Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Lost Kingdoms of Africa | Dr Gus Casely-Hayford

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pq946/Lost_Kingdoms_of_Africa_Nubia/

Four-part series in which British art historian Dr Gus Casely-Hayford explores the pre-colonial history of some of Africa's most important kingdoms.

The African continent is home to nearly a billion people. It has an incredible diversity of communities and cultures, yet we know less of its history than almost anywhere else on earth.

But that is beginning to change. In the last few decades, researchers and archaeologists have begun to uncover a range of histories as impressive and extraordinary as anywhere else in the world.

The series reveals that Africa's stories are preserved for us in its treasures, statues and ancient buildings - in the culture, art and legends of the people.

The first episode looks at Nubia, in what is now northern Sudan, a kingdom that dominated a vast area of the eastern Sahara for thousands of years. Its people were described as barbarians and mercenaries, and yet Nubia has left us with some of the most spectacular monuments in the world.

Casely-Hayford traces the origins of this fascinating kingdom back to 10,000 BC. He explores how it developed and what happened to it and its people, discovering that its kings once ruled Ancient Egypt and that it was defeated not by its rivals but by its environment.


Dr Gus Casely-Hayford enthusiasm is infectious and a delight to watch. 

Check it out:

The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu | Aminatta Forna

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00hkb0z/The_Lost_Libraries_of_Timbuktu/?from=r

Aminatta Forna tells the story of legendary Timbuktu and its long hidden legacy of hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts. With its university founded around the same time as Oxford, Timbuktu is proof that the reading and writing of books have long been as important to Africans as to Europeans.

The books that are being found in and around Timbuktu are amongst some of the most important on earth and Universities from Oslo to Chicago and South Africa are busy documenting, archiving and translating the Arabic into English. This complicated and laborious mammoth project will certainly take several decades to shed more light on the true importance of these newly rediscovered West African Academic Islamic manuscripts but the truth is that West Africa has a far rich history of academic thought, which clearly dates back centuries.

Libraries of Timbuktu | http://www.sum.uio.no/timbuktu/index.html

This extensive web site includes links to the individual participating libraries and collections; a bibliography of Timbuktu; related institutions and resources; and an archive of press coverage (some links are no longer live).

The Timbuktu Manuscripts Project was initiated through a collaboration between Norwegian Universities (NUFU), the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu (IHERIAB), and the National Research Council of Mali (CNRST). Through a grant from NORAD and the Ford Foundation, the project was launched in the year 2000. The Timbuktu Manuscripts Project is the first UNESCO MEMORY of the WORLD Project and the first NEPAD Cultural Project.

West African Arabic Manuscripts Project (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

AMMS is a bi-lingual (English and Arabic) database that was developed at the University of Illinois in the late 1980s to describe a collection of Arabic manuscripts in southern Mauritania (Boutilimit). It subsequently has been used to catalogue seven other West African collections including the manuscript libraries at the Institut Mauritanien de Recherche Scientifique, Northwestern University, and the Centre Ahmad Baba in Timbuctu.

President Thabo Mbeki and the South Africa Government have played and are playing an important role in funding, preserving and cataloguing the works being uncovered. If knowledge is power then Timbuktu could light up a MegaCity.


Here is a YouTube version:

Welcome to Lagos on the BBC

Check out BBC iPlayer


Three-part observational documentary series which explores life at the sharp end of one of the most extreme urban environments in the world: Lagos, Nigeria. Today, more than half the world's population live in cities, and this eye-opening series shows what life is really like in some of the toughest parts of the world's fastest growing megacity.

The first episode uncovers life in the Olusosun rubbish dump. Here, around 1000 people live on top of the rubbish in houses built from scrap. The film follows the daily lives of two men who have become skilled at turning rubbish into gold. Eric, aka Vocal Slender, is a musician, and every bit of scrap he finds brings him one step closer to his dream of launching his music career, but a serious fight nearly ruins his chances.

Joseph is a trader who works hard to provide for his wife and two small children, and who has filled his house with things he has found on the dump. 'If there was a bigger, dirtier, stinkier dump where I could earn more money for my family, then I'd go there to work,' he says.

With extraordinary access to some of the poorest parts of town, the series celebrates the resilience, resourcefulness and energy of Lagos's 16 million inhabitants, and shows how successfully many of its slum dwellers are adapting to the realities of the world's increasingly extreme urban future.

Broadcast on: BBC Two, 9:00pm
Thursday 15th April 2010
Duration:60 minutes
Available until: 9:59pm
Thursday 6th May 2010
Categories: Audio Described, Factual

Take a look and see at BBC iPlayer

Part 2/3

Lagos's version of Venice is a slum, built on water, called Makoko. This three-part observational series continues to explore one of the most extreme urban environments on the planet, by taking a trip into the lives of those who choose to live and work on the waters of Lagos Lagoon.

Chubbey is a fisherman who lives in a house built on stilts. With 18 children and five grandchildren to support, he has become an expert at making money from the most unlikely of places. Whether he is building a fish pond in the same water he uses as a lavatory, or renting out a spare room which he has not even built yet, he has always got some scheme or another on the go. But when his teenage son starts to hang out with a local gang, he is left with a dilemma familiar to parents all over the world.

Paul is a saw operator at Ebute Metta, the largest timber yard in West Africa. All the wood that goes into building Lagos passes through this place, floated in on enormous rafts, some over a kilometre long. Paul still sleeps in the saw mill, and would like nothing more than to get a place of his own in Makoko. But so many of his fellow workers keep getting killed that he finds it very hard to save any money, because he keeps having to spend it all on funerals.

Kissme and Daniel are two 'sandboys', who make their living diving for sand from the bottom of the Lagoon and selling it to the building trade. Between them they can fill two dumper trucks a day, collecting every grain of it by hand, with an old iron bucket.

As humans begin to come to terms with an increasingly urban future, this series offers unprecedented access and insight into the lives of just some of the millions of slum dwellers who are living at the sharp end of the fastest growing megacity in the world.

Broadcast on: BBC Two,
9:00pm Thursday 22nd April 2010
Duration:60 minutes
Available until: 9:59pm
Thursday 6th May 2010
Categories: Audio Described, Factual

Part 3 of 3


This fascinating series continues to look at how people are adapting to modern city life in the 21st century by exploring the slums and ghettos of Lagos, Nigeria. More than 50 per cent of the world's population now live in cities, and that figure is expected to rise to over 70 per cent by 2050. The answer to where humanity could be heading might be found in the lives of the inhabitants of Lagos, one of the world's fastest-growing megacities.

For over six years, Esther has been living with her husband Segun in a house they built themselves from cardboard, scrap wood and tarpaulin on the beach in central Lagos. Every time the government sends its task force to bulldoze their village, she and the thousand or so other inhabitants soon pick up the pieces and build another one. Her best friend, Blessing, is about to give birth here and Esther is worried for her safety. But when she discovers text messages from another woman on her husband's phone, she suddenly has problems of her own to deal with.

Meanwhile, politicians in Lagos are planning sweeping changes to improve the infrastructure and attractiveness of Lagos. Part of their plan to turn it into a 'megacity' involves demolishing the slums, which house so many of its inhabitants. The film follows Sagede, a member of the newly established Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit, which targets illegal dwellings all over the city and clears away everything in its path.

Broadcast on:  BBC Two, 9:00pm Thursday 29th April 2010
Duration:60 minutes
Available until: 9:59pm
Thursday 6th May 2010
Categories: Audio Described, Factual

The Tutu Talks | Are Women Strong Enough To Lead Africa

Archbishop Desmond Tutu brings together Africa's leading contemporary thinkers in a series of discussions exploring major issues and changes affecting the future of the continent.

Tutu asks his guests - Patricia De Lille, Pregs Govender, Mbuyiselo Botha, and Nomboniso Gasa - why women in Africa, despite years of struggle and hardship, still do not possess the same freedoms and rights as men.

Are arguments about cultural difference and tradition allowing brutal acts of oppression against women to be ignored or excused? Do men in Africa fear their identities or power will be eroded if women have greater equality? What does the political victory of Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia tell us about the possibilities for real change?

Broadcast on:
BBC Four, 10:00pm Tuesday 27th April 2010
30 minutes
Available until:
10:29pm Thursday 6th May 2010

Justin Fiske, South Africa

Take a look at the beauty Justin Fiske has created with pebbles and string.

Art can be so powerful and the simpler the better but it's clear that Justin has taken an age to come up with his own beautiful solution: The joy of movement as he creates his Kinetic Sculptures down in Cape Town.

Check out his works:



Here is a poem Justin wrote that I like a lot:

Frame of Reference

There are days 
when water feels like cream on your lips
& others when you have to try so hard
feeling only follows blood
or chipped tooth.
& it's not just a question of money
or love,
or ....how the light falls
as if those would be easy to accept an answer from 
even if they offered
but it's in the line & the cadence & depth of the gasp;
how much slack the strings take for themselves
before life takes it up
wrenching us back into orientation 
& dragging us deeper into memory
j.f. | 2010

See how Kinetic Sculpture is being used in commercials here in the UK.

Here is an commercial for Honda entitled Cog:

Unofficial South African World Cup Posters Campaign

The Unofficial Posters by Joe Pollitt

I wanted to take elements that I found interesting from various themes, ideas or parts of Contemporary African Art and add them all together in order to make up as series of 3 posters for the Unofficial South African World Cup, 2010 Poster Campaign I am unofficially running.

I remember reading a story by Laurens van der Post about the 'Bushmen' of the Kalahari Desert down in South Africa. I was fascinated by the way they put each other into an altered state of mind in order to paint on the cave walls. They would gather together in the sand and collectively clap their hands and one member of the group would stand in the middle and shuffle his feet vigorously in the sand to stimulate his endorphins in his brain; after a short while he would collapse in a heap in the sand and be taken off by his friends to sleep and enjoy the journey of going into a deep trance. When he woke out of his deep slumber he would tell stories of half-human animal monsters he had seen and he would paint what he saw on the cave walls. The images often had grid-like patterns which are also seen in artworks, which are created under the influence of Opium. This grid-like pattern was also used by Nejib Belkhodja when creating his blueprints of the Medina's in the 80's and 90's in Tunisia and he was strongly influenced by Mondrain and Modernism.

Soly Cisse's early works are interesting to me as he painted small stories in tiles around the canvas and I wanted to echo that idea in the posters. The images should be seen as tiles on a floor. The style of the work should be like that created by Twins Seven Seven and Malagantana back in the 70's and hopefully the influence of their work can be seen in the posters too. I also wanted to try and use Hans Hofmann's, the American Abstract Expressionist and superb art teacher, and his ideas of 'Push and Pull Theory' in colour, which makes some of the tiles stand out more than the others because of the colours they are associated next to; this gives a virtual 3D effect to the work.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Role of Media in Africa | Sony Bravia by Fallon Ad Agency, UK.

Take a look at how advertising/commercials can create a great sense of identity for those without a strong sense of identity. Advertising could play an enormous role in defining who, what and how African countries  would like to define themselves as. Globalization has already taken shape and commercialism and capitalism could be a great way to define nations as they create their sense of self. Products will be bought regardless but there is a great opportunity that is being lost, maybe on purpose in order to shape the world as one large vision of America or maybe because of budget restrictions or maybe because of laziness but regardless of all that the opportunity is there and countries should cease these opportunities. If people are prepared to buy the products on sale it seems only right that in the selling of the products the visual imagery should echo what is seen every day. I think every country in Africa should have an exciting "Prop Shop" for those interested in shooting in countries of Africa, whether for Commercials or for Feature Films and these "Prop Shops" should hold icons of how the country would like to be seen outside and also inside the countries. Full of contemporary artworks of National importance, like the works of Nejib Belkhodja, Abderrazak Sahli or Fatma Charfi when shooting commercials in Tunisia or works by Iba N'Diaye, N'Dary Lo and Soly Cisse when shooting in Senegal or works by Charly D'Almeida when shooting in the Republic of Benin or even have the visual artists as guest Directors on shoots or Visual Advisors of how their countries are represented. It seems strange that foreign Directors can come to a country and shoot whatever they like and therefore represent countries as positively or negatively as they see fit but each country has it's good side and bad side and the balance has yet to be struck in numerous areas of Africa. I see on my television reporters who land in an African country and within 5 minutes give detailed analysis on extremely complicated issues. What authority do they have and what real knowledge are they parting to the world? Robert Fisk and Jeremy Bowen are the two journalists I listen to when it comes to issues surrounding the Middle East as they have both dedicated their lives to the issues surrounding the region. I would be delighted if they were more African journalists prepared to commit themselves to countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and West Africa who had an indepth understanding of the nature of the people and places they were talking about. The same goes for areas in East Africa as Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

East Africa is constantly seen as a land without people but plenty of animals but it seems hard that the animals get the lion share of that attention and those living in East Africa are virtually forgotten. There is creativity in abundance in all parts of the Continent but for some reason it is boiled down to a Continent seen as areas of great poverty, starvation, corruption, wild animals, brutal wars and migration, disasters and people in crisis but that is far from the every day experience. The Continent is being dehumanized in the eyes of the media and this factor must start to change and to some extent is changing but not everywhere.

For example South Africa could do something with Table Mountain to give the country a sense of identity and they have Lothar Bottcher playing with glass and ways of seeing differently mixed with the controversial artist in Tracey Rose, which should make for interesting viewing. Kenya has Peterson, Ingrid Mwangi and Beatrice and Maggie Otieno who are thinking for themselves and creating iconic imagery for the new Kenya evolving mixed with Mt. Kenya and Lake Victoria and Uganda has some of the best ceramists on the Continent and Tanazina has Fred Halla and Kilimanjaro, it would be great to see more positive imagery of black people who live in all the countries.

Where are the Superheroes and the cartoons? Where are Detective Novels, the Spy Stories, the James Bonds of Africa? Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda are  full of writers, comics and creative people, so where are the books, cartoons, animations and films?

For example: There is a man in Gabon who most certainly should be made into a cartoon hero for his efforts supporting the rainforest, Marc Ona Essangui - Maybe the Sun Newspaper in Lagos could support a team of writers and cartoonists to create stories about this man for their Newspaper?


Cartoons should be made of this man, Rainforestman or something like that or a sensitive feature film created by Cameroon film directors. Real opportunity lies in Africa, not just in the minerals and resources but the real gold, the people of Africa.

Take a look at these commercials, which are some of my favourite and see how the ad agency and production company have cleverly blended iconic imagery with art and then slapped a brand name to the imagery. Simple ideas really.


San Francisco





India 2

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Mariella Frostrup: The Women Who Changed My Life

I read this article last weekend and enjoyed the way in which it was written. It has a pace that is African and a rhythm that echoes slightly. For anybody who has been touched by the Continent you can hear or see in Mariella Frostrup's writing a sense of honesty about what she is writing about. Please read:

Source: Times Online: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article7095281.ece?token=null&offset=0&page=1

Photo by Nick Aldridge

It’s only a two-hour drive from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, to Manica Province, but it feels like travelling back centuries. Children in third-generation hand-me-downs run barefoot between the mud-based, corrugated iron-topped huts. But it’s when I hear more about the lives of the village women that I realise the extent to which time has stood still.
Under the shade of a large tree in 40-degree heat, Rabeca, a tall, broad-shouldered widow in her mid-forties, reveals how hard her life has been. She was in her twenties when her husband died. On the day of his death, her in-laws evicted her and her four children, forcing her off the land she had farmed by hand to feed them. Homeless and uneducated, with no rights to an inheritance and only the 100 meticais (about £2) that her in-laws begrudgingly gave her, she was forced to start again.
Rabeca’s experience is echoed by the 12 women gathered around me. Margarita and Maria confide that they have been violently abused by their husbands, who regularly steal money “to spend on drink and other women”. I ask how many have been victims of domestic violence and it feels as if the world has momentarily stopped turning when every single woman raises her hand. “Men here think women are slaves,” says one. Another describes her husband as behaving like “a king in the middle of his wives”. “Surely one of you has had a good experience of a man?” I ask. “I heard about a good man once,” says the oldest member of the group, holding my gaze, “but I never saw him with my own eyes.” It’s a joke that crosses continents and it feels good to laugh together.
But I’m not here to dwell on the misery that exists for many women in Africa; I’ve come to celebrate their escalating achievements. All those present are signed-up members of the Rural Women’s Forum of Manica Province, a coalition of women farmers supported by Graça Machel (Mrs Nelson Mandela) and Oxfam.
And as the women continue, it becomes clear that they are determined things should change, that the next generation should not endure the same lives they have.
Rabeca, for example, not only survived being cast out by her in-laws, but scraped enough money together to educate her children, supporting them through higher education from the sale of crops cultivated with bare hands and hoe. Then she set about educating herself. The pivotal moment in a story defined by hardship and abuse came in 2004 when, at the age of 41, she went back to school to learn to read and write. Now Rabeca is an activist fighting for the rights of Mozambique’s rural women, among whom illiteracy runs at between 70 and 80 per cent and domestic violence is commonplace.
Maria also ensured her daughters were educated. One has since moved to Maputo, she says proudly. “While I’m down there digging,” she says, pointing to the cultivated land that lies in the valley below the plateau where we sit, “I like to imagine her, sitting in a café, having a coffee.” The other women chuckle in delight at the unimaginable indulgence of such an experience.
Women like those assembled around me telling their tales make up the largest unpaid workforce in Mozambique. Looking at their gnarled hands, scarred feet and prematurely aged faces, the price they’ve paid is all too clear. Having never had an education or the confidence to speak out individually, the Rural Women’s Forum is now their passion. Membership gives them strength in numbers, the wherewithal to register their ownership of land and, by extension, the opportunity to lobby politicians. More importantly, it offers them hope for the future, not merely for themselves, but for their daughters.
They proudly invite me to examine the fruits of their labour, and in single file we descend the narrow mud path that leads to their crops. It’s a tranquil scene of lovingly tended tropical plants, predominantly cassava and banana, separated by a series of long, lily-strewn ponds. These ponds, it transpires, are the brainchild of a neighbouring Rural Women’s Forum further north, who started farming fish to provide much needed protein for their children.
There are 46 women working the 60 hectares of land in the sun-baked valley. They set 5 per cent of the crops aside to fund the association, and the rest feeds the village. Margarita describes her husband as “retired”, and explains how working within the organisation has increased her profits.
This season she had money spare to hire her husband’s “vehicle” to take her produce to market. “Surely he could have just lent it to you?” I ask aghast. “I insisted on paying,” she replies. “He had been undermining my work in the forum but now, since I was able to pay him, he treats me with respect.”
It may be 40 years since Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, but look beyond our borders at the lives of women and it’s clear that many have been left untouched by emancipation. The rumour is that as we mature we mellow, but if that’s the case something’s badly wrong with my hard-wiring. I think it was a report from the Congo that finally got to me. A woman who’d been raped at gunpoint then had to watch soldiers doing likewise to her 11-year-old daughter.
Or at least I think it was then. It might have been a few months earlier, visiting Goz Beida IDP camp in Chad and hearing the stories of women terrorised and displaced by the civil war in Sudan: babies decapitated in their arms; kept as sex slaves by units of Janjawid militia; and even now, in the “relative safety” of the camps, the simple act of gathering firewood making rape an everyday danger. It’s a crime that in Sudan goes unpunished, it being more likely that they’ll find the victim guilty of adultery than the perpetrator guilty of a criminal offence.
With no hope of improving their lives, overburdened with children and at the mercy of a misogynistic culture in which basic human rights are denied them, the lives of these women were almost unimaginable to an emancipated, Western woman like myself. Mitigating my sense of helpless rage was the company I found myself in there: a group of extraordinary African women leaders and activists who had gathered in Chad to bear witness to the atrocities still being perpetrated. It was the presence of these leading women – including the managing director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, internationally renowned singer Angelique Kidjo and the general secretary of the World YWCA at the time, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro – and the fact that they represent a new force in African society, that offered hope as I wept through another refugee’s story, recounted while she breastfed her rapist’s daughter.
Feminist scholar Isabel Casimiro, a former member of parliament in Mozambique, has been fighting for women’s rights since the days when, she says, they were regarded as “silly women, without men, frustrated, badly dressed and with their bras on fire”. She grew up under the presidency of the Marxist rebel-turned-President Samora Machel, a supporter of women who said, “Without the liberation of women there can be no liberation of the society.” After an hour in the company of this inspirational ex-revolutionary, even Nick, our robust photographer, is a paid-up member of the sisterhood. I imagine this firebrand beauty, now in her late fifties and looking like a cross between Patti Smith and Ulrike Meinhof, striding the countryside in her combats with rifle slung over her shoulder. No wonder Mozambique’s current President, Casimiro’s one-time Frelimo party comrade and Marxist guerrilla fighter Armando E. Guebuza, has been swayed by many of her initiatives.
The President may not be everyone’s darling, but he has clearly recognised the benefits of putting women at the forefront of new policies. Since he took office, constitutional changes have taken place to encourage the involvement of women in all areas of political, economical, social and cultural life. Mozambique has achieved more than 30 per cent representation of women in parliament (an embarrassing 10 per cent higher than in the UK), introduced a Family Law that gives men and women equal rights of inheritance, and is in the process of ratifying legislation that makes domestic violence a crime. In a further attempt to reduce epidemic levels of violence against women, especially staffed gender-specific units have been set up in almost every police station to deal in particular with domestic violence and rape. Another progression that leaves us lagging behind. It’s such initiatives that prompted Geneva-based NGO Femmes Africa Solidarité to award Guebuza the African Gender Award last year, an honour created to make the improvement of women’s status on the African continent a covetable goal rather than a reluctant obligation on behalf of political leaders.
Certainly, under Guebuza’s presidency signs of progress are clearly visible in Mozambique’s capital. What felt like a ghost town when I visited just six years, after the civil war ended in 1992, is now a bustling city with new buildings springing up and gated communities for “professionals” dotting the promenade.
Down one of the main thoroughfares, in a first-floor conference room, I meet the five members of the Women-Led Business (WLB) initiative. Our host, Natividade Bule, an energetic fortysomething with close-cropped hair and a pale mixed-race complexion, recently expanded her conference and wedding planning business to include a restaurant below her office, where we go for lunch. Lanterna is clearly a favourite with local businessmen, who make up the lunchtime crowd that surrounds our solitary table of women. Over a local dish of crab, peanuts, cassava leaves and coconut milk we share frustrations and triumphs.
I’m asked by the ebullient Amelia Zambezi, who runs her own bag factory, whether it’s true that successful businesswomen in the West are unmarried and miserable. She’s delighted to learn that it’s not a compulsory qualification, but the question proves how far a negative stereotype can travel. This group recently took part in a training exercise sponsored by the Spanish government and organised by Femmes Africa Solidarité. During a week in Spain they learnt how to write a business plan and are now waiting to discover which one will be singled out for specific funding. That these women already employ more than 100 staff without having trained in such basic skills is a credit to their confidence and spirit of enterprise.
It’s a salutary example of how rudimentary the requirements are to improve opportunities, and how easily businessmen and women in the developed world could contribute in sharing knowledge and participating in online mentoring schemes. Negating the notion that women in business are competitive rivals, this group have become firm friends, exchanging business tips and opportunities with women from other African countries who are also part of the WLB initiative. Two groups from Botswana and Sierra Leone are already trading in ingredients for beauty products as a direct result of the scheme. Along with improving their career prospects, the WLB group aims to provide young women with role models in a society where positive examples of female achievement are often hard to come by.
Education of girls is top of the list of priorities here. At the Rural Women’s Forum I asked the group each to choose between a fantastically fertile piece of land, an end to the violence at home or an education for their daughters. They were unanimous in their vote for the latter, Rabeca speaking for them all when she said, “Our girls will only face lives of suffering like ours unless we can give them an education. The friends I had who went on to high school have become teachers and doctors. They lead lives it’s hard for me to imagine. That’s what we want for our daughters.” It’s no coincidence that the entrepreneurs of the WLB had all been sent to school, but they are exceptions. Post-primary school attendance for girls in Mozambique lies below the 40 per cent mark, so educating girls remains a challenge.
My next visit is to the offices of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), a pan-African organisation committed to the education of girls. There, three enthusiastic young women from Namaacha High School, which Rabeca dreamt of attending as a teenager, enlighten me on their ambitions. In contrast to the farmland women, these schoolgirls are striking in how much younger than their years they look.
Not only are they slight, but they display a refreshing naivety and innocence unrecognisable from my experience of A-level students in the UK. Their career choices speak volumes for the ambitions of this new generation. Drofe, 18, is intent on becoming an electronics engineer; 15-year-old Edite a campaigning lawyer; and the youngest, 13-year-old Jessica, burns to be an accountant. She explains with great seriousness that control of finances is very important for a woman. All three cite “studying” as their favourite activity and it’s shaming to see the elevated position education holds in their lives. Back home, where we take such rights for granted, a similar gathering would no doubt be gossiping about the latest X Factor result and elaborating on their ambitions to be the next Cheryl Cole.
In Mozambique, life for women is slowly improving, albeit from a lowly start point. Thankfully it’s not the only country where things are on the move. Femmes Africa Solidarité singled out Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame for the African Gender Award in 2007, and women now make up an unbelievable 54 per cent of the Rwandan Parliament. It’s no coincidence that this significant progress should occur in a country where women were also heavily involved in negotiating the peace process.
The Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MORWPN), awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, is a tangible example of women uniting to overcome conflict. A heart-warming documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, charts their remarkable story: how a small group of Liberian women banded together in 2003 to protest peacefully against the civil war and the bloodthirsty regime of Liberia’s former dictator Charles Taylor. A brave cross-religious group of Christians and Muslims, they eventually forced the President and the rebel leaders to the negotiating table. Taylor finally stood down, and in 2005 Liberia elected the first female African president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
My companion on my trip to Mozambique was inspirational South African lawyer Thandi Orleyn. A diminutive powerhouse, Orleyn balances a business career at the helm of an all-female investment company with being the wife of a tribal chief. She points out that, despite huge advances in her own country post-apartheid, millions of women across Africa remain all but invisible, denied the basic rights that Mandela and the ANC fought for. Over dinner in Maputo’s latest restaurant, Zambezi, where prices for a meal run higher than the rural women’s annual salary, I ask her what she feels would most improve the lives of African women. She’s unequivocal: “To be educated, economically empowered and independent.” Orleyn is a perfect example. She was the first black female law graduate from Port Elizabeth University, an achievement she puts down to her first school, set up in 1869 to offer graduates of a local boys’ school “wives who could understand them”. When I ask how she balances being the wife of a tribal leader with her independent career, she shrugs off the accomplishment, saying, “I told him from the beginning how it would be. He accepted.” They now have grown-up children: material evidence of the success of that compromise.
Bob Dylan immortalised the “pretty girls in Mozambique” in his song celebrating the pleasures of the country, but it’s his anthemThe Times They Are a-Changin’ that best sums up the revolution that is taking shape across Africa right now. Under the banner of “Gender Is My Agenda”, small and large lobby groups, NGOs and women’s organisations have joined together. The African Union has declared 2010 to 2020 “The African Women’s Decade”. Politicians and Western NGOs are slowly waking up to the potential of gender initiatives, with women having proved themselves the most reliable creditors and energetic business partners.
Yet despite the many examples of women’s power to facilitate positive change, the reticence of the international community to link women’s rights issues with the handing out of development aid remains puzzling. Dying children appeal to our sense of guilt, but empowering women so that they can take responsibility for their children’s wellbeing has less of a hold on our heartstrings, even though it is arguably the only successful way to secure their futures.
The continuing denial of basic human rights to entire female populations is as important an issue in our time as the fight against apartheid once was. Yet there’s no mention of boycotts and sanctions to help the cause of these women. They are as much prisoners of an unjust system as Mandela was when he languished on Robben Island, but because their incarceration is in the benign-sounding confines of “home”, their appalling conditions go largely unchampioned. From Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya to Mozambique, a considerable proportion of the female population is still living as we were in the Middle Ages. It’s to our shame that, in all the fixation in our media with “having it all”, the plight of the majority of the world’s women, still untouched by such covetable dilemmas, barely merits a mention.
There’s an African saying that goes, “Give a woman £1 and she’ll turn it into £10.” On a continent so dependent on aid, it’s ironic that an asset as valuable as the female population continues to be squandered. These women know what they need and how to achieve it, but that doesn’t mean they should be left in isolation. In recognition of how global support matters, both in offering solidarity and lobbying politicians to do more, I’ve played a part in establishing a support organisation, the Femmes Africa Solidarité Trust. Our ambition is to bring the FAS African Gender Award to a worldwide audience, help fundraising for gender specific initiatives, and celebrate enthusiastically those leaders, such as Guebuza, who are blazing a pioneering trail by supporting the human rights of their female population. Patrons include men and women, from Bono and Damon Albarn to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Glenys Kinnock, Annie Lennox to Graça Machel and Angelique Kidjo, who understand and appreciate the potential of African women.
We can all play an indispensable role in ensuring that the networks women are forging across Africa have global reach. The energetic, ambitious, enthusiastic women I met on my trip were tangible examples of that potential. As my tour of the women of Manica’s farmland ended, I asked them what message I should take back home with me. Rabeca was again spokeswoman. “Tell your friends how we live, tell them how we suffer, not just us here in Manica, but across the country, then surely our sisters will hold out their hands to us.” Then these extraordinary, resilient women, with their calloused hands, ragged clothes and faces lined with strife, kneeled down and sang to show their gratitude. I sank to my knees with them in shame for how little we’ve done and cried all over again.
For further information on how you can help to support the initiatives mentioned, contact fast-foundation.org; fasngo.org;oxfam.org

Sunday, 18 April 2010


BILI BIDJOCKA (Cameroon), Enigma #1, 2009

Collective Diary, exhibition. Curators Simon Njami and Mikaela Zyss, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, Israel, January/April 2010

Every time I go back to Israel, I find myself torn between a host of complex feelings. This piece of land holds so many contradictions, so many absurdities and dreams. And God! Even the idea of God seems beholden to the contingencies of contemporary geopolitics. Just walking through the narrow streets of the old city of Jerusalem provokes an ontological unease. The omnipresence of the divine is asphyxiating. And its various manifestations, which are so frequently if not always conflicting, restore a doubt that has actually never gone away: how could a higher being with the slightest scrap of lucidity be the source of this lethal
frenzy? Isn’t this paralyzing, hysterical profusion of faith only there to cover the absence and the void? The same icy, sidereal void that came over me when I discovered the first images of Haiti in ruins? But I digress, Haiti has nothing to do with these travel notes. It invited itself without warning, imposed itself on my conscience.

And yet I have often seen Israel as a closed space, an island, not confined by the limits of water, but at the crossroads of exogenous expanses. This geography must not be interpreted in purely physical terms and naturally influences the behaviour of those who stand here at this crossroads, which by dint of being dreamed, asserted and envied has become fictional, a space that allies historical materiality to a messianic dream and where the clash between reason and passion sparks explosions that are unbearable to the human soul. The only way to break this vicious circle of myth vying with the brutal reality of history is schizophrenia. How to be 

NGRID MWANGI ROBERT HUTTER (Kenya), Dressed Like Queens, 2003, video installation 21'35

trapped in a space whose contours you defined yourself? How to be the architect of your own confinement? Or how to live outside, when fear is debilitating and omnipresent? When you are trapped in a confined space, you have speech—the intelligence of words and forms which can take us beyond the real and imaginary borders that enclose and sometimes define us. It is from the tension between inside and out, which must here be seen as both physical and psychological, that any glimmer of hope could arise.

It is from this tension, and this tension alone, that new alliances could be conceived. Cosmopolitanism is opposed to the notion of purity. The great cities and old Europe are in the throes of reflections which suddenly take on a universal tone, once they have cast off the heavy straightjacket of historicity. The debates that have surfaced in France in the past few years are a good illustration of the way the world is moving and the issue of identity, which can no longer be conceived in relation to a given territory. A state that was built on the three words of its Revolution, liberty, equality, fraternity, now resorts to asking questions about the definition of a national identity. Yet public response has followed some strange paths since the suburban riots sparked by the desperation of young French people “of immigrant origin”, who felt like rejects of the Republic with origins that would never let them achieve full citizenship. The “integration” that was the key word in the strategy is strangely reminiscent of  Stuart Hall’s warning to a Caribbean student at a conference we held in London: Beware! Every time they talk to you of integration, they will only be thinking of your disintegration; i.e., the loss of an original identity. If a nation like France finds itself caught up in these kinds of questions, how to avoid the turbulence in Israel? The problem with the political answers to these questions is the confusion that too often sneaks into the debates. In France, the Ministry of National Identity (anyone would think we were back in Vichy times) comes with the word immigration in tow. It is as though the government was making a blatant short-cut between two phenomena that cannot be systematically linked. Confusing nationality with identity necessarily harks back to conceptual dead-ends. A nationality is volatile, changeable and multiple, whereas identity is the very nature of what defines an individual. And that identity cannot be envisaged as a fixed, inert matter obeying pre-established rules. Identity has always been a fluid notion in permanent construction—even more so in the 20th century—and evolving in relation to experiences, meetings and discoveries. One can talk of a city-dweller’s identity, for example, as opposed to a rural identity: an African artist who was invited to a triennial held far off in a Japanese village thus discovered that the peasants in his home village in Cameroon had more in common with Japanese peasants than they did with him, an artist who defines himself by the urban space.

EL ANATSUI (Ghana), Area B, 2007, aluminium & copper wire, 140x236in, courtesy Collection A;D; Mirvish, Canada

The urban space is a kind of melting pot in which all particularisms, regardless of how original they may be, are cancelled out by the fact that the city is composed of nothing but particularisms. The city does not let you take root and represents the nomadic space par excellence—the space wherein the whole nation will come together and experience a neutrality that cannot be experimented in a village. Every city-dweller, to use an old expression, is a peasant who has crossed the boundary and found themselves vested with a modified identity. Israel could likewise be perceived as a huge megalopolis in which differences could fade away in favour of a common factor, a transversal and trans-ethnic recognition. If we carry the metaphor through, Israel is a complex capital: it is a fantasy in which each person is a stranger. The sole utopia which the scattered Jewish people who elected it as their home presented was that of a promised land and the dream of a territory where they would be safe from the vicissitudes of history. The identities that were forced to cohabit there presented just as many antagonisms as those found in the most far removed cultures. There were people from Eastern Europe, from North Africa, and, more recently, from Africa. Despite their blatant cultural diversities, between the pious and the atheists, the introverts and the extraverts, they had to find a modus vivendi that would enable them to live together. The Arabs—the Palestinians—represented another group with whom it was not so easy to cohabit, given that they were natives whom the migrants suddenly perceived as adversaries. The weight of history created an artificial unity on the one hand and antagonisms linked to territorial and religious claims on the other. If there is one thing, in this third millennium, which the inhabitants undoubtedly have in common, it is precisely this strangeness, which should not bring about hereditary divisions but a new whole that would not fall victim to past scars. While those who still refer to the nation as a founding element can find this new reality hard to envisage, it should be much more easily adopted by artists, who, by essence, are stateless.

JOEL ANDRIANOMEARISOA (Madagascar), Untitled, 2008, cigarette paper pasted on canvas, 46x38cm

The notion of bastardisation which thinkers on Creolity favour is closely linked to that of cosmopolitanism. The purity that some have long claimed has well-known consequences and can no longer represent a contemporary paradigm. In a world where it is getting harder and harder to discern influences, it would be foolish to keep our eyes trained on a futile ideal. It would be better to take memory as a dynamic and fictional element. Black Americans have not managed to pass themselves off as Africans and have had to rebuild a new history on the ruins of a failing memory, now confirmed in the perpetual ebb and flow that joins Africa to its distant diaspora. The cosmopolitanism that was still recently considered bad taste has thus become the prerogative of all. The human stain, to use the title of one of Philip Roth’s novels, has become the distinctive sign of a new mankind that uses a consciously or unconsciously reconstructed memory to attain other forms of narration. Going on the principle that all reality is nothing but a mental and cultural construction, the artist only has to lean on this virtual reality to give meaning to that which has none, i.e., add confusion to confusion.

It is this message that the twelve African artists in the exhibition “A Collective Diary” brought to the holy land. Some baffled journalists did not understand a simple fact to which they had to be initiated: Africa is a diasporic continent, a culture fluid, an objective virtuality. It is not defined by its physical form and its geography is even less capable of defining its inhabitants or its artists. For they do not live their “identity” as an imposition or a fatality, but as a mystery with which they maintain a very intimate relationship. The Israelis who viewed all these more or less dark or light negroes with the distance of alterity (they who represent the quintessence of alterity themselves) were thus surprised to discover  their own reflection in works whose conception they were a far cry from imagining as close to their own preoccupations. Twelve artists, twelve at once similar and different voices to remind all those who might have forgotten that magic lies in mankind and nowhere else.

MOSHEKWA LANGA (South Africa), You Will Find Us Mixed, 2008, mixed media on paper, 106x75,5cm

It lies in the personal fictions which we reinvent over time and which miraculously find their place in the great theatre of collective fictions. But let there be no mistake. All fiction, whether it stems from the collective or, on the contrary, is inspired by the intimate, contains a gaze. And at the end of the day, only this gaze can give the illusion of a community. One should never die for a fiction, however close to reality it may be.

Simon Njami, January 2010
English translation by Gail de Courcy-Ireland

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Will ElBaradei Run for President of Egypt?

        I thought this article interesting and wanted to bring to your attention as President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for 28 years in Egypt and wants to pass the Presidency down to his son, Gamal. The Democratic Republic wants to become more of a Monarchy and this trend is being repeated throughout North Africa with other Leaders such as President Ben Ali of Tunisia and Colonel al-Gaddafi in Libya but the people of Egypt are calling for change and using the Internet to call for the President of choice - Mohamed ElBaradei to take office instead. This is Internet Power at it's best....let us see what happens next. I am interested to see how the elections go after the article written by  Saad Eddin Ibrahim in The Wall Street Journal on 17th August 2009 about President Obama and how it was high time America turned their back on tyrants.


        Will ElBaradei Run for President of Egypt by Abigail Hauslohner | Cairo

        Egyptian activists, most of them young, were out in force in the midday sun on Friday, Feb. 19, their flags and posters raised high, their chants rippling across the pavement at the arrival terminal of Cairo International Airport. They had come out in a startling show of support for a candidate who has yet to declare his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt.
        Indeed, Mohamed ElBaradei, who until recently held the top position at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), hasn't yet decided to run in Egypt's upcoming presidential election. But a campaign on his behalf has started anyway. And on Friday, hundreds of Egyptians — rallied by Facebook and opposition newspapers — filled the street in front of the airport's arrival hall, awaiting the Egyptian diplomat's first return to his home country since his retirement from the IAEA last year, and chanted, "We will not accept inheritance. Raise your voice — ElBaradei will be President." (See the soft Islamic revolution being led by Egypt's women.)
        Egypt has what appear to be democratic processes, but it's hardly a democracy. President Hosni Mubarak has held on to power for 28 years and has been subject to only one multicandidate election, held in 2005, which international monitors say was marred by fraud. Mubarak, 81, has not yet said whether he will run in the next election, slated for 2011. But it is widely believed that he is grooming his son Gamal to take the reins if he doesn't. The prospect of a monarchical transition of power riles many in the country of 80 million, where the President is unpopular but opposition groups are routinely stifled. (See the debate over President Mubarak's son Gamal.)
        But if ElBaradei runs, this may be the first election in which the opposition groups can present a viable alternative candidate. ElBaradei has broad appeal as a well-established and respected public figure whose career flourished far from the bounds of corrupt regime politics. "We are not just liberal people coming here," said Baha' Ahmed, a pharmacist standing in the crowd with his elderly mother. "People from all over are coming. Not only liberals, but people from all over Egypt, as ElBaradei is very independent politically."
        Indeed, the roars of the crowd oscillated throughout the afternoon between chants for ElBaradei and condemnations of Mubarak. Some admitted that their support for the returning diplomat was rooted entirely in their opposition to the current President. "We love Egypt, but we hate the government. Believe me, all Egyptians hate Hosni Mubarak," said Ayman Helman, a clothing-store manager who was draped in an Egyptian flag. Behind him, a crowd chanted, "Egypt has 1,000 alternatives. And ElBaradei is the evidence ... Hey ElBaradei, there's no going back."
        In a country where political demonstrations require official permission and signs of popular unrest are regularly greeted with swarms of riot police, the ElBaradei reception was remarkable. Crowds gathered, chanted, called for an end to Mubarak and even entered the airport. And there were no riot shields in sight. "Mohamed ElBaradei is an international figure," says Samer Shehata, an assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. "Although I wouldn't put it past the regime, it would be a media blunder to greet him with scores of riot police trying to block supporters from showing their appreciation and welcoming him back to Egypt." 
        ElBaradei is unusual by Egyptian political standards. He's an outsider to regime politics — a fact that the state-sponsored press has been quick to use against him. But it's a quality that also works in his favor. ElBaradei served in Vienna as chief of the international nuclear watchdog for 12 years, during which time he gained international recognition for challenging the Bush Administration's claims that Iraq had nuclear weapons ahead of the U.S.'s 2003 invasion. In 2005, ElBaradei was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to curb nuclear proliferation. Politically, his supporters say, he has a clean record.
        Even so, ElBaradei's potential political campaign will face an intimidating stack of obstacles. The next election is unlikely to be any less controversial than the last; the regime has already launched a crackdown on Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and two ElBaradei supporters were arrested and then released earlier in the week for spray-painting anti-Mubarak graffiti.
        The Egyptian constitution, as it stands, makes it nearly impossible for ElBaradei to run. Article 76 requires that a candidate be the head of an officially sanctioned political party for at least a year before entering the race. And ElBaradei himself has said that he would run only if the election promised to be free and fair and would be supervised by the judiciary and the international community. "I don't think the real problem for ElBaradei or for us is to get him to power. I think the real challenge for us is to achieve real democracy in Egypt," says Alaa al-Aswany, a best-selling novelist and the most famous public figure behind the ElBaradei campaign. "The constitution we have now is specially made just to keep President Mubarak in power. What we need is a real constitution, real democracy, and then after that, anyone who is chosen by Egyptian voters for President is going to be most welcomed."
        An equally daunting problem may be a legacy of poor political participation. The government reported 23% voter turnout in the last presidential race, but analysts say that statistic is likely to be inflated. Many Egyptians are apathetic about participating in elections because they don't believe they can effect change in a corrupt system. Others say they simply have other things to worry about. The U.N. says 23% of the Egyptian population lives below the poverty line.
        "Who is Mohamed ElBaradei? I don't know him — only that he's a candidate, like Amr Moussa [the Egyptian current head of the Arab League] and Gamal," said 25-year-old Mohamed Abbas as he drove his taxi through downtown Cairo earlier that morning. "Most of them are criminals anyway. The people are more concerned with making a living and finding a way to get married."
        By nightfall on Friday, the airport crowd had swelled, and the chanting had become louder and more unified. ElBaradei was reportedly unable to make a grand exit because the crowds were too intense. When he finally did emerge, it was in a black SUV, driven through the crowd as press and supporters — now having reached a state of hysteria — flung themselves like paparazzi at his windshield. He didn't stop.
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