The 5th Edition of the El Gouna Film Festival

El Gouna Film Festival Logo

This week has been the week of film festivals on the continent. Few thousands of kilometers from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, at El Gouna in Egypt on a resort on the shores of the Red Sea, another film festival is taking place. It is the El Gouna Film Festival which started in 2017. It is an annual event, which has been running since October 14th, and will end today, October 22nd. Just like the FESPACO, it has seen some adjustments due to the pandemic. The focus of the El Gouna Film Festival is more on movies from North Africa, and the Middle East like Costa Brava, the Sea Ahead, and the Blue Inmates from Lebanon, Feathers, Amira, Captains of Za’atari, Full Moon from Egypt, and countless others. The festival also offers movies from Europe: Norway, Sweden, France, and many others. The only commonality with the FESPACO this year is the presence of the movie Feathers by the Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy. Enjoy!

Below is the introduction found on the website El Gouna Film Festival

Known for being the cultural hub of the Middle East and Africa, Egypt has long been considered a pioneer within the realm of cinema and filmmaking. Serving as an intersection for civilizations from East to West, Egypt’s position has fueled its leadership in filmmaking, and has opened doors for some of the best international films to enter the region. This makes Egypt a prime choice to host the top creative minds and provide them with a platform for cultural exchange.

FESPACO 2021: One of Africa’s Biggest Film Festival is back!

FESPACO official logo for 2021

The African film festival, FESPACO, is back this year after the pandemic, the lockdowns of the past year and half, and an 8-months delay (the biennial event was originally scheduled for February 27 – March 6, but had to be postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic). It is back in Ouagadougou amidst the health situation and also the security issues that have surfaced in the Sahel region, and particularly in Burkina Faso, in the past few years.

The Festival Panafricain du cinema et de la television de Ouagadougou (FESPACO) is the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, which happens to be the largest African film festival. It is held biennially in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. First established in 1969, and boasting some of Africa’s greatest writers and filmmakers (like Ousmane Sembene), the FESPACO offers a chance for African filmmakers and professionals to showcase their work, exchange ideas, and meet other filmmakers, and sponsors.

This year’s FESPACO started on October 16th and will end on October 23rd. It promises to be great with filmmakers from around the continent coming to Ouagadougou to celebrate African cinema. After over a year of confinement, with life and particularly travel almost coming to a grinding stop, the festival promises to bring some much needed entertainment and joy.

Golden Stallion of Yennenga
The Golden Stallion of Yennenga

Over 200 films made by Africans and mainly produced in Africa have been selected for the week-long event. The official selection will see 17 feature-length films compete for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Stallion of Yennenga.

Among them is Burkinabe Boubacar Diallo’s comedy Les Trois Lascars (The Three Lascars), Chadian Mahamat Saleh Haroun with Lingui, les liens sacrés (Lingui, the sacred links), Congolese Dieudo Hamadi with documentary En route pour le milliard (On the road for the billion), Ivorian Philippe Lacôte with his much appreciated La nuit des rois (The night of the kings), Senegalese Aissa Maiga with Marcher sur l’eau (Walking on water), Algerian Hassane Mezine with Fanon hier, aujourd’hui (Fanon yesterday, today), Tunisian Leyla Bouziz with Une histoire d’amour et de desir (a story of love and desire), Cameroonian Narcisse Wandji with Bendskins (Moto-taxis), Namibian  Desiree Kahikopo-Meiffret with The White Line, Tanzanian Ekwa Msangi with Farewell Amor, …  It will be impossible to list here all that the festival has to offer, but know that it is quite extensive and everybody will have its fill. Enjoy FESPACO 2021!!!

Who killed Thomas Sankara? The Trial starts in Burkina Faso

We all know who killed Thomas Sankara… and we all know that it was an international affair with Blaise Compaoré at the center, France, Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire and even Liberians… we all know… but with all the cover-ups, and the powerful owing the justice, will we, citizens of Burkina Faso and Africa ever get justice for Thomas Sankara and his family? Well, the trial started this past Monday in Ouagadougou, without the main actor Blaise Compaoré, the coward previous president of Burkina Faso who got Ivorian citizenship to avoid getting extradited to face his crimes against the people of Burkina Faso… really a coward… how could someone like that have ever governed people? Excerpts below are from the BBC. Enjoy!

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Thirty-four years, almost to the day, since the shocking killing of Burkina Faso‘s then President, Thomas Sankara, 14 men are going on trial, accused of complicity in the murder of the man known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.

The charismatic Pan-Africanist was shot dead aged 37 by soldiers during a coup on 15 October 1987, which saw his close friend, Blaise Compaoré, come to power.

Four years previously, the pair had staged the takeover which saw Sankara become president.

Mr Compaoré is among the 14 accused but he is currently in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast, where he fled after being forced to resign during mass protests in 2014. He has repeatedly denied involvement in Sankara’s death and is boycotting the trial.

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” the former president’s widow Mariam Sankara told the BBC. “I want to know the truth, and who did what.”

Sankara remains something of an icon across Africa – … across the continent in South Africa, radical opposition leader Julius Malema cites him as one of his inspirations.

Amilcar Cabral on the Colonizer installing Puppets

Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin
Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin

As you all know, we have seen in recent coups and throughout history, that the colonizers/oppressors in Africa tend to install fake chiefs, or rather puppets to serve their interests. Remember when Agoli-Agbo (French puppet) was installed after King Behanzin was deposed in 1894? or Patrice Lumumba with Joseph Mobutu in 1961, or more recently Thomas Sankara by Blaise Compaoré in Burkina Faso in 1987, and countless others … history repeats itself. This behavior is not just observed at the top of the country, but even at the levels of the local traditional chiefs… where the successions are contested thus breaking the will of the people, and the passing on of a culture, effectively destroying the oppressed. I could not have said it better than  Amilcar Cabral, himself during his February 20, 1970 speech, as part of the Eduardo Mondlane Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, under the auspices of The Program of Eastern African Studies. Enjoy!

Amilcar Cabral
Amilcar Cabral

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the colonizer who represses or inhibits significant cultural activity on the part of the masses at the base of the social pyramid, strengthens and protects the prestige and the cultural influence of the ruling class at the summit. The colonizer installs chiefs who support him and who are to some degree accepted by the masses; he gives these chiefs material privileges such as education for their eldest children, creates chiefdoms where they did not exist before, develops cordial relations with religious leaders, builds mosques, organizes journeys to Mecca, etc. And above all, by means of the repressive organs of colonial administration, he guarantees economic and social privileges to the ruling class in their relations with the masses. All this does not make it impossible that, among these ruling classes, there may be individuals or groups of individuals who join the liberation movement, although less frequently than in the case of the assimilated “petite bourgeoisie.” Several traditional and religious leaders join the struggle at the very beginning or during its development, making an enthusiastic contribution to the cause of liberation.

But here again vigilance is indispensable: preserving deep down the cultural prejudices of their class, individuals in this category generally see in the liberation movement the only valid means, using the sacrifices of the masses, to eliminate colonial oppression of their own class and to re-establish in this way their complete political and cultural domination of the people.

… among the oppressor’s most loyal allies are found some high officials and intellectuals of the liberal professions, assimilated people, and also a significant number of representatives of the ruling class from rural areas.

… Without minimizing the positive contribution which privileged classes may bring to the struggle, the liberation movement must, on the cultural level just as on the political level, base its action in popular culture, whatever may be the diversity of levels of cultures in the country. The cultural combat against colonial domination–the first phase of the liberation movement–can be planned efficiently only on the basis of the culture of the rural and urban working masses, including the nationalist (revolutionary) “petite bourgeoisie” who have been re-Africanized  or who are ready for cultural reconversion. Whatever may be the complexity of this basic cultural panorama, the liberation movement must be capable of distinguishing within it the essential from the secondary, the positive from the negative, the progressive from the reactionary in order to characterize the master line which defines progressively a national culture.

Confronted with such a necessity, the liberation struggle is, above all, a struggle both for the preservation and survival of the cultural values of the people and for the harmonization and development of these values within a national framework.

Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah awarded Nobel Prize of Literature

Abdulrazak Gurnah, 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature winner (Source: FT.com)

Today, we will celebrate the fifth African to join the illustrious lists of Nobel literature prize winners. Yes… you heard me right, the 2021 Nobel prize for literature has been awarded to the Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah, he is only the fifth African recipient behind Wole Soyinka of Nigeria (1986), Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt (1988), Nadine Gordimer (1991) and J.M. Coetzee (2003) both of South Africa. He is in good company.

To be honest, I had never heard of Abdulrazak Gurnah before the Nobel prize announcement, even though I try to keep up with African authors. Now, I will make sure to check out his most famous book Paradise which had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994.

Flag of Tanzania

Gurnah was born on the island of Zanzibar in 1948, before it was joined with Tanganyika to become Tanzania upon independence from Great Britain. He fled his country at the age of 18 and settled in England where he has lived since then. He is the author of numerous short stories and essays, and of as many as 10 novels. Some of his books have been shortlisted (Paradise) or longlisted (By the Sea) for the Booker Prize. He also writes in Swahili. The main focus of his work has been on the effects of colonialism and the fate of refugees as they reach new countries, continents, and cultures.

Cheers to another proud winner of the very prestigious prize, and this proud son of Mama Africa. For more on him, please check out the announcement on the Nobel Prize page, the Guardian, and NPR articles.

The 2 Congos Seek to have the Rumba Recognized as a World Treasure

Putumayo cover of African Rumba disc (Source: Putumayo)

There is no doubt that the Rumba has gone global, or that it has influenced other musical types throughout the world. To those who do not know, Rumba is a music style that originates from Kongo … and here I mean the whole area that is encompassed by both Congos, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and in the olden days it was even bigger including areas of Angola, Central African Republic and Gabon. The rumba was born in Cuba from the enslaved Africans who had been taken there from the Kongo.

Flag of the Republic of Congo

Today, authorities in both Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the capitals of the DRC and the Republic of Congo, have submitted a joint bid to add Congolese Rumba to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Don’t you wish both countries could join together more often on other topics as well?

Flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo

The submission will help showcase the diversity of the heritage and raise awareness about its importance. If Congolese rumba were to be added, it would join the Budima dance of Zambia, hawker food of Singapore, sauna culture of Finland, handmade weaving in Upper Egypt, traditional pomegranate festivity and culture of Azerbaidjan, Traditional Thai massage, and traditional irrigation systems in the United Arab Emirates, among countless other customs on the list.

Papa Wemba, the king of Congolese Rumba, on his cover of Emotion

The word Rumba derives from “nkumba,” meaning belly button in the local Kikongo language, a dance originating in the ancient kingdom of Kongo.

The music style was born of the melting pot of 19th century Cuba, from the enslaved Africans, combining their drumming and dancing with their melodies and those of the Spanish colonizers. The African slaves who were taken to the Americas created the rumba as a way to stay connected to their inner beings, their histories, cultures, and probably also as a way to escape the daily grind of slavery, the inhumane practice that ripped them of their dignity of human beings.

It was re-exported to Africa in the early 20th century on vinyl, where it found a ready audience in the two Congos who recognized the rhythms as their own.

Catherine Kathungu Furaha, the DRC’s minister of art and culture, said, “when our ancestors who were taken abroad wanted to remember their history, their origin, their memory, they danced the navel dance.”… “We want rumba to be recognized as ours. It is our identity.”

Cuban rumba has been inscribed in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2016. It only makes sense that its counterpart, the mother-source, the origin, the Congolese Rumba be inscribed in the list as well. We will know in November when the committee will decide.

Oldest Fossil of Ankylosaur in the World found on the African Continent

T-Rex skeleton at the Chicago Field Museum

There was a major finding in the dinosaur world in Africa recently. As a parenthesis, I have always wondered why there are always several dinosaur sites around the globe, but very few on the African continent… as if dinosaurs somehow preferred to live on other continents but Africa. Given that Africa is the cradle of humanity, shouldn’t there be big findings on the continent as well? It most likely has to do with funding and interests of the people looking (who are mostly westerners), or could it be a deliberate need not to shed any lights on dinosaurs in Africa? Well, recently paleontologists have found the skeleton of the oldest ankylosaur so far in the world. Excerpts below are from an article on the Guardian.

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Extraordinary ankylosaur remains dating back 168m years a first for Africa

Fossil hunters have unearthed remnants of the oldest – and probably weirdest – ankylosaur known so far from a site in the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco.

The remains of the heavily armoured animal are extraordinary in being the first to have defensive spikes that are fused to the skeleton, a feature researchers say is unprecedented in the animal kingdom.

… Dr Susannah Maidment, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, [said], “Normally when we see armour in stegosaurus and ankylosaurs, the dermal armour is embedded in the skin, not attached to the skeleton. In this case, it’s not only in contact with the skeleton, it’s fused to the ribs.”

Researchers at the museum obtained the fossil from a private collector for an undisclosed sum. They originally suspected the bones might belong to a new species of stegosaur they identified from the same region in 2019, but microscopic analysis of thin sections of the fossil revealed distinctive patterns of fibres unique to ankylosaurs.

The discovery was so unusual that scientists wondered whether the fossil might be a fake, but further inspection using a CT scanner found no signs that it had been constructed or tampered with.

The fossil dates to the middle Jurassic, about 168m years ago, suggesting the animal was one of the earlier ankylosaurs to roam the Earth. Beyond ranking as the oldest ankylosaur fossil known so far, it is also the first to be found in Africa.

… Details are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Disputed Land Issues: The Case of the Khoi and San People and Amazon’s Headquarters

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Flag of South Africa
Flag of South Africa

The recent struggle faced by the Khoi and San people of South Africa over their land being used to build Amazon’s African headquarters brings back to light never ending issues: the appropriation of indigenous land by mega corporation, with the cooperation of local governments. While sometimes these local governments are powerless in the face of seemingly great deals that will “foster the local economy”, very often the governments are led by corrupt or ignorant individuals who seek immediate personal gains at the expense of the well-being of their communities (recent events in Sierra Leone). Lastly, why is it that it is always on “significant” indigenous lands that this occurs? Why not elsewhere? Of all places to build headquarters, couldn’t Amazon with its money find another piece of land in Cape Town? I am not against “development” or providing jobs to communities, but I wonder why these disputes are always recurrent. The excerpt below is from the BBC.

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Campaigners in the South African city of Cape Town are trying to halt the building of the African headquarters for Amazon. It’s a battle that pits cultural concerns against economic interests, as the BBC’s Vumani Mkhize writes.

San (Basarwa/Bushmen) hunters
San (Basarwa/Bushmen) hunters

It is an overcast day in Cape Town and the scenic Table Mountain is shrouded in a ghostly cloud that silently cascades down the rocky green slopes. At the foot of this historic landscape, a small group of activists from the Khoi and San communities have gathered near the entrance of a huge building site known as the River Club. The communities are seen as some of the earliest inhabitants of southern Africa.

… Across the road from where the activists have gathered, construction is already under way. …

The first phase of the nearly $300m (£215m) development, which will include the Amazon offices, is set to be completed in two years. However the Khoi and the San are determined to stop it.

Tauriq Jenkins, of the Goringhaicona Khoena Council, a Khoi traditional group, says the land has profound historical and cultural value to his people. “This place for us is sacred because it’s on a confluence of Liesbeek and Black Rivers. These embankments are known as the birthplace of the Khoena [Khoi] people,”
he tells the BBC.

It is also where the European colonisers had their first battle with South Africa’s indigenous people, which is marked with a blue plaque.

The 150,000 sqm development will include residential properties and shops as well as offices.

The Amazon site, which is seen as key to pulling in other companies, is set to take up nearly half the space, from where it will run its bourgeoning operations across Africa.

… Jody Aufrichtig, who heads the project, says the development will provide a massive boost to Cape Town’s tourism-reliant economy, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. He said it would create 6,000 jobs during construction and about 13,000 indirect jobs. “It’s so desperately needed, especially post-Covid and some of the riots and troubles we’ve had in South Africa. It will give the people of Cape Town and South Africa hope and economic development.” [yeah right… so unless it is built on this specific site, there will be no jobs for South Africans? Of all the places to build, it had to be that one? Will elsewhere in Cape Town still not provide jobs to South Africans?]The tussle between the developer and the indigenous people of Cape Town comes amid the biggest unemployment crisis South Africa has ever faced.

… The site of the development is where the first conflict between the indigenous people and the Dutch colonisers took place in 1659.

This very place is where land was stolen for the first time in South Africa,” Mr Jenkins says. The dispossession of Khoi and San land set in motion centuries of land seizures across the rest of the country. The issue of land ownership, or the lack of it, remains a thorny issue.

… Mr Jenkins and members of the Khoi and San communities remain unmoved by the argument that the new development will bring much-needed jobs. “The reason why this development is so expensive is because it’s on a floodplain. If Amazon and the developer could take its money and build the same scale development off this flood plain, you’d find the size of the development three to four times bigger, which means you’d be able to employ exponentially more people.” [So Amazon is building on floodplains, and it costs more to build there?… so why is the government allowing it? Are there not better sites in Cape Town that will be cost-efficient to the parties involved? Or is there something missing in this information? … doesn’t this scream of corruption?]

Comment résoudre de grandes palabres / How To Resolve Big Disputes

Kola nut
Kola nut

Pour la solution de grandes palabres, on ne vient pas avec des noix de kola (Proverbe Ngbandi – République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), République Centrafricaine (RCA)).

To resolve big disputes, do not show up with kola nuts (Ngbandi proverb – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR))

The Ethiopian Festival of the True Cross or Meskel

Ethiopian religious leaders carrying crosses during the Meskel celebration (Ethiopiaonlinevisa.com)

September 27th this year marks another big Ethiopian celebration. An even bigger festival than Enkutatash the Ethiopian New Year, is the Meskel “True Cross” Celebration which takes place on September 27th or 28th in leap year. Meskel 2021 is on September 27th . The festival commemorates the discovery of the “True Cross” on which Jesus was crucified, and is held annually in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa.

The word “meskel” is from the Ge’ez language which translates to “cross.” The festival is basically a celebration of the finding of the cross. The festival is held at the iconic Meskel square in Addis Ababa and draws out a large number of religious and civil leaders as well as public figures and Christian faithful. Meskel has been celebrated in Ethiopia for more than 1,600 years as an outdoor religious festival and has been registered at UNESCO since December 2013 as an Intangible World Heritage.

Meskel celebration in Addis Ababa (Source: Wikipedia)

The legend goes that in 4BC, the Roman Empress Helena (Queen Eleni) was able to locate the important artifact in Jerusalem by using the smoke from a huge fire. The celebration is especially important to Ethiopians as it is alleged that a piece of the cross Helena discovered was brought to Ethiopia, and hidden away somewhere in the mountains of  Amba Geshen, which itself has a cross-shaped plan.

Ethiopians commemorate the find by building their own massive bonfire, the Meskel, which they decorate with yellow flowers known as Adey Abeba before burning. Ethiopia’s religious leaders lead colorful processions and prayer around the fire, and attendees intently watch to see which way the bonfire will collapse, as it is believed to predict the future.

As you can see, the month of September is a month of cultural and religious celebrations in Ethiopia.