I recently watched a documentary made by René Vautier, Afrique 50. This documentary is the first French anti-colonization movie ever made. Vautier was assigned to French West Africa to make an educational film, but upon arrival he witnessed the appalling conditions of the Africans and the crimes committed against them by the French troops. The result was Afrique 50. For making this documentary, he was thrown in jail, and the documentary was banned for 40 years.
I loved Afrique 50 because it showed West Africa in 1950, a different side of it, and the African society with some of its strong culture and identity. It was a society of togetherness. Vautier tried to show different aspects of a normal day: artisans, farmers, weavers, women cooking, a hairdressing for both boys and girls, men called for prayers, fishermen, boat makers, herders, just normal life under the African sun.
He also showed colonization and its nefarious effects on African cultures and the fact that colonization did not help, but rather empoverished the Africans. He says, “a school is opened when the big companies need an accountant” (On ouvre une école quand les grosses companies ont besoin de comptables), or “a doctor is sent, when the big colonial companies risk running out of manpower” (on envoie un médécin quand les grosses compagnies coloniales risquent de manquer de main d’oeuvre).
In his documentary, Vautier shows how the French destroyed entire villages, killed people, women, kids, pregnant women, etc, because the people were not able to bring in a quota of bananas, or cocoa, or rubber, i.e. to pay the tax which was the penny sum of 3700F.
Vautier says, “colonization is the reign of the vultures,” and these vultures are the big multinationals. He cites, Société Commerciale de l’Ouest Africain (650 millions F of profit in 1949), Compagnie française de l’Afrique occidentale (actuelle CFAO) (365 millions of profit in 1949), Dabom (180 millions of profit), L’Africaine Française, le Niger Français, La Compagnie Française de la Côte d’Ivoire, Unilever who made 11 billions 500 millions of profit in a year / 40 millions a day. Not much has changed today!
It also shows why Africa always looks underdeveloped. Isn’t it surprising to notice that today, lots of large-scale agriculture is not industrialized in sub-saharan Africa? Well because it costs less to these multinationals to have Africans labor fields with hoes, machetes, and more, than buying and maintaining turbines, or tractors. This is cheap labor!
Vautier says “A machine will do the job of 20 Blacks of course, but 20 blacks for 50F a day cost less to the company than the machine, so let’s use the Black” (Une machine ferait le travail de 20 noirs bien sûr, mais 20 noirs à 50F par jour reviennent moins cher qu’une machine, alors usons le noir).
To this day, 70 years later, not much has changed in the rubber plantations of Liberia, or the cocoa plantations of Côte d’Ivoire, or the banana plantations of Cameroon, or in the forests of Gabon.
Africans are still asking for their lands which were taken by the multinationals (Did You Know about the 999-year Lease granted to Europeans in Kenya ?), and to this day the reply is always brutal and violent; when in the past they had the French administrator and police burn down villages, today they have their puppet governments installed everywhere on the continent crushing the people.
What I also liked in Afrique 50, was that in 1950, the architecture in Africa was still that of our ancestors. One can see Séguéla, Dimbokro, Kétékre, Daloa, Bouaflé, Palaka, etc… it still looks like the great architecture of Timbuktu and Djenné, sublime, and upstanding. The French came, destroyed, and burnt down those villages, and kingdoms. In the Bamiléké highlands of Cameroon, some kingdoms have no real palaces anymore, or the king’s house is made of zinc roofing, because the colonizers had them burnt down (such as the Bazou royal palace) in the 1950s during the maquis years (French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon) and before. The mud huts seen today across Africa are a result of years of being crushed and under constant attack by foreigners. When you are constantly attacked, you barely have time to rebuild the old ways, and also with time those with the architectural know-how pass away without passing on their knowledge, and more, we are told that building like the Europeans is sign of modernism even if it not adapted to our environment!
Please enjoy this documentary… It is a real eye-opener! Very little has changed in 70 years, the name has morphed from colonization to neo-colonization, to globalization, to cheap labor, and more!