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Political Song in Africa  

Liz Gunner

Song is not a topic that is automatically associated with politics in many countries in the world. If it is, it may be an occasional association, one linked perhaps to times of war and the marching songs of soldiers, or to the rise to power of a particular leader who might manipulate his followers by appealing to their love of a particular brand of folk heritage and so to love of a nation. In Africa, however, song and the political are closely associated, and it is true to say that in many African nations a knowledge of how political song works is essential to being part of a particular community or political party, or even to having a sense of who one is and where one comes from. Some might even say that if you cannot sing, in a political sense you are not a fully operational member of society. Song in Africa has a presence in the political space and the public sphere of many countries, but it need not be evident all the time. It can be a resource that knowledgeable citizens draw on at times of pressure or of celebration or even of mourning, when, for instance, singing for a lost leader provides comfort to singers and the wider community alike. A nation can grieve in song, as was the case in South Africa at the death of former president Nelson Mandela. Political song can be a veritable arsenal of energy for those struggling for a better order, and it features frequently in histories of the nationalist struggles of the 1950s and 1960s on the continent, particularly in southern Africa. It has a place too in the histories of the continent’s cities, which were often centers of dynamic growth and social change, where it provides a rich mix of political music and popular culture. The many different expressions and guises of political song on the African continent are in some ways as unpredictable as they are prevalent. Political song has also a certain fragility. Certain bodies of song can be passed over, erased, or substituted by those more dominant. If song can encapsulate memories, ideas, events, and people, those songs can also fall away. Song can in a sense enable a community to imagine itself, and change and sometimes a particular gifted singer can bring about this shift of class, consciousness, and identity, as is the case in the late-19th-century community in Zanzibar. It can also be used as a weapon of protest and defiance in times of struggle, but also as a means of control. All these points about political song in Africa illustrate why it is important as a topic of research.

Article

Radio as a Political Medium in Africa  

Harri Englund

Radio’s affordability, portability, and use of local languages have long granted it a special status among mass media in Africa. Its development across the continent has followed remarkably similar paths despite clear differences in different countries’ language policies, economic fortunes, and political transformations. Common to many countries has been the virtual monopoly over the airwaves enjoyed by the state or parastate broadcasting corporations during the first decades of independence. The wave of democratization since the late 1980s has brought important changes to the constitutional and economic landscape in radio broadcasting. Although private, religious, and community stations have filled the airwaves in many countries, it is also important to recognize the many subtle ways in which state-controlled radio broadcasting, both before and after independence, could include alternative ideas, particularly in cultural and sports programming. By the same token, radio’s culpability in orchestrating oppression—or even genocide, as in Rwanda’s case—stands to be examined critically. Liberalized airwaves, on the other hand, draw attention to developments that find parallels in radio history elsewhere in the world. They include radio’s capacity to mediate intimacy between radio personalities and their listeners in a way that few other media can. They also become apparent in radio’s uses in encouraging participation and interaction among ordinary citizens through phone-in programs that build on the rapid uptake of mobile telephony across Africa. Such developments call for a notion of politics that makes it possible to observe radio’s influence across the domains of formal politics, religion, and commercial interests.

Article

Non-State Policing in Africa  

S.J. Cooper-Knock

Studies of policing go to the heart of debates over public authority, violence, and order. Across the globe, the state cannot be assumed to be at the center of policing practices or their authorization. Across Africa, a diverse mix of individuals, groups, and corporations are involved in policing people’s everyday lives and the spaces in which they live them. Categorizing the different groups and individuals in this varied landscape is no simple task. Even drawing lines between “state” and “non-state” policing is not as easy as it may first appear. In reality, any constructed boundary is likely to be more porous and fluid than imagined. In some cases, this is because the service providers become entangled with the state. State officials, for example, may moonlight for other policing organizations. Conversely, state institutions might collaborate with, or outsource work to, civilian and corporate actors. In other cases, groups who identify as non-state actors may still mimic the symbols, materials and practices of the state in an attempt to bolster their own claims to public authority. Faced with the difficulty of sustaining any simple divide between categories such as “state” or “non-state” policing scholars have taken a variety of analytical routes: refining their definitions; developing “ideal types” against which messy empirical realities can be juxtaposed, or moving away from bounded typologies in an attempt to understand group and individuals on their own terms. Taking the latter course, this article highlights the variety of putatively non-state policing organizations and formations across the continent. In doing so, it highlights that the presence of private security corporations, rebel groups, neighbourhood watches, or so-called mobs are no simple indicator of the absence or weakness of state institutions and imaginaries. Understanding everyday negotiations over statehood and sovereignty requires a more nuanced approach. When this path is taken, and policing landscapes are studied in all their complexity, we gain crucial insights into the ways in which being and belonging, law and order, power and legitimacy, privilege and oppression function in any given context.

Article

Homosexuality in Francophone West Africa: The International Context of Local Controversies  

Christophe Broqua

Since the mid-2000s, certain expressions of hostility against homosexuality in Africa have received wide international media coverage. In different countries, one of the main targets of this hostility is gay mobilizations. At the same time, these expressions of hostility often promote the development of gay mobilizations. Thus, taken together, these opposing mobilizations form a system, as shown in the cases of Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa. Each of the two contexts presents specific local characteristics. In Senegal, the 2000s saw a rise in political Islam. In this context, the gay man gradually became a figure used variously in public debate, with power struggles within political and religious spheres influencing positions on homosexuality. In Côte d’Ivoire, the situation must first be understood through the political crisis affecting the country since the early 2000s and its ambivalent relationship with France, particularly since the post-election crisis of 2010–2011. In both countries, the opposing mobilizations are not limited to “social movements” in the strict sense but involve myriad heterogeneous actors (including at least one or more quasi-official gay groups) focused on a single problem, who sometimes work haphazardly and generally in opposite directions. Added to this heterogeneity of actors are their public positions which offer few clues to easily separate them into pro- and anti-camps. The fact remains that a disconnect often exists between the most prominent actors. However, this distinction is also ambiguous in that it subjects the opposing mobilizations to an interdependence: not only that the actions of one side can largely depend on another’s, but that another’s actions can also benefit actors. Finally, the controversies playing out in and dependent on specific national contexts are also largely constructed in relationship with the “international,” both as a context and an actor, and more generally as a reference figure.

Article

Eritrea: The Everyday Politics of Mass Militarization  

Jennifer Riggan

Eritrea has a long history as a heavily militarized nation, dating back to its 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia. Militarization is a core component of Eritrean nationalism and state formation, which is arguably forged out of war but is also implicated in Eritrea’s problematic human rights record. Following Eritrea’s 1991 independence, the country was poised to democratize and liberalize. At that time, the country also began an intensive process of nation-building of which militarization was a central part. In 1995, Eritrea introduced the national service program. Eritrea’s national/military service, which requires 6 months of military training and 12 months of free military or civil service for all Eritreans (male and female), initially enjoyed widespread public support although there were always concerns about harsh living and labor conditions. In 1998, a border war with Ethiopia broke out. At this time, those who had military training in national service were recalled. Although fighting ended in 2000, the border war deepened Eritrea’s adherence to militarization as a key strategy of national defense, nation-building, and development. A condition of no-peace, no-war followed the border war. The long period of no-war, no-peace with Ethiopia allowed Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, to consolidate his power, deepen authoritarian rule, and extend the national service program indefinitely. The indefinite extension of national service meant that conscripts were not demobilized and new recruits into national service could not be assured that they would ever be released. Due to the indefinite extension of military service, harsh conditions in the military, and extreme punishments for those who try to escape the military, Eritrea’s national/military service requirement is at the center of concern about human rights and civil liberties in Eritrea. Militarization has since become fused with state control and punishment, leading to human rights and civil liberties violations and the mass flight of close to half a million Eritreans over the past decades. Despite the announcement in summer of 2018 that Eritrea and Ethiopia had finally agreed to peace, no one has been released from the military and Eritreans continue to flood out of the country to avoid national service conditions which have been equated with slavery.

Article

Blackness, Race, and Politics in Argentina  

Judith M. Anderson and Patricia Gomes

Africans and Afro-descendants in Argentina have a long tradition of organizing to resist all forms of oppression. This can be traced back to the 17th century with various forms of organizations including cofradias (religious brotherhoods or fraternal organizations), naciones (Afro-descendant social and cultural organizations), mutual aid societies, and military-based organizations in Río de la Plata, the region that would become Argentina and Uruguay. From the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, as a part of the construction of the Argentine nation as European, white, and “civilized,” the myth of black disappearance was reified through discursive elimination and the cessation of collecting data on race or color in official records. The rise of Peronism in the 1940s would cause the return of race to public discourse, as large internal migrations of nonwhites from the interior of the country descended on major cities like Buenos Aires. The opponents of Perón, and his policies that embraced these poor migrants, mocked these individuals as cabecitas negras (derogatory term meaning “little black heads”), but they would open the possibility for a new reworking of a more inclusive Argentina. The new migrants represented a merging of categories of race and class, as these negros included Afro-Argentines who formed part of Perón’s constituency. The late 20th century would bring more direct challenges to black invisibility, with multiple new organizations and events centered on the experiences of the African diaspora in Argentina. One of the first organizations created after the return to democracy in Argentina was the Comité Argentino Latinoamericano contra el Apartheid (The Argentine Committee against Apartheid) in 1984. The example set by this organization, alongside inspiration from black liberation movements in the United States, Brazil, and on the African continent, would be a catalyst for the creation of numerous new black organizations for decades to come. Black organizing in Argentina found support in activist networks across the globe as well as across international organizations, which was reflected by the multicultural turn in Latin America during the 1990s. The era sparked the creation of significant legislation and activities due to pressure from local activists and the international community through organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. One of the earliest conferences organized by Argentine black activists was the first Jornada de Cultura Negra (Black Culture Conference) in 1991. The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI) was created in 1995 by the Argentine state to address the needs of marginalized populations in Argentine society. The late 1990s and early 2000s saw increased immigration of highly visible Africans and Afro-descendants from Latin America and Caribbean countries, which led to the creation of novel organizations to serve their specific needs. New conferences and events that provided opportunities for these diasporas to organize and interact, like the Semana de África (Africa Week), were also created. Along with the existing black communities in Argentina, these organizations contributed to new legislation officially recognizing Afro-descendant populations and condemning racism. Many of these legislative acts were passed under the Fernández de Kirchner administration (2007–2015), like the 2015 Law No. 5.261 Against Discrimination, which provided a more comprehensive antidiscrimination policy, and the historic 2010 Argentine census which restored the possibility of identifying as Afro-descendant. The reappearance of the category in the 2010 census after over a 120-year absence had been prompted by the World Bank’s landmark census 5 years prior. Though these gains were primarily symbolic, they helped fortify black activism. Grassroots organizing and political mobilization has remained steadfast in spite of shifts in national politics, continuous economic instability, and increased antiblack racism at both the systemic and individual levels. As black activism increased incrementally over the decades, it inspired an upsurge of academic studies that in turn provided knowledge which helped propel activist efforts. The 21st century has been a particularly fruitful time in the Argentine academy as anthropological studies on Africans and Afro-descendants have proliferated. This time period has also marked a much-needed expansion of black organizing into more rural areas of the country, especially the northwest, which has historically had a large population of African descent. By holding more activities in the provinces and outside of the City of Buenos Aires, the decentralization of black activism has helped increase consciousness across the nation.