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date: 05 October 2022

Popular Culture in Francophone Central Africalocked

Popular Culture in Francophone Central Africalocked

  • Bogumil JewsiewickiBogumil JewsiewickiDepartment of History, Laval University
  •  and Katrien PypeKatrien PypeInstitute for Anthropological Research in Africa, KU Leuven


In the Belgian Congo, colonial authorities such as state officials and missionaries strongly monitored the leisure activities of the urban population. The latter gradually managed to set up their own sphere of entertainment and communication, and appropriated the popular culture offered to the colonial subjects. An example in case is the Bills movement, a type of masculinity developed in colonial Kinshasa (then Léopoldville), and inspired by American western films. The development of local popular cultures happened in local languages, and, among other things, led to hybrid music and dance forms such as rumba and maringa which set the tune of the townships and mining camps. Locally produced musical styles gradually became important vectors in the search for political independence. One can argue that in Francophone Central Africa, popular culture nourished anticolonial sentiment and expression.

Postcolonial leaders invested heavily in music and mass media as well. Probably best known is Mobutu’s politics of animation, which happened in Lingala, and served to glorify the leader and to cement national sentiment. This propaganda program was inspired by the rich cultural heritage of ethnic groups, and relied on mass events and mass media. In Kagame’s post-genocide Rwanda, folkloric dance remains an important technology to solidify national cohesion.

Since the mid-1990s, as nation states deregulated their media, new radio and television entrepreneurs appeared, and they nourished local popular culture with new styles and genres. In particular, the Nigerian Nollywood films traveled to Central Africa. This happened in the wake of the increased popularity of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity, which has generated a thriving gospel culture. The digitalization of society, especially social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, transformed how people relate to others in the diaspora, spawned new social groups, such as Yoyettes in urban Cameroon, and had an impact on the ways in which people retrieve and share information, as well as how they engage with their leaders. These then provide alternative avenues for expressing and mediating citizenship and kinship.


  • Central Africa
  • Colonial Conquest and Rule

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