Art/Afrique, Le nouvel atelier @ the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris

If you're in Paris anytime from now until 28 August 2017, there is a great exhibit on at the new Louis Vuitton Foundation. Focusing on African artists, it is nicely curated with a blend of artists from different countries around the continent. I think we are all accustomed to seeing an "African" exhibition advertised and then arriving and realizing it is just artists from South Africa. (Albeit, one floor of the Foundation is currently dedicated to South African artists). 

Not only is the LVF in a beautiful building, designed by Frank Gehry, I believe it is a well-done show that deserves a visit!

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Some artists that I liked at the exhibit (these photos below are just taken with my iphone!):

Chéri Samba, Democratic Republic of Congo

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Working since the 70s, Samba is well-known for his humorous and provocative style, blending French and Lingala culture and language together through his work. 

 

Barthélemy Toguo, Cameroon

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His series shown in the foundation was his first series completed with watercolor -- I found a lightness and a contrastive sexuality within his paintings. 

Malick Sidibe, Mali

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Documenting nightlife and the working class neighborhood of Bagadadji Bamako with his film camera. 

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Ivory Coast

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His drawings made me chuckle -- they are humorous, yet share a lot of information on history and politics. 

J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, Nigeria

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A Nigerian photographer who documented the lives of people within his country. The work presented here, "Hairstyle", celebrated the many ways Nigerian women set their hair. 

Benin // 54-project

I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project.


Up next: Benin! A small, club-shaped country slivered between Togo and the giant of Nigeria to it's east. To the north, it shares its border with Burkina Faso and Niger. Here's a map to show exactly where it is, since location is quite vital in understanding the history of Benin:

The Kingdom of Benin began in the year 900 as groups of Edo people began to cut down trees and make clearings in the rainforest. Over time, these groups of families gave way to a kingdom. The kingdom was called Igodomigodo. It was ruled by a series of kings, known as Ogisos, which means ‘rulers of the sky’. In the 1100s there were struggles for power and the Ogisos lost control of their kingdom.

The Edo people feared that their country would fall into chaos, so they asked their neighbour, the King of Ife, for help. The king sent his son Prince Oranmiyan to restore peace to the Edo kingdom. Oranmiyan chose his son Eweka to be the first Oba of Benin. Eweka was the first in a long line of Obas, who reached the peak of their power in the 1500s.  Gradually, the Obas won more land and built up an empire. They also started trading with merchants from Europe. By the 1600s the Obas began to lose control of their regime due to the increasing pressure of the neighboring Kingdom of Dahomey, of Fon lineage (Fon is one of the main languages spoken in Benin to this day).

The Dahomey Kingdom was known for its culture and traditions, which is still recognized today. Young boys were often apprenticed to older soldiers, and taught the kingdom's military customs until they were old enough to join the army. Dahomey was also famous for instituting an elite female soldier corps, called Ahosi, "the King's Wives", and known by many Europeans as the "Dahomean Amazons". 

The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery. By about 1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling Africans to the European slave-traders. Though the leaders of Dahomey appeared initially to resist the slave trade, it flourished in the region of Dahomey for almost three hundred years, beginning in 1472 with a trade agreement with Portuguese merchants, leading to the area's being named "the Slave Coast". Court protocols, which demanded that a portion of war captives from the kingdom's many battles be decapitated, decreased the number of enslaved people exported from the area. The number went from 102,000 people per decade in the 1780s to 24,000 per decade by the 1860s. The last slave ship departed from the coast of the present-day Benin Republic bound for Brazil, a former Portuguese colony, that had yet to abolish slavery.

By the 1800s Benin was no longer strong or united. The kingdom came to a sudden end in 1897, when a British army invaded and made it part of the British Empire. Benin belonged to the British Empire until 1960. After, it became part of the independent country of Nigeria. Today, the Oba of Benin leads religious ceremonies, but he no longer rules his people. 

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Dahomey had begun to lose its status as the regional power. This enabled the French to take over the area in 1892. A French protectorate is established in part of the kingdom in 1892; within a decade, at the end of the century, the entire region is under French control. In 1899 Dahomey is included in the newly established French West Africa, which starts 60 years of colonial rule until independence is gained in 1960. The president who led them to independence was Hubert Maga -- the independence route for Benin was quite different then other French colonies. Since France did not consider Benin as "France", but rather a French colony, the road to independence was much smoother and quicker. France agreed to granting independence to Benin on July 11 and by August 1 Benin had declared themselves independent. 

Like most countries forming a new government within a short amount of time, Benin faced a turbulent period following independence: there were six military coups between 1963 and 1972, with the last one leading to a communist leaning president. (This is the period when the nation's name is changed from Dahomey to Benin). Nowadays, Benin is seen as a stable democracy within Africa

The capital's name is Porto-Novo, which is of Portuguese origin. This means "New Port" and it was originally developed as port for the slave trade. Although it is the capital, it is the third largest city of Benin with a little over 200,000 people. Cotonou, a little southwest of the capital, on the coast, is the economic center of Benin and the seat of the government.

Vodun

It's hard to research Benin and not look into Vodun (known as "Voodoo" for us Westerners). Here's a quick video that I found on youtube looking into it:

Vodun is an entire religion within itself, which is something I didn't know very much about before this week. There are many different reports on how many people there are that practice Vodun in Benin, I read numbers from 19-60% of the population, but it seems either way to be quite integral to the culture. It was officially recognized by the government in the 1990s (there seem to be conflicting reports on the exact year for that).

The Vodun spiritual world consists of Mahou, the supreme being, accompanied with around 100 divinities who represent different phenomena, such as war and blacksmiths (Gou), illness, healing and earth (Sakpata), storms, lightning and justice (Heviosso), or water (Mami Wata). Vodun priests ask these gods to intervene on behalf of ordinary people. It is not a matter of black magic: people here do not stick needles into dolls to cause misfortune to their enemies -- this image seems to have arisen in Hollywood films. Benineses describe it as “a confession that encourages dialogue between people, between life and death, between religions”.  

To finish, here's a travel video a tourist made that I enjoyed watching: 

Angola // 54-project

I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project.


Ah, here we are at week two, only three weeks late! Not off to a good start here, am I? At least this project wasn't a New Year's Resolution ;)

This week I focused on Angola. I've focused more on present day Angola, rather than going through the history of their thirteen years of anti-colonial war (1961-1974), followed by 27 years of civil war (1975-2002). But, while we are talking about Angola's past, it is helpful (when looking at present day Angola) to mention how long Angola was under colonial rule. Portuguese explorers first came in 1482 and not long after started using the area as a place to gather slaves to send to Brazil. Angola had one of the longest colonial experiences in the world, culminating in the brutal Angolan War of Independence, which only stopped due to a putsch, which occurred in Lisbon. 

One interesting aspect of Angola is the popularity of Titica, one of the most famous Angolan musicians who is an openly transgender woman from Luanda (the capital).

Homosexuality is not illegal in Angola, but it is also not legal. Same-sex relations of course occur, but are generally not accepted. For example: here. According to 76crimes

"The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability, language, or social status, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity... 

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the law does not criminalize sexual relationships between persons of the same sex. Sections of the 1886 penal code could be viewed as criminalizing homosexual activity, but they are no longer used by the judicial system. The constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman, however. Local and international NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced discrimination and harassment, but reports of violence against the LGBTI community based on sexual orientation were rare. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals. For example, the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS worked with local NGOs and LGBTI activists to promote antidiscriminatory practices by health practitioners and communities across the country.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals often went unreported. LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. A police commander in Luanda stated police have the obligation to record all reports of discrimination and recommended LGBTI persons report improper behavior by police officers to the national police headquarters. In 2014 a group of LGBTI individuals formed the first openly gay association in civil society. The association was created to help LGBTI youth facing harassment or social alienation..."

Here's a good article from Africa's A Country talking about the music scene of Angola. 

If you're curious as to what the most intimidating/possibly badass (depending on your viewpoint??) flag in the world is, look no further than Angola. In case you didn't see the thumbnail image or just need to review:

Yes friends, that is a cog wheel and machete on a black and red background. The symbol is said to be inspired by industrial and agricultural workers using the hammer and sickle. Yellow symbolizes the country's mineral wealth and the red and black stand for 'Freedom or Death'. The flag was adopted in 1975, after 493 years of Portuguese invasion. Okay, yeah, I think we can all accept the world's most intimidating flag after hearing those numbers. 

Changing the subject to the linguistic front, Angola is an interesting case study in colonial languages. Often we see in African nations the official language being the language of the former colonizer, but usually the people within the country do not learn this language fully or learn it at all, especially when moving away from urban areas. In Angola, Portuguese is the sole official language: according to the internet (ahh, THE internet!), most Angolans actually do speak Portuguese. As of three years ago, about 3/4ths of the population used Portuguese. Continuing the sociolinguistics of Angola, all languages of Angola are recognized as national languages, with six of those being designated as literary languages and 14 used on national radio programming. (I am very interested in further researching the sociolinguistic situation of Angola, how it's developed into what it is today, and how all languages being national languages actually plays out into every day life, i.e. what does that guarantee? Are these guarantees met?)

And, now seems to be a good time to give a plug to an organization I've been working with, Wikitongues:

**If anyone out there could help us translate and caption this video, it would be greatly appreciated! Just send me a message :) // Also, if anyone speaks a native language of Angola, we would love to record you speaking!

And as we are discussing language, for this weeks reading I chose another novel, one that the author calls his most autobiographical. I read Bom Dia Camaradas by Ondjaki. (Good Morning Comrades in English). A short novel, it's packed with wit and unexpected viewpoints of the effect of civil war on children. The narrator is a 12-year old boy, curious with questions about the world around him in comparison to outside of his homeland. I personally enjoyed the novel primarily because of the viewpoint we were given: lighthearted, with comical passages, yet underneath the innocence of the young boy, we were able to get a glimpse of the struggles that Angolans faced during the 90s. A passage that captured me: "I'd noticed in all the studio art tests since grade four that everybody drew things connected to the war: three people had drawn AK-47s, two had drawn Soviet tanks, other Makarovs.... It was normal to draw weapons."

Today, usually anything we hear of Angola revolves around oil or the government, which in this case, pretty much go hand in hand. President José Eduardo dos Santos has been in office for 38 years and his daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is infamous for the fortune that she has accrued during her lifetime. Elections are scheduled for August this year, so we will see soon whether or not Santos steps down as he says he will. 

Well, that's it for this week. Next week: Benin! (And hopefully in a true week!)

Algeria // 54-project

I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project. So to begin, here's week 1....


Algeria: books, movies, and music

Algeria is one of the countries for me that fits the category of knowing quite a bit about, but only in a certain context. And of course, that is in regards to French colonialism. I rewatched the Battle of Algiers and also watched Al Jazeera's documentary Algeria: Test of Power. 

Here are some of the "highlights" of Algeria since independence:

  • Independence gained in 1962, after 8 years of civil war and 132 years of French colonial rule
  • There were 9 million inhabitants at the time of independence, with 500,000 refugees returning from Morocco and Tunisia. Around 1,000,000 people died during the war
  • Charles de Gaulle, during negotiations, wanted to ensure safety of Europe and access to oil and gas (Evian Accords)
  • The FLN, which led the fight against France, was deeply divided at the time of independence
  • Announced school was free for everyone but didn’t have means to back it
  • Ben Bella, elected first as Prime Minister, then President in 1953, wanted to establish a state on the model of Yugoslavia at the time
  • NO land left owned by colonial settlers
  • Algeria had only two architects, not even a hundred doctors, no entrepreneurs of any regard, and only 500 university students in Paris and Algiers
  • Arabic was made the lingua franca and the language of education
  • Sonatrach was established, 1963, as a state agency to control the oil energy, but Franceexerted overall control (Sonatrach is nowadays the largest company in Africa)
  • Houari Boumédiène led a coup against Bella in June 1965
  • Boumédiène forced an industrial revolution
  • By 1979 almost every single village was on the electricity grid, unemployment was low, middle class was rising
  • Cultural revolution took place, French became the language of instruction in schools
  • When Boumédiène died, he left nothing in place for appointing a successor, which led to chaos and eventually to the military appointing one of their own, Chadli Bendjedid 
  • Began dismantling the industrial machine, slicing up country’s big industries, corruption became widespread
  • Algerians coined new term, ‘hagrra’, to describe scorn felt at oppression of rich and powerful
  • Family Code was adopted in June 1984, based on religious principles and Shari’a law, limiting women's rights 
  • 1985 the oil market collapses, 1987 the economy hits rockbottom, the economic crisis has beomce a social crisis
  • 20 years before the Arab Spring, Algeria was rocked by popular protests
  • New constitution adopted by referendum February 1989
  • Exiled FLN members returned and set up parties, the FIS sought to create an Islamic state, Islamist blackmail began to be used in Algeria, like Gaddafi said, "It's me or al-Qaeda"
  • In March the FIS was banned, state of emergency was in place, interment camps were set up in the south of the country
  • Boudiaf assassinated during a political rally and country descends into violence once more
  • Bomb at Algiers airport killed a dozen more, injured 100 or so more — work of the GIA, armed Islamic groups (breakaway of FIS); begin to attack "agents of the West"
  • In 1994, Army decided to arm the civilians so that they could protect themselves against Islamists, around 250,000 of them and called the "Patriots"
  • Abdelaziz Bouteflika — former Foreign Minister under Bella and Boumediene, returning from exile (supporter by army, trade unions, and women); quickly perceived as representing the system (all other candidates stepped down, believing that election was rigged)
  • Algeria did not have a revolution during the Arab Spring, some Algerians say because they were tired at this point of revolutions and tired of violence 
  • In 2012 women won 1/3 of the seats in Parliament
  • Bouteflika has been President of Algeria since 1999; removed term limits in 2008; he is not seen much anymore during to sickness

In an effort to expand the focus of my week on Algeria, I researched Albert Camus and read The Stranger, the Nobel Prize winner's famous novel on absurdism and detachment. Camus's views contributed to the rise of the philosophy of absurdism, the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context it means not logically impossible, but, rather, "humanly" impossible. Camus is highly contested in Algeria these days and his work isn't touched upon in the school system. He was quite outspoken during the war about having peace and coming to a resolution, which led to hatred from both sides for him. 

I loved reading Camus, since his work was new to me, but I was hoping to find an author or poet to read not from a pied-noir family, or a younger person born since independence. If anyone has recommendations, please let me know! (I was hoping to read Malek Haddad, but have been unable to find translations into English...so maybe in a couple of years when my French level is ready)

I did follow an Algerian photographer for Reuters on Twitter and Instagram: Zohra Bensemra  @bzohra @zohrabensemra

Besides that, I watched some ariel drone videos of Algeria, my favorite being Algiers by Drone:

 

Skycam Algeria was pretty awesome too! Both videos inspired me to plan a trip to Algeria, so now I have my list ready of everywhere I want to go whenever I make my way there :) 

To finish off this week: the story of Algeria's national anthem. No, their national anthem wasn't written over a glass of wine overlooking the sandy dunes. Nor on a boat watching fireworks fly. Nope, the man who penned the national anthem, was sitting in prison for his nationalist sentiments. (I feel like at this point it isn't necessary to say who put Moufdi Zakaria into prison). While sitting in prison he wrote the national anthem on his cell wall in his OWN BLOOD. To get a glimpse of what it must have been for Algerians during French rule, here are the full lyrics in English translation:

"We swear by the lightning that destroys,
By the virtuous and fragrant blood,
By the shining, fluttering banners,
In the steep and majestic mountains,
That we have risen to revolution in life or death
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

We are soldiers in the name of righteousness have revolted
And for our independence to war have risen.
Had we not spoken up none would have listened
So we have taken the drum of gunpowder as our rhythm
And the sound of machine guns as our melody,
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

O France, the time of reproach has passed
And we have closed like a book;
O France, the day of reckoning is at hand
So prepare to receive from us our answer!
In our revolution is the end of empty talk;
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

From our heroes we shall make an army come to being,
and on our dead we build glory,
Our spirits shall ascend to immortality
And on our shoulders we shall raise the standard.
To the nation’s Liberation Front we have sworn an oath,
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!

The cry of the Fatherland sounds from the battlefields.
Listen to it and heed the call!
Let it be written with the blood of martyrs
And be read to future generations.
Oh, Glory, we have held out our hand to you,
and we have resolved that Algeria shall live –
So bear witness, bear witness, bear witness!"

 

The Reawakening of China-Morocco Relations

China-Morocco relations, although not at the forefront of China’s endeavors in Africa, have been friendly since Morocco first recognized the People’s Republic of China in November 1958. Although the Kingdom of Morocco was the second country in Africa to recognize the PRC, in 1958, following Egypt, the Atlantic-bordering country has not been given as much attention from China as it’s oil-surplussed neighbors. As China looks to expand its influence in Africa, it has a found a loyal ally in King Mohammed VI.

Geographically, Morocco is in a strategic position for China to build a relationship with. Morocco sits only 14.3 km south of Spain, over the Strait of Gibraltar, in the crossroads of Francophone Africa and the Arab World. Morocco has free trade agreements with the United States, Turkey, and Arab countries, along with an advanced status with the EU. For Morocco, China provides an alternate to its traditional ally, the United States, which has been more involved in Morocco’s human rights and territorial disputes. 

Chinese investors have been looking towards Morocco at the following of their government: last July the King Mohammed VI bridge, the longest bridge in Africa, was completed by the Chinese company Cover-Mbec over Oued Bouregreg, totaling to $72 million. A few months later, in November, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy chose China’s Chint Group Corp, along with a Saudi Arabian power company, to construct three solar power plants, a combined 170MW. Currently, there are discussions between the two countries on the building of a high-speed railway, linking Marrakech and Agadir, and the extensive project of building an industrial city, based on similar special economic zones built by China. The tourism sector has erupted in Morocco: forty-two thousand Chinese tourists visited Morocco in 2016, albeit no direct flights exist between the two countries.

Seen as a stable force in the region, a country that transitioned from a traditional kingdom to a democratically elected Islamist party during the time of the Arab Springs, Morocco is gaining recognition around the world as North Africa’s new leader. On top of the political stability, Morocco has seen a stable growth, accompanied with a growing middle class, a young workforce, and a policy of national and continental economic expansion.

Looking to East Africa, perhaps Morocco is following Ethiopia’s steps to becoming a top player in Africa; the growth of Ethiopia was partly due to the partnership with China. Even with mining only constituting 1.5% of Ethiopia’s GDP, on a continent where mining is a major industry (mining makes up almost a third of Morocco’s GDP), Ethiopia has grown to be one of the largest players on the continent. This is in part due to being one of the top choices for Chinese investment: between 1998 and 2014, over 1,000 Chinese projects were registered with the Ethiopian investment agency. Special economic zones, schools, hydro-power projects, railways, and numerous other projects have been built and installed by the Chinese in Ethiopia, similar to projects starting up throughout Morocco. 

Through the agency of strengthening relations with China, a partner with many of the same goals, including in combating climate change (unlike the United States, which has seen the unraveling of laws combating greenhouse emissions), Morocco sees a new approach to investments. This revived synergism between the North African country and the leader of the Global South could be the boost that Morocco has been looking for to become one of the major African players.