them. Ranger would make his way to the University of Manchester and then University of Dar es Salaam, two hives of progressive scholarship at the time. The ‘Manchester School’ and the ‘Dar es Salaam School’ are our link between subaltern studies (India), dependency theory (the Caribbean and South America), and Pan-Africanist studies of Africa. The key figures in Manchester supervised or interacted with students central to these networks. Ranger was a not-insignificant part of that “scholarship informed by political commitment” as Isaacman (2003) nicely puts it. Personally, I think there is an urgent need for the surviving members of that ‘Dar es Salaam School’ and younger African scholars to have a conversation because Tanzania was this intellectual hub at the same time as it was also the gateway of Southern African liberation movements to Cuba, the Soviet Union, China, Korea, and Africa at large. I raise this to say frequenting the Dar circle places Ranger in what was the progressive circle of self-liberation and postcolonial self-determination.

Meanwhile David Norman Beach was employed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (formally the Native Affairs Department) to systematically document and understand ‘the natives’ in order for Ian Smith to perfect the machinery of racist oppression even more. Around 1994, when I was still under Ray Roberts’ supervision, there began a whispering campaign on the subject of racism in the way Roberts and Beach were teaching and supervising students. One of the major problems was why the two of them should continue to supervise students and teach history in the sterilized, ‘study of the past,’ hagiographic way they did as if history was not a usable past. In fact, as a student activist during the turbulent period when the IMF prevailed upon government to privatize the cafeteria, university accommodation, and other key tertiary education support under the Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), Beach took a very dim view of any student participating in demonstrations. “You have a bright future,” he would say. “You will throw it away if you engage in university politics.” Underneath that threat, one could read as a student not only that the university would expel you, but that you might actually be failed by your professor, that historians should not be politically committed to finding solutions to problems bedeviling the society within which they live.

The sterility of History was in sharp contrast to developments in African Languages and Literature. True—there were occasional rumblings of discontent between faculty that felt colonialism was long gone and others who were seen as still living within it. The point of tension was a black intelligentsia returning from abroad to build their country through reclaiming the intellectual direction and space of pedagogy, only to run into what they saw as an intransigent “Rhodesian” cabal in the form of Beach, Roberts, and their allies in the other departments. The late Solomon Mutswairo in particular was never shy of calling out what he saw as racist dogma that refused to permit the admissibility of evidence or sources that best captured and expressed African thought and practices. He did not see why History—better yet “fact”—should only be defined on the basis of documents in the National Archives or Portuguese archives (Beach’s favorite) written after all by biased Europeans. This was also another point of disagreement with Ranger, who placed immense weight on African voices and oral sources. I remember Beach talking down Mutswairo to ‘stick to poetry’ and leave history to historians, when the former was presenting a paper on the ancestral spirit Nehanda’s medium Charwe, whom he stripped to a mere mortal woman “unjustly accused.” Beach had this cruel disregard for African spiritually that was shockingly arrogant sometimes; he would, of course, say it’s the dispassionate (albeit quite Rhodesian) view a historian ought to have to establish and adjudicate the facts. The exact opposite of Ranger, one would say.

Beach’s life was ended too soon by a brain tumor. Ray Roberts, by contrast, had left much earlier, in 1994 if my memory is correct. He had been billed to be my supervisor since my dissertation was focusing on the construction of the Kariba hydro-electric dam. I remember the day he summoned me into his office, to inform me that Beach would take over as my honors thesis supervisor. He was very bitter at what he perceived as a lack of appreciation among the all-black Masters students he had dedicated so much of his time and energy to train, only for them to label him a racist. What could I say as a supervisee? I just stared at him blankly, waiting for a knock on the door to rescue me. Occasionally, after he had left the department, he would pop in to check on his stockpile of the Rhodesian History (later Zimbabwean History) journal that he claimed as his personal property—relics from the Rhodesian era, piled one after another and in boxes in its editor’s office. The reason for his departure was his alleged racism in the treatment of subject matter concerning the struggle for self-liberation. He and Beach never hid their discomfiture and downright hatred of not just ZANU (PF) but the whole project of self-liberation. Why, they were on the other side! No wonder, Ranger might be accused of anything else. Racism? Never!

What still strikes me is how the University of Zimbabwe was left with Roberts and Beach to preside over how the ‘History of Zimbabwe’ syllabus that was supposed to be so crucial to the rebuilding of a memory and self-esteem shattered by colonialism was to be created and taught. Beach in particular, because the field manual of the Rhodesian Army G-Branch, entitled Soldiers Book of Shona Customs issued on January 1, 1975, was modeled on the historical and cultural knowledge gathered by and from the Ministry of Internal Affairs in which Beach was a senior scholarly figure. With Ngwabi Bhebe’s subsequent departure to the newly formed Midlands State University, Beach remained a key figure in the History Department until his death in 1998. Politically, the pendulum had already swung; but in terms of History and how it was taught, nothing changed. The most accomplished scholars were not in History itself but its Archaeology sub-unit, where Gilbert Pwiti was now dean of the faculty of arts and humanities, and Innocent Pikirayi in charge of Archaeology, and History Department Chair. If there is one thing they will reflect on, it is the failure to decolonialize the meaning, practice and ends of History, to re-define it to address our postcolonial needs, rather than getting stuck in with dogma.

We can fault Ranger for the direction post-independent Zimbabwean history took for other things, but I don’t think dispassionate or sterile History is one of those. I witnessed that difference in 2000 when I taught the ‘Aspects of Central African History’ course with him. He was on one of his many visiting professorships from Oxford, and Innocent Pikirayi felt I needed someone to mentor me as a teacher and to inspire me to publish (and those who know Pikirayi and Ranger well will testify to their constant encouragement of students and junior scholars to publish). The sense of commitment to a usable past, to inspire students to not see history as something so dispassionate but in every sense their own story, was obvious from Day 1. I can’t help but contrast it with Beach’s “hands-free,” dispassionate amassing of one oral tradition after another, and stringing them into a dense, unintelligible mass of the sort one finds in A Zimbabwean Past. Where Beach reveled in the mastery of dates and catalogue numbers of specific files where the bones were buried in the national archives, Ranger wanted us to give students a sense that, as he put it, “History Matters.” Teaching with him convinced me—both as a critique and an appreciation of his perspective—that being a historian did not mean digging up graves to disturb the dead resting in peace just for the sake of writing an erudite narrative, but to recover for oneself an identity, history, and personhood lost to me through the erasure or discoloration of the ancestors’ contributions to my current station in life. I wanted to be a historian who critically engaged with the present and future, to marshall history to the service of the present situation, not of elites but ordinary people. In a sense I felt Ranger had lost that touch since Revolt was published.

Even as visiting professor from Oxford, Ranger was always present and loved in the History Department. The joke was always on him that he did not understand the definition of a “valedictory lecture.” He delivered too many of them that we lost count. “Just come any time Terry, and never use the word valedictory,” we would chide him. “You have a particularly bad memory on how many of these valedictories you’ve held.” That was in 2000. Long into the sunset of his life, Ranger was still writing and talking, with his customary touch of personalized narrative that critics say is narcissistic, while others will say represents the inextricability of Ranger the author and Ranger the person. This conflation of writing and persona that is a consequence of being a public intellectual is most profound in his most talked about essay on “Patriotic History,” which he presented in the time we were co-teaching “Aspects.” The lecture theater was packed, the questions kept coming.

Ranger came at a time when the History and Economic History Departments were beginning to enter what Walter Mignolo calls a “decolonial’ state in terms of the faculty. A whole group of us, training or trained abroad and within the department, had now returned to honor our “bonded” contracts. The likes of Sibongile Mhlaba, Josephine Nhongo-Simbanegavi, Nhamo Samasuwo, Godfrey Ncube, James Muzondidya, Munyaradzi Mushonga, Mhoze Chikowero, Tapiwa Zimudzi, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Gerald Mazarire, Government Phiri, Annie Chipembere, Ezra Chitando, Mickias Musiyiwa—the atmosphere was beginning to be exciting. Then the political and economic implosion took over, space for such engagement shrank, and a great dispersal of this immense pool began. It was also a time when we were beginning to be less enthralled by Ranger and become more critical of his discourse. For some of us, the quest for a usable past, and the need to counter patriotic history that monopolized the struggle for self-liberation in the hands of the political elite at the expense of everyone else—including the guerrillas who fought with the ordinary people on the ground—seemed welcome. It was the yardstick with which the contributions of the Zimbabwean Ranger would be measured.


To restate—by the time that Terence Ranger penned his important works on the uses and abuses of history, some of us were already wondering and even asked him, during this valedictory presentation on “Patriotic History,” why he had remained silent all along while Matabeleland was burning? While erstwhile liberation war comrades like Joshua Nkomo and Edgar Tekere, the demobilized war veterans from ZIPRA and ZANLA, and the povo were being sidelined in the narrative and enjoyment of the fruits of the Zimbabwean struggle for self-liberation? Had he not, by his silence and writing on the ‘Shona,’ contributed to the patriotic history he now spoke against? Why did he continue to write about ‘Shona’ peasant consciousness and what ZANU (PF) alone had done in the liberation struggle, even as Joshua Nkomo, his comrades-in-arms, had to flee a country he gave his life to liberate dressed like an old woman? Even when the Willowgate scandal was torching the country and the Leadership Code was being turned into toilet paper? Where was his conscience—in Zimbabwe or in Britain? Whatever he did in private we were not privy to.

In that sense, there seemed to me no way that Ranger could insulate himself from being tied to complicity in doing what Amílcar Cabral had warned fellow revolutionaries against in 1972: “Tell no lies and claim no easy victories.” Then again, Cabral died before he had tasted power; we will never know if he would have ended up the way of others who became president. That also applies to Chris Hani, Steve Biko, or Josiah Tongogara. Yet a conversation warning popular liberation icons against overstaying and becoming stale in power and holding them to account based on the revolutionary values of anti-colonial struggle would have lent more credibility to his critique of patriotic history.

I think the Ranger most relevant to us as Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean scholars got side-tracked. In 1976 he had signaled a brilliant research agenda on “a usable past.” Unbeknownst to him, his struggle comrades-in-arms would cunningly use history to justify monopolizing a struggle that everyone had fought against the Smith regime. In hindsight, perhaps this is the danger Ranger intended to warn us against in Peasant Consciousness (1985). But he came across as seeking to portray the self-liberation struggle as having been fought by one party with support from one ethnic group that contributed without coercion to that party and guerrilla army’s efforts. Ranger thus opened up criticism that then scandalized the struggle for self-liberation as an orgy of violence and patriarchal oppression, which is how Zimbabwean critics have read Norma Kriger’s Zimbabwe’s Guerrilla War: Peasant Voices. A narrative that could have helped Zimbabwe was one that exposed the synergies between bottom-up innovations of the ordinary people against all odds and the guerrillas both in the rear bases and on the from in the fight against Smith, particular in a time when politicians had disgraced themselves and could no longer be trusted. Here I think of Mafuranhunzi Gumbo’s Guerrilla Snuff—a history of the struggle capturing ordinary people’s immense contributions in a genre of ‘popular history’ accessible to them.

Perhaps such a project of usable past might have moved even further to quickly cement in documentary film and other accessible accounts of the struggle that are historically inclusive to counter the monopoly of the struggle by academics, politicians, and one party at the expense of everyone else. In the specific case of ZAPU and ZIPRA, the question, methodologically, is not only whether that project might have been at all possible during Gukurahundi, the counter-insurgency operation that left an estimated 20,000 people (it could be more or less) dead, but also how? Some may be forgiven for reading Ranger’s much belated pivot to Matabeleland as coming from Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor, co-authors of Violence and Memory (2002), whose longue durée sounds seems an attempt to compensate for the many years of scholarly neglect of western Zimbabwe bar the work of Bhebe and Pathisa Nyathi. The risks of making commentary on Matabeleland in a time of counter-insurgency operations was probably personally too much. Perhaps the old Ranger deported for his troubles by the Smith regime in 1963 had gone?

To the present I am not sure whether to read Ranger’s as an Africanist’s history (outsiders writing about Africa and Africans) or a Zimbabwean history. His Invention of Tradition piece, along with his indifference to Matabeleland until it was too late, give me pause. The comparisons withBasil Davidson or George Shepperson intrigue me; I cannot place him in that category. Yet, I don’t think he was one of those that study Africa because they are fascinated by Africa as subject matter, but who are genuinely driven by their conscience to understand Africa from the perspectives of Africans. However, there are those that either draw very close to the ruling elites for one reason or other, or choose to see, hear, or speak no evil. The question in Ranger’s case is when, not if or always, that Ranger chose to be silent or to speak up—and why.

Unlike Roberts and Beach—who stayed in Rhodesia—Ranger can be remembered for being ejected for his activities and sympathies towards nationalism. At the same time he can also be recognized as a victim of post-liberation euphoria, enthralled in the honeymoon to the extent that even when dissenters within the liberation movement began signaling its early signs of derailment, these committed intellectuals exhibited disbelief and downright indifference to those voices. Delirious with triumphal joy at the fall of the racist white regimes in Southern Africa, they declared missão cumprida and looked the other way as their liberation icons turned rogue on their own citizens in pursuit of personal power. We are post-that-generation, so our conscience in criticizing them is quite clear. Perhaps it is because we have the benefit of hindsight, and history has vindicated us, which is probably unfair. The ructions in ZANU (PF) at the moment, as erstwhile comrades turn on each other, vindicates us and shows the dangers of complicity in silence as the attrition from founding principles of the project of self-liberation unfolds. The erosion of values happens very slowly. It is sometimes even beneficial to those that don’t agree with deviation from principle but go along because they are “eating” or because they can come into Zimbabwe and do their research without restriction. It is only when they are affected directly that they raise their voices. At that point they sound like the lousiest hypocrites. One would think the best way to safeguard the gains of a just cause is to raise the level of vigilance against any pervasions to code Orange so that complacency of corruption does not settle in. Ironically, Ranger’s narratives, especially Peasant Consciousness, promoted a version of Zimbabwe whose construction excluded non-Shona. He can’t cry about patriotic history when since Revolt he authored it.

But what would I have expected Ranger to do? Let’s remind ourselves that, like Davidson, Ranger was not some ordinary British expatriate scholar writing Zimbabwean history. He had personal access to these politicians because he was close to many of them. And perhaps that’s a lesson to every one of us as intellectuals: how close can we get to politicians or elites in order to retain a space for critique between our standpoint and theirs? Perhaps he could have been more vocal early on and not left the Department of History to continue as a Ministry of Internal Affairs outpost without the Rhodesian state to report to. It is probably unfair; haven’t we all left? I expected him to say that it is wrong to treat a wartime comrade like a criminal for the purpose of personal political power. Perhaps I expected Ranger to engage the many exiled ZIPRA and ZAPU cadres to join him in documenting their history, seeing as the party and liberation army’s entire archive had been confiscated during Gukurahundi.

Intellectually the biggest problem is that we relied on Ranger so much to write our history that few blacks ever wrote any. Ranger is only a tip of a larger iceberg of Zimbabwe’s dependence on outsiders to tell its stories. How many black Zimbabweans are writing and publishing today? Any biography of Mugabe by a Zimbabwean? How many books do we have on Zimbabwe since independence by Zimbabweans? We have a system in the country where as a citizen I have to move heaven and earth to get archival documents on a self-liberation struggle in which we the people fought on the ground with makomuredhi (the comrades, as guerrillas were called), cooking for them, gathering intelligence for them, and them fighting and suffering with us. By contrast, if non-Zimbabweans from North America or Europe come in and ask, all doors will open. Some have even bragged to us about it; the next thing we see is all these national archives are digitized and subscription fees paid to access them, and the country gets nothing. If I as a Zimbabwean keen to write a narrative of our struggle as one of unbelievable bottom up-top down innovation, as a project wherein everyone participated in engineering a nation, so that our children and their forebears can draw inspiration from that just as every other great nation on earth does, it is in the national interest to avail to me as much material access as I require.

My point is that there is nothing wrong with outsiders coming to write about Zimbabwe or Africa. They should. Their questions are interesting, but there are not necessarily our questions as Zimbabweans. However, African governments have an obligation to let their academics write histories from the African perspective and should do whatever they can to promote it. Otherwise the tragedy is that entire syllabi will have only non-Zimbabwean authors, whose accounts answer to discourses and questions external to the national interest. We cannot subsist our children in universities and secondary schools on histories about us that are not for us by us, that are calibrated on the basis of questions important to the priorities and thematics of external discourses. As African scholars we can still enrich those external scholarly circles from deep with the registers emanating from conversations focused on our own African priorities. It is cry wolf if we accuse scholars coming from outside of ‘distorting our history’ when we as African governments and leaders do very little and even feel uncomfortable with the stories our own citizens tell.

To his credit, Terence Ranger stands with others in turning their institutions abroad into fecund spaces for training Zimbabwean doctoral students in History. Ranger was unique in one regard: it did not matter whether one was his student at Oxford. If the need was there, and one was committed enough, he would train you even if you were at UZ. I am not a student of Ranger, but the fantastic caliber of students he produced speaks for itself. Some are enamored to him and respond negatively to any critique of him as if it is on them. Some have taken long to break free of his “ethnicity” and “invention of tradition” to carve their own paths. But for some of them like Enocent Msindo, author of Ethnicity in Zimbabwe, that process had already begun with his robust questioning of his former supervisor’s twin paradigms. One day when if I am blessed with long a life as Ranger’s and all I see are just loyal disciples, I will be very sad. The litmus test, the homage his students can pay to Ranger, is to take their own scholarship in richly rewarding directions without fetter.

For those of us who are not Ranger’s students, the questioning had already begun long before, sometimes drawing acrimony from those of his ex-students who did not take kindly to a critique of him, who think they own him. Ranger himself is an institution; it’s impossible to own him. Indeed, a good scholar is known by the number of disagreements others will have on his or her work and politics. For that reason, Terence Osborne Ranger the mentor and teacher of many, the committed academic, and a British man with a strong passion for African self-liberation, will remain important to us as Zimbabwean scholars probably for posterity. The Zimbabwean Ranger is not the Africanist Ranger; the former is defined on the basis of writing the narratives that changed Zimbabweans’ life experiences for better or worse, the latter for his “invention of tradition” and other resonances with theory. The Ranger I sought to portray was a personal and Zimbabwean Ranger.

His passing creates a gap in the caucus on Zimbabwe studies. But it’s not a vacuum.

Africa Cup of Nations Memories: Cameroon’s shootout victory over Nigeria, enjoyed on VHS two days after the match

My favourite AFCON memory harks back to the year 2000 when Ghana and Nigeria co-hosted. To say it was a challenge to watch this competition is an understatement! This marked the era before internet streams and mass football broadcasting in North America. As recent immigrants to Canada, my family carried over our footballing passion but were faced with few avenues to keep it nourished. This meant less football viewing on weekends, but this was a final with two of Africa’s footballing giants in Nigeria and Cameroon. A well-established diaspora network allowed us to get our hands on the prized VHS recording of the final, two days after it was played. Alhamdullilah for the complete lack of interest in African football from Canadian sports media at the time. It meant we could rest easy knowing there was little chance the result could be spoiled.

The final with a top-billing did not disappoint. Dazzling technique, goals, intrigue, and controversy. It had it all! The scoresheet was opened by a young teenage prodigy, one Samuel Eto’o Fils, and Cameroon quickly stormed to a surprising 2-0 lead over the favoured Super Eagles. It seemed as though the tide had turned and only a crossbar stopped the Indomitable Lions from asserting their dominance. Yet, this was only the beginning of the show played before a delighted sell-out crowd in Bamako. The Super Eagles, ushered on by the sound of blaring trumpets, quickly drew level with two goals, including a stunning strike from the legendary Jay-Jay Okocha. Wide-open back and forth play could not break the deadlock and 120 minutes of nail-biting drama had to be settled by the random cruelty of penalty-kicks.

What followed is very familiar to all Super Eagles supporters. A well struck Victor Ikepba spot-kick ricocheted off the top of the cross-bar back to the ground, tantalizingly close to the goal-line. At first glance through the grainy Arab Radio and Television Network recording it appeared as though Ikepba missed a golden chance. But a replay clearly showed that the ball had crossed the line! A decade before Frank Lampard, the first famous justification for the use of goal line technology could be found. To this day, many are convinced that long-time CAF autocrat Issa Hayatou (CAF’s Cameroonian “life president”) was behind the missed call. The late Marc-Vivien Foe missed his chance to lift the Indomitable Lions to glory, but captain Rigobert Song did not hesitate to put it away and claim the first trophy in a golden year for Cameroonian football.

Recent developments have made AFCON viewing much simpler on this side of the Atlantic. This year the competition will be carried by a network available on cable TV, a development that I would never foresee 15 years ago. Despite this, nostalgia ensures the 2000 final continues to rank above all. Let’s hope Equatorial Guinea 2015 comes close!

Mohammed’s is one of the winning entries in our AFCON Memories competition with AMS Clothing, and he wins a national team jersey from the AMS range.

Thanks to AMS Clothing, kit suppliers to the national teams of Sierra Leone and South Sudan, for providing prizes for our AFCON Memories competition. We caught up with AMS founder Luke Westcott, and asked him to explain a bit more about how AMS got started, what makes it distinctive, and where it’s heading.

“Founded in late 2013, AMS recognised the social, as well as commercial opportunities presented in the hugely popular, yet largely informal football industry in Africa. This recognition came about after traveling to Africa and discovering that the only football apparel available for purchase at a reasonable price were low-quality, counterfeit products. Many of these products were the national team apparel of each respective country we travelled to. This led to the idea of becoming the official national team suppliers, and then providing the respective national football federations with the opportunity to offer their official products to the domestic market, at a price that meet the market demands. This means that fans can purchase official products, featuring cool designs, at a fair price, whilst supporting their national football federation in the process. Furthermore, we also supply the international market through the AMS online store and a few other retailers. This allows us to raise revenue and expand to further countries.

SouthSudanASS1415a“The main focus we highlight to FA’s as to why they should choose us is the opportunity we provide them to effectively commercialise on the popularity of the national team. Many of the smaller federations never receive revenue from apparel sales, even when they are supplied by major sportswear brands. Many of these brands do not make apparel available for purchase, and if they do, it is often at a price that is way too expensive for most people in the domestic market. Furthermore, all our designs are customised and are created to the specifications of the FA. We never use boring template designs, and always try to design something interesting that will be popular with local fans.”

It makes perfect sense to name one of Cape Town’s busiest roads after FW de Klerk

All this controversy around honoring former Apartheid president FW de Klerk by renaming one of Cape Town’s busiest streets after him got me thinking.

The act of public naming is a profound act in our society – which is why it generates so much controversy.

It is symbolic. Naming is not merely of a practical function to help identify an object of interest, it also serves a necessary social purpose.

In this case, it serves to remove history from the tombs of academia and museums, and place it right smack into our everyday lives. It seeks to remind us of our past lest we continue to fall prey to repeating the same mistakes and atrocities over and over again. (Although, in truth, Marikana has also shown us how little we remember about Sharpeville).

It is absolutely true, as the journalist Terry Bell pointed out, that De Klerk was a despicable figure in South African history. He deserves no honor and what he stands for should be relegated to the dustbin of our oppressive past.

The City of Cape Town’s act of renaming the section of the N1 Freeway that is right now called Table Bay Boulevard merely serves to show how the current city government has few qualms about de Klerk’s obscenely racist politics, his support for apartheid death squads, and his general hatred of the quest for justice and equality.

Why is that the case? It is not only because the Democratic Alliance is a white dominated party that is unwilling to take the necessary steps to transform our society. Nor is it simply because Cape Town under the Democratic Alliance’s helm has become more segregated and exclusionary and its politics more reactionary and violent than ever.

It is also because the same holds true for South African society as a whole. Neoliberalism, a class project of both the ANC and DA that is buttressed by white capital, has maintained and in some cases even deepened exploitation of most South Africans.

Therefore, the important question to ask right here and right now is whether or not apartheid is truly behind us.

In my estimation, the following still exists:

1) South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of a range of key social factors such as income, land ownership, crime, and mobility.

2) It also remains segregated by both race and class even if a handful of blacks are able to make it out of the townships.

3) In practice, a different political and legal system is applied to poor blacks when compared to the rest of the population even if officially this is no longer the case.

4) Massacres of black workers and assassinations of community organisers and trade union members continue to take place with impunity for police, hitmen, and the politicians and bosses who give them their orders.

5) Rural South Africa remains under the despotic control of unelected chiefs who gained powerthrough apartheid’s system of indirect rule. The ANC is attempting to deepen this rather than democratise this despotic political system.

Therefore, in many of the ways that count, (i.e. the socioeconomic manifestations in everyday life for the poor majority) we still live in an materially apartheid state. This is in spite of major victories such as legal deracilization, the repeal of the pass laws, the fact that blacks can now vote and the rise of a liberation movement into political power.

While the importance of these changes should not be understated, they do not constitute a structural change in the character of our society.

If then wholesale oppression and exploitation of the majority of people living in South Africa remain, what better way to express that reality than by renaming one of Cape Town’s busiest roads after the person who negotiated a transition away from legal apartheid while ensuring it remains in effect in all the ways that truly matter to poor blacks?

I therefore propose that the remaining of Table Bay Boulevard go ahead but that we use it to remind everyone just how little has changed, in part, because of this man. At the entrances to Table Bay Boulevard, we should demand (or place ourselves) a large plaque which speaks to all the atrocities this man is responsible for, the racist politics he expounds, and the reformulation of his apartheid project post-1994 through wide-scale evictions, police killings and worker exploitation.

Only when our society is truly transformed can renaming our streets after those martyrs and movements who fought and continue to fight against oppression and exploitation be an honest reflection of our country. Until then, FW de Klerk Boulevard is an apt name for a road in a society that continues to oppress and exploit its people.