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The traditional medium of terrestrial radio retains a wide reach in most African countries, reaching millions who have no access to the internet. It is a trusted, low-cost source of news and information, and platform for ordinary citizens to share their views. As UN secretary-general António Guterres has said, “Even in today’s world of digital communications, radio reaches more people than any other media platform.”

But radio has also evolved as digital technology has changed the media landscape. And talk radio has changed from being an analogue communication tool that relies on top-down information flow to a dynamic forum that relies on multiple feedback loops. Stanley Tsarwe, journalism lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, explored this trend in a paper titled “Mobile Phones and a Million Chatter: Performed Inclusivity and Silenced Voices in Zimbabwean Talk Radio.”

Tsarwe says he wanted to observe what was happening at the convergence of radio, smartphones, and mobile-based apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter. He found that these technologies had indeed grown public discourse, allowing more inclusive debate between radio presenters and audiences. The downside is that newsrooms often find it difficult to manage the high level of audience interaction, with the result that many voices are excluded.

Still, more voices than before are being heard in Zimbabwe, where the authorities have often resorted to restricting the right to freedom of expression, like instructing Internet service providers in January 2019 to shut down the Internet.

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

Clampdown on Freedom of Speech

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has recently started to emulate the heavy-handed tactics of former president Robert Mugabe against political opponents and critics of his government.

On July 20, the police arrested Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent investigative journalist who had recently exposed alleged government corruption. He is being accused of incitement to overthrow the government through an uprising. He was denied bail and will appear in court again on August 7.

Amnesty International has criticized the Zimbabwean authorities for continuing their crackdown on dissent with the arrest of Chin’ono, saying they “must stop misusing the criminal justice system to persecute journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

 

Children play in the sea at Nungwi Beach on the island of Zanzibar. (Gulshan Khan/via AFP)
Children play in the sea while a woman looks on at Nungwi Beach on the island of Zanzibar. (Gulshan Khan/via AFP)

In Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous islands off the coast of Tanzania, very few women know how to swim. Some of this is cultural: Zanzibar remains a deeply conservative religious society where the mainly Muslim population expects women to dress modestly, precluding them from wearing revealing swimwear. This also reinforces cultural biases that insist women only occupy themselves with domestic tasks and child-rearing.

 

Empowerment

To push back against this stigma, Siti Haji started her own swim classes for young Muslim women. Gathering in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean, Haji teaches the girls how to float, swim against the current, and manage their breathing. She and her team have taught about 5,000 women how to keep afloat in the water, and she hopes to teach more, both for their own empowerment and to dispel some of the patriarchal attitudes that keep them out of the sea.

Haji’s work builds on the efforts of the Panje Project, an organization formed in 2011, initially to assist the youth of the northern Zanzibari village of Nungwi with educational development. It soon began to teach young women how to swim and providing them with burkinis—full-length swimsuits—to make it easy for them to get into the water without compromising their religious and cultural beliefs.

 

Protestors and police clashed in the streets of Kinshasa on July 9, 2020, in demonstrations against the choice of the new president of the Independent National Electoral Commission. (Arsene Mpiana/AFP)
Protestors and police clashed in the streets of Kinshasa on July 9, 2020, in demonstrations against the choice of the new president of the Independent National Electoral Commission. (Arsene Mpiana/AFP)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo saw the third mass demonstration in ten days this past Sunday as thousands of people protested against the choice of a new president to head the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Unlike the first two demonstrations, during which a number of people were killed and dozens were injured after tear gas was used, this third demonstration passed without any major incident.

 

The demonstrators are demanding a depoliticized commission

 

The protests are focused on the choice of a member of the outgoing CENI team to head the new team, Ronsard Malonda, the current executive secretary. The demonstrators are demanding a depoliticized commission. They take issue with Malonda given his involvement in the 2006, 2011, and 2018 presidential elections, which were believed to have been rigged in favor of former president Joseph Kabila.

Malonda’s appointment as CENI president has already been approved by the National Assembly, but still has to be confirmed by President Félix Tshisekedi.

Catholic organizations in the country called for the demonstrations, with the support of the Lamuka opposition coalition. They believe that Malonda’s nomination is another ploy by Kabila, whose FCC party retains significant influence over the military and the National Assembly, to sway the 2023 election in his favor once again.

 

Dior artistic director Kim Jones acknowledges the applause at the end of the Dior Winter 2020–2021 men’s fashion show in Paris on January 17, 2020. (Francois Guillot/AFP)
Dior artistic director Kim Jones acknowledges the applause at the end of the Dior Winter 2020–2021 men’s fashion show in Paris on January 17, 2020. (Francois Guillot/AFP)

Kim Jones, artistic director for Dior Men, has partnered with Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo to design the Spring/Summer 2021 menswear collection. Jones first encountered Boafo’s work at an exhibition at the new Rubell Museum in Miami, Florida, and at the Art Basel Miami fair. Taken with the Ghanaian’s unique finger-paint approach to portraiture, the designer traveled to Accra, Ghana, to visit Boafo’s studio. Jones himself spent many years of his childhood in various African countries, including Ghana, where his father worked as a hydrogeologist.

The two creatives worked around the current suspension of regular fashion shows by creating a short film to show the collection and the inspirations behind it.

 

There has been a notable change in the popular perception of African fashion

 

Boafo’s collaboration with Dior demonstrates high fashion’s changing attitudes toward creatives of African descent. In 2019, more than 1,700 young fashion designers from 100 countries entered the competition for the prestigious LVMH Prize—and the winner was South African designer Thebe Magugu. He is the first African to win the prize since its launch in 2013. Initiatives such as Industrie Africa, a digital showcase for contemporary African design talent, also reflect a notable change in the popular perception of African fashion.

 

A profile feature on Senegalese combat sports stars in the Jeune Afrique weekly demonstrates how the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has grown from a predominantly European and American affair into a world-class phenomenon. African athletes in sports such as boxing and wrestling have entered the fray and are gaining a large following.

As the name suggests, MMA is a combat sport that pits two fighters against each other who may use techniques from boxing, judo, jujitsu, karate, kickboxing, and other disciplines to defeat their opponent.

 

Promoters are increasingly turning to African countries to discover new talent

 

Grappling is a common element within MMA, which makes it a natural fit for competitors coming from a tradition of Senegalese wrestling, which involves grappling and sparring. It has become one of the country’s most popular sports, and its stars enjoy a celebrity status similar to that of professional football players.

Senegalese wrestling champion Yakhya “Yekini” Diop (left), photographed during his last fight, on July 24, 2016, in Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar. (Seyllou Seyllou/AFP)
Senegalese wrestling champion Yakhya “Yékini” Diop (left), photographed during his last fight, on July 24, 2016, in Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar. (Seyllou Seyllou/AFP)

As traditional wrestling, known as “laamb” in Wolof, gains more mainstream exposure through its growing connection with MMA, the opportunities become more lucrative and more high-profile. Promoters are increasingly turning to African countries to open up new markets and discover new talent. Two African athletes who have already made a name for themselves on the MMA circuit are Israel Adesanya from Nigeria and Francis Ngannou from Cameroon.

 

Sylvia Arthur, founder of the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora (LOATAD), photographed in the library in Accra, Ghana. (Nipah Dennis/AFP)
Sylvia Arthur, founder of the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora, photographed in the library in Accra, Ghana. (Nipah Dennis/AFP)

The Library of Africa and the African Diaspora (LOATAD) in the Ghanaian capital Accra is the product of a dream Ghanaian-British writer Sylvia Arthur had of opening a library dedicated to African literature. She founded the library, called Libreria Ghana, in 2017, and after an expansion and renovation it reopened to the public under the new name on July 1. For a small subscription fee, members can borrow books from the library.

In an interview on the literary platform Literandra’s YouTube channel, Arthur says she could afford to accumulate such a large collection of African and African diaspora works partly because African writers are not as highly valued in the market as Western writers. Her own collection forms the nucleus of LOATAD’s catalogue, which currently offers some 4,000 literary works by authors from across the continent—including world-renowned writers Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, J. M. Coetzee, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o—and by African diaspora authors in the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States. 

On the LOATAD Facebook page, the library is described as a “decolonized space,” reflecting a broader cultural movement that seeks to reassess how cultural works from previously colonized nations and peoples are valued.

Books displayed on a shelf in the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora (LOATAD) in Accra, Ghana, founded by by Ghanaian-British writer Sylvia Arthur. (Nipah Dennis/AFP)
Books displayed on a shelf in the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora. (Nipah Dennis/AFP)

 

Nyege Nyege
A photo taken on September 5, 2017, of a stage at the annual Nyege Nyege International Music Festival in Jinja, Uganda. (Ian Duncan Kacungira/AFP)

Thanks to support from the Nyege Nyege arts collective, African women have fast become an influential force in the country’s electronic music scene. Based in Kampala, Uganda, Nyege Nyege also has two record labels and community studios that offer a place for female musicians from Uganda and other East African countries to record their music. An artist residency is offered to musicians ranging from novices figuring out their own sound to those who want to finalize recording and mastering full-length tracks.

Co-founded by Derek Debru, a Belgian, and Arlen Dilsizian, a Greek-Armenian, Nyege Nyege has also put on a festival every year since 2015. It not only provides international exposure for African musicians but also serves as a safe space to elevate marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, who are integral to the development of electronic music but who face political and social exclusion, especially in Uganda.

 

Nyege Nyege still plans on holding this year’s festival

 

In May, the label was invited to take part in a series of streamed concerts titled “Nyege Nyege, A New Hope” broadcast by the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon, Portugal, in celebration of International Museum Day.

Despite the restrictions imposed because of COVID-19, Nyege Nyege still plans on holding this year’s festival in Jinja, Uganda, from September 3 to 6, with significantly reduced physical capacity and a livestream.

 

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Sep 10, 2021