Africa is a Country

The Legend of John Chilembwe

2015 marks a centenary after the Chilembwe uprising against imperial Britain – an activity that is believed to have influenced, in some way, Marcus Garvey. Reverend John Chilembwe was born circa 1870 in the then ‘nameless’ enclave that later became British Central Africa before mutating into Nyasaland (land of the lake), now Malawi. In 1892, initiative led him to knock on the door of the radical missionary Joseph Booth, whose famous dictum was ‘Africa for Africans’.

In 1897, Chilembwe and Booth, headed for the United States of America, via London and Liverpool. In the US, Chilembwe was encouraged by African Americans to part with the now penniless Booth. Chilembwe, with the help of the Negro Baptist Convention, attended the Virginia Theological College. The failure of the Reconstruction period and the reaction of the Baptists to the Jim Crow laws would have an impact on Chilembwe. In the US, he also met other future African leaders including John Dube, who later became president of South Africa Native Congress, later the African National Congress (ANC).

In 1900, an ordained Chilembwe was back in Malawi, with the backing of the National Baptist Convention. He was a new man and very keen to show it, drawing complaints of ‘natives living beyond their station’ from the settler community. He soon became the vocal mouthpiece of the disfranchised Africans, from women’s rights to equality based on Christian values, from the virtues of educating the African to concerns over land tenure. In 1903, when Africans were sent by the British to fight the Ya Asantewa in present Ghana, Chilembwe complained loudly.

In 1859, famed Scottish missionary David Livingstone ‘discovered’ Lake Malawi and the east African slave trade. Back home in Britain, he campaigned for the introduction of Christianity and formal commerce to counter slavery. Early attempts resulted in disaster as the first missionaries out of Oxford and Cambridge ran into trouble against some Yao chiefs, then slave agents of the Swahili traders.

Attempts were made again after the much publicised burial of Livingstone at Westminster Abbey, resulting in the establishment, in 1876, of Blantyre (now Malawi’s commercial city), a tribute to Livingstone’s birth place. Closely following on the missionaries’ heels were businessmen and speculators and, before long, the alienation of land through mainly nefarious means.

Chilembwe bought land and set up his industrial mission in Blantyre’s neighbouring district of Chiladzulo, adjacent to the vast Bruce Estates, owned by none other than Livingstone’s own daughter Anne and run by William Jarvis Livingstone, a distant relation, and a man who was to embody for Chilembwe everything that was wrong with the white settlers. For Jarvis, Chilembwe was the archetypical ‘native above his station’. The laborers at the Bruce Estate, mostly of Yao and Nguru stock, the latter having migrated from present Mozambique after fleeing famine and harsh Portuguese rule, looked to Chilembwe for a patron figure.

Chilembwe accused Livingstone of, among other things, burning his churches and schools. When the colonial government turned a deaf ear, Chilembwe is reported to have suggested taking matters in his own hands.

By 1913, Chilembwe was in a tight corner: funding was hard to come by, he owed money for his very impressive cathedral, his gun licence for commercial ivory hunting was revoked, the famine of 1913 pushed more Africans towards him for help, and his poor health (asthma and failing eyesight) and the death of his daughter compounded his burdens. But the proverbial straw was the start of the Great War in August 1914 which saw his audience decrease as Africans were conscripted in large numbers to fight against German East Africa (now Tanzania). In November 1914, Chilembwe penned a scathing letter admonishing the government:

…In times of peace, everything for Europeans only…But in time of war [we] are needed to share hardships and shed blood in equality…

On Saturday 23 January 1915 he started an uprising. Chilembwe plotted to kill all white men in the protectorate, save for a few missionaries sympathetic to his cause, to bring about a new order in the region. The first casualty was Jarvis Livingstone, his severed head a prized trophy by Chilembwe’s men. Others were sent to Blantyre–in the true fashion of John Brown of Harper’s Ferry–to break into the armoury and steal guns and ammunition. This mission was a failure of sorts with the supposed leader, John Gray Kufa, deserting and an accidental alarm being raised by Chilembwe’s men. Legend has it that Chilembwe preached the next day’s church service with the head of Livingstone next to the pulpit where he is reputed to have said the words: ‘Let us strike a blow and die for Africa’.

A few skirmishes with government and volunteer forces ensued but, by Tuesday 26 January, his whole mission had been abandoned. His impressive cathedral was then demolished with explosives. The uprising was quelled by 3 February 1915 when its leader was shot while trying to cross into Mozambique. In the aftermath, his fellow conspirators were either hanged or shot on a firing line.

The uprising, though short-lived, left an indelible mark. George Shepperson, Cambridge don and foremost scholar of Chilembwe, later summarised the uprising thus:

[His] ideas may have been utopian…borne their format in action dictated by despairing frustration. But at their heart was a solid matter of fact element that was constructively forward looking, and kept for the most part within the bounds of practical, if remote, possibility.

Since Nyasalanders had no myths like those of the old Ghana to inspire communal confidence, said Shepperson, Chilembwe’s name could be utilized. In 1958, Kamuzu Banda, Malawi’s first president, inserted himself in the Chilembwe narrative as the one prophetized about by Chilembwe himself to free Malawi from white rule. In 1994, Bakili Muluzi, Kamuzu’s predecessor, inserted Chilembwe on all bank notes (example above). Surprisingly, not much has been done by the current Malawian government in the 100th year of his uprising. Still, to most Malawians, Chilembwe’s memory lives on as a symbol of courage and sacrifice.

  • If you want to read more on Chilembwe, I can highly recommend George Shepperson’s Independent African: John Chilembwe and the Nyasaland Rising of 1915 (Edinburgh University Press, 1958).

Bamako Diaries II

Africa is a Country culture editor Neelika Jayawardane visited Bamako for this year’s Encounters Biennale of African Photography . This is part 2 of her roundup, read part 1 here.

Any photographer can tell you that the strictures of being successful – or trying to get there – include near-constant travel, jet-lag, aloneness: residencies, promotional talks, openings at galleries, art shows, festivals. One lives out-of-place, and out of time, performing a presentable, palatable version of self. Given these disjunctures in modern photographers’ lives, I wondered what might mean for them to be engaged in “telling” time, Bamako Encounters’ theme, using a medium that is, essentially, about distilling time into a “still”. In stilling a moment in time through recording it in an image, we are engaging in a form of melancholia – an inability to let go of a past as time moves on. Our longing for that past is strong enough that it appears in our mirrors sometimes, and in frames of photography and film – uncanny visitors from histories we cannot untie from the threads of our present.

Some work at Bamako Encounters remarked on the way that past attachments stay ever-present, using deeply personal reflections; they meditated on the way that time – and the geographical, political, and genetic locations through which we have passed – keeps telling and retelling itself on our psyches and our bodies. Mimi Cherono’s collage of photographs, the first to greet the visitor in the cool, white tent, comments on that relationship with time in a way that was more indicative of melancholic presence – an inability to let go of a past that insistently wounded one’s present. Cherono’s work, “Do You Miss Me? Sometimes, Not Always” is an invitation, a secret garden of jewel greens overlapped by darkness and dappled light. “Do You Miss Me” consists of a selection of photographs taken in Kigali, Abidjan, Kampala and Nairobi, images of both cityscapes and suburban loneliness. They were taken during six months of travel, subsequent to the passing of one of Cherono’s close friends, South African photographer Thabiso Sekgala. These studies tell us stories of cities built by architects influenced by poor-man’s Bauhaus and post-colonial practicalities: minimalist, concrete, easily replicable. But Cherono also bookmarks structures that hope to escape that mediocrity, aspiring to something to do with indicating affluence: a white home with a double peaked roof, its white columns holding up twin stories, accompanied by an immaculate, close-cropped green lawn. In another photograph, a red brick wall shows us the perimeter of a property and the limits of its inhabitants’ freedom; an ornate, russet settee, devoid of a sitter, tells one just how uncomfortable this aspired-to comfort is. Shoes – heeled court shoes, kiddies’ sandals, and some fashion-conscious youth’s sneakers with Velcro tongues – are piled up at an entryway – waiting their owners’ return. A wide avenue where a red sports car barrels down, past sleepy conifers and hedges, is reminiscent of Americana; a seashore, where a distant couple is walking could be a postcard: one of them is wearing a red shirt, and the other is in dark clothes, and their feet are catching the silver web of saltwater lapping the strand.


The largest image in this collage is a close up of banana leaves – broken and battered by rainstorms, some ragged by age, others being choked by undergrowth. There is an abandoned, dirty white pony figurine – once part of a carousel, perhaps? – poking its unlikely head out. In the middle of that refulgent foliage and decaying objects, Cherono has imbedded a small, blurry, black and white image: it is a photograph of a man, who is either just waking up, or he is a little tired, because it is late at night. The small shadow by his elbow tells me that it is probably night, because the light is artificial. His slim body is lounging comfortably on a sofa, elbow placed along the top of a cushion, his head resting on his right hand. He smiles from some far away place, already part of a history we are forgetting. But that smile-that-is-not-a-smile, more haunting and mysterious than any European Renaissance beauty can offer, keeps shadowing us.



Many photographers who came to this Biennale knew that Sekgala ended his life only a year prior. Mimi and he were friends and collaborators on photographic projects; in fact, it was through Mimi that I learned of Thabiso’s death in October, 2014. But already, in a year, the memory of him has become a garden that is not well-maintained. Seeing this image of him, so slim, so small, already blurring into the undergrowth of a badly maintained garden, I wondered about the effectiveness of imperatives admonishing us to remember the past as an elixir against forgetting.


South African Lebohang Kganye’s “Her Story & “Heir Story” are family stories, imbedded into the narrative of South Africa. She reflects, like Cherono, on the way that a beloved figure can insert herself into present narratives for which she is no longer present. But Kganye also actively orchestrates her return to the past, maintaining history as part of her living present. Unlike the melancholy evident in Cherono’s work, the tone that comes across here is sweet and tender in some instances, and fall-down funny in others.

In “Her-Story,” a series of digitally edited photographs, Kganye overlays images of her late mother with a second set of images, in which she has re-enacted the same scene, dressing and posing in the same manner as her mother.

"Her Story" by Lebo Kganye

“Her Story” by Lebo Kganye

The two images – one from the past, and one from the more recent present – shadow each other, reminding us, simultaneously, of our demise and our ever-presence. This is a loving homage to a parent gone too soon from one’s life, a longing for a presence to which one cannot return. But instead of melancholy – a wounding from which one is unable to recover – we see that this is a mourning that allows Kganye to lovingly celebrate her mother’s life. We see that she isn’t overshadowed by her mother’s omnipresence or her loss; instead, she accompanies her daughter in the bittersweet present, in the absence of her mortal self.

In the second set of images, “Heir-Story,” Kganye costumed herself as her late grandfather – a larger-than life figure legendary for the way he brought one after the other of his family members from apartheid “homeland” in the Free State to the city of Johannesburg in Transvaal Province. Kganye then embodies the role played by the Pied Piper of the family – also famous for his comical drunken episodes – re-enacting her grandfather’s exploits, including one escapade where he had to be brought back home in a wheelbarrow.

"The Pied Piper" by Lebo Kganye

“The Pied Piper” by Lebo Kganye

To tell this story, she re-invents the apartheid stage – placing life-sized cutouts of relatives among props that recreate the city, township, and domestic spaces as her grandmother described them; in so doing, once again, she attempts to inhabit a past that is no longer available to her and her age-mates – those who are part of the so-called “Born-Free” generation of South Africans who came of age after 1994. Yet, we also know that past is very much a part of the present – that though the visible structures Kganye recreates and bookmarks as part of the apartheid past were erased or discarded, the less visible structures remain, shaping her generation’s life. In her reenactment, Kganye goes a step further, by making a stop-animation film using the life-sized cutouts of family members and rolling dollies to move the scenery.

“Wheelbarrow” by Lebo Kganye

“Wheelbarrow” by Lebo Kganye

The result is a historical narrative that “tells the nation” and tells the personal, intertwining the effect of colonial and apartheid-era land dispossessions, Group Areas acts, and liquor laws. We see the determination of one man and his family to survive this politically orchestrated tragedy, the impossibility of making it in this heartbreaking country, and the comedic eye-roll in Kganye’s re-telling. How else can one behave in the face of a history – one intended to make us break down and weep – but tell and tell again, whilst laughing?

The ANC Women’s League is Dead

In October this year, South African artist Ayanda Mabulu unveiled a painting of the country’s President, Jacob Zuma, “The Pornography of Power.” In the graphic painting, Zuma, inside a circus tent, laughs while a women, tied with a rope, gives him oral sex. The women is raped by a hyena. The backdrop is the logo of the ruling African National Congress. Mabulu said he wanted to depict how the country (represented by the young woman) was being “molested” by the Zuma and the ANC. Mabulu courts controversy: In 2010, he painted Zuma, along with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Barack Obama, naked at a banquet. That painting, however, received little reaction in contrast to the now infamous 2012 Brett Murray rendition of Zuma, penis exposed in Lenin pose, which led to charges of racism (Murray is white) and debates about freedom of expression.

This time around Mabulu, who is black, stands alone. Now the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) announced it would march against Mabulu’s latest effort for depicting the embattled Zuma “in a despicable manner that seeks to undermine his character and leadership of the country.” The Women’s League went on: “We stand behind our president and will protect him from any form of unwarranted attack on his character and leadership. Protecting our president is protecting our country.”

Contrary to some, I did not have an issue with the idea of marching against Mabulu’s painting. If they were protesting against the disgusting depiction of the black woman in the painting and how we as black women are tired of seeing ourselves beaten, raped, and brutalised in the name of male artists’ social commentary I would have been okay with it. The degrading way in which Jacob Zuma was depicted could have even featured as a secondary issue. But Jacob Zuma’s degradation was the only issue the march focused on. Once again, black women, whose pain and suffering is treated so carelessly by male artists such as Mabulu, did not feature, even in a conversation started by other black women. The ANCWL, which dates back to the 1930s and played a lead role in anti-Apartheid  resistance, is simply now an echo chamber for the ANC and its misogynist views.

It is not all terribly surprising. These days, the organisation’s silence is often more powerful than their statements and actions. The ANCWL has been noticeably absent when brazen misogyny has reared its ugly head within the ANC party ranging from serious incidences, such as the Jacob Zuma rape trial of 2006, to the misogynistic comments often made by leaders of the ANC, including calling women dirty panties, attacking the weight and clothing choices of female parliamentary speakers, and referring to single women as deformities.

 Eyewitness News

Image Credit: Eyewitness News

Most disturbingly, even when the ANCWL does tackle gender issues, many of their efforts still seem to miss the mark. The most recent example would have to be their stance on virginity testing and ukuthwala. The ANCWL rightfully condemned ukuthwala, the bastardized Xhosa practice of kidnapping young girls in order to force them into marriages with older men often for her family’s profit. But they retracted their earlier condemnation of virginity testing by stating that it is a valid method of preventing HIV infection and teenage pregnancy, and that as a “pro-choice” organisation, they believe that if a girl wants to participate in virginity testing then she should be supported in her decision.

This stance is problematic for a number of reasons. It seems to completely ignore the fact that the areas with the lowest rates of HIV infections and teen pregnancy are areas where comprehensive sex education and reliable birth control are wildly available. It places the onus of preventing HIV infections and teenage pregnancy on the girl’s ability to keep her legs closed and not also on the boy who shares half the responsibility. It also fails to problematize virginity testing as a whole as well as the mechanisms at play surrounding a girl’s consent. For example, if I am not comfortable with virginity testing but I know I will be branded a slut and ostracised if I don’t participate in it, one must question how much of a choice I really have. If one can safely say that this sort of slut shaming does not happen in communities where virginity testing is common in reaction to those who do not to participate in it, then, and only then, can one really speak of a woman’s choice in the matter.

While the ANC has some of the most progressive gender policies, there is a serious disconnect between what the party’s stance on gender is on paper and what its leaders are saying in public.

It is disappointing to say that the ANCWL in 2015 is a far cry from the anti-Apartheid organisation that earned its place in history under the leadership of women such as Lilian Ngoyi, Albertina Sisulu, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Of  late, the organisation has failed time and time again to check misogyny within the ANC and has made shallow attempts at best to check misogyny outside of it. If the ANCWL is going to be more than a hollow echo chamber for the party’s leaders, they need to go back to basics. But even that may be too late.

That time an African team played in Spain’s La Liga

The all-time Spanish Primera División table holds in it remarkable stories of Spanish football history. The standings unearth past epochs of preeminence and point to many of the shifts in power to occur over the course of La Liga history since the league was established in 1922. Athletic Bilbao’s fourth place position is an apt reminder of the force the Basque club was in the 1980s under Javier Clemente. Villareal, who are now considered a permanent member of the Spanish top-flight, sit in a surprising 21st place beneath five clubs currently competing in the Segunda, including ninth place Real Zaragoza. And while Atlético Madrid are currently capable of giving anyone across Europe a game, a comfortable points margin continues to distance the club from first and second place Real Madrid and Barcelona.

But there is also romance near the bottom of Spain’s all-time table. Second from last with 5,308 points separating them from Real Madrid is Atlético Tetuán, whose time in La Liga is an overlooked yet fascinating tale in Spanish football and colonial history. The club was founded in 1922 in the Moroccan Rif Mountains in the city of Tetouan by a group of Basque Atlético Madrid supporters residing in the North African colonial protectorate. Atlético Tetuán’s stint in Spanish football would be short lived, splitting in 1956 following Morocco’s independence to form AD Ceuta and Moghreb Tetouan. Today, Moghreb Tetouan remains the only African club ever to hold a spot in a top-flight European football league.

The club enjoyed a solitary season in the Primera División in 1951-52 after nearly three decades of lower division play. It was a season overshadowed by one of Barcelona’s most successful and legendary sides: the forward pair of László Kubala and  César Rodríguez Álvarez helped haul in five trophies for the Catalonian club, including the Primera title. Tetuán would lose both of their meetings with Barca 5-2 and 3-2 and suffer relegation after finishing bottom of the table with a mere 19 points. The club’s away form was utterly dreadful: Tetuán lost 14 of their 15 away trips, including an 8-0 battering to Atlético Madrid and a 7-0 loss to Celta Vigo. Tetuán would only capture away points to RC Deportivo, winning 3-2 and featuring goals by Chicha, Moreno, and Patricio.

Tetuán’s home ground in contrast proved to be a stubborn setting for mainland clubs visiting North Africa. The club avenged their loss to brother club Atlético Madrid by netting four goals to one. Real Madrid’s only visit to Tetuán would end in a 3-3 draw after the hosts led at halftime 3-1 thanks to a brace from midfielder Julian Garcia. Tetuán would concede a goal on the 89th minute mark and flounder their chance in securing a historic victory. Real Madrid star Pahiño, who would capture one of his two Zichichi trophies in the 1952 season, was however kept quiet and off the scoresheet.

The stalemate with Real Madrid continues to occupy a special place in Moghreb Tetouan lore. The Moroccan side nearly came within reach of settling the draw in last year’s Club World Cup until they were eliminated in the tournament’s playoff round. The rematch would have made for a particularly testy affair: Tetouan continues to play in red and white stripes and blue shorts, and the city still boasts a strong support for Los Colchoneros. With the club recently winning Moroccan Botola titles in 2012 and 2014 and competing in the CAF Champions League, Moghreb Tetouan continue to aim for a decisive encounter with Real Madrid to settle the longstanding deadlock.

*Note: Tetuan is the Spanish transliteration of Tetouan. The club’s name changed to Moghreb Athletic Tetouan in 1956. Use of the latter refers to the present-day Moroccan club.

Nicki Minaj’s Angola

Nicki Minaj’s decision to go play a concert in the Angolan capital, Luanda this coming weekend,* has refocused the spotlight again (particularly in the United States, where Angola rarely features in the media) on the trial of the “15+2” and on general political repression there. The Angolan state accuses these seventeen civil society activists – fifteen arrested in late June and jailed since then and two accused but not detained by the state – of organizing acts of rebellion against the state (planning a coup, in other words) and an attempt against the President. The trial is now in its fifth week.

If this is the first you’ve heard of this trial, we suggest you do some reading. We have covered the arrest and the social protest around it here, here, and here. Others have written about here, here, and here. For an analysis of the trial here is makaangola’s take.

Africa is a Country asked a group of writers and thinkers what they think the trial means for contemporary Angola, which celebrated 40 years of independence on November 11, 2015. Here is what they had to say to each other and to us.

Dum Spiro Spero

In 2002, the Angolan civil war ended after three decades of bloodshed, famine, destruction of infrastructure and rupture of the social fabric. In the same year, Malcolm Gladwell published Tipping Point: How Small Things Can Make a Big Difference. In the book, Gladwell defines the tipping point as being that “magic moment when an idea, tendency, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like fire.” Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunis in December 2010 which led to the Jasmine Revolution and, arguably, to the wider-scale phenomenon known today as the Arab Spring, is one fitting example.

If we believe Gladwell, then perhaps it is fair to say that Angola has just witnessed its first tipping point – finally, at age 40! In a society where the voices of dissent are often stifled (if not completely silenced), the national outcry generated around the infamous case of the 15+2 activists currently under arrest – and the parallel wave of international support for their unconditional release – is no small feat.

What remains to be seen, however, is if the upcoming trial of these young men and women will be a harbinger for true, tangible change in Angola. The outcome of their trial could represent a quantum leap in the way the Angolan regime is viewed from within. A fair trial could be interpreted as a sign of better things to come. Angola desperately needs less uniform thinking in order to make progress on all fronts. This includes the mammoth task of uplifting the living standards of at least two thirds of its citizens who have yet to benefit from the much-vaunted economic growth reported over the last decade. Angola also needs more tolerance towards non-conformists like these activists who probably represent many other muffled voices and minds. An unfair or bogus trial, on the other hand, will only consolidate the label that the Angolan regime has had for several years: an African state with muscle and “attitude”.

In a BBC survey conducted in 2008, a small majority of Angolans claimed to trust the country’s legal system. After many weeks of this trial, will their opinion change at this pivotal moment of Angola’s modern history?

Claudio Silva (@caiplounge)

The unprecedented wave of national and international support generated around the case of the 15+2 political prisoners is certainly a tipping point in Angola’s recent history. But I’d say it’s the first of several that will come our way during the next decade or more.

It’s clear that Angola has a long way to go in its nation-building process. History hasn’t been kind to us – from slavery to colonialism to civil war, we’ve been a constantly fractured society that has often found it difficult to agree on who should govern the country and how. But when the civil war ended in 2002 we finally had the chance to govern ourselves without the violence and destruction of war.

Unfortunately, I feel that we haven’t taken the best advantage of our newfound peace and our newfound wealth. In a decade of unparalleled economic growth (11% average annual growth over the past 10 years), we were unable to address the country’s most pressing social needs, such as our sky-high infant mortality rate, our woeful education system, our completely inadequate health system and our access to drinking water. We were unable to diversify our economy. Instead, we made some politically-linked Angolans extremely wealthy and widened the gap between rich and poor. Most tellingly, we were unable to use our wealth for the benefit of most Angolans.

On top of this, we’ve made sure to consolidate MPLA’s hegemony over society. Civil liberties and the rule of law continue to be blatantly disrespected. And so it is that in the year we are celebrating our 40th independence, we’re also decrying a police force that beats up the mothers of the 15+2 detainees in the streets of Luanda in broad daylight and a government that finds it necessary not only to threaten a peaceful vigil with water cannons and anti-riot police but also to declare vigils illegal.

What kind of country will we have when we celebrate 50 years of independence?

Lara Pawson (@larapawson)

I don’t entirely trust Malcolm Gladwell. That said, the Canadian journalist’s most recent book also has uncanny echoes with the trial taking place in Luanda since November 16. It’s called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

I believe that the stone has been hurtling towards Goliath’s head ever since the 27 February 2011, when rapper Luaty Beirão stood on a stage in Luanda and bellowed, ‘Ti Zé Tira o Pé: Tô Prazo Expirou Há Bwé!’ In lyrical slang, he was telling President José Eduardo dos Santos to step down from power – to loud applause from the audience.1

Thinking about this trial, and the 15 men who have been detained since June, accused of allegedly plotting to overthrow the president, I’ve been reflecting on the thoughts of Agostinho Neto, Angola’s first president. I’ve been re-reading his poetry, including Aqui no cárcere (Here in prison), which was written in a Luanda prison cell in 1960. Ponder these final lines:

Here in prison
rage contained in my breast
I patiently wait
for the clouds to gather
blown by the wind of History

No one
can stop the rain.

They could have been written for this very moment. Their poignancy encourages me to feel deeply optimistic for Angola. In 1960, the battle for liberation from Portugal’s fascist regime was beginning. Neto knew that Portuguese colonials would be the losers, just as the courageous and inspiring men and women on trial these last weeks know that the winds of history are blowing in their favour. It has not been easy and it will not be quick, but as Amílcar Cabral insisted, the ‘seed that has long lain waiting’ will eventually spring forth.

Justin Pearce (@DrJustinPearce)

I wish I could be optimistic.

It’s nice to think that a few heroes might stop a behemoth regime. But think back ten years or so, when people were saying every month that the Mugabe regime had reached its tipping point. It wasn’t just that Zimbabwe was out of cash and producing nothing except new crops of zeroes on the national currency. Zimbabwe also seemed to have an alternative: an alliance (albeit unholy) between organised labour, indigenous business interests and civil society, with credibility at home and abroad. This alliance was associated with a political party which, for all its internal contradictions, had established an institutional foothold using the opportunities offered by a constituency-based elections and decentralised local government.

Mugabe faced down his opposition with the boot and the baton. He doesn’t look like he’s leaving any time soon.

Compare Angola. The decline in the price of petroleum has caused a foreign exchange crisis, but Angola still has a functioning economy: the world will always want oil, even if it’s paying less for it. Angola has no labour movement to speak of. Indigenous business exists only by the grace of the presidency. Civil society is bolder than it was, but isolated. The main opposition party has given voice to some popular concerns but it struggles to break out of its wartime self-regard as a quasi-state answerable to its own devotees, rather than a political alternative able to reshape the current order. A centralised political system ensures that no one outside the MPLA gets anywhere near a position of influence. The palace’s control of the cash flow restricts opportunities to a still smaller circle.

The Dos Santos regime is stronger than the Mugabe regime ever was. The most striking similarity between Zimbabwe and Angola is the regime’s eager return to the boot and the baton. Angola has the cash and the institutional culture for more boots and batons to come.

Paulo Inglês

Contrary to what has been said by the government media, there is no order (produced by the Government) versus a disturbance or disorder produced by the Revú Movement. Instead, we have a different perception of orders. The Revú Movement challenged the order that has been dominant in the last ten years. An order which, some claim, did not offer a real break with a political culture characterized by a sort of soft authoritarianism.

Where the government sees an incipient democracy, with some failures but still a democracy, the Revú Movement sees authoritarianism, even with elections. The Revú movement wants to change this “status quo” and go a bit further in the democratisation process.

The trial is not, in this regard, the scenario of judicial disputation, but a “stage” of political disputation. The Benfica court is a kind of new Parliament, the place of hope, dreams and desires of an entire people, but also a place of loss and frustration.

The trial is still slow, sometimes annoying and almost endless, and the society, represented by the 17 respondents, keeps waiting stoically. At the end it is a disputation between political obstinacy and common sense and I hope the latter will prevail, whatever the dramatic situation of the moment and the coming days, tipping point, or step along the path.

  • Minaj is only the next in a long line of pop stars who played for dictators (on Angola, Mariah Carey has been to Luanda to play for the Dos Santoses too). See here, here and here for some background.

Against the corruption of hip hop in Burkina Faso

With his gravely flow, gliding over foreboding beats, Art Melody has always been one of the more commanding voices out of, and for West African Hip Hop. And with his latest “Wagare hip hop” off of his recent album Moogho, this tone serves to deliver his message well. However, this time the message isn’t the explicit political messaging we’re used to from Burkinabe MCs. That’s because Art Melody is tired of politics. He just wants to talk about music. But as things go in Burkina Faso, a political strain isn’t too far behind any message, perhaps especially when it comes to music.

“Wagare hip hop,” explicitly sends out a message to fraudulent music producers in Burkina Faso, who try to take advantage of “the movement” for their own monetary gain. The chorus says, “Park my hip hop if you don’t have a license to drive it,” and the verses serve as a warning to those who use hip hop solely to make money or garner fame. For Art Melody, hip hop is a philosophy, one that can’t be sold out for fame, money, or even politics.

A contact in West Africa told me that in Burkina Faso, an unfortunate trend has developed where artists, producers, and promoters are all ready to snatch funding without providing any overall vision or plan to further the cause of the people, the youth, or the movement. So the fact that this message against corruption in the music industry is coming from an artist, from a country where hip hop is intertwined with national politics, one could infer a thing or two about the state of things on the ground. On the recent revolution in his home country, Art Melody states:

I am very proud of my Burkinabè people. A lot has changed, the recent elections are a complete novelty for practically all of us in Burkina Faso, and it went incredibly smoothly. For this I am so proud of my people. But we must remain vigilant, particularly because those who won the elections are familiar faces. I will talk about change when I see a real change in the way people act, when all the bad habits left behind the Compaoré system start to dissolve, all the bribes, the self-censorship.

It is this exact relationship between music and politics that creates a difficult conundrum for the revolutionary artist in Burkina, and for just an ordinary citizen.

Does the Gates Foundation do more harm than good?

In July 2010, I attended the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. Representatives of the Gates Foundation’s HIV team set-up shop inside the venue with a private conference room. For those of us working for civil society organizations, a meeting with the Gates Foundation was highly coveted yet illusive – you had to know someone who knew someone. A friend secured an appointment and labored for days over how, in her five minute allotted slot, she could present her nonprofit. I waited for her anxiously outside the venue, knowing this was a make or break meeting for her small organization, which seeded activism around HIV and human rights worldwide. “How did it go?,” I asked when she emerged. “No idea,” she replied. “They asked me what our competitive advantage was; I don’t think they understood what we actually do.”

In a new book, No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, the sociologist Linsey McGoey traces the evolution of private philanthropy’s ‘father knows best’ approach to giving. As McGoey explains, foundations used to have a hands off approach to their grantees, with the understanding that those working closely on social issues best understood how to affect change. Now, most foundations are intimately involved in trying to shape their grantees’ methods, including the Gates Foundation.  “The question is whether the practices associated with the new philanthropy – such as tighter control of grantee decision-making; a demand for swifter indicators of project success – might be stifling ingenuity and progress rather than engendering it.”

The first half of the book approaches philanthropy from both a philosophical and historical perspective, questioning the power imbalance implicit in giving and charity, then interrogating the rise of foundations in the U.S. McGoey reveals that the new religion of ‘philanthrocapitalism’ – applying business models to giving – is nothing new. What is different though is the scale of private giving and the power philanthropists now wield over governments. The second half of the book focuses on the Gates Foundation in particular because of their endowment and the lack of independent analysis about their impact.

McGoey reviews available literature and conducts interviews around three of the Gates Foundation’s major areas of investment – education in the U.S., global health and agriculture –to paint a loose picture of the Foundation’s portfolio and highlight areas where the Foundation’s performance needs independent appraisal (less time is devoted to the Foundation’s successes, although some are briefly mentioned). She questions whether Bill Gates’s methods are in line with his aims – for example, the Foundation wants to end AIDS, yet also believes in upholding the intellectual property regimes of pharmaceutical companies which then prevents access to affordable HIV treatment for millions of people.

When you have as much money as the Gates Foundation, it turns out you can buy your way into some pretty powerful places – Bill and Melinda Gates regularly advise world leaders on everything from global warming to family planning, despite having no prior background on these issues. They are also essentially unaccountable, reporting only to their trustees – themselves, plus Warren Buffett. McGoey wants us to understand the danger in having private individuals, no matter how good their intentions are, influencing policy decisions. (In a recent interview, Melinda Gates defended her new role as a self-appointed global ambassador for women’s issues. “I considered other women leaders. But I couldn’t find the one who embodied to me the voice of women around the world. And so I thought, ‘If I’m the one, then I just need to do it. I have to have courage and not worry.”)

In addition, McGoey raises critical questions about how the Gates Foundation approaches its work. An emphasis on human rights has long been noticeably absent from the Gates Foundation’s methods; one of the most alarming examples in the book concerns the Gates Foundation’s support for HPV trials in India. The Gates Foundation funded PATH – a Seattle based health and technology organization that it frequently partners with – to conduct the HPV trials on thousands of girls aged 10-14 in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, India. The Indian government halted the trials mid-way through over concerns of improper conduct – turns out PATH had violated a number of ethical protocols, like not getting witness signatures on consent forms and not providing health insurance to the girls during the trial. The Gates Foundation press office told McGoey it was a problem of misinformation and that she should speak to PATH (but they did not respond to her inquiries).

McGoey’s book does not attempt to thoroughly assess the full impact of Gates’s giving. Rather, it lays out a blueprint for future work that is urgently needed to answer a set of interrelated questions: what are the harms caused by the Gates Foundation and what are the true benefits? And can the Gates Foundation ever achieve its lofty aims without first admitting its own role in perpetuating structural inequality and then investing in political organizing to overturn it?

Recently, one of the Gates Foundation’s fellow philanthropic institutions, the Ford Foundation, announced after some soul searching a major shift in its strategic direction: Ford will now do everything possible to address economic inequality. It remains to be seen how this vision will play out in funding decisions, but on the surface it is an interesting move from a Foundation that used to be a champion of the business approach to philanthropy. Wrote Ford Foundation President Darren Walker in an e-letter earlier this year,

We foundations need to reject inherited, assumed, paternalist instincts—an impulse to put grant-making rather than change making at the center of our worldview… we need to interrogate the fundamental root causes of inequality, even, and especially, when it means that we ourselves will be implicated.

So, what could the Gates Foundation do differently? It could start by engaging publicly and reflectively on the questions asked in McGoey’s book. Bill Gates was just in Paris for the climate change negotiations, where he told French President Francis Hollande what heads of state should do differently and launched a new fund. Outside the nexus of power, people who have worked on climate change for decades protested around the world before and after the summit because they want more than investing in companies to solve climate change, they want climate justice. Sometime, it would be nice to see Bill and Melinda out there on the streets marching, learning from people who are not just the recipients of programs or in thrall to their millions but politically organized, already aware of appropriate solutions for their communities. Bill and Melinda just might learn something.

*No such thing as a free gift: the Gates Foundation and the price of philanthropy (2015) by Linsey McGoey is published by Verso Books.

Anti-racism in Latin America discussion arrives at Harvard

A Symposium entitled “Afrodescendants: Fifteen Years after Santiago. Achievements and Challenges” recently took place from December 4th to 5th at the Afro-Latin American Research Institute of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Activists from twelve Latin American countries attended the Harvard Symposium together with representatives from the Ford Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Organization of American States.

In the short span since its inception, the Latin American Afrodescendant movement has had an extraordinary impact on the formulation of anti-racism policy in Latin America and beyond. Its origins date back to the December, 2000, Latin American Regional Conference Against Racism in Santiago de Chile, convened to articulate the region’s agenda in advance of the World Conference against Racism to be held in Durban, South Africa the following year.

It was at the Santiago Conference that the category “Afrodescendant” was coined and obtained regional endorsement. The term identified people born in Latin America whose ethnic ancestors were Africans, and who face economic, political and cultural exclusion and inequality. This new category allowed an international movement to emerge and demand recognition and protection of collective economic, political and cultural rights.

In response, Latin American governments and international institutions have introduced a remarkable number of anti-racist policies that acknowledge Afrodescendants and attempt to address their specific needs. To this end, almost every country in the region has adopted significant constitutional reforms.  Some countries – like Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia – have gone further, taking steps to put these principles in practice by creating affirmative action policies, specialized anti-racism institutions and school curricula.

The recent Harvard Symposium took advantage of the 15th anniversary of the Santiago Conference to reflect on the achievements, lessons and challenges of the Afrodescendant movement. In terms of the former, participants took stock of the organizational, institutional and normative transformations that have taken place since the year 2000.

Referring to challenges, the conversation focused on the existence of ideological disagreements between the so called “left-” and “right-wing” branches of the movement, especially on the issue of building alliances with governments, intergovernmental entities and funding agencies. Participants also dedicated time to exploring how governments and human rights agencies are addressing the Afrodescendants’ continued situation of social inequality. This included a discussion of the current funding allocation practices of multilateral and donor agencies.

Concerns were raised that the lack of proper and effective access to financial resources is debilitating the movement. Finally, the Symposium facilitated a fertile dialogue on movement leadership models. In particular, it is worth highlighting the presentation made by the delegation from Cuba, a newcomer to the movement, recounting a fascinating experience of grassroots social mobilization and leadership in the absence of support from domestic and international public and private agencies.

The Harvard Symposium represented the first meeting of its kind in that Afrodescendant leaders and policy makers convened to engage in a well-rounded and focused reflection on the movement itself. By facilitating this kind of dialogue between a wide-range of actors, this meeting opened up a conversation grounded in real life problems.

This conversation will continue next year at a second meeting, to be held at the University of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia. The Cartagena meeting will invite activists and scholars to explore policy strategies that respond to some of the challenges identified at the Harvard Symposium.

Remembering Zambia’s Lucy Sichone, conscience of the nation

Yesterday Zambians woke to the delightful news that the late Lucy Sichone had become the first female Rhodes Scholar to have a portrait in Rhodes House. This is the result of work by Kelsey Murrell, herself a recent Rhodes Scholar, who was disturbed to learn there wasn’t a portrait of a woman in Rhodes House, in spite of the many women who’ve received the scholarship and gone on to do great things.

We certainly have our qualms about the likes of Lucy Sichone being associated with John Cecil Rhodes’ terrible legacy, and this site has written quite a lot about that (I have also contributed to the debate here). But given that there isn’t a Wikipedia page up yet for Lucy and the fact that this gesture by Rhodes House will posthumously catapult her into the global limelight, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to write a few words about her and what she stood for.

Lucy Sichone was born in the Zambian mining town of Kitwe in 1954. She was born at a time when it was greatly frowned upon for a girl to attend school. To get around this societal sanction, Lucy’s parents shaved her head bald to make it easier for her to attend school. Perhaps this way, she could pass for a boy and face less ridicule. And this, according to her daughter, fomented within Lucy a bold, no fear spirit that would typify her in later life.  In 1978, she became the first Zambian woman to receive a Rhodes scholarship and went on to read for a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. She was one of a handful women in her course.

Upon finishing her studies, Ms. Sichone returned to Zambia where she embarked upon a career as a lawyer focused on human rights issues. She represented people in the village whose land had been grabbed from them either by the State or by private citizens. She represented widows who had their property grabbed upon the passing away of their husbands – herself having earlier been a victim of this type of injustice. She represented people who had their rights violated by the State. Most of this she did for free.

In 1993, during the pivotal period when Zambia had just reverted to multiparty democracy and the ruling class were still using one-party strategies to stifle dissent, Lucy Sichone formed the Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA). ZCEA’s aim was to spread the gospel of human and democratic rights and to remind Zambians that it was not enough to have democracy on paper. We also had to make the demand, every minute and every hour, for our rights. ZCEA formed civic education clubs within secondary schools – her idea was to capture the imagination of the young whilst they could still dream. I am a beneficiary of Lucy’s dream having joined the civic education club at Munali Secondary School in Lusaka and later serving as Vice President of the club at David Kaunda Secondary School in 2001.

Perhaps because Lucy Sichone was never content with just idling by and watching the politicians desecrate the constitution, she decided to go into politics. The kind of person that Lucy was can be gleaned from the political party she decided to join. When everyone else was running towards the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), the party that had just won the momentous 1991 elections that removed Kenneth Kaunda, Ms. Sichone decided to join the United National Independence Party (UNIP). UNIP, having ruled Zambia for 27 years, had lost the 1991 elections and its political fortunes were in decline. But for Lucy, political office was not the aim. Her calculus was probably that an association with UNIP would help spread her message about safe guarding human rights and holding politicians accountable. After all, civil society organizations at that time did not have much of a following. Everyone looked up to politicians. But as expected, Lucy’s no compromise attitude unnerved people within UNIP’s inner circle. She left UNIP in 1994.

Next she took her message to the newspapers and joined the then Weekly Post as a columnist. It was during her time at the Post that two memorable events happened that thrust her into the limelight and confirmed her position as the conscience of the nation. In February 1996, Ms. Sichone wrote an article titled “Miyanda has forgotten about need for justice”. Godfrey Miyanda was then Vice President and leader of government business in parliament. An order to arrest Ms. Sichone along with the newspaper’s managing editor and chief editor was issued. The three immediately went into hiding with the latter two eventually giving themselves up. But Ms. Sichone refused to do so and continued to write ever more scathing columns whilst in hiding. In one of them she emphatically declared, “the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights make it a sacred duty for me to defend them to the death.”

She eventually gave herself up and a sort of truce existed between her and the authorities. But this truce was momentary. In August of 1997, Kenneth Kaunda, the former president and leader of UNIP was shot at by the police while attempting to address a rally in the town of Kabwe. Many were arrested and injured during the fracas that ensued. All this happened while the president, Frederick Chiluba, was on a foreign trip and upon his return, Lucy Sichone snuck into the international airport and flashed the president a placard which read “Welcome to Zambia, Our Own Sharpeville Massacre”. This was in reference to the Sharpeville Massacre incident in South Africa in 1960. Needless to say that the president was not pleased.

Lucy Sichone died on August 24 in 1998. She was only 44. When she died, the Weekly Post newspaper ran the headline “Zambia mourns Sichone” and the following weeks followed with articles and columns memorializing her from across the country. The civil society movement tried to petition the government to accord her a state funeral but, as expected, the authorities declined. We are all left to wonder what other brave and inspiring things she would have done had she lived longer.

I had the rare privilege of meeting Lucy Sichone in 1998, the year she died, during a prize giving ceremony for students who had done a lot to advance civic education at their schools. She gave me a certificate carrying her immortal signature and asked all the recipients that day to carry her dream even further.

The portrait of Lucy Banda Sichone by Deirdre Saunder

The portrait of Lucy Banda Sichone by Deirdre Saunder

Bringing Brazil’s Northeastern culture to the world

I’ve never been to the Northeast of Brazil, but I have paid R$5 to walk through the doors of the Feria Nordestina in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone. And doing so, one clearly realizes they’ve entered a new world. It is a world that in the United States or Europe would represent an ethnic immigrant neighborhood, with all the trappings of a distant home, foreign to the land a people have chosen to congregate in search of a better future. The food, the knick-knacks, the clothes, and above all, the music all instantly transport one to a new place, a familiar unfamiliarity for both tourists and for second-generation Southeastern Brazilians whose parents want to give them a taste of their roots!

This is the place where you can get access to musica nordestina without fail any time of the year in the Southern capital. There are hundreds of music venues, from the two big stages on either side of the fair grounds, to the impromptu freestyle sessions of Repente in the center, to the reggae sound system of Maranhão roots that wouldn’t be out of place in Kingston, Jamaica, save for that the language they call for wheel ups in is Brazilian Portuguese.

And this is all immediately what I think of when I listen to Kafundo Vol. 3: Electronic Roots from Northeastern Brazil. Rio de Janeiro with its samba, bossa nova, and funk sounds, exported to the world have claimed a Monopoly on Brazilian national identity for too long. And it is the young globally plugged in and hip electronic music producers that may be the ones to develop a take on Northeastern rhythms that might just supplant a conservative Rio de Janeiro cultural scene.

Coco, Forro, Brega, Carimbó are the names of the Brazil do futuro, even if most Brazilians are yet to catch on to this reality. Kafundó records’ intention to focus on Northern and North-Eastern Brazil, a region with a large Afro-descendant, indigenous, and mestizo population, and a music scene that is heavily influenced by Caribbean sounds, will only speed this process along, as they expose these exciting new/old sounds coming from Brazil’s too long underrepresented cultural North.

Kafundó Records Vol. 3 is out this week at all your favorite digital stores. This is the latest post in our music series Liner Notes.

Bamako Diaries I

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would find myself in Malick Sidibé’s iconic studio space – at Porte 632 on Rue 508 in Bamako’s Bagadaji district, on the north side of the Niger river – getting my portrait taken by his son. But there I was, during the first week of November, gawking at the rows and rows of cameras collecting dust on the shelves, the props that he used again and again in his photographs: there was the bouquet of ragged, artificial flowers, the back and white checkered backdrop announcing itself loudly as a departure from the woven blankets historically used to line walls in Mali.

Malik Sidibe - the cameras on the shelf

There was the little radio that so many hands held to illustrate, for their friends, that they were part of the flows of modernity: Sidibé could remake or highlight your persona, aligning it with the youthful world of cool music, dancing, and big city dreams. The photograph that his son took of me, decked out in a lollipop orange and gold silk-chiffon sari bought in Madras is not the flawless image for which I’d hoped: my sari was askew, and the photograph was taken from too low an angle. There’s too much grey – the contrast is not great, and the Sidibé magic is not there.

But I didn’t care. None of that mattered.

In 2015, the tenth edition of the Encounters Biennale of African Photography (popularly known as Bamako Encounters) promised to return big – but innovative and experimental. It is young enough to take brash risks – whilst still maintaining its eye on Mali’s photographic heritage; it went international and inclusive of the African Diaspora – but retained its relevance to the locality in which it was firmly situated. Olabisi Silva, Independent curator and founder of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCLA) in Lagos, Nigeria, recognised the significance of this event as a definitive moment for Mali – a re-coming out party if you will – meant to restore local, continental, and international confidence in the country’s return to stability. Silva noted, in Contemporary&, “This notion of telling is a gerund: it’s not ‘tell’, it’s ‘telling’, because it’s continuous from the past to the present and into the future”; given the events of the past year – Ebola epidemic ravaging Liberia and Sierra Leone, Boko Haram in Nigeria, uprisings that ousted firmly seated dictators, Silva “wanted to reflect on what it meant to live today. So I thought that ‘Telling Time’ was really a perfect way to begin to articulate different levels of stories, of narratives.”

In order to set the tone for this grand return, Silva sent an open call over Twitter and Facebook to all photographers to send in their work for a wall of contemporary work that will re-imagine what it means to visualize being “African” in this moment. Part of the curatorial impetus for Silva and her team – which includes Ivorian-born architect Issa Diabaté (who is focusing on the biennale exhibition’s design), and associate curators Yves Chatap and Antawan Byrd – was to go beyond paying ceremonial homage to local history, only to go on to overwhelm a decorative reference to locale with a flashy list of international invitees. So as to actually imbed the local into the fabric of an international event, and to ensure that it has resonance in the local landscape of image-making well beyond the scope of the Biennale’s lifespan, Silva spent a significant amount of time developing relationships with different photographic associations in the city of Bamako, and in the country as a whole: in the same interview, she noted earnestly, “Every single Malian photographer has a responsibility to become invested in the Biennale and believe in the ownership of the event.” In a way, as curator of photography in a politically crucial time in a nation that is already home to a proud photographic history that it can call its own, she had to become a nation-builder extraordinaire, too.

Knowing that the overarching theme of the Biennale was “Telling Time” meant that we focused our attention on the invisible presence of temporality in photographs. This relationship between time and photographs, highlighted and visualized by several artists included in the main exhibition spaces, emphasized photography’s ability to conjure up traces of the past, to realize that past in the present, and perhaps that the present is also evident in a co-existent past. To that end, Silva and her team selected a range of lens-based artists who had experience in documentary, performative, and conceptual photographic practices. The thirty-nine artists whose work is shown in Bamako work in all the innovative possibilities that the technology of photography and lens-based artwork offers us today, from old-school developed film, digitally manipulated collages, video work juxtaposed with still frames, stills from re-enactments of iconic Hollywood films, and fantasy vistas projecting Afro-futures. As might be expected, there were studies – or anthropological excavations, if you will – of the photographic specialty for which this part of the world is renowned: studio photography. Senegalese photographer Ibrahima Thiam’s “Clichés d’hier” (“Photographs of yesterday”) re-positions images from his own family’s albums among collected photographs from other individuals – some intended for identity cards required by the state, and some for personal pleasure. All of them are neatly arranged in a performative stage that mimics the black and white checkered cosmos of the ’60s studio.

Ibrahima Thiam's "Clichés d’hier"

Ibrahima Thiam’s “Clichés d’hier”

Thiam’s imperative to collect studio photographs began when he was a child, beginning with images from his family’s albums; today, he has 350 photographs: an archive of portrait photography from Senegal, including those by pioneers of Senegalese photography, like Meïssa Gaye, Mama Casset and Salla Casset, Doudou Diop, and Julien Lopez. When we walked into the small, three-walled alcove, we were re-viewing and re-enacting both state and family histories, immersing ourselves into stories that told of ambitions, desires, hopes, loves withheld and loves given generously. Standing in this reconstructed studio space, we were telling time, telling story, telling life.

No doubt, the memory of Mali’s immediate past was in evidence, subtle though it may have been at times, layered over the inscrutable present. At the hotel, armed guards always checked under the car for bombs using one of those circular mirrors attached to a long pole. Sometimes, they asked the driver to open the boot and bonnet. An armed guard checked our handbags at the front entrance to the hotel. These measures are, in many ways, ceremonial, meant to display an air of security and control – no different from the airport security in the U.S., however tight. At one point, after our car was permitted into the hotel compound, one curator said, “we could have been hiding guns under our feet.”


Credit: ‘kola

On the streets, the military was omnipresent, but not obnoxiously so. Guards in military fatigues sat under canopy in front of the Institut Français buildings, in which artists from Niger had their work displayed, boiling water for tea. But the French were paranoid; on the plane from Casablanca, we heard that at least two French journalists in “junior” positions were sent because their superior thought it too unsafe to travel to Bamako. “Stupid her, lucky you!” I joked with one. We all made fun of all the poor French journalists, who were required by the French Embassy to travel from hotel to art venues in one bus, with an armed guard present at all times. At one point, we saw one of the French journalists had escaped the hotel’s confines: she was walking to a restaurant a few meters away, but even then, the armed guard accompanied her discretely. “You didn’t see me,” she mouthed playfully to my French friend. But it would have been a mistake to think that the city’s inhabitants were laissez-faire about the military’s presence. During a taxi ride to a hair braider’s salon, we heard loud honking and flashing headlights: a open military truck filled to the brim with soldiers in fatigues, barreling down the road wanted to get past. Everyone quietly moved to the side of the road and let them pass.

Despite the unmistakable presence of military men – local and foreign – leaving one with an impression that this was, in many ways, an occupied city, the air was clear and sweet with motorbike fumes, dust from traffic, midday heat, fruit, and grilling fish, and conversation between photographers, writers, and curators from all corners of the African diaspora – Parisian Madagascarians, itinerant Kenyans with footholds in Dakar and Cape Town, South Africans who didn’t feel at home in their country, and to top it off, Afro-Brazilians from Bahía who arrived in Bamako International Airport without a visa for Mali, “as if they were returning home, to the motherland,” joked someone. (Samuel Sidibé, the Director of the National Museum of Mali who is largely responsible for running the biennale, reportedly went to the airport in the wee hours to “negotiate” with immigration officials and get permission for the Brazilians to enter.)

When the writers, curators, and photographers attending the Biennale settled into those easy conversations that happen by the second and third days of close proximity to each other, we swapped stories about the UN soldiers stomping through hotel hallways and the foreign personnel crowding the hotel bar, here to instruct Malians on decentralisation. The artists were staying at the Azalai Hotel near the Musée National de Bamako, and the curators and journalists were staying mostly at Hotel Onomo. One night, some of the artists noticed that there were gigantic armed guards on each floor; they learned through the grapevine that a many-starred general was staying there.

But none of that mattered.

Bamako Siren 3

What mattered was that Malian women were zooming past on motorbikes – that they were driving them, not simply content to be propped on the backseat whilst some paramour took the handlebars to direct her down the road. There they were, almost clichés of beauty and style, decked out in their ordinary best: figure-hugging skirt and blouse ensembles, tailored to suit their every curve, head-wraps in complementing or contrasting colors. Everyone attending the Biennale (all the foreign visitors, that is, including those from neighboring Senegal and Nigeria) remarked on the motorcycle sirens – so self-assured, so practical, weaving about the traffic with a sister, a friend, a youngster on the back-seat. We gawked at them without shame. If Sidibé was still photographing, no doubt these women would be on his list.

What mattered was that it is lush here, an ordinary, everyday, wide-leaf abundance, easy-going camaraderie, and fertility of imagination and intellect. I could walk into some out of the way little restaurant with my two new friends, Mekbib Tadesse and Aaron Simeneh, young Ethiopian photographers trained in Aida Muluneh’s studio, order the grilled fish and rice, and a government minister washed his hands at the same bowl as ours – bending down to the floor like any peasant. Naturally, he struck up a conversation about Samuel Fosso and Malik Sidibé.

What mattered was that after years of having twitter sass-offs with a mysterious Nigerian contributor to Africa is a Country, he shows up with a gin and tonic at the hotel pool, dipping his toned calf muscles into the water whilst immersing himself in and out of conversations about this or that photographer’s work, making politically incorrect asides about the Mauritanians seated on the back patio space checking out my backside, packed inside an electric blue Speedo. And him? Yes, my friend’s own beauty was in evidence, and someone was there to admire it, too. But those glances were so painfully elegant – and the recipient so willfully ignorant – that I couldn’t make fun of this moment. I only wished that I hadn’t lost my camera in a surfing accident years ago, and that I was still making images. This, here, was something I wouldn’t be able to get across with words alone.

The Great Question in Dar es Salaam

The Great Question in Dar es Salaam is always: incompetence… or conspiracy? The question was first introduced to me by a tired-looking campaign adviser before the October 25th general elections. “Incompetence or conspiracy?” said he, shaking his head sadly. Incompetence or conspiracy? You never, never know.

When the fundi fixing your car door, whom you argued over prices with, has the misfortune to smash your back window in the process: incompetence or conspiracy?

When you are trying to get something done in an office and you yell and get angry and the lady at the desk tells you sit down and two hours later she is still talking to her friend in the other room about hair weaves: incompetence or conspiracy? It’s the Great Question in business, and the Great Question in public offices. When you show up with your correct forms and permits and sweaty wad of money and they say:

– Ah you know…my boss, Mr. Accountability, he is very busy. Very busy. Ok let me call him. Ok he´s coming now. No, that one. He has gone, the other one is coming. M-m, the managing director supervisor is busy, but the supervising managing general assistant director he is coming. You are going? But you can come back later? Or you can text him? Here´s his number. Here´s his other number. Here´s his other other number. But I don´t think he has airtime.

That’s just the way it is. Yet when bigger things are going on, like the most highly-competitive elections the country has ever held in the most heated and muddled political climate, with the new constitution and the future of the country at stake, systemic failure is not so funny anymore.

grace mercy pic 1

I was lucky enough to be in Dar es Salaam during the elections. I met with many people who had not been able to cast their vote on election day because of mistakes and paperwork run-arounds. At one point I was shown a list of close to five-hundred people at a single polling station who had not been able to vote. They had been told all manner of things: “There was a problem with the ‘machines.’ It was their own faults, they hadn´t followed procedures correctly. Overseeing officials were on their way, just wait. Call this number, if no one picks up, try again later.”

Most agree that generally the elections were well-organized. However there are still gaps in the system too wide to be ignored. And at the back of everyone´s mind there is always the Great Question: incompetence or conspiracy?

So many more great things could have been achieved in this country, but every step of development is being tripped up by first having to wade through the circus of bureaucracy. On top of that every new player is automatically signed up to take part in the great power game. It is a soft and clever way to confuse, distract, isolate and frustrate.

That is, if you are the type to believe in conspiracy. It might just be incompetence.

The Roots of Africa’s Present Condition

Today sees the relaunch of the famed Review of African Political Economy, this time on the webWe are happy to report that we will partner with ROAPE and the editor of the website, Leo Zeilig (who has contributed here before) on this new journey. Below Leo, and the ROAPE Editorial Working Group, lay out the vision with the site and provide some needed historical context for the continent’s current crisis.

The Review of African Political Economy was established in 1974, with the aim to “examine the roots of Africa’s present condition” and problems such as inequality and dependency. Yet, the Review did not seek to promote scholarly research for its own sake, but instead sought to engage with the actions required for transformation. The aim, in short, was to provide a space to help sharpen understandings and analysis of developments in order to equip movements and activists to revolutionise the continent. Empty academic research without political action, plans and projects were shunned. However the Review would not, so the original editorial stated, propose tactics and strategy that could only be answered in the actual struggles taking place on the continent. Rather it would become a forum which could sharpened analysis and help facilitate meaningful practice.

What was happening on the continent when the Review was founded? 1974 was a key moment. The first wave of independence in Africa had already passed and the countries that had become independent offered little real liberation. As the South Africa revolutionary Ruth First, one of the first editors of the Review, had already stated, decolonization had been a “bargaining process with cooperative African elites …The former colonial governments guarded its options and … the careerist heirs to independence preoccupied themselves with an ‘Africanisation’ of the administration.”

New movements were now challenging both Portugal’s colonies and the white minority regimes of Southern Africa and the limitations of the first wave of independence. Exciting political formations were on the verge of taking power in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau. The Review wanted to interrogate these revolutionary projects as part of the second wave of critical decolonisation. It also sought to understand the patterns of power and economic control that had been developing across the continent since the late 1950s.

As a fraternal voice of the new movements that were sweeping the continent the Review attempted to analyse the progressive politics of the new forces of liberation that were emerging and interrogate those radical projects that already existed.

Some of the scholar-activists involved in founding RoAPE, including the late Lionel Cliffe, whose idea it was, had recently returned from Tanzania where they had been involved in the experiments in socialist development in the country, critically supporting, mainly through teaching, writing and influencing local activists and policymakers, Julius Nyerere’s attempts to break the colonial legacy of underdevelopment. They were joined by others who had worked elsewhere in Africa, including most notably Ruth First. They were based in the UK, but often in transit, moving between the continent and the UK. The first generation involved in RoAPE were scholar-activists not career academics, they were a committed (and diverse) political community seeking to assist the continent’s radical transformation (1).

However, in the 1980s the desired change – and eventual move – crashed on the rocks of structural adjustment, globalisation and authoritarian state-led development. The Review remained committed to providing radical analysis of the continent’s transforming political economy through the 1980s and 1990s. Whilst it remains based in the UK, its Contributing Editors span the continent and it is sustains a growing programme of workshops and conferences in Africa.

The new website seeks to help reinvigorate scholar activism in and about Africa, and to involve new communities on the continent and elsewhere in a host of ROAPE activities, projects, conferences and events. The aim is to develop a new audience for the Review, to generate material for both the website and for the print issue, and to build deeper and sustainable connections with scholars, students, activists and institutions who work in and on Africa.

The site holds videos of conferences, interviews with scholars and activists, regular conference reports, a blog, details about ROAPE bursaries, on-going ROAPE projects, reviews, longer online articles and free access through the publisher Taylor and Francis to our Briefings & Debates. We have a close connection to the French language site Afriques en Lutte who have many years’ experience covering social movements and uprisings in Francophone Africa, and will provide coverage of developments and struggles taking place across French speaking Africa, events that are frequently invisible to an increasingly Anglophone world.

Towards these new objectives ROAPE is working with the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. SWOP’s work is entirely compatible with ROAPE, the community of researchers and students within the institute and university and the activist orientation of many of the activities and research conducted by the institute. Johannesburg is also a unique African hub for visiting researchers from the continent, with a thriving radical community of activists and scholars. ROAPE hopes to develop these connections with SWOP through a number of initiatives – ROAPE/SWOP workshops, conferences and events, seminars and launches.

These connections and partnerships build on existing relationships that ROAPE has established. ROAPE collaborates with Third World Network-Africa (TWN), a pan-African research and advocacy organization based in Accra, Ghana. With ROAPE member Yao Graham, co-ordinator of TWN, we organize conferences and workshops and collaborate on the African Initiative on Mining, Environment and Society (AIMS).

We want to develop the website to become a leading online resource for radical political economy in Africa. The 1974 editorial explained that it is to “the task of understanding, and countering the debilitating consequences of a capitalism which stems from external domination and is combined with internal underdevelopment and equally exploitative structures that this review is dedicated.” This project remains ours today.

(1) Initially the people who got the Review off the ground in addition to Lionel and Ruth, were Gavin Williams, Robin Cohen, Katherine Levine (now Salahi), Manfred Bienefeld and Peter Lawrence.

Weekend Music Break – Madiba The 5th December Edition

On this day two years ago, Nelson Mandela passed. Madiba and his legacy has been covered widely on this site already, so for this weekend’s music break we’re going to jump into the archives and feature a collection of favorites we’ve already dedicated to him, as well as some new new new… If you have some reading time as well this weekend, check out our Mandela archive here.

Decolonising Lesotho’s Literary Landscape

The past few weeks have been a tough balancing act for Lineo Segoete. She is co-director of Ba Re, Lesotho’s only literature festival founded in 2011 by the late, great pearl of infinite wisdom Liepollo Rantekoa. The festival runs over two days and starts today in the capital Maseru. Segoete had had to deal with last-minute cancellations from guests (Kenya’s James Murua) and “concerns” from Rantekoa’s family. The latter, she says, arose out of lack of constant back-and-forth communication, and have been ironed out.

But it’s generally been a good year for Ba Re, short for ‘Ba re e ne re’ (Sesotho: Once upon a time). They have experienced exponential growth since 2011, the year in which Liepollo gathered poet and author of the recently-released A Half-Century Thing Lesego Rampolokeng, along with Kgafela wa Magogodi as guests at the inaugural showcase. This year’s line-up of the two-day festival has writers from around the continent. Besides the festival, Ba Re the organization is in continuous engagement with various stakeholders in Lesotho to revive the country’s once-bustling publishing industry — Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka comes to mind — and to boost literacy rates and build an appreciation for the arts in general in a country which doesn’t see a correlation between Creative Industries and Science- and Business-oriented subjects, in effect downplaying the importance of the former.

To this end, Ba Re have initiated a partnership with Peace Corps in Lesotho whereby on-the-ground volunteers run writing competitions and a spelling bee contest in the country’s 10 districts. “We hold a national ceremony with the outcomes,” says Lineo, the co-director. “The spelling bee was actually the highlight of our year. We had students from all of the districts except Maseru. That was deliberate because we actually do want to reach out to the outskirts, the more rural areas where access to these kinds of resources are super-limited,” she expands. There were prizes on offer for all of the participants. The winners received full scholarships for the next academic year.

Lineo re-counts last year’s festival by way of a Sesotho saying “Ha ho ntho’e mpe e se nang molemo.” A few months away from the festival, the then-tripartite Lesotho government, headed by Motsoahae Thabane, suffered a military coup. A state of emergency was declared, leading to safety concerns from funders who eventually pulled out of the event altogether. Still, they were able to pull strings together and make the festival happen. Yewande Omotoso and the Chimurenga massive were among those in attendance.

“What we took from that [experience] was that there’s a great need for artistic expression in the country. Most of our guests from last year were like ‘guys, this is a landmine! You should be writing about this. This should be a book. You should be published!” says Lineo excitedly.

Lineo Segoete is co-director of the Ba Re E Ne Re literature festival

Lineo Segoete is co-director of the Ba Re E Ne Re literature festival

The festival happens in the midst of political instability yet again. Though not as tense as last year, events surrounding the impending release of the Phumaphi commission’s report — set up following events which included botched assassination attempts on the former Prime Minister, and the assassination of former army commander Maaparankoe Mahao — have rendered Lesotho a shadow of its former peaceful self.

Ba Re have heeded the wise words of last year’s participants and are using the festival to, among other things, imagine a future for Lesotho’s arts industry, and to have a conversation about decolonising the country’s literature sphere. “From the writing competition, we learned that there is a lot of creativity in the country, and it’s quite different from what we are used to in terms of the books that have been published in the past, which were mostly influenced by religious dogma and politics.” Lineo says that what they are encountering is a shift towards a “broader worldview” which is reflected in the writing. “To us, it reveals that we are aware that we are part of a global society and we’re just trying to claim our place in this world that we live in,” she added.

Besides their core activities, Ba Re are also seeking out ways to help writers get published. Lineo says this is where their growing network in the field of literature comes in handy. She shares a bit about her exchange with Moses Kilolo from Jalada Africa. “[We] started talking on social media and sharing ideas and conversation. We were like ‘you know what, we should have someone from Jelada Africa come to Lesotho as well, especially because you guys deal with publishing and you have such a great set-up. We can actually learn a lot from you!'” she says.

As our conversation nears to an end, Lineo shares the following sentiment: “Part of the underlying motivation behind this project is for us to be more in touch with our cultures, especially considering our colonial heritage and history. The fact that we’re doing this in Liepollo’s memory is a way of acknowledging our ancestors. For us, that is an even bigger motivation. It’s a communication between us and the other side of life; a conversation between the past and the present.”

* The festival starts today 5-6 December 2015 at Machabeng College in Maseru. This year’s theme is “Reclaim your story”

A Cartographic Narrative–The 1760-1761 Slave Revolt in Jamaica

In my opinion, spatial analysis represents one of the most compelling new modes of storytelling provided by the digital turn.  David Bodenhamer noted the value of spatial analysis in an interview for the New York Times in 2011.  The value of the “spatial turn” as some have termed it, Bodenhamer argued, is that it “allows you to ask new questions:  Why is it that something developed here and not somewhere else, what is it about the context of this place?”  These new questions that arise with the implementation of spatial analysis, as Bodenhamer suggests, add new features to historian’s traditional analysis of change over time.  Projects like this week’s featured site, Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative, expand these investigations from change over time to change over time and space, both conceptually and visually.

Slave Revolt in Jamaica visualizes the story of the “greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth century British Empire.”  In 1760, in the midst of Britain’s Seven Year;s War, around 1500 enslaved men and women staged a massive insurrection in Jamaica; a struggle that lasted from April 1760 to October 1761.  This project not only maps the events of this insurrection dynamically, providing an animated tour through the events of this insurrection, but also provides a curated archive of documentary evidence to support the data given on the map.  The data and archive on the site was accumulated and organized by Vincent Brown, is a professor of History and African American Studies at Harvard University.  Slave Revolt builds on Brown’s corpus of written analyses of death and slavery in the Caribbean specifically and the Diaspora more broadly.

It is important to note that this project, just like Brown’s written works, represents an argument.  The “narrative” in the site’s title is not only descriptive, but also represents a central tenet of the project’s goals.  This is not simply a map displaying data.  It is a narrative of the events of the slave insurgency and an argument about the nature and character of the rebellion.  Brown intended to use this map as a way to change the debate around “public perceptions of black insurrection.  Brown explained in a 2013 interview:

As with more recent disturbances, people at the time debated whether the slave insurrection in Jamaica in 1760-61 was a spontaneous eruption or a carefully planned affair.  Historians still debate the question, their task made more difficult by the lack of written records produced by the insurgents. Cartographic evidence developed…shows that the rebellion was in fact a well-planned affair that posed a genuine strategic threat, not an indiscriminate outburst.

In addition to the historical argument that Brown presents through the map, one of the most compelling things about this project is it’s simple, well-constructed design.  Brown built Slave Revolt in Jamaica with Axis Maps, a company specializing in custom interactive maps (you can find some of their other collaborations here).  David Heyman, the managing director of Axis Maps, noted the power of interactive mapping in a 2013 interview on the project for The Voice Online.  “We wanted to build the simplest and most elegant map possible in order to provide users – expert historians and members of the public alike – a high quality and detailed narrative of the uprising, allowing them to understand the story visually as well as through text,” Heyman explained, “Interactive cartography provides a completely new method through which to interpret existing demographic and event data into a more rounded historical narrative, revealing surprising and unprecedented patterns that were previously hidden.”  Slave Revolt in Jamaica is a compelling example of the power of interactive mapping for storytelling and scholarly analysis.

As always, feel free to send me suggestions via Twitter (or use the hashtag #DigitalArchive) of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive!

*This post is No. 23 in our Digital Archive series covering African archives on the web.



South Africa’s anarchist hip hop collective

How do you make people realize they’re in chains? For Soundz of the South (or SOS) – an anti-capitalist resistance collective from Khayelitsha, Cape Town – you give them hip hop.

That injunction dates back to hip hop’s origins in New York City. At street parties in the South Bronx in the 1970s, sound equipment was often wired up to park lampposts. Hip hop’s origins were strictly DIY and, most importantly, a direct reaction to the structural marginalization of communities and the racism of the mainstream media. SOS are carrying on that initial spirit through hip hop activism that is relevant to their own struggles.

As a collective of both activists and artists they are committed to decentralization, direct action, autonomy and self-reliance. Like anarchist thinkers Emma Goldman or Mikhail Bakunin, they believe that hierarchies corrupt and only horizontal organisation can eliminate inequality. Besides recording albums, SOS hosts regular meetings and “critical” documentary screenings, weekly slam sessions, organize protests and discussions, attend regular conferences and have set up campaigns such as “Don’t Vote! Organise!” or initiatives to save Philippi High (a school on Cape Town’s Cape Flats). They also started the Afrikan Hip Hop Caravan, an annual series of events (this is the third edition) currently taking place through the end of December.

A recent track was directly inspired by the collective’s involvement in the #FeesMustFall student protests. When I interviewed members Milliha, Anele, Khusta, Sipho and Monde, they were resolute that their music has to be political. “What hip hop should be about is hold accountable those who are in power,” says Anele. The reasons are that it’s a genre young people can relate to, and accessible because, as Milliha explains, unlike punk music, “You need a pen and paper, and the beat will come on its own.” The sentiment is that, when country’s President, Jacob Zuma’s main virtue is a charismatic dance, and bling bling, booze and bitches flood the mainstream, grassroots hip hop is the alternative media.

SOS members, who are also part of other activist organizations such as the Housing Assembly and ILRIG, understand that there’s more to social change than music. To be part of the collective, you have to be involved in regular discussions, protests, meetings, take on tasks, organize, and identify with the principles. Many times on-the-ground work comes first, which inspires ideas for songs. But Anele stresses, what hip hop does do is help listeners wake up and mobilise action. “It demystifies big issues and brings politics back to the people,” he says, or as Monde puts it, “We’re taking whatever is out there and bring it closer to those who can’t reach it.”

The Afrikan Hip Hop Caravan aims to take this kind of awareness across the continent. It was conceived by SOS, Uhuru Network, and various cultural activists in 2011. In each participating African city, there’ll be the Afrikan Hip Hop Conference, to encourage discussion about hip hop’s role in community struggles, and the Afrikan Hip Hop Concert, to give repressed, underground hip hop a platform. 2015’s edition will start in Arusha, Tanzania, and the main focus will be migration against the backdrop of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the European refugee crisis, and shooting of black teenagers in the United States. Inspired by Dakar hip hop artists who got together to stop president Abdoulaye Wade from unconstitutionally seeking a third term in office, the idea is to explore the origins of certain problems, relate them to current issues and transcend borders.

SOS’s involvement in the caravan, as well as everything else they do, is self-financed. Strictly rejecting any funding from corporate brands (saying no to Red Bull for instance, Khusta tells me) to maintain autonomy, SOS decide collectively what happens to any proceeds. Nobody receives money to spend at their own discretion. Instead, Khusta explains, it goes back into the community. As a group with no set amount of members, they’re not interested in branding themselves nor registering with a label – “We don’t make songs for the radio,” says Anele.

In South Africa music has played an important role in the struggle of oppressed people. President Jacob Zuma must be aware of a rhythm’s convincing power – when it’s election time he brings mainstream DJs to the township. That’s why SOS don’t want listeners to switch off to their beats. Following Bakunin, they believe a “sweet” democracy that demands gratitude for pseudo-freedom distracts from important realities. “And that’s what we have, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing, to make people realise they’re in chains. They are working and creating wealth for others to enjoy,” explains Anele. Unfortunately, he continues, many anarchist comrades don’t get hip hop – “They see a lot of black power and think it’s nationalism” – but he’s convinced that there is no line between anarchism and hip hop. Hip hop is the voice of the working class.

*The Cape Town Afrikan Hip Hop Concert and Conference will take on December 12th 2015 at Moholo Live, and on December 13th at Buyel’mbo Village, Khayelitsha. If you can’t make it, watch out for Freedom Warriors Vol 3. and The Afrikan Hip Hop Caravan Collaborations from 2013 to be released soon.

Europe’s Eritrean “problem”

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, many of Europe’s right wing parties were quick to insinuate Syrian refugees were to blame and to call for stricter immigration and border controls. But even before the attacks, some European governments were already maneuvering to prevent refugees from entering their countries. Eritreans—who represent one of the largest groups of refugees seeking safety in Europe in recent years—have been a primary target of those who would close Europe’s doors.

Efforts to exclude Eritrean refugees from Europe began over a year ago in Denmark. In mid-2014, the Danish Immigration Service embarked on a fact-finding mission to Eritrea after seeing a dramatic rise in the number of Eritreans seeking asylum. The mission report—based primarily on anonymous interviews in Asmara—declared conditions had improved enough that Eritreans would no longer be recognized as refugees in Denmark. Human rights organizations denounced the report, and two men who contributed to it resigned, saying they were pressured to ensure the report allowed Denmark to adopt stricter asylum practices. After a period of public pressure, the Danish government announced Eritreans would still receive asylum in Denmark, but the report remained public.

… For over a year, the European Union has also been quietly working with the Eritrean government on stemming migration and calling for, among other things, “promoting sustainable development in countries of origin…in order to address the root causes of irregular migration.” This October, the EU Development Fund announced it was resuming aid to Eritrea with a possible $229 million package for economic development in part to give peoplealternatives to migration. According to official EU sources, the funding will help tackle poverty and “directly benefit the population.” Such a rationale seemingly ignores that most Eritreans indicate leaving to avoid the regime’s human rights abuses—although officials said such cooperation allows “the EU to reinforce a political dialogue to highlight the importance of human rights.”

Read the rest here.

Africa is a Radio: Season 2, Episode 7

2015’s last episode of Africa is a Radio features a snippet from an extended interview with Pakistani-American journalist Rafia Zakaria, as well as a selection of tunes from Africa and the rest of the Atlantic world.

Check it out below, and see you in 2016!


1) Raury – Devil’s Whisper 2) Burna Boy – Soke 3) Oliver Mtukudzi – Ndima Ndapedza 4) Gah Gah – Kasbah 5) Interview with Rafia Zakaria 6) Booba – Mon Pays 7) Nasty C – Juice Back Remix feat. Davido and Cassper Nyovest 8) Ziminino – Intermitência 9) Nega Gizza – Filme de terror 10) Santos Junior – N’Gui Banza Mama 11) Fabregas – Mascara 12) Franko – Coller la petite 13) VVIP – Dogo Yaro feat. Samini 14) Kafu Banton – Vivo en el ghetto 15) Lokassa Ya Mbongo – Bonne année