161-180 of 633 Results

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Al-Durr, Shajarat  

Azza El Kholy

Shajarat Al-Durr’s life and death constitute a story that deserves to be told. Turkic in origin, she was sold into slavery but grew up to become a great Sultana. She was purchased by Al- Saleh Ayyub, and soon became his favorite concubine, and later his wife after bearing his son Khalil who died in infancy. She was intelligent and beautiful, and was the Sultan’s companion and advisor in many state affairs. Her astuteness appears in her role in boosting the morale of the army by concealing her husband’s death during the Crusade in 1249. Upon Al- Saleh’s death, his son Turanshah became Sultan, and persecuted her and his father’s Bahari Mamluks who, abetted by her, murdered him. They then instated her as Sultana of Egypt because of her liaison with the Ayyubid dynasty as wife of the Sultan, and mother to his deceased son. For eighty days she ruled as Sultana. Coins were minted in her name, and she was praised in prayers around the country until the Abbasid Caliph, Al- Musta’sim, sent a derogatory message offering to send a “man” to rule Egypt. Shajarat Al-Durr, a wise woman, abdicated the throne in favor of Aybak, one of her husband’s Mamluks and the man she took as husband to avoid political turmoil, thus finally marking the end of the Ayyubid dynasty and the beginning of the Mamluk era. They ruled together until he betrayed her trust when she learned that he was thinking of taking another wife, and seeking to rule on his own. A proud woman, Shajarat Al-Durr ordered him dead. In retaliation, Aybak’s Mamluks and his first wife killed her, and thus ended the life and reign of one of the most prominent women in Islamic history.

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Emecheta, Buchi  

Chika Unigwe

Buchi Emecheta (1944–2017) was a Nigerian writer, born in Lagos to a seamstress mother and a railway worker father. Emecheta’s early ambition was to get an education, like her brother Adolphus. Orphaned early in life, a scholarship to a coveted high school gave her the opportunity she wanted. Married at sixteen to Sylvester Onwordi, she joined him in London in 1962. Their marriage soon ended because of Onwordi’s physical and mental abuse. By the age of twenty two, she was a single mother with five children. Her first novel, In the Ditch, published in 1972, chronicled the struggles of Adah, who represented Emecheta’s own alter ego, in raising children in the slums of London. Overall, Emecheta published over twenty books, which frequently centered on a black woman’s experience. Many of her novels revisit the same themes and draw inspiration from her life. There is perhaps no other African writer in whose works their own biography is centered as much as it is in hers. Her work illuminates her life while her life informs her work. Her life and fiction feed one another to the extent that her novels are often referred to as “fictionalized” accounts of her life. Although Emecheta was a symbol of the modern African woman, she rejected being called a feminist. If she were to be called a feminist, it had to be “feminist with a small letter ‘f’.” A term she would have accepted for herself as well as for her strong female characters would have been Obioma Nnaemeka’s “nego-feminism,” a feminism of Africa, of negotiation, and a no ego feminism.

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Emerging Modernities in 19th Century Africa  

Rebecca Shumway

While the single most consequential event in Africa during the 19th century was European colonization of the continent, most of the century was characterized by tremendous growth and innovation in African political and economic institutions, as well as the expansion of literacy and the development of enduring intellectual traditions. Many African societies were making strides toward the creation of new self-governing nations over the course of the 19th century, as the ending of the transatlantic slave trade made way for the development of new industries and commercial systems. Large powerful states governed in numerous places across the continent, including the Sokoto and Tukulor Empires, Asante, Dahomey, Egypt, Buganda, Bunyoro, and Ethiopia. Many African states had powerful armies and distinct political identities. The emergence of modernities in 19th-century Africa also came in the form of religious change. This era saw the expansion of Islam in rural areas of western, northern, and eastern Africa, accompanied by the rapid growth of Islamic education and literacy. At the same time, Christian mission societies facilitated the establishment of mission schools and colleges based on European institutions of higher education. The new class of mission-educated African elites included teachers, clergymen, doctors, civil servants, law clerks, journalists, private entrepreneurs, and academics. These individuals, mostly men, had a profound influence on African visions of modern nationhood, particularly in West and Southern Africa. In many ways, Africa was becoming modern in the decades prior to the European conquests of the late 19th century. For the purposes of this article, “modernity” refers to the cultural and social revolution that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism and included an expansive universalism. The development of modernity in Africa and elsewhere was linked to the new age of science, economics, realism, rationalism, and humanism dawning toward the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. In particular, the newly founded colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia became centers for the diffusion of African-American cultural influence, as liberated former slaves and their descendants from the British Empire, the United States, maroon communities, and captured slave ships settled there. In order to appreciate the 19th-century development of African modernity, it is important to remember, as A. Adu Boahen once explained, that European colonization of the African continent occurred suddenly and unpredictably. As late as 1880, there was little indication that European nations intended to dramatically alter the map of Africa by force. Most African states and societies were entirely autonomous and controlled by their own rulers. The unexpected European conquest of African territories at the end of the 19th century thwarted much of the progress Africans had made throughout that century and arguably reversed key processes of modernization. And while colonial regimes also introduced new modernities into Africa, these were mainly destructive and exploitative in nature.

Article

The Empire of Ghana  

Nikolas Gestrich

The Empire of Ghana is one of the earliest known political formations in West Africa. Within the context of a growing trans-Saharan trade, Arabic sources begin to mention “Ghāna,” the name of a ruler as well as of the city or country he ruled, in the 9th century. Repeatedly named in connection with fabulous riches in gold, Ghāna had acquired a preeminent role in the western Sahel and was a leader among a large group of smaller polities. Ghāna’s influence waned, and by the mid-14th century its ruler had become subordinate to the Empire of Mali. Over the course of a complex history of research, the Empire of Ghana became equated with the Soninké people’s legend of Wagadu and the archaeological site of Kumbi Saleh in southern Mauritania was identified as its capital. Yet between historical sources, oral traditions, and archaeological finds, little is known with certainty about the Empire of Ghana. Most questions on this early West African empire remain unanswered, including its location, development, the nature and extent of its rule, and the circumstances of its demise.

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The Empire of Mali  

Sirio Canós-Donnay

The Mali Empire is one of the largest and most widely known precolonial African states. It has featured in films, video games, works of fiction, and its memory is still a profound force in the articulation of social and political identities across Mande West Africa. Founded in the 13th century in the south of modern Mali, it quickly grew from a small kingdom to a vast empire stretching from the Senegambia in the west to Ivory Coast in the south. Before its disintegration in the late 16th century, its connections to distant trade networks stretched from Europe to China and its rulers became famous across the Old World for their wealth. In the absence of indigenous written histories, knowledge of the Mali Empire has been based on a complex combination of oral traditions, medieval Arabic chronicles, European accounts, oral histories, and archaeology. Through a critical analysis of these sources, it has been possible to learn much about Mali’s history, including aspects its social organization, political structure, belief systems, and historical evolution. However, there is much we still do not know, including the location and nature of its capital(s).

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Encounters Between Ethiopia and Europe, 1400–1660  

Matteo Salvadore

By the early 1400s, diplomatic representatives and pilgrims from the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia had traveled to the Italian peninsula for political and religious reasons. In doing so, they inaugurated an era of Ethiopian–European relations that unfolded for more than 200 years: Ethiopians reached multiple locales across Latin Europe to forge political alliances, acquire technology, and pursue religious knowledge. They drew the attention of European observers, especially those with an interest in the overseas. Secular and religious personalities, but also average merchants, began their quests for the Ethiopian highlands, lured by the tales of their visitors who were believed with growing certainty to be subjects of the mythical Prester John, the imaginary Christian sovereign believed to rule the Indies. Their journeys enabled cultural exchanges, technological transfer, and the forging of one of the first Euro-African political alliances, that between the kingdoms of Ethiopia and Portugal. In the 15th century, Ethiopian pilgrims flocked to Rome, and diplomatic representatives found hospitality in the Venetian Republic and at the Aragonese and papal courts. Concurrently with Ethiopian arrivals in Europe, European adventurers and representatives began reaching Ethiopia, eventually leading to the establishing of Portuguese–Ethiopian relations. The exchanges climaxed with a Portuguese military intervention to support the Ethiopian monarchy against the sultanate of Adal in 1541. In the decades following the conflict, Jesuit missionaries began operating in the country: after a difficult inception in the 1620s, the fathers experienced ephemeral successes, followed by a dramatic expulsion that ended early modern Ethiopian–European relations.

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Enslaved Africans in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia  

Ivan Armenteros-Martinez

In the Middle Ages and the early modern period, slavery was a widespread institution in the Christian-western Mediterranean. Its development was closely related to the systemic changes that took place in the region: the arrival of Islam in the 8th century, the Latin expansion of the 12th and 13th centuries, and the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade (c. 1450). After the arrival of Islam on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, and then the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, a type of slavery concentrated mainly in the cities began to take shape in western Europe. During the Latin economic and commercial expansion of the 12th and 13th centuries, European merchants expanded their networks to the Black Sea, the Balkans, and the coast of Libya around Barqa, an area that concentrated part of the trans-Saharan slave trade routes. These three regions became the main centers for the exportation of enslaved men and women for the Christian-western Mediterranean. Finally, after the Ottoman expansion in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea (c. 1370–1480), and the onset of the Atlantic slave trade (c. 1450–1480), Black African slaves became more numerous than those from anywhere else. Medieval Mediterranean societies made intensive and extensive use of slave labor. The slaves’ living conditions were related to the type of jobs they were forced to do, whether exploited directly by their owners or hired by others. After the exponential increase of sub-Saharan slaves, the first Black brotherhoods in the northern Mediterranean appeared, a testimony to the importance that Black slavery had attained by the end of the 15th century.

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Environmental History  

Emmanuel Kreike

Environmental history highlights the dynamic interaction between the physical environment and human society, respectively framed as nature and culture. Attributing agency to the environment is perhaps the most distinguishing attribute of environmental history as an approach while human society’s struggle to overcome environmental challenges is a major focus of environmental historians. Generally, students of the African past have tended to emphasize that Africa and Africans were more dependent on nature (including climate, geography, natural resources, “natural” population dynamics, disease) than societies elsewhere, especially those in the modern West. Thus, colonial and postcolonial analysts ascribe Africa’s past as the cradle of the human species, its present lack of political and economic development, and its bleak future in an age of climate change not to any African (or human) genius but to the caprices of an undomesticated environment and interventions by outside actors that disturb an environment-people balance. Historians emphasized that political subjugation, agricultural development, and conservation increased African societies’ vulnerability (to malnutrition, drought, and indigenous and exotic diseases, for example) in the face of environmental change because it enclosed and alienated such key natural resources as land, woodlands, wildlife, and water. More recently, historians of Africa have highlighted a more dynamic and interactive relationship between society and environment in Africa beyond the analytical and nested dichotomies of Nature-Culture, Indigenous-Invasive, and Victim/Subaltern-Perpetrator/Ruler. The perspective opens space for considering how societies perceived and shaped their environments physically and mentally in conjunction with other ideas and forces, including a variety of human and non-human agents, further enriching the study of environmental history.

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Environmental History of the Maghreb, 1800–Present  

Brock Cutler

North Africa is a diverse region with a rich history and society, part of a set of varied landscapes that make up a compounded and multiplex socio-ecosystem. Its position as a meeting point—of the desert and the sea, of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, of North and South, of East and West—makes it a complex and rewarding area of study. This multiplicity of environments and societies means there is no one history of North Africa, it is rather a structure of imbricating stories, no one of which records the whole. The environmental history of the region is no different, as the many different ecosystems—and human relations within them—give rise to different stories and different ways to tell them. Indeed, the strength of the environmental approach to the history of the region is that it allows scholars to introduce important factors into the narrative that are otherwise left out. If history is to capture the richness of past lives, tell a compelling story of people in the world, then it needs to embrace those elements of the world that were important to people. These can be the everyday concerns with watering a garden, the spectacular catastrophes of multiyear drought, or the contemplation of what factors make a place one place and not another. While there is this bottomless well of potential stories to tell within the environmental history of North Africa, there are some centripetal forces that hold it together. One is the geographical setting, defined by the desert, seas, and Atlas Mountains. Within this setting the relative aridity of the region is its central concern; each history has a place for water within it. The other generalizing trend over the modern period is the increasing centralization of decision-making about the management of that aridity: since 1800, small-scale and localized knowledge, practice, and control over hydrology has been eroded. More and more the local ecosystem has become the regional ecosystem, managed according to a logic shared on a global scale. The tension between these generalized trends and the multiplicity of local ecologies and stories is what gives the environmental history of North Africa its power and appeal.

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Ethiopia in the Nineteenth Century  

Teshale Tibebu

The history of Ethiopia during the 19th century involved three fundamental processes: (1) the Zämänä Mäsafənt (Era of Princes) and its coming to an end under Kassa Häylu, later Emperor Tewodros II; (2) the repeated attempts by Egypt and Italy to colonize Ethiopia, culminating in the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896; and (3) Mənilək’s territorial expansion and conquest of what is now southern Ethiopia during the last quarter of the 19th century in campaigns known as agär maqnat. These three distinct, yet related, processes laid the foundations for the making of modern Ethiopia. The end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt was a key factor in centralizing state power in the hands of the emperors of Ethiopia. It enabled consolidating the power of the regional lords under the emperor, which in turn played a critical role in confronting Egypt and Italy’s colonial intrusions in the late 19th century. Mənilək’s territorial conquests in the south further strengthened the state, garnering vast human and material resources that played a critical role in the Ethiopian victory at the Battle of Adwa. All three processes worked in tandem: the end of the Zämänä Mäsafənt created a strong centralized state; such a state succeeded in nipping in the bud the colonial invasions of Egypt and Italy; and the successes of the agär maqnat campaigns added to the overall strength of the country. It also laid the ground for the problems of the 20th century, chief among them being the “national question.”

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The Ethiopian Red Terror  

Jacob Wiebel

The Red Terror was a period of intense political and inter-communal violence in revolutionary Ethiopia during the late 1970s. This violence erupted two years after the revolution of 1974 and was concentrated in the cities and towns of Ethiopia, particularly in Addis Ababa, Gondar, Asmara, and Dessie. In the struggle over the direction and ownership of the revolution, opposition groups of the radical left violently opposed a military regime that itself came to embrace and promulgate Marxist-Leninist language and policies, and that relied heavily on the use of armed force to stifle dissent. While much of the violence was carried out by security personnel, the delegation of the state’s means and instruments of violence to newly formed militias and to armed citizens was a defining feature of the Red Terror. The number of casualties and victims of the Red Terror remains heavily contested and is subject to divergent counting criteria and to definitions of the Terror’s scope in relation to other concurrent conflicts in the region, such as the Eritrean and Tigrayan civil wars; plausible figures suggest more than 50,000 deaths, in addition to many more who were subjected to torture, exile, personal losses, and other forms of violence. To this day, the Red Terror constitutes a period that is remembered in Ethiopia as much for the forms of its violence as for the extent of its harm. Its ramifications, from the support it triggered for the ethno-nationalist insurgencies that overthrew the military regime in 1991, to its role in the emergence of a sizeable Ethiopian diaspora, make the Red Terror an episode of defining and lasting significance in the modern history of Ethiopia.

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Ethnicity in Africa  

Gabrielle Lynch

Among today’s scholars there is a near consensus that precolonial African identities were relatively fluid, permeable, overlapping, and complex; that ethnic identities are socially constructed; and that a colonial order of delineated control encouraged Africans to rethink group identities and heightened a sense of socioeconomic and political competition along ethnic lines. There is also growing consensus that ethnic identities are nevertheless the subject of ongoing (re)negotiation and that, to find resonance, the politicization of ethnicity, while instrumental in motivation and opportunistic in character, must be rooted in linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic similarities and communal experiences of marginalization, neglect, injustice, and achievement. Many scholars also emphasize how the realities of ethnically delineated political support reflect pragmatism and expectations of patronage in the context of difficult and unequal socioeconomic contexts, as well as the significance of remembered pasts and associated narratives of justice and strategies of acquisition. Such realities and discursive repertoires provide a list of grievances that elites can use to foster a sense of difference and mobilize local support bases, but that also provide nonelites with a means to question and counter intra- and intercommunal differences and thus social and spatial inequalities. Ethnic support then strengthened by a reinforcing cycle of ethnic bias and expectations of greater levels of assistance from co-ethnics. According to such arguments, ethnic identification and political support are rational, but not for the simple reasons that classic primordial, instrumental or neo-patrimonial accounts suggest.

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Ethnographic Analogy in Archaeology: Methodological Insights from Southern Africa  

Mark McGranaghan

Analogical arguments are central to and pervasive within archaeological discourse. Within these arguments, ethnographic analogies are often seen as being particularly problematic exercises in essentialism, which unthinkingly cast reified ethnographic schema back in time and thus perpetuate ideas about primitive indigenes, awaiting colonial contact to emerge from ahistorical primordial obscurity. The shadow of 19th-century social evolutionism, in which forager communities (not participating in agriculture and leading nomadic lifestyles) were represented as particularly primitive, has cast a pall of suspicion over ethnographic analogical models—especially as forager communities continue to feature prominently in such models to this day. Archaeologists use ethnographic analogies in a variety of ways; these analogies are heuristic constructs tailored to research questions and to the stubbornness of particular suites of archaeological data. Such uses include inducing imaginative and revelatory modes of thinking about past societies, outside of the archaeologist’s usual experiences, as well as a suite of formal and relational analogies that seek to combine ethnographic data with data drawn from the physical sciences to help constrain archaeological interpretation. Direct historical approaches utilize a collection of ethnographic and historical sources to construct analogies based on a relation of similarity between the communities of people involved; these frameworks, perhaps, carry the greatest danger of unwittingly casting modern populations as “contemporary primitives.” By emphasizing that source-side ethnographic datasets are heuristic tools rather than reflections of some sociocultural reality, such fears may (at least in part) be ameliorated. Saliently, archaeological data must operate as epistemologically equivalent to ethnographic data in order to resist the tendency to cast back a rich, textured ethnographic case study wholesale into the murky waters of prehistory. Only when this status is afforded archaeological data can is it possible to reveal the ways in which past conditions diverged from ethnographic ones.

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Euro-African Trade Relations and Socioeconomic Development in West Africa, 1450–1900  

Joseph Inikori

Since direct contact between Europeans and West Africans was established in the mid-15th century by the Portuguese, Euro-African trade relations have played a major role in West Africa’s long-run socioeconomic development. This critical role was connected to two totally different kinds of trade conducted by Europeans at different points in time: trade in commodities (the products of West African labor and natural resources) and trade in human captives. The first 200 years (1450–1650) of European commercial enterprise in West Africa were dominated overwhelmingly by trade in commodities; trade in human captives overwhelmingly dominated in the 200 years which followed (1650–1867). Trade in commodities returned with a bang in the last decades of the 19th century (1870–1900). The respective effects of these two trades on the development process in West Africa were as different as the trades themselves. The early trade in commodities contributed positively to the process; the transition from the trade in commodities to the trade in human captives had a disastrous effect; the 19th-century transition to commodity trade made an immense positive contribution. The positive contribution was significantly enhanced by the ending of the socioeconomic crises engendered by the trade in human captives, and by the establishment of general peace (Pax Britannia) by British colonial rule, with its free trade policy. However, the failure of the colonial administration to take advantage of the general increase in real household incomes and purchasing power and encourage domestic manufacturing in the colonies prevented the transformation of short-term growth into structural transformation and long-run development.

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European Slaves in North Africa and North African Slaves in Europe during the Early Modern Period, up to the 1820s  

M'hamed Oualdi

Men and women were victims of slavery and captivity in the Mediterranean beginning in the 8th century, from the earliest clashes between Islam and Christianity. The enslavement of populations captured from ships or living in coastal regions expanded during the 16th century during battles between the Spanish Habsburg empire and the Ottoman Empire. It grew further over the course of the 17th century as a result of raids led by Muslim and Christian corsairs (privateers). During the early modern period, both Maghrebi and European captives sent letters to their families and to their rulers, as well as petitions to local authorities who kept them enslaved. Europeans published accounts of captivity and redemption. Using these sources and diplomatic ones, historians have estimated that there were as many as 1.25 million Christian captives in the Maghreb between 1530 and 1780 and as many as 2.5 million total captives of various origins in Europe between 1500 and 1800. On both coasts of the Mediterranean, Maghrebi and European captives organized themselves according to kinship, their specific origin, their belonging to a state, and their religion: Catholic missionary priests supervised their flocks, while enslaved Muslims relied on the literacy of judges (men with legal knowledge, known as cadis in Arabic) to help guide their community. Protestants and Jews also had their organizations for ransoming. These communities of slaves and captives disappeared slowly from both sides of the Mediterranean. This process began in the late 17th century and went further in middle of the 18th century, when Christian and Muslim powers signed new peace treaties and liberated their respective captives. By the end of the 18th century, French revolutionary troops liberated the Maghrebi captives in the Italian lands that they were occupying. After Lord Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth’s expedition in 1816, European powers liberated a large number of Europeans in the Maghreb.

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Exploring Present Pasts: Popular Arts as Historical Sources  

Bogumil Jewsiewicki and Allen F. Roberts

To incorporate sub-Saharan senses of artistic production and practice into scholarly reconstruction of African pasts, distance must be sought from deeply embedded positivist notions of Art, History, and Art History. As Rowland Abiodun exhorts, the “African” must be returned to “African art.” Following African ways of knowing, how do works of art from earlier as well as contemporary times make pasts present to help people cope with current circumstances as inspired by ancestral wisdom? Cases from urban Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate the dynamism of such social processes.

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Farming and Herding in Eastern Africa: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives  

Freda Nkirote M'Mbogori

The inception of agriculture in eastern Africa is a major topic of discussion among Africanist archaeologists, although very sparse evidence exists. Questions range from whether domestication was a local invention or whether it was introduced from the Near East, Asia, or elsewhere outside of Africa. These questions have remained unanswered because wild progenitors and models of the spread of African domesticates are yet to be established using undisputable data. The paucity of direct data has therefore necessitated the use of objects of material culture such as pottery, beads, burial cairns, architectural structures, and so on as indicators of pastoralism and cereal farming. In addition to the origins of African domesticates, research in eastern Africa has concerned itself with questions of farming technologies from later archaeological and historical times to the present. The remains of elaborate farming systems with extensive irrigation networks have drawn considerable attention. Though not unchanged, some of these farming systems remain in contemporary use in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

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Festac 77: A Black World’s Fair  

Andrew Apter

From January 15 to February 12, 1977, Nigeria hosted an extravagant international festival celebrating Africa’s cultural achievements and legacies on the continent and throughout its diaspora communities. Named the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (or Festac 77), it was modeled on Léopold Senghor’s inaugural Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres (World Festival of Black Arts, or Fesman) held in Dakar in 1966 but expanded its Atlantic horizons of Africanity to include North Africa, India, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. Festac’s broader vision of the Black and African world was further bolstered by Nigeria’s oil boom, which generated windfall revenues that accrued to the state and underwrote a massive expansion of the public sector mirrored by the lavish scale of festival activities. Festac’s major venues and events included the National Stadium with its opening and closing ceremonies; the state-of-the-art National Theatre in Lagos, with exhibits and dance-dramas linking tradition to modernity; the Lagos Lagoon featuring the canoe regattas of the riverine delta societies; and the polo fields of Kaduna in the north, celebrating the equestrian culture of the northern emirates through their ceremonial durbars. If Festac 77 invoked the history of colonial exhibitions, pan-African congresses, Black nationalist movements, and the freedom struggles that were still unfolding on the continent, it also signaled Nigeria’s emergence as an oil-rich regional and global power. Festac’s significance lies less in its enduring impact than in what it reveals about the politics of festivals in postcolonial Africa.

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Film and Video as Historical Sources  

Mahir Şaul

Films and video dramas can become historical sources in different ways. One of them is the use of the filmic images as a source for learning about the physical environment, the layout and look of cities, buildings, rural landscapes, and other cultural elements. The documentation of urban spaces in movies made in the cities that were frequently used as filming locations, such as Dakar in Senegal or Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, furnish cases for extended treatment. Secondly, feature films can comment on the past as a kind of “history writing,” by offering explanation and perspective on past events, a means of doing what written history does in a different medium. The invention of fictional characters or dialogue and filmic strategies such as condensation do not invalidate the contribution that some movies make to the understanding of historical situations. In the case of African history, films by Ousmane Sembene, Med Hondo, and Raoul Peck are illustrations of how this has been achieved. Finally, movies also bear witness to the time of their production, because as creations of the intellect they reflect the interests, concerns, preoccupations, and possibilities of their time. Studies can focus not only on a movie in itself but also on viewers’ perception of it or on critics’ responses, either at the time of its first release or in subsequent viewings. In contrasting ways, Gaston Kaboré’s pre-colonial era films and Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s depiction of Yaounde working class neighborhoods offer exemplary material for this kind of study. Popular films and video dramas can in turn have an impact on their societies and be used deliberately by their makers to disseminate messages, entering in this way the chain of historical causality. In the 1990s the low budget video dramas first produced in Ghana and Nigeria in analogue recordings on VHS cassettes brought a challenge to the established African cinema that was recognized in the international film festival circuit, by combining amateurish production values and commercial success. This mass cultural phenomenon offers an opportunity to explore the economic and cultural roots of a particular style of visual storytelling, as well as the connections between popular audiences’ thematic preferences in entertainment and their everyday living conditions.

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Film, Radio, and Society in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa  

James Genova

From the period of the “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880s to the era of decolonization that began in the 1950s, culture and media played essential roles in constructing images of the colonized subject as well as governing newly conquered empires. In the struggle for political independence, Africans used film, music, literature, journals, and newspapers to counter European ideas about African society as well as to provide the foundations for postcolonial national identities. With sovereignty largely realized across Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, the roles of culture and media were critical in forging the bonds of nationhood and solidifying the legitimacy of the new states. However, those official efforts increasingly clashed with the aspirations of cultural activists, who desired a more thorough transformation of their societies in order to transcend the colonial legacy and construct progressive communities. Media and culture became a forum for political conflict whereby governments increasingly restricted creativity and subsequently sought complete control of the means of cultural creation and diffusion. Both the aspirations of public officials and opposition activists suffered during a period of prolonged economic crisis in Africa, which began in the 1970s and stretched into the 1990s. The sinews of governance as well as the radical pretensions of culture workers were torn asunder as many parts of Africa suffered state collapse, civil war, famine, and epidemic diseases (including the HIV/AIDS and Ebola crises). The dawn of the new millennium coincided with the age of neoliberal globalization that, for many African countries, was synonymous with structural adjustment programs and oversight from such international lending institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. This often required the privatization of media across Africa and included the greater prominence of non-African media sources on radio, television, and the cinema throughout the continent. It also was reflected in a shift among African culture workers, who frequently centered on the impact of globalization on African societies in their work. Filmmakers, musicians, and writers often use their platforms to speak to the wider world beyond Africa about the place of African societies in the globalized world.