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. 

David Diop Wins International Booker Prize for “At Night All Blood Is Black”, Book on Tirailleurs Senegalais

“At Night All Blood is Black” by David Diop

It is hard to keep up with the news, but this is one that we should celebrate. The Franco-Senegalese author David Diop won the International Booker Prize 2021 for his book, “At Night All Blood is Black“. I know, it is hard to keep up with all the different prizes, Man Booker Prize, International Booker Prize, and countless others. This one is nonetheless important because first of all, David Diop is the first African to win the prestigious prize, but also because his book “At Night All Blood is Black” talks about all those African soldiers who helped to free France, and yet were never recognized, and instead were insulted, laughed at and more. The book, originally published in French in 2018 under the title “Frères d’âme” or Soul Brothers, weaves the history of World War I with the history of colonialism. The novel describes the experiences of Senegalese Tirailleurs fighting for France in the trenches. The main character, Alfa Ndiaye, descends into madness following the death of his childhood friend Mademba Diop who had also been recruited as a tirailleur, and inflicts extreme brutality upon his German enemies. Diop was inspired to write the book by his French great-grandfather’s service during the war. Diop stated “He never said anything to his wife, or to my mother, about his experience. That is why I was always very interested by all the tales and accounts which gave one access to a form of intimacy with that particular war.”

As a side note, “tirailleur” was the name given by the French Army to indigenous infantry recruited in the various French colonies. They were not all Senegalese, even though the name always said “tirailleur senegalais,” but rather came from all over Africa. They served for France in a number of wars, including World War I, World War II, and several others. The name “Tirailleur” is a link of two words “tir ailleurs” to laugh and denigrate the indigenous troops by saying that the soldiers were not capable to shoot on target, more like to mean “shoot off target”; it could be translated as skirmisher.

It is also good to note that there is no family link between the great Senegalo-Cameroonian poet David Mandessi Diop [Afrique de David M. Diop / Africa by David M. Diop] and this David Diop… We applaud the success of both namesakes. So good to have such a an illustrious namesake and walk in his path.

I live you here with the link to the article on The Conversation., and more importantly on the video of the Massacre of Thiaroye [Thiaroye: A French Massacre in Senegal, ‘Thiaroye Massacre’ by Ousmane Sembene] showing the poor treatment and sometimes massacre of these tirailleurs by the French, when they returned home after serving France.

“Jébalè / Jebale” by Elolongue Epanya Yondo

Douala_Wouri River_2_Djebale
Wouri river and the Djebale island seen on the other side

I share here a poem by the Cameroonian poet Elolongue Epanya Yondo about his beautiful native island of Jebale, Cameroon. Note that Elolongue Epanya is the uncle of another great Senegalese-Cameroonian poet David M. Diop known for his amazing poem “Afrique / Africa“. Jebale (Jébalè or Djebale) is an island on the Wouri River, in Douala, Cameroon. It is also one of the places whose kings signed on 15 July 1884, a treaty of protectorate with German merchants from the firm Jantzen & Thormählen, thereby agreeing to the infamous Germano – Duala Treaty signed 3 days earlier on 12 July 1884 by King Bell and others. In 1884, Jebale was then known as Jibarret.

Douala_Wouri River
View of Jebale and the Wouri river, Douala, Cameroon

As you read Yondo’s words, you can imagine the beauty of his homeland, this island, Jebale, on the Wouri river. Jebale is known as the “emerald island, flamboyant jewel” on the Wouri estuary, on the coast of Cameroon. The author cites well-known coastal rivers of Cameroon, the Bimbia creek, the Sanaga River, the  Dibamba river, the Kwa-Kwa river, and also notes other islands of the Littoral, Malimba and Suellaba. In this poem, the author anchors his words in the rich tradition of the coastal Sawa people as he cites the Miengu and the Mbeatoe, those big shrimps known as Camarões which led to the name of the country Cameroun via the Wouri RiverRio dos Camarões. For those who have visited Jebale, it is indeed an emerald island, mostly known as a small fishing village; however in the eye of Elolongue Epanya Yondo, it is his love, the one he cannot wait to come back to, from exile. Enjoy!

This poem was published in Paris on February 25th 1972, in revue Présence Africaine, numéro 84 (4e trimestre 1972), re-published in Anthologie Africaine: Poésie Vol2, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, 1988, and translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com .

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Jebale by Elolongue Epanya Yondo

Jébalè’

A mon neveu David Morsamba Diop.

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Joyau flamboyant au confluent

De la gorge altière du Wouri

Je me souviens

De tes nattes verdoyantes

Fouettant en cascade

L’haleine salée du littoral

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Terre dont le souffle

Des Miengu et des Mamy-Wata

Féconde le cycle des Mbéatoè

Enigmatiques hommes d’eau

Qui sèment l’abondance

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Je cherche dans les fissures du temps

Dans la gueule écumante

de la baie du Biafra

tous les replis d’eau

qui mangèrent goutte à goutte

un chapelet d’îles

jaillies des entrailles de l’océan

comme des gerbes de nénuphars

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Je cherche dans l’écume poreuse

Les cônes bleu-gris

Dont la beauté effervescente

Arrachait des soupirs

          De lame de fond a l’océan

          Tombé en pâmoison

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Je cherche le chemin du retour

Du maquis de mon long exil

A travers l’île des buffles

Que fixait hier

La pointe multicolore de Suellaba

Je cherche sur tes flancs

Le point de repère de l’estuaire subjugué

Lançant à l’assaut de l’esprit gardien

De la crique du Bimbia

A l’île Malimba

Du Wouri coiffé de palétuviers

A la Dibamba des grandes profondeurs

De la Sanaga hydre immense

A la bouche silencieuse de la Kwa-Kwa…

Des gueules d’eau déchaînées

Et des bras de mers insaisissables

Pour pénétrer ton mystère

Consacrant ta légende des légendes

Jébalè mon île d’émeraude

Terre première de mon enfance

Dont le sel fermente ma mémoire

Je grave ton image impérissable

Sur la grève qui se moire

Au miroir d’un ballet lumineux

Du flux et du reflux

Qui propagent ton nom

Par la voix claire des clapotis.

Jebale’ 

To my nephew David Morsamba Diop.

Jebale my emerald island

Flamboyant jewel at the confluence

Of the haughty Wouri gorge

I remember

Your green braids

Whipping in cascade

The salted breath of the coast

Jebale my emerald island

Land whose breath

Of the Miengu and the Mamy-Wata

Fertilizes the cycle of the Mbeatoe

Enigmatic men of water

Who sow abundance

Jebale my emerald island

I search through the cracks of time

In the foaming mouth

Of the Biafra bay

All the folds of water

Which ate drop by drop

A rosary of islands

Sprung from the bowels of the ocean

Like sheaves of water lilies

Jebale my emerald island

I search in the porous foam

The gray-blue cones

Whose effervescent beauty

Drew out sighs

          Of groundswell from the ocean

          Fallen into a swoon

Jebale my emerald island

I am looking for the way back

From the maquis of my long exile

Through the buffalo island

That set yesterday

The multicolored tip of Suellaba point

I am looking on your sides

For the landmark of the subjugated estuary

Launching the assault of the guardian spirit

From the Bimbia creek

To the Malimba island

Of the Wouri dressed with mangroves

To the great depths of the Dibamba

To the Sanaga immense hydra

To the silent mouth of the Kwa-Kwa…

Ramps of water

And the elusive arms of the sea

To penetrate your mystery

Consecrating your legend of legends

Jebale my emerald island

First land of my childhood

Whose salt ferments my memory

I engrave your imperishable image

On the shore which shines

In the mirror of a luminous ballet

Of ebb and flow

Which spread your name

By the clear voice of the ripples.

Afrique de David M. Diop / Africa by David M. Diop

African tree at dusk
African tree at dusk

This poem by David Mandessi Diop was my favorite. By the time I was 9 years old, I knew it by heart…  I loved it so much! It symbolizes so much about Africa, and the love we, all African children, should have for her. Oh how I wish David Diop had lived longer to see the effect of his ‘ode to Africa‘ on other generations. Enjoy!!!

 

Afrique mon Afrique
Afrique des fiers guerriers dans les savanes ancestrales
Afrique que me chantait ma grand-mère
Au bord de son fleuve lointain
Je ne t’ai jamais connue
Mais mon regard est plein de ton sang
Ton beau sang noir à travers les champs répandu
Le sang de ta sueur
La sueur de ton travail
Le travail de l’esclavage
L’esclavage de tes enfants
Afrique dis-moi Afrique
Est-ce donc toi ce dos qui se courbe
Et se couche sous le poids de l’humilité
Ce dos tremblant à zébrures rouges
Qui dit oui au fouet sur les routes de midi
Alors gravement une voix me répondit
Fils impétueux cet arbre robuste et jeune
Cet arbre là -bas
Splendidement seul au milieu de fleurs blanches et fanées
C’est l’Afrique ton Afrique qui repousse
Qui repousse patiemment obstinément
Et dont les fruits ont peu à peu
L’amère saveur de la liberté. 
Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is unbent
This back that never breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying no to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
Springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.