Who/What do we Celebrate in Africa in 2021 ?

Although 2021 has globally been a tough year, there are still events that lend to celebration. As we turn the page of 2021 and delve into 2022, it is good to note that in 2021, a lot of “firsts” have taken place on the African continent. Below are a few of the events that brought joy. There are many more, of course, but I selected 11. Enjoy, and add in the comments other celebratory events that have marked the continent this year.

  1. Hulda Swai_1
    Professor Hulda Swai

    Tanzanian professor Hulda Swai wins the 2020 prize of the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Continental Awards for Scientific Excellence in February [Professor Hulda Swai of Tanzania Wins Distinguished Science Award: ‘Women are as good as men’]. This is a highly prestigious scientific award in Africa.

  2. In May, a Malian woman gives birth to 9 babies (from natural conception). This marks the first single birth and survival of nonuplets in the world. Halima Cisse, a Malian woman, has given birth to nonuplets, 5 girls and 4 boys, in a hospital in Morocco [World Record: Malian Woman gives Birth to Nine Babies].
  3. Herero_chained
    Chained Herero men

    Germany agrees to pay Namibia €1.1bn over historical Herero-Nama genocide in May of this year. This is historic, late, and probably not enough compared to the loss in human lives… yet it is important! The money will be paid over 30 years in aid programs…  (probably a way to siphon money back to Germany, while appearing to be giving something), and pales in comparison to the billions worth of Namibian diamonds and cobalt mine that will profit German companies in fine print [Germany in Namibia: the First Genocide of the 20th Century].

  4. Laurent Gbagbo
    Laurent Gbagbo

    In June, after 10 years of imprisonment, and over 20 years of persecution, Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Cote d’Ivoire finally lands home amidst celebrations from his supporters in the country and abroad [Laurent Gbagbo is Back in Cote d’Ivoire]. Although there have been subsequent disappointing actions on his part, it is nonetheless a victory over the International Court of Justice, and all the persecution Blé Goude (How long shall they kill our prophets…?), him, and countless others have gone through, and remains a major cause for celebration, as it shows that, for a just cause, perseverance and determination always bear fruits.

  5. In June, Petra Diamonds pays Tanzanians for its abuse [Petra Diamonds pays £4.3m to Tanzanians ‘abused’ by its contractors]; this is significant as it shows that it is not impossible to demand reparations from these giant companies that pollute our lands and abuse us. It sets a precedent.
  6. Tokyo2020
    Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo (Olympics.com)

    Late July marks the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after one year of postponement, and Africa wins new victories. Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui offers the African continent its first medal of the games, by winning gold in the 400m freestyle swimming; Hugues Zango of Burkina Faso gives his country its first ever medal at the Olympics by winning the bronze medal in the men’s triple jump; while Eliud Kipchoge successfully defends his Olympic title at the marathon becoming the 3rd person in the history of the games to win successive marathons [African Wins at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics].

  7. In October, Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah is awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature, making him the fifth African to win the illustrious prize [Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah awarded Nobel Prize of Literature]. As you can see, the African literary scene is flourishing.
  8. Somalia_The Gravedigger Wife
    “The Gravedigger’s Wife” by Khadar Ahmed

    A Somali love story, the Gravediggers’ Wife is this year’s FESPACO winner [Somali Love Story, The Gravedigger’s Wife, is this year’s FESPACO winner]. The FESPACO, which is one of Africa’s biggest film festival, took place this year after the pandemic and lockdowns, and an 8-months delay because of security reasons [FESPACO 2021: One of Africa’s Biggest Film Festival is back!].

  9. 100 years after René Maran, an African wins the prestigious French Prix Goncourt. The award was given to Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr. This is the first time that a Sub-saharan African person wins the prize, and the third time for a Black person in the almost 120-years history of the title [100 years after René Maran, An African wins the Prestigious Prix Goncourt], even though people of African descent make up so much of the French population over the past century.
  10. Benin_Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin Man shark
    Benin Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin man shark (Musee du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac)

    In November, France returns some artifacts of the kingdom of Dahomey to the present-day country of Benin; these were looted when the French burnt down the capital of King Behanzin at Abomey over 120 years ago [France returns 26 Artifacts from Behanzin’s Era to Benin]. Similarly, the Benin Bronze cockerel held at the University of Cambridge from the famed Benin Kingdom [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground] has been returned to Nigeria. This is still little, as they should all be returned to their rightful owners; it should not even be up to negotiation.

  11. Congolese Rumba has been recognized as a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage. Congratulations to both Congos, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for working together. We do hope that this is just the first step in a collaboration that will extend to other domains including economic success and beyond [Congolese Rumba Wins UNESCO Protected Status].

Now, there are a lot more such as David Diop winning the International Booker prize for his book “At Night All Blood is Black” which focuses on Tirailleurs Senegalais; or the Senegalese influencer Khaby Lame being ranked number 2 on Tik Tok for his wordless humor which transcends language barriers and cultures (he is the fastest growing Tik Tok influencer with 120 million followers); or even Madagascar’s secretary of police, Serge Gelle, swimming for about 12 hours to reach shore after his helicopter crashed in the Indian Ocean off the northeast coast of the country. When rescued, Gelle said “My turn to die has not yet come, thank God.” So let us all be grateful for this year, and for the people and events who have brought joy to our lives, and let us move forward to a new year. 

Congolese Rumba Wins UNESCO Protected Status

Rumba_putumayo-african-rumba
Putumayo cover of African Rumba disc (Source: Putumayo)

Two months ago, the 2 Congos, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), filed jointly for the Congolese Rumba to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage (The 2 Congos Seek to have the Rumba Recognized as a World Treasure). I hope that this is a start for both Congos to transcend their differences to rise together more often, and join efforts. Isn’t it Unity nice? Enjoy this article from the BBC.

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One of the most influential genres of African music and dance, Congolese rumba, now has Unesco-protected status.

Congo_Brazzaville_Flag
Flag of the Republic of Congo

It is the culmination of campaigning by two countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville.

They both occupy what was once the ancient kingdom of Kongo – where the sinuous dance originated according to the two nations’ joint application.

The word “rumba” itself comes from the Kikongo word for navel, “nkumba“.

DRC_flag
Flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese rumba joins other living traditions such as Jamaican reggae music and Singaporean hawker food on Unesco’s “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” list. The UN’s cultural body says bestowing this status helps to “maintain cultural diversity in the face of growing globalisation”.

… Rumba “has been part of our identity, descendants of Africa and all of us, throughout the ages,” said DR Congo’s Culture minister Catherine Kathungu Furaha earlier this year. “We want rumba to be recognised as ours. It is our identity.

When our ancestors who were taken abroad wanted to remember their history, their origin, their memory, they danced the navel dance.”

Papa Wemba1
Papa Wemba

Among the earliest heroes of Congolese rumba were Wendo Kolosoy, Paul Nkamba, Franco and TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Dr Nico. As African nations fought for independence from their colonial rulers, The Independence Cha Cha by Le Grand Kallé galvanised many and is seen as the first truly pan-African hit song. … Later that decade saw the arrival of Zaïko Langa Langa and its breakout star Papa Wemba. Among his many protégés was Koffi Olomidé, who remains popular today along with younger stars such as Fally Ipupa.

… There is no doubt that rumba’s influence is felt across the world, and its champions say it is only right that this be recognised by Unesco and benefit the next generation of musicians.

 

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.