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African Films and FESPACO  

Kate Cowcher

The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) was founded in 1969. It began as an intimate week-long gathering of filmmakers and enthusiasts in the capital of what is now Burkina Faso to watch contemporary films made by African filmmakers. At its peak in the 1990s, it attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators, both local and international. Since the 2000s, iterations have been smaller affairs, significantly impacted by both changes of government in Burkina Faso and wider political instability in West Africa, as well as ongoing debates about what films it should be showcasing. Despite such challenges (and with only one exception in the mid-1970s), however, FESPACO has remained a constant on the African continent, faithfully screening films by African and diaspora filmmakers every two years for more than half a century. FESPACO was conceived in the age of decolonization by a group of men and women who are considered to be the pioneers of African cinema, including the Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. It was established as the first sub-Saharan showcase of African filmmaking, an emergent and significant field in the era of independence when cinema was prized for its ability to make visible African realities and to (re)constitute national histories eclipsed by colonial rule. The concept of a distinctly “African” cinema was articulated most extensively by filmmaker and scholar Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and referred to films made by Africans, telling African stories, principally for African audiences. For Vieyra, Sembène, and their contemporaries, it was essential to take back control of the art of cinema on the African continent, where it had predominantly been deployed as a colonial tool; FESPACO was conceived as the regular forum for those committed to its development to come together and share their work. Through the course of its development, FESPACO has been confronted with a number of challenges regarding its form and its evolution. Its strong connections with the Burkinabe state have been seen as both a significant factor for its growth and its success, and, particularly in the era of Blaise Compaoré, as a source for concern regarding freedom of expression. Since the turn of the 21st century, questions about where video filmmaking—an industry that has proliferated on the African continent in a manner unprecedented internationally—fits within FESPACO’s definition of cinema have been consistent. The festival has, over the years, been accused of being both outdated and elitist in its commitment to celluloid, but also of straying from its original remit to showcase African stories for African audiences, accusations it has responded to by the creation of new prize categories and requirements for submission. The year 2019 was one of reflection, but many critics felt that after some difficult years the festival was showing signs of rejuvenation. Though it is now one of many film festivals on the continent committed to showcasing African cinema, there remains significant appreciation for the historic status of FESPACO as a preeminent sub-Saharan cultural institution.

Article

Animating African History: Digital and Visual Trends  

Paula Callus

Contrary to popular belief, the animated moving image on the African continent has long and diverse histories across many countries. Although it shares both the technology and some of the formal aspects of cinema, its historical development followed a different trajectory to that of indexical film, both in Europe and in Africa. This may be because of animation’s ability to draw upon a range of artistic practice, which means it can take many guises; at times it appears like a cartoon, or sometimes like puppets or sculptures that come to life; at other times it is a metamorphic drawing or painting, or even a photographic montage. In addition, while animation tends to be associated with content specifically intended for a children’s audience, it has in fact been an effective vehicle to conceal sociopolitical critique that would otherwise be considered problematic. Different animators in Africa have used animation to this end, presenting subversive and social-realist content within the unrealistic depictions of fantastical stories, the parodic, comedic or allegorical, or culturally located visual metaphors. African animators have also used animation to safeguard and give permanence to the stories, myths, and legends they grew up with. These legends have occasionally also informed animated superheroes in games such as the Kenyan mobile phone application Africa’s Legends, or the cast of an Afro-futurist setting such as the Nigerian “Afro-anime” production Red Origins. With the onset of digital technology, the landscape of animation in Africa has seen a blossoming of activity from expert and non-expert prod-users. Their work circulates in formal and informal settings, whether visible at a festival, on television and mainstream media, in online social networking spaces or on video streaming sites such as YouTube or Vimeo. The prolific characteristic of animation made for digital spaces has resulted in a paradoxical simultaneous visibility and invisibility. Networks of African artists have benefited from the visibility and distribution that the Internet and smart phone technologies offer; for example, Kenyan multimedia artists Just a Band were quoted as saying that they were discovered online before they were discovered in Nairobi. However, the ephemeral quality of these digital spaces can also be problematic from the archivist’s perspective as digital traces change. For this reason it is increasingly important to capture the traces that African artists leave in this dynamic space as they reflect the zeitgeist.

Article

Cartography in Colonial Africa  

Lindsay Frederick Braun

Cartography, which includes maps and plans as well as the processes and contexts of their production and use, played an important role in shaping colonial encounters in Africa. The early manuscript and print maps of the limited spaces of interaction, where Europeans expressed power prior to the 19th century, tended to be broadly representative of wide areas or focused closely on key locales, usually forts or coastal settlements. Until the late 18th century most tended to be imprecise and relational, with few clear markers of dominion or signs of administrative structures, and heavily dependent on local exchanges of knowledge. As with other European fields of scientific knowledge that intersected African spaces and places, however, cartography accelerated in importance and changed in character with the expansion of colonial rule and the emergence of modern bureaucracies from the late 19th century. Although manuscript maps never lost their importance to local administrators or their place in the collection of information, cheap lithography after about 1850 assured colonial governments a greater number of precise and elaborate representations than ever before, which created a variety of notional spaces and spatial notions for the deployment of colonial power. Into the 20th century, compilation mapping from variegated data continued to yield slowly—and incompletely—to even more precise survey-based maps that claimed to approach truly objective representational accuracy. This claim of accuracy in turn abetted a variety of new economic, social, and political schemes under colonial auspices. Overall, the relationship between cartography and colonialism was cyclical in that mapped processes framed colonial visions of African territory and spatiality and translated these illusions into instruments of power to advance those colonial designs on people, land, and resources. A lack of consideration for spatialities beyond the idealized model of planimetric positional representation or, thematically, colonial priorities and schemas of organization may be the most consistent characteristic of mapping in colonial Africa. At the same time, this cartography continued to depend on the knowledge of African informants or assistants and, ultimately, the work of locally trained professionals through political independence, which created spaces for interpretation, opposition, and coproduction that shaped the map output. The colonial relationship and colonial priorities thus framed cartography in African spaces throughout the era, although the discursive nature of mapping and its processual nature meant influences traveled in more than one direction, and the map was not simply a direct imposition.

Article

de Sousa, Noémia  

Hilary Owen

Noémia de Sousa (1926–2002) is traditionally designated as the founding mother of Mozambican national poetry. She was the only woman poet in Mozambique to play a major role in shaping the cultural imaginary of the Portuguese African nationalisms that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s. Her early life as a woman of mixed African, European, and Goan racial heritage, and the education this racial status afforded her, drew her into writing and journalism in opposition to the colonial regime of the Portuguese New State. Her first and only poetry collection, Sangue Negro (Black blood), was completed and circulated clandestinely in 1951. She was subsequently exiled to Lisbon, and from there to Paris, returning to Portugal in 1973, shortly before the April 1974 Revolution. The contents of Sangue Negro were circulated, in the original and in translation, largely through specific selected poems in African nationalist anthologies. Divided into five sections, the poems of Sangue Negro mix oral and literary tropes and influences. They deal with issues of racial hybridity and colonial assimilation, African American and Pan-Africanist influences in Mozambique, Portuguese Neorealism and Marxist resistance, autobiographical memories and testimonies, and the specificity of women’s political voice. The literary establishment’s reception of de Sousa in 1960s Mozambique was generally dismissive. Her work was also afforded relatively minor status in foundational anglophone accounts of the Lusophone African canon, such as those by Russel Hamilton and Patrick Chabal. The Marxist sociologist critic, Alfredo Margarido was an important exception in this regard and an early champion of her work. In the 1990s, de Sousa was progressively validated and incorporated into the canonization of black, Pan-Africanist, and Negritudinist writers by critics such as Pires Laranjeira in Portugal. Since the 1990s she has received more in-depth, gender-informed attention in Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil, the United States, and the United Kingdom, consolidating her international status as a pioneering woman’s voice in Africa’s literary history of national liberation struggle. Her poetry collection Sangue Negro was reprinted by the Mozambican Writers’ Association (AEMO) in a new edition in 2001, for the first time since the 1951 original.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: 600–1060 CE  

Allen Fromherz

The history of North Africa from the coming of Islam to the rise of the Almoravid Empire in the 11th century is a crucial period in the making of the Islamic Maghrib. From 600 ce to 1060 ce Berbers and Arabs interacted in a variety of ways and through a process of acculturation. This interaction created a distinctive cultural and historical zone called the “Maghrib” or the “land of the setting sun,” a zone that would be recognized throughout the Islamic world. While many questions remain unanswered or yet to be explored from this period due to issues with sources, the first centuries after the coming of Islam to the Maghrib (7th—11th centuries) set the stage for the rise of the great Berber and Muslim empires: the Almoravid and Almohads. This period is crucial for understanding the development and history of Maghribi Islam.

Article

Pan-Africanism  

Harry Odamtten

Pan-Africanism is an idea that calls for unity for all peoples of African heritage in order to overcome inequitable global systems, especially racial capitalism. However, defining Pan-Africanism requires a survey of definitions to delineate areas of historical consensus. Thus, this work makes a historical distinction between a prior period of Pan-African ideas and a subsequent Pan-African social movement era, dating from the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London. It also recognizes that Pan-Africanism is dynamic and not static; it evolves within various historical contingencies. Furthermore, a distinction between the canon of Pan-African ideas and the Pan-African social movement is paramount. Black intellectuals, such as Edward Blyden, were the producers of the series of ideas in the 19th century that would catapult Pan-Africanism into a worldwide social movement for global Black unity, racial equality, and legitimize African histories and cultures. Building on these forerunners were the leading lights of the social movements, Henry Sylvester Williams, W. E. B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Marcus Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Amy Jaques Garvey, Paulette Nardal, Jane Nardal, George Padmore, and Kwame Nkrumah. The latter two are included in the pantheon for imbuing the Pan-African ideas and social activism of two prior generations. They were distinctive by their explication of Blyden’s 19th-century African Personality and adopting the symbolism of Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association in the early 20th century and working with DuBois to organize the 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945. Finally, they also pushed for the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) formation in 1963. In the aftermath of the seventh Pan-African Congress organized in Dar es Salaam, from 1974 to the end of the 20th century, Pan-Africanism reached its organizational nadir. Beset by neocolonialism, bad leadership, and the complex demands of nation-states in Africa, the movement struggled to maintain worldwide interest even as Pan-African activities and Black internationalist engagements proliferated in various regional enclaves including North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. In the 21st century, the exuberance of Muammar Gadhafi and the sentimental pragmatism of Thabo Mbeki rose to the fore. This new dynamism generated a restructuring of the OAU into the African Union, and the African diaspora became a region of the African continent. Beyond this, while belief in Pan-Africanism as a liberation tool remains, questions persist about African leaders’ agency and institutional frameworks for achieving Pan-African goals.