521-540 of 633 Results

Article

Transport in Tanzania  

Katie Valliere Streit

Tanzanian men and women have embraced, adapted, and innovated various transportation technologies over the centuries as part of their survival and wealth accumulation strategies. During the precolonial era, dhows and porterage caravans helped to draw mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar into ever-widening trade networks with Central-East Africa, the western Indian Ocean, and the capitalist world economy during the 19th century. The onset of colonialism brought attempts by German and British administrations to replace these “traditional” forms of mobility with “modern” railways, steamships, and motor vehicles. Europeans expected to use these tools to conquer and subordinate African populations according to the demands of the colonial economy. Europeans also perceived these technologies as material manifestations of their alleged intellectual and moral superiority. Colonial administrations, however, continually lacked the necessary resources to construct and maintain new transportation infrastructure amid challenging climates and terrain. Dhows and porters successfully competed with railways, motor vehicles, and steamships throughout the colonial era and remained integral components of the colonial economy. As new transportation systems gradually became integrated into Tanzania’s physical and socioeconomic landscape, ordinary Tanzanians utilized the technologies of mobility to pursue their self-interests. Throughout the process of building transportation infrastructure and using automobiles, dhows, railways, and airplanes, ordinary Tanzanians created identities that challenged discriminatory racial and gender social orders constructed by colonial governments and the Tanzanian nation-state.

Article

Travelers’ Accounts as Sources  

Adam Jones

Accounts written by foreigners—especially Europeans—about what they saw in Africa constitute one of the major sources for African history between c. 1450 and c. 1900. Some were published, while others remained in manuscript form. Unlike the ethnographic monographs of the early 20th century, they were generally written in a spontaneous and unsystematic manner, usually with a narrative structure, although in some cases an implicit “questionnaire” seems to have lain behind what was recorded. Historians of Africa must apply the rules of source criticism to such material. These include an obligation to examine the extent to which the material is really “primary” (rather than derived from sources that already existed and still exist today); what stereotypes and fixed ideas may have shaped the author’s perceptions and writing; how the expectations of the intended readership—including a desire for exoticism or sensationalism—may have influenced the content and style, in some cases even resulting in straightforward fabrication posing as authentic description; and whether the author’s personal background—for example, financial interests, ideology, or gender—could have led him or her to perceive and write about Africa in a certain way. Certain types of data contained in travel accounts, such as quantitative or linguistic information, require cautious analysis. Some travel accounts were accompanied by engravings or other iconographic material, and although it is tempting to use these simply as illustrations, they must be subjected to the same kinds of source criticism as are applied to the written accounts themselves. Despite these caveats, travel accounts are an indispensable source, whose full potential still remains to be discovered.

Article

Tropical Africa in the Global Economy  

Ralph A. Austen

Tropical Africa has been in communication with the global economy since at least the last centuries bce through either land travel across the Sahara to the Mediterranean or navigation along the Indian Ocean coast. Despite recent archaeological research, not too much is known about this earliest trade. Only after Islam was firmly established in North Africa and the Indian Ocean do we have evidence of significant trade (slaves, gold, and ivory) and cultural exchange across these frontiers. Entrepôt cities now flourished in both the West and Central Sudan and the Swahili coast, where either camel caravans or large dhow vessels received export goods from indigenous Muslim merchants. During the 15th century European navigators opened up the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as a direct water route to the Indian Ocean. For the next 500 years Europeans dominated Africa’s global connections, initially seeking gold, then slaves for New World plantations, and later large quantities of less costly commodities such as vegetable oils, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. Initially Africa’s trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean commerce continued to operate under the control of Muslim rulers and merchants and even grew in volume, although declining in global significance. By the early 20th century European powers had established colonial regimes in almost all of tropical Africa, providing new infrastructures of political administration and mechanized transport (mainly railroads) that overcame the geographical barriers impeding commerce between the coasts and the continent’s interiors. However, limited capital and the spatial orientation of colonial transport undermined the dynamism of such advances. In the last stages of colonialism (c. 1945–1960) and the first decades of political independence, greater investments were made in both infrastructure and industrialization but with poor results leading, from the 1980s, to the global imposition of “structural adjustment” policies upon African states. During the early 21st century African economies experienced “miraculous” growth linked to a major new relationship with China.

Article

Tsitsi Dangarembga  

Anne Gulick

Tsitsi Dangarembga is Zimbabwe’s first Black female novelist and is now one of the most well-known writers in the canons of Zimbabwean, anglophone African, and postcolonial women’s literature. Her 1988 Nervous Conditions has become one of the most widely read and widely taught novels in the African literary canon. Dangarembga’s published literary works include one play (She No Longer Weeps, 1987), three novels (Nervous Conditions, 1988; The Book of Not, 2006; and This Mournable Body, 2018), two short stories (“The Letter,” 1985; and “Jana Dives,” 2022), and one essay collection (Black and Female: Essays, 2022). Nervous Conditions won the 1989 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region); This Mournable Body was short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2020, and since then Dangarembga has won the 2021 German Publishers and Booksellers Association’s Peace Prize, the 2021 PEN Pinter Prize, and the 2022 Windham Campbell Literature Prize for fiction. Dangarembga is also one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent filmmakers. The owner of her own production company, Nyerai Films, she has written, directed, or produced over twenty films, including Everyone’s Child (1996), On the Border (2000), Hard Earth: Land Rights in Zimbabwe (2001), Kare Kare Zvako: Mother’s Day (2004), High Hopes (2010), and I Want a Wedding Dress (2010). While all of Dangarembga’s published work casts a critical eye on postindependence Zimbabwean nationalism and government policy, she gained international visibility as a political activist in July 2020, when she was arrested for participating in a demonstration against the government’s persecution and arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Dangarembga was convicted of inciting public violence in 2022; in 2023, that conviction was overturned. In 2021, she received the PEN International award for Freedom of Expression. In 2022–2023, she served as a Radcliffe Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Article

Uganda–Tanzania War  

Charles Thomas

The Uganda–Tanzania War was a military conflict between Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda and Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania. The roots of the conflict can be traced back to Amin’s seizure of power in Uganda in a coup against Nyerere’s ally Milton Obote in 1971. Their mutual animosity was then cemented by Nyerere’s approval of an invasion of Uganda by armed exiles the following year. The two countries continued to have strained relationships, leading to border disputes and faltering regional relations. Finally, in October 1978, Amin’s military invaded Tanzania and declared the annexation of all territory north of the Kagera River. This invasion convinced President Nyerere that Amin must be dealt with once and for all. Following a period of mobilization, the Tanzanian military forced the retreat of the Ugandan forces and prepared an invasion of Uganda. The Tanzanians then won a series of battles in southern Uganda, routing Amin’s military forces and their Libyan allies. Nyerere and the Ugandan exiles then focused on taking Kampala and installing representative government. These goals were accomplished in April of 1979 and the Tanzanians completed the removal of Amin loyalist forces in June, marking an end to the war. The Kagera War shaped much of the future for both countries. For Tanzania the war was seen as a unifying patriotic struggle. However, the economic strain of the war combined with the challenges of demobilization undermined President Nyerere’s struggling ujamaa villagization efforts. For Uganda the removal of the Amin regime was a welcome change, but not one that brought peace. The elected government of Godfrey Binaisa was removed in a coup and the return of Milton Obote to power led to a series of rebellions. The chaos released in the postwar period would only end with Museveni’s seizure of power in 1986.

Article

Ujamaa  

Michael Jennings

The idea of Ujamaa emerged from the writing and speeches of Tanzania’s first president, Julius K Nyerere, from the late 1950s and into the 1960s. Usually translated as “familyhood,” it was a form of African socialism that blended broadly conceived socialist principles with a distinctly “communitarian” understanding of African societies, and a strong commitment to egalitarian societies. It was to form the bedrock of efforts to institute profound social change from the late 1960s, directed and shaped by the state. At the heart of the idea of Ujamaa were ideas around self-reliance (people should build for themselves their futures), total participation of all in developing the nation (“nation building,” and self-help), communal labor in the rural sector and communal ownership of land, and nationalizations in the private sector and of public services. Ujamaa as an idea was to have a profound impact on Tanzanian economic and development policies from the late 1960s, but also had a wider continental impact in contributing to and shaping a distinctive form of African socialism in the 1960s and 1970s.

Article

Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK): The ANC’s Armed Wing, 1961–1993  

Arianna Lissoni

Launched in 1961 by leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and the South African Communist Party (SACP), Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was the military wing of the ANC until its disbandment in 1993. The initial stage of MK’s armed struggle involved sabotage against government installations and other symbols of the apartheid regime by a small group of operatives. Under increasing repression by the apartheid state, and thanks to the support received from African and socialist countries, MK adopted a strategy of guerrilla warfare as armed struggle assumed an increasingly central role in the liberation struggle, although the military was understood as an extension of political work, that is, linked to the reinvigoration of political struggle and organizations. Geopolitical constraints prevented MK from waging a conventional guerrilla war, and from the 1970s MK adjusted its strategy by turning to armed propaganda and people’s war. While debates on the role of MK in South Africa’s liberation are often reduced to the relative success or failure of military strategy and action, the history of MK remains a sensitive topic post-apartheid, carrying significant weight both symbolically and in the lives of thousands of people who served in its ranks, including women, who joined and participated in MK throughout the three decades of its existence.

Article

United States Relations with Southern Rhodesia during the UDI Era  

Eddie Michel

The Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) era, a 14-year period from 1965 to 1979, posed an exceptional and challenging policy dilemma for four separate US presidential administrations. Presidents’ Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Jimmy Carter were all confronted by the presence of the internationally unrecognized pariah state in southern Africa. The shifting patterns in the US approach toward Salisbury ranging from empathy to open hostility were reflective not only of the individual viewpoints of the occupants of the Oval Office but represented the larger diverse pressures, global and domestic, shaping foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s. The Cold War, economic interest, the need for strategic minerals, race relations, and human rights all guided White House decision making regarding Salisbury. Across the presidential administrations, the case of Rhodesia, further exposes the tension and interaction between pragmatism and morality in US foreign relations during the 1960s and 1970s. The US approach toward the UDI state not only reveals broad patterns of conflict between realpolitik and moral justice but also depicts times when pragmatism and ethical considerations aligned together to achieve mutually compatible goals. The differing polices adopted by the occupants of the Oval Office demonstrated the competing visions within Washington itself of what constituted pragmatism or morality during the decolonization era.

Article

Urbanization in East Africa, circa 900–2010 CE  

Andrew Burton

East Africa’s urban past is broken down into five historical periods. The first (c. 900–1500 ce) saw the emergence of an urban Swahili culture on the East African coast that flourished thanks to its role as economic and cultural arbiter between the African interior and the Indian Ocean world. Between 1500 and 1800, as in other parts of the world, the intrusion of Europeans (and other outsiders) appears to have had a detrimental impact on “classical” Swahili civilization, although several important urban centers continued to flourish. Inland there is negligible evidence of urbanization before 1800. From around this time, however, important settlements did arise in the interior, thanks largely to the region’s growing integration in an international economy that emerged in the course of the 19th century—with various coastal (Swahili) cities prospering once again through their intermediary role. The situation was transformed with the onset of European colonial rule (c. 1890–1960), which prompted historically unprecedented rates of urban growth and witnessed the emergence of what would become a number of important world cities. Toward the end of the colonial period, from the 1940s, East Africa’s urban centers experienced another upward jolt in their rates of growth; however, the full repercussions of this demographic revolution, which resulted in a substantial (and growing) proportion of the population claiming urban residence for the first time, did not become fully apparent until after independence; with rapid urbanization proving one of the most important features of postcolonial East Africa.

Article

Urban Life in French West Africa (FWA)  

Odile Goerg

During colonial times, cities, whether ancient or modern, underwent enormous changes. Urban life can be seen as a story of continuity and change, of invention and adaptation. Multiple constraints were imposed by colonial rule (e.g., spatial framework and mobility regulations, sanitation policy, control of the use of time, and so on), but new opportunities also presented themselves, professionally or otherwise, for example, in terms of defining one’s identity. Older inhabitants, as well as newcomers flowing to the main cities, especially from the 1930s, formed the foundation for a new, urbanized society. To frame the study of “urban life” within the political context of “French West Africa” presupposes both that there is something specific to the cities in the eight colonies, which, eventually, constituted FWA (French West Africa) plus the Togo mandate, and that there is something common to all these western African cities under French colonial rule. None of this is really valid. There are as many similarities with urban life in British West Africa as there are differences between the cities. When discussing urban life within the French colonial cities, one can mention the disproportionate allocation of space and resources aimed at satisfying the needs of the colonizers, or the will to rule and control all aspects of urban life. What is common between more than one-thousand-year-old Tombouctou and Conakry, a little more than a century old? Between Saint-Louis du Sénégal, which served as a main entrepôt for international trade from the mid-17th century, and Lomé, with Bè villages in the hinterland, founded by local merchants in the 1880s to escape British customs taxes? But despite the shortcomings of this methodological framework, one can form a general idea of urban life in colonial cities, provided that it be nuanced and contextualized, always bearing in mind a broader comparative framework encompassing British and French policies elsewhere in the empires. Urban life can be understood as the ways city dwellers organize their everyday activities: work, social interactions, but also leisure activities or political involvement. All these aspects changed over time, as city dwellers asserted themselves and, gradually, obtained more legal rights.

Article

Urban Society in Colonial Sudan  

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

As in the rest of Africa, the establishment of colonial rule has accelerated the pace of urban growth in the Sudan. During the period of British colonial rule (1898–1956), a number of new administrative centers, ports, and railway stations were established and metamorphosed into full-fledged cities. Among the most important towns and administrative centers were Khartoum, the capital of the Anglo-Egyptian administration; Atbara, headquarters of the Sudan Railways; the port city of Port Sudan; and Khartoum North, the headquarters of the steamers division of the Sudan Railways. These towns grew from small administrative headquarters into major urban centers and became the home of a diverse population that included Sudanese as well as immigrants from the Middle East, Europe, and neighboring African countries. The inhabitants of these towns engaged in a wide range of economic, social, and political activities that shaped the character of these towns and developed a distinctive urban culture.

Article

Urban Studies of Accra  

Richard Grant

Accra is one of the largest and most important cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this article is to assess the evolution of urban studies in Accra and its main historical and contemporary foci. Early knowledge on urban Accra is fragmentary and orientated toward European contact points and urban plans, ostensibly from the gaze of Europeans. Writings from Euro-Africans such as Carl Reindorf provide a different prism into the precolonial, indigenous, urban society, whereas most indigenous urban knowledge was situated in the oral tradition at this time. Around independence, officially appointed social anthropologists wrote about an indigenous community in Tema and surveyed the multiethnic Accra environment. From independence in 1957 until the early 1980s, social scientists viewed the urban settlement as an alien, Western intervention. Local scholarship on Accra was sidelined as the academy in a poor, emergent nation became preoccupied with the genesis of nation-state building and the establishment of viable academic departments in national universities, and growing proportions of migrants regarded “home” as somewhere else, that is, ancestral villages. In the 1970s Accra was inserted into world history and social history, and social scientists began to study residential geographies, but scholarship at the city-scale remained sparse. Engagement with world and social histories and the social sciences demonstrated that history matters, but not in linear and teleological ways. The liberalization era ushered in by structural adjustment policies (SAPs) in 1983 invigorated studies of Accra’s urban impacts and effects. Much of this research was disseminated by international scholars, as Ghanaian scholars had to contend with the negative impacts of SAPs on their own universities and households. Since the turn of the 21st century, scholarship on Accra, and African cities in general, has been increasing. Diverse research questions and a multiplicity of methodologies and frameworks seek to engage Western urban theories and other variants, undertake policy-relevant work, assess ethnic and residential dynamics, contribute to international urban debates, and advance postcolonial and revisionist accounts of urbanism. Viewed at the third decade of the 21st century, scholarship on Accra is of diverse origins, encompassing scholarship from locals, members of the diaspora, and international urbanists, and a promising tilt is local–international collaborations co-producing knowledge.

Article

Uthman (Osman) dan Fodio (1754–1817): Life and Religious Philosophy  

Seyni Moumouni

Uthman dan Fodio (1754–1817), an emblematic figure of Islamic history in West Africa, was born in 1754 in Maratta in the Tahoua region (present-day Niger) and died in 1817 in Sokoto (present-day Nigeria). The role of Sheikh Uthman (Osman) dan Fodio is well known to all who are familiar with West Africa’s Muslim culture. Sometimes referred to in West Africa as “Nûru-l-zamân” (the Light of Time) and in Western literature as the “Great Pulaar Jihadist Sheik,” Uthman dan Fodio was one of the greatest Muslim theologians and thinkers in West Africa and is regarded as the founder of the last Muslim Empire. He studied under the Fodiawa family as well as with the great scholar Sheikh Jibril. As a successful teacher himself, he attracted attention from the royal palace. As a preacher, Uthman dan Fodio was listened to and followed by the religious devout, which led to him being persecuted by the successors of Bawa Jan Gorzo, consequence the jihad of 1804 and the foundation of the Islamic Empire of Sokoto. Despite this, in the tradition of prominent spiritual masters of Islam (Al-Ghazali, Al-Muhâssibi, Azzaruk, As-Suyûtî, Abdel Wahab, etc.), Uthman dan Fodio’s legacy remained strong in the Muslim world between the end of the 18th century and the end of the 19th century. The sheikh described his contributions in terms of moral and religious rebuilding; he felt as if he was invested in a messianic mission to save his community from perils. In other words, his tasks included promoting widespread change as it pertained to societal norms, morals, and education. Uthman dan Fodio’s reform project is part of the reformist heritage movement, which is also known as “the wave of the reformist current of the 18th century.”

Article

Uwilingiyimana, Agathe  

Jennie Burnet

Agathe Uwilingiyimana was the first woman prime minister of Rwanda and only the second woman prime minister on the African continent. A Hutu from southern Rwanda, she was among the first Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi. She was a political moderate from an opposition political party who rejected ethnic extremism. As the constitutional leader of the country in the wake of the president’s assassination, Hutu extremists killed her so that they could take control of the government. Born to uneducated parents, Uwilingiyimana was among the first women to obtain a bachelor’s degree from the National University of Rwanda in 1985. Before entering politics, she taught high-school science for over a decade. She dedicated her life to promoting women’s equality, removing obstacles to girls’ education, and speaking on behalf of the poor. As one of Rwanda’s first prominent women politicians, Uwilingiyimana faced intense misogyny, particularly from members of extremist Hutu political parties. The media frequently portrayed her naked or in sexual contexts. She was attacked in her own home on multiple occasions and menaced when she appeared in public. She was killed on April 7, 1994, along with her husband and an aide. The Belgian United Nations peacekeepers guarding her were also killed. Her death paved the way for Hutu extremists to take over the government and carry out a genocide targeting Tutsi, members of opposition political parties, human rights activists, and journalists.

Article

Veterinary History in Southern Africa  

Wesley Mwatwara

Southern Africa’s veterinary history underwent different epochs ranging from pre-colonial to colonial and post-colonial stages. Changes within the Southern African livestock economies were informed by changing animal-human relations over time that characterized such phases as pastoralism; the rise of more sedentary livelihoods; the rise of colonial economies that depended on livestock for transport, draught power, and the creation of beef industries; and finally, the sustenance of such colonial structures in post-colonial settings punctuated by economic collapse and political volatility. Despite a potpourri of post-colonial administrative systems and a variety of colonial experiences ranging from settler colonies and peasant-agricultural colonies to concession company colonies, the trajectory of veterinary history in post-colonial Southern Africa is generally uniform. Veterinary sources are scarce for the pre-colonial period, and when they become relatively abundant in the colonial and post-colonial periods, there is a general bias toward biomedical approaches rather than African livestock regimes. In historiography, the trajectory has generally followed that of African history, from colonial history to Africanist historiography and, finally, revisionist and environmental discourses. Each of these analytical approaches has its own intrinsic weaknesses, yet in their various ways they have contributed to and enriched conversations around veterinary issues in Southern Africa.

Article

Water Management in East Africa  

Matthew V. Bender

East Africa is among the most environmentally diverse regions of the continent, and this diversity is reflected in its hydrology. The steppe plains, home to much of the region’s great wildlife, are defined by scarcity of rainfall and surface water resources. Within this sea of aridity, mountain peaks such as Kilimanjaro, Kenya, and Meru induce large amounts of rainfall and give rise to rivers that reach out into the grasslands. To the west, the forest–savannah mosaic and the shorelines of the Great Lakes likewise feature plentiful precipitation and surface water, giving rise to abundant vegetation and marine life. The Indian Ocean coast falls between in terms of rain, but its fate has been shaped by oceanic trade. In short, East Africa is a hydrological mosaic that has long influenced the social, cultural, and economic diversity of its human populations. The peoples of East Africa have long depended on the region’s water resources for their livelihoods. They have made sense of the region’s waterscapes, and developed strategies to manage them, in ways that reflected their own needs. Water management consisted not just of hydrological and technological expertise, but also cultural, spiritual, and political expertise. These in turn shaped economic as well as social relationships and hierarchies. With the onset of European colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries, water management became a focal point of struggles between local communities and various colonial actors—government officers, scientists, missionaries, and settlers—who developed very different impressions of the region’s waterscapes. These struggles involved not only conflict over the physical control of water resources, but also debates over what constituted useful and relevant water-management knowledge. Colonial actors described their water management in terms of science and modernity, while existing knowledge and practice were framed as primitive, wasteful, and destructive. Over the 20th century, conflicts intensified as users, African as well as European, demanded larger shares of increasingly scarce water resources. The post-colonial period did not spell an end to these struggles. Since the late 20th century, water management has emerged as a key aspect of national strategies for economic and social development. Yet decades of emphasis and millions of dollars spent have not led to sufficient progress in providing water to everyday people. Today, millions of East Africans lack access to clean, reliable water, a problem that is likely to worsen in the future.

Article

West Africa and the African Diaspora  

Bayo Holsey

West Africa and the African diaspora share an intertwined history. From the earliest moments of the development of the diaspora, West Africans and members of the African diaspora have sought ways to connect to each other. They have done so through the exploration of cultural links, travel back and forth between West Africa and the diaspora, and the development of shared philosophical and political movements. They have celebrated the idea of a collective “African” identity shaped by people on both sides of the Atlantic including the Pan-African Movement, the New Negro Movement, and Negritude. The late 20th century has seen the travel of diasporic subjects to West African countries including Ghana, the Gambia, and Senegal, which have fashioned themselves as African homelands. Artists, activists, and migrants continue to travel back and forth between West Africa and various points in the African diaspora and, in doing so, shape the contours of the Black Atlantic World. The continuous communication and contact between West Africa and the diaspora constitute an ongoing dialogue that has led to cultural innovations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Article

West Africa and the Middle East since 1900  

Oliver Coates

West Africa has long-standing economic, religious, cultural, and military ties to the Middle East and North Africa. Historical links between the two regions include centuries of pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, educational travel to Al-Azhar University in Egypt, and trading and religious links with the Arabian Peninsula and Maghreb. The years from 1900 to c. 2020 can be divided into three periods: the colonial era until 1960, the years of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism from 1956 to around 1979, and the intensification of political and religious contact after 1979, with Saudi Arabia and Iran playing prominent roles. In the 21st century, trading relations have intensified and diversified, involving new interventions by Turkey, the Gulf States, and Morocco, while Middle East and North African actors, both state and nonstate, were closely implicated in the destabilization of the Sahel in the 2010s, including providing military, intelligence, and ideological support to West African states and terrorist groups. Since 1900, significant issues and ideas affecting interactions between the Middle East and West Africa included pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, Salafi and Wahhabi thought, spanning far beyond jihadist ideas to incorporate social and political critique, and new formulations of shiʾi Muslim identity following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Importantly, Africans actively appropriated and developed these ideas for diverse ends, mounting their own interpretations of the Middle East, ranging from ʿulema settling in Mecca to shiʾa students in Iran, Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem, and the search of West African Jews for recognition by Israel.

Article

West African Cinema  

John C. McCall

Motion picture technology developed at the dawn of the 20th century, just as the formal colonization of Africa was launched at the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885. While it took a few decades for cinema houses to spread in West Africa, by mid-century the colonial administrations began to use film as a means for conveying colonial culture to African subjects. For the British and French colonials, film was a means to shape public opinion. Both British and French colonial administrations criminalized indigenous filmmaking for fear of the subversive potential of anti-colonial messages—film communicated in one direction only. When West African nations became independent in the late 20th century, these restrictions vanished and Africans began to make films. This process played out differently in Francophone Africa than in Anglophone countries. France cultivated African filmmakers, sponsored training, and funded film projects. Talented and determined filmmakers in Anglophone Africa also struggled to produce celluloid films, but unlike their counterparts in former French colonies, they received little support from abroad. A significant number of excellent celluloid films were produced under this system, but largely in Francophone Africa. Though many of these filmmakers have gained global recognition, most remained virtually unknown in Africa outside the elite spaces of the FESPACO film festival and limited screenings at French embassies. Though West African filmmakers have produced an impressive body of high-quality work, few Africans beyond the intellectual elite know of Africa’s most famous films. This paradox of a continent with renowned filmmakers but no local film culture began to change in the 1990s when aspiring artists in Nigeria and Ghana began to make inexpensive movies using video technology. Early works were edited on VCRs, but as digital video technology advanced, this process of informal video production quickly spread to other regions. The West African video movie industry has grown to become one of the most prominent, diverse, and dynamic expressions of a pan-African popular culture in Africa and throughout the global diaspora.

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West African Manuscripts in Arabic and African Languages and Digital Preservation  

Fallou Ngom

West African manuscripts are numerous and varied in forms and contents. There are thousands of them across West Africa. A significant portion of them are documents written in Arabic and Ajami (African languages written in Arabic script). They deal with both religious and nonreligious subjects. The development of these manuscript traditions dates back to the early days of Islam in West Africa, in the 11th century. In addition to these Arabic and Ajami manuscripts, there have been others written in indigenous scripts. These include those in the Vai script invented in Liberia; Tifinagh, the traditional writing system of the Amazigh (Berber) people; and the N’KO script invented in Guinea for Mande languages. While the writings in indigenous scripts are rare less numerous and widespread, they nonetheless constitute an important component of West Africa’s written heritage. Though the efforts devoted to the preservation of West African manuscripts are limited compared to other world regions, interest in preserving them has increased. Some of the initial preservation efforts of West African manuscripts are the collections of colonial officers. Academics later supplemented these collections. These efforts resulted in important print and digital repositories of West African manuscripts in Africa, Europe, and America. Until recently, most of the cataloguing and digital preservation efforts of West African manuscripts have focused on those written in Arabic. However, there has been an increasing interest in West African manuscripts written in Ajami and indigenous scripts. Important West African manuscripts in Arabic, Ajami, and indigenous scripts have now been digitized and preserved, though the bulk remain uncatalogued and unknown beyond the communities of their owners.