What you need to know:
- The entire Sahel and large parts of West Africa, including Nigeria, is nearly broken by extremist violence.
- Economies are failing at alarming rates, and droves of young Africans continue to make a desperate dash to the Gulf and Europe and enduring a hellish life.
In an interview with OkayAfrica on the re-release of his groundbreaking film Sankofa, Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima launched an extraordinary broadside against crooked African politicians and some of the elite. Haile, who has lived in exile in the US for decades, tells an excruciating and dispiriting story about the struggles of making serious African cinema. He is quite angry, and rightly so, about the state of affairs in Africa today.
“Africans have lost their minds,” he told OkayAfrica. “They have lost their historical context. They do not understand the resistance history of our own people; even when they were peasants and ordinary village people, they made history. And here we are, with all the airplanes we fly from place to place, with all the weapons we have to kill each other, we are still a continent of industry for weaponry, for destruction, guns and killing. We are the industry of disease. We are the industry of displacement and dehumanisation, of human relationship.”
“The elite that is culturally backward has failed us. The elite thinks in its own political dogma. It transforms a country, it neglects the role of culture,” he said. “The role of culture is a threat to the establishment, to the elite, all over Africa. They are against that... What they unleash is imitative cinema that is outlandishly the copycat movies from Europe and America... Even in the most capitalist country in America, there is a state role in the cultural diet of a people.
“The Africa we have, we have been taken over. Every revolutionary attempt was caught in its own dogma, and never tenderised its own revolutionaries. They all came back fascist. It's their children that are abusing the African economy. The revolutionary children are the new billionaires, the new millionaires. How in the hell, in 20 years of revolution, did these grotesque African leaders create capitalist children that play games with the poverty of Africa, with the underclass of Africa? In their wining and dining and champagne-throwing and shoes — it's a very grotesque thing going on.”
He is deadly, persuasive and throws up troubling questions. Among them, what happened to the Afro-optimism of the first decade of the 21st century? Barely 10 years ago, Kenyan-birthed crisis crowdsourcing software “Ushahidi” was one of the hottest technology phenomena. Safaricom’s mobile money transfer service M-Pesa was the only one of its type.
In politics, the rage was about “technocratic” leaders — not your typical patronage-hawking tribal chieftain but one either personally scientific in approach to government or had surrounded himself/herself with highly skilled professionals. Africa had some of the best of them, with Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, John Kufour in Ghana, Thabo Mbeki in South Africa, all named in the club.
Kofi Annan was Secretary-General of the United Nations, and when he left became a much sought-after global figure. Nelson Mandela was still around. The discredited Organisation of African Unity had been revamped and rebaptised the African Union (AU) and it was talking human rights and transparency. In Nigeria, the larger-than-life Olusegun Obasanjo was in charge. The once-sleepy African Development Bank (AfDB) got Rwandan economist and former Finance minister Donald Kaberuka as president and he changed it forever, becoming a rock star figure walking the world stage with a self-assured gait. Collectively, all proclaimed “Africa is rising.”
Then reality happened. The entire Sahel and large parts of West Africa, including Nigeria, is nearly broken by extremist violence. Economies are failing at alarming rates, and droves of young Africans continue to make a desperate dash to the Gulf and Europe and enduring a hellish life.
Incredible art and music
Democracy is in recession and corruption rampant. States are fraying, from Mozambique, South Africa, to Nigeria. By one reckoning, there are only about 10 African countries where there is effective and productive and creative state control over all its territory. In most of the rest where there is control, it is by the terror of the state.
The horrors of war and the misery of an increasing number of Africans is harrowing, but it is also often a harbinger of new beginnings or the fertiliser for innovation. Quite some of the best of Africa was born out of crisis. Ushahidi, and to some extent M-Pesa, were children of Kenya’s 2007/2008 post-election violence.
The anger of Africa’s youth is producing incredible art and music. Early in the week, I read an article about rising young African artistes. I hadn’t heard about a single one of them. One of them, Uganda’s Doddridge Busingye, had his pieces up for over $8,500 each. And, from under the rubble of exclusion and violence, a wave of creativity and new forms of social organising is being unleashed by women.
Old Africa is not defeated. It still has some fight in it and it will get worse before it gets much better. The saddest part is that too many will not be around to see the day.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. @cobbo3