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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.

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History of Ghana  

David Owusu-Ansah

Taking its name from the medieval West African kingdom of Ghana when it gained political independence in 1957, the former British colony of the Gold Coast is known for its pan-African stance, gold and cocoa production, and national commitment to Western formal education. The Portuguese, the first European nation to arrive on the Costa da Mina (the Gold Coast) in 1471, reported of coastal communities organized under the leadership of chiefs. The position of the chief, with the support of local elders, illustrates the stratified political structures and chains of authority from the small village to the centralized states with whom the early Europeans and other foreign traders conducted commerce. Attracted by its gold deposits, merchants from several European nations followed the Portuguese to establish competing commercial ports on the 300-mile coastline. They invested in and defended the trading posts as forts and castles. Some of these establishments are now preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in remembrance of the transatlantic slave trade. To the northern fringes of the Akan forest and through the Volta Basin, Mande Muslim traders from the old Western Sudanese empires, as well as Hausa merchants from the northeast, arrived as early as the 15th century to exchange Sahelian products for gold, slaves, and kola nuts. The history of Muslim engagement in the commerce from the north is linked to the spread of Islam in the territories. The European missionary activities on the southern coast introduced Western formal education and Christianity. The contemporary boundaries of Ghana can be traced to the history of precolonial state formation resulting from local wars of expansion and consolidation of territories by the powerful ethnic kingdoms, especially of the Akan nations. The long Asante resistance to the British presence and the ultimate European territorial delineations led to the consolidation of British rule of the Gold Coast in 1902 to commence the colonial era. Ghana’s independence from British rule was historic, as it represented the first Black sub-Saharan African nation to become independent. But, for the first thirty-five years after independence, the rule of law was intermittent, as the military overthrew civil administrations deemed corrupt or incompetent to address ongoing national economic challenges. The return to civilian constitutional rule, a free press, and successive changes of government through the ballot box since 1992, despite economic and development challenges, gave room to grow the nation’s democracy.

Article

Socialist Politics in Lusophone Africa  

Michael G. Panzer

From the 1950s through the 1970s, several liberation movements emerged in Lusophone Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and the Cape Verde Islands) that fought for independence from Portugal. One of the most significant ideological frameworks that informed the political orientation of these movements was socialism. In Lusophone Africa, several liberation leaders gravitated toward the economic and political potentialities inherent in the discourses and practices of pan-Africanism and Afro-socialism. The liberation movements in Lusophone Africa that most identified with a socialist paradigm were the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA of Angola); Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO of Mozambique); Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands); and Comité de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe (CLSTP—later, MLSTP—of São Tomé and Príncipe). These groups suffered the burden of Portuguese colonialism and actively fought for independence from colonial rule. Although several other liberation movements also emerged in the Lusophone colonies, these four movements most espoused the hallmarks of Afro-socialism to challenge Portuguese colonial rule. All four liberation movements maintained networks with international actors opposed to colonialism, as well as diplomatic connections with sympathetic socialist and communist nations. Most notable among these bases of support were the Conferência das Organizações Nacionalistas das Colónias Portuguesas (CONCP) and the governments of Tanzania, Egypt, Guinea, the People’s Republic of China, East Germany, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Cuba.

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.