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More can be done to reinforce intellectual property rights in Africa

African economies will need to rebalance in the post-Covid-19 era, with creativity and ingenuity as high priorities. In some respects, the current pandemic is the most geopolitically significant non-military challenge to shape global affairs since World War II. In the years immediately following 1945, Europe, Japan and North America were able to grow rapidly, in part by hitching their sails – for several decades- to affordable oil exports from the Middle East. Just as petroleum fueled global economies throughout the 20th century, big data is the currency of the 2000’s. Given the strategic necessity for the free flow of oil to continue through the world’s maritime chokepoints (e.g. Suez and Panama Canals), big data must keep stream unabated. But big data is not enough: we need innovation and new patents to fuel development in a post-covid, de-globalized world. And Intellectual Property (IP) will be a fundamental currency too.

In some parts of the world, like Latin America, we have already seen things done very different. In Venezuela, the government announced very high fees for patents in 2017 which is seen as a form of market protectionism but, will also further isolate Venezuela’s economy as well as hurting entrepreneurs. This is a symptom of Venezuela's over-reliance on oil and gas at the expense of energy innovation of startups, SMEs and others. But Africa should not follow this path. Actually, IP laws can help creating jobs in African countries. Africa should therefore bolster innovation, supporting new creative entrepreneurships through IP (SMEs provide 80% of African jobs) to deal with future challenges of demographic bomb and climate change, and use the opportunities of demographic dividend and green revolution in the future for the creation of smart cities as well as smart cultivations and industries.

Another oil-rich state could prove therefore a model for African countries seeking to bolster their own strong intellectual property sectors: Saudi Arabia. While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is practically synonymous with oil, it is rapidly becoming an important IP hub. The Kingdom is moving well beyond its conventional tropes of a desert monarchy with traditional cultural norms. The KSA of the 21st century is undergoing tremendous change, emerging as a new center of synergy for international sporting events including Formula One Racing, boxing, golf and tennis. And the Kingdom is also an emerging epicenter for becoming the regional authority in the area of IP; but it has also become a regional vanguard for intellectual property and the global fight against digital piracy.


Thus far in 2021, they have shut down more than 378 websites that transmit football games, movies and series, as well as about 2.5 million items of tape material of illegal broadcast that violate IP rights. KSA’s IP regulation actions affirm the existing void in combatting, for example, the pervasive nature of football match streaming piracy, as highlighted by the victory in French courts by Qatari broadcast company, beIN Sports and others adversely impacted by the illicit practice.  Some of that content was broadcast to Africa; a surprising amount of it involved African IP, albeit indirectly. Illegal piracy and the failure to enforce those rights takes zeros out of the paychecks of ’s biggest football stars. 

Too often African countries have favored weaker intellectual property enforcement on things like pharmaceuticals. Drugs like viagra which require a prescription in the U.S. can be found in knock-off form across the region. Recently, South Africa wanted even to suspend patents on Covid-19 vaccines, but that would be a mistake, flooding the market with counterfeit drugs, and pushing back the timetable for delivery of vaccines for the continent.

This attitude has been to the detriment of Africa's IPs, including many sports icons and superstars who surely recognize the important of protecting their intellectual property. This will be an increasing and reasonable demand they will make of countries as a prerequisite to choosing where to come for a tournament, match or exhibition. Realizing the importance of IP in protecting the integrity of athletes’ brands, while also achieving the country's ambitions, stimulating business growth and economic competitiveness, the Saudi government established the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) in 2018, to be the KSA’s competent authority for intellectual property.


Since its accession to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1982, Saudi Arabia has attached increasing importance to intellectual property and has actively worked to achieve WIPO’s mission to promote innovation and creativity for the economic, social and cultural development of all countries. The Kingdom’s commitment to these objectives was on display last year when the Saudi Intellectual Property and the G20 Saudi Secretariat organized the IP20+ Global Intellectual Property Challenges Forum as part of the International Conferences Program, convening the heads of the heads of IP offices in G20 countries. Key action items included establishing priorities in response to global pandemics and emergencies, such as harmonizing IP operation measures, sharing IP policies and disseminating IP knowledge.


The 2020 Saudi convening was a critical engagement given that the G20 countries represent around 80% of the world’s economic output, two-thirds of global population and three-quarters of international trade, and around 96% of all patent filings, 91% of all trademark filings, 94% of worldwide design filings, and 73% of creative goods exports were from G20 countries. The KSA has invited the IP officials from the US and UK for an inspection tour of the Kingdom’s facilities in this effort.

Its recognition of intellectual property as a central issue for the new economy in the 21st century, and its current management of the challenges that come with IP, offers a clear, coherent template for African nations. As IP constitutes the new portal for a myriad engagements in the global economy, African countries can benefit from the Saudi model, giving them a gateway to the globalized new world and to the post-covid times that will require ingenuity and creativity, but also protection of IP for the needed and urgent development of African continent.   

  On February 11th, this year, the Cameroon military raided the small village of Tiben, in Batibo, in western Cameroon.  A village family, including a father named Jonas Ndi, fled their home, fearing arbitrary arrest by the military.  A child, sleeping, was left behind.  In the attack, the military torched a quarter in the village, including Jonas Ndi's home.  His child was burnt to death. 

Atrocities such as this and ongoing human rights abuses and crimes against humanity against the Anglophone communities of northwest and southwest Cameroon are happening every day. These abuses are being diligently documented by the University of Toronto's "Cameroon Anglophone Crisis, Database of Atrocities."  

The growing number of atrocities in the conflict has caught the attention of the new administration of U.S. President Joseph Biden. Indeed the Biden administration has acknowledged the severity of the crisis in Cameroon. 

Jan Egeland, a former senior Norwegian diplomat who is the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a partner of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, served in 2019 as a panelist at a UN Security Council meeting about the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.  According to an NRC survey utilizing four criteria to evaluate humanitarian crises in areas of conflict and disaster globally (number of displaced persons deriving from a crisis; political will to solve a crisis; international media attention on a crisis and level of financial aid for crisis relief), the NRC ranked Cameroon FIRST out of ten countries as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world for two consecutive years (2019 and 2020).

 During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19th, Secretary of State Blinken said that the administration would uphold US values in defending human rights in Africa and expressed concern with the conflict in Cameroon.  Secretary Blinken said,

“The United States must actively participate in the resolution of the situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where populations are victims of multifaceted violence.”  

 

If past history can be any guide, gender-based violence (GBV) tends to increase during humanitarian crises and emergencies. There is currently no cure for the deadly COVID-19 virus which is why imposing a lockdown has been necessary. While doing so may reduce risks of virus transmission the case of Zimbabwe suggests that doing so can increase risks for those vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV). Thus, now more than ever, it is paramount that nations like Zimbabwe work to develop more effective strategies to protect those vulnerable to GBV.

In Zimbabwe, it is often the woman who is more vulnerable to polymorphous forms of abuses. GBV affects all genders, but females are victimized more frequently. In general, the lockdown imposed in Zimbabwe amid the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to reduce criminal activity. Fewer people on the streets means less crime. However, while violence against women in public spaces has inevitably declined, the reverse is true for gender-based violence (GBV) that occurs in private. 

Regardless of the conventions, charters, forums, conferences, constitutions, and governmental and non-governmental organisations fighting against violence against women and girls, it continues to be pervasive and its effects are detrimental to the lives of the abused.

The lockdown in Zimbabwe has been in place since March 30. The government has not hinted at when the current lockdown will end. To the dismay of many who are suffering during this period, the lockdown could stretch many more weeks if not months. From a sociological perspective, this uncertainty poses a serious social problem, as these victims or survivors of GBV are now forced to spend days, weeks, and months with their perpetrators.

Living so closely together for an extended period can exacerbate tensions between couples, which increases the likelihood of domestic violence. In such situations women’s bodies often become battlefields, they are susceptible to physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, and economic deprivation, among other forms of violence.Three out of every ten women in Zimbabwe have been affected by GBV during their lifetime according to doctoral research conducted by one of the co-authors of this article. In 2016, there were 8,069 rapes reported to police in Zimbabwe. An average of  22 reported rapes per day is devastating and these numbers have continued to trend upwards. While 2020 numbers are likely to be lower, much of that decline can be attributed to the increased obstacles women face to report to the police due to the lockdown.

GBV and The Lockdown

The Zimbabwe Republic Police has stated that their units are continuing to investigate reports of GBV.  They have provided a special emergency phone number during the 

lockdown for potential victims.While mobile telephones are widespread in Zimbabwe, not all women have access to one. Indeed mobile phone penetration has dropped in the past two years – a symptom of a worsening economy. The unequal power dynamics that tend to exist in relations between the two domestic actors (that is, husband and wife, or male and female partners), one finds himself or herself in a disadvantaged position if there is only one telecommunications device. 

Even if they have the means, women often do not report such cases because of fear and stigma from paternal and maternal relatives. Economic dependence is another factor that continues to give the leeway to the perpetrators to abuse their financially dependent partner without reservation.

The government of Zimbabwe and governments worldwide need to pay more attention to the social problems that are getting exacerbated during the lockdown such as GBV. More support facilities and information should be made available. There are many entities that exist which can support women and prevent GBV, but few people have knowledge of the resources offered. For example, Zimbabwean women can make use of the various agencies and legal structures such as the Zimbabwe Domestic Act of 2007, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit (VFU), the Zimbabwe Constitution, the office of the Ministry of Women, Gender and Community development, and local non-governmental organizations namely the Musasa project, and Padare Enkhundlen Men’s Forum.

Furthermore, there are many other well-respected international institutions that can be catalysts for a new approach to tackling GBV in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government can work more closely with international organizations such as UNICEF, USAID, and World Vision to scale their efforts to protect women and girls.

Running more awareness campaigns disseminating information in homes, schools, and other public spheres would go a long way in changing societal attitudes towards gender-based violence. Efforts should be made to increase solidarity between men and women equipping people with knowledge from a young age on what to do, where to go, and when to report gender-based violence abuses. If relevant stakeholders and players (both government and non-government) could work more closely together to address gender-based violence, the plight of the victimized would be eased.

All the recommendations highlighted above are viable strategies for improving information sharing, which can lead to the reduction in cases of gender based violence against women, not just during the lockdown but, also more broadly.

The lockdown presents a unique opportunity for the government to confront the issue head on with a more captive national audience. Zimbabwe can build a stronger support network for GBV victims. Developing better systems now can have long-term dividends for society going into the future.

Maybe Zengenene is a doctoral researcher in Indonesia on gender based violence.

 

The article was edited by Tatenda Mabikacheche

 

 

Nelson Mandela stayed on the top floor of the Ras Hotel in central Addis Ababa during his 1962 visit to Ethiopia.
Nelson Mandela stayed on the top floor of the Ras Hotel in central Addis Ababa during his 1962 visit to Ethiopia.

The death of Nelson Mandela in 2013 elicited tributes from around the globe in honor of the man who negotiated with South Africa’s apartheid rulers to bring about majority rule. He continues to be a symbol of resistance and reform. In his delivery of the latest Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on July 18, the late statesman’s birthday, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres used the opportunity to call for wide-ranging reforms to the international order.

But despite the commemorations, which often focus on his capacity for forgiveness in the 1990s and his ability to make peace with the regime that had imprisoned him, the Mandela of the early 1960s was a very different man. He was a guerrilla, not a peacemaker, and in 1961 had co-founded the armed-wing of the African National Congress (ANC), uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), meaning Spear of the Nation.

To truly understand Mandela, we must understand this earlier part of his life. And to understand this earlier part of his life, we must examine his attraction to Ethiopia, where he spent time as a revolutionary and guerrilla in training. In his various memoirs, he made numerous references to Ethiopia, which he first visited in 1962.

Since Mandela’s passing, a degree of controversy around his time in Ethiopia has also emerged, coming from an unlikely source. Shortly after his death, a story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel’s secret intelligence agency Mossad had clandestinely trained Mandela. As evidence, Haaretz quoted part of a letter by a member of Israeli embassy staff that describes Mandela: “He greeted our men with ‘Shalom,’ was familiar with the problems of Jewry and of Israel, and gave the impression of being an intellectual. The staff tried to make him into a Zionist.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has questioned the authenticity of the letter, but there is no doubt Mandela was indeed familiar with Jewish and Israeli issues. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, he writes that he “read The Revolt by Menachem Begin and was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.”

Ethiopia, the African kingdom that successfully resisted colonization save for a brief Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941, held a particular allure for Nelson Mandela and many African nationalists in the post-colonial period. It could be argued that Emperor Haile Selassie was Africa’s most famous politician of the 20th century, until he was eclipsed by Nelson Mandela. In Jamaica and elsewhere, the emperor was revered as a messianic figure among followers of the Rastafari movement. But history has not been kind to the emperor, partly due to Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s book The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat, with many now remembering him as the ruler who spent his time feeding the pride of lions he kept at his palace, indifferent to domestic affairs.

Meeting the Ras

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten the Selassie of the 1960s was an ardent Pan-Africanist, and it was in AddisAbaba that the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central, and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) was hosted in 1962. PAFMECSA was the forerunner of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was, in turn, the forerunner of the African Union.

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela recalls his excitement upon visiting Ethiopia. The prospect of seeing Ethiopia had always intrigued him more than visiting Europe or America. “Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination…” he writes. “I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”

Forty-three years old at the time, Mandela experienced a culture shock when he boarded the Ethiopian Airlines flight from Khartoum to Addis Ababa to find an Ethiopian pilot at the controls. “How could a black man fly an airplane? But a moment later I caught myself: I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set, thinking Africans were inferior, and that flying was a white man’s job. I sat back in my seat and chided myself for such thoughts. Once we were in the air, I lost my nervousness and studied the geography of Ethiopia, thinking how guerrilla forces hid in these very forests to fight the Italian imperialists.”

Entering Addis Ababa, which he calls the Imperial City, in February 1962, Mandela’s vision of Ethiopia was, for the moment, shattered: “a few tarred streets, and more goats and sheep than cars. Apart from the Imperial Palace, the university, and the Ras Hotel, where we stayed, few structures could compare with even the least impressive buildings of Johannesburg.”

Today, most roads are paved and crowded with cars, especially the city’s ubiquitous shared taxis, though the city’s skyline is still somewhat spartan when compared to the skyscrapers of Johannesburg. Time, though, has been less kind to the Ras Hotel: in one corner stands a haggard stuffed lion while women of the night cast around the lobby for potential customers. Outside the revolving door, touts and beggars wait to pounce on tourists under a portico next to the neighboring book vendor selling Amharic and a few English books, including a knockoff copy of Kapuściński’s The Emperor. The Ethiopian “national cuisine” served in the hotel is among the best in the city. It remains one of the few places in the Ethiopian capital where one can find meat dishes being served even on days of the week Ethiopian Orthodox Christians observe fasting days where they avoid consuming meat.

Another change from when Mandela first visited the city is that a room on the third floor has since been turned into a veritable shrine to the man himself, albeit one that is available for booking, and the third floor is now the Mandela Floor. A larger-than-life image of a grey-haired Mandela greets visitors from the top of the stairs, followed by a photo of Robben Island on the door to the Mandela Room. The three-chambered suite is modest by today’s standards, but would have seemed lavish in the early 1960s, when it was graced by many notables, including the Yugoslav statesman Marshal Tito.

Mandela met many revolutionaries and people of note at the 1962 PAFMECSA conference, but it was Emperor Selassie—whom Mandela asked for help raising funds, a crucial part of the ANC’s revolutionary cause—who made one of the biggest impressions. As he later recalled in Conversations with Myself: “That was an impressive fellow, man, very impressive. It was my first time to watch... a head of state going through the formalities... the motions of formality. This chap came wearing a uniform and he then came and bowed. But it was a bow which was not a bow—he stood erect, you see, but just brought down his head.”

He later observed Selassie at a military parade. At the time, Ethiopia was a United States ally, and US military advisors at the occasion paid their respects to the emperor, leading Mandela to note: “to see whites going to a black monarch emperor and bowing was also very interesting.” The US was one of just six countries to never recognize the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, and the two states were enjoying warm relations at the time of Mandela’s visit. In 1957, then US vice president Richard Nixon visited Ethiopia and hailed the kingdom as “one of the United States’ most stalwart and consistent allies.”

Training in Guerrilla Warfare

After the conference, Mandela left Ethiopia to continue his wide-ranging fundraising tour, visiting Egypt, Mali, Tunisia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Sudan, and the United Kingdom. Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba was a particularly strong supporter, donating £5,000 (about US$150,000 in today’s money) to uMkhonto we Sizwe for arms. En route, Mandela also received some training in guerrilla warfare from Algerian rebels in Morocco.

As agreed, Mandela soon returned to Ethiopia for military training. The ANC had offices in Cairo and Accra, but neither Nasser’s Egypt nor Nkrumah’s Ghana had a military versed in guerrilla warfare. Many Ethiopian officers had honed their field craft fighting the Italians during World War II. In deciding to train in Ethiopia rather than a Warsaw Pact country or China, Mandela was openly branding the armed portion of the ANC struggle as African and moving the ANC’s position away from the Soviet Union, a policy that might have influenced him to meet with the Israelis.

Ethiopia, whose military had multiple veterans of the guerrilla war against the Italian occupation, also possibly presented Mandela with the best opportunity to learn the military skills necessary to lead uMkhonto we Sizwe. He planned to spend six months receiving training on weaponry, tactics, and leadership. The ANC’s armed wing had already launched a series of sabotage attacks in South Africa, so instruction on mines and other explosives was also given. Mandela’s training included live-fire exercises with both Eastern Bloc- and American-made weapons. His instructors were Colonel Tadesse Birru, Colonel Fekadu Wakene, and Lieutenant Wondoni Befikadu. Wondoni, a former fighter, led the physical training, and Tadesse lectured Mandela in the philosophy of guerrilla warfare. The recently emerged Israeli government letter implies Mandela was trained by someone referred to as “the Ethiopian,” which could mean some of Mandela’s instructors were linked to the Israelis.

Indeed, Israel was keen to cultivate good relations with the non-Arab countries in Africa at the time, though later, as African liberation movements came to be dominated by communist elements, this policy shifted slowly to an awkward security relationship with the apartheid South African government.

Biniyam Mengistu, a tour guide and local historian in the southern Ethiopian city of Harrar, believes Mandela received some of his instruction in Harar. If this were true, it was perhaps Tadesse who invited him to visit this important city in the east of the country. The region’s main inhabitants, the Oromo people, are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and Tadesse eventually launched his own guerrilla war against the state four years later in the name of Oromo nationalism. In 1975, he was executed by the Derg regime.

To this day, the time Tadesse spent with Mandela is a source of pride for Oromo nationalists. A grainy photo of him in uniform standing next to Mandela can be found on many Oromo nationalist websites, and the Oromo National Congress (now the Oromo Federalist Congress) originally named itself after Mandela’s African National Congress.

The Way of the Gun

In the end, Mandela’s time in Ethiopia lasted only a few short weeks before it was decided he was needed in South Africa. On the orders of Haile Selassie, Tadesse gave Mandela a Bulgarian-made Makarov pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition before his trip home. He was also issued with an Ethiopian passport under the name David Motsamayi (meaning David the Walker).

Upon his arrival in South Africa, Mandela spent time at an ANC safe house, Liliesleaf Farm, in Johannesburg. As the police closed in on him, he decided to bury the pistol. Digging a 1.5 meter pit not far from the farm’s kitchen, he wrapped the weapon and its ammunition in foil and placed the stash, along with his military uniform, under a tin plate. He was arrested days later.

Mandela did return to Ethiopia decades later, in 1990, to address the OAU in Addis Ababa. This meant meeting Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia’s brutal dictator who had ruled the country directly or indirectly since 1974. During Mengistu’s rule, more than 2 million Ethiopians were murdered or died of starvation, and with the Soviet Union on the verge of collapse, Mengistu beseeched Mandela to visit and provide him with a small propaganda victory.

Perhaps reluctantly, Mandela agreed to the short visit while already on a trip to Tanzania. Coarse footage from the period shows the veteran Mengistu beaming as he honors Mandela, yet it is Mandela who appears the statelier figure. When Mengistu was overthrown the next year, he fled to Zimbabwe and even briefly visited South Africa in 1999 for medical treatment. Mandela’s government considered turning him over to international authorities, but Mengistu soon returned to Zimbabwe, where he has kept a low profile ever since.

Old Friends

Mandela’s time in Ethiopia provides insight into the man and helps place the ANC struggle in its broader African context. It further illuminates his commitment to the armed struggle, making his later role as peacemaker all the more revealing.

Ethiopia has never forgotten its links to Nelson Mandela, and in 2011, for example, 2,300 trees were planted around Addis Ababa in his honor on the Second Annual International Nelson Mandela Day.

The pistol Mandela received in Ethiopia and buried in Johannesburg has never been found. He provided information about its probable location and even searched for it on a visit to Liliesleaf in 2003. Excavations began on the site in 2011 to search for the lost pistol, but it remains lost.

A version of this story was published in Think Africa Press in 2014.

 

Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba
Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba

Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, one of Africa’s foremost philosophers, civil rights activists, and pro-democracy scholars, passed away at the University Clinic of Kinshasa on Wednesday, July 15.

Wamba dia Wamba obtained his education in the United States after earning a scholarship through the African-American Institute, studying at Western Michigan University before earning his MBA at Claremont University. He taught at Brandeis and Harvard universities while in the United States, where he met his wife and got involved in the civil rights movement through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

 

He became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam

 

He moved Tanzania and became a history professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, which had become an intellectual nexus of Pan-African thought. He founded the university’s philosophy club, and from 1992 to 1995 he served as the president of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

In 1998, Wamba dia Wamba founded the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) with the support of Uganda and Rwanda, and began a campaign against newly installed DRC president Laurent-Désiré Kabila. In August, the RCD launched an attack on Goma, starting the Second Congo War. The RCD later split into two factions, supported by the two rival neighboring countries, after which Wamba dia Wamba faced revolt in his own faction.

After the war, Wamba dia Wamba became a senator in the DRC government and helped to draft a new constitution. He continued to write and was a noted political theorist. More recently, in May 2017, he was appointed president of the political-religious movement Bundu dia Mayala.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Bleak humor can be a common response to uncertain and scary times, which may explain why a short clip of Ghanaian pallbearers dancing to a techno bop is the biggest meme right now. The pallbearers’ dance is usually paired with a joke about breaking lockdown procedures or otherwise engaging in risky behavior that risks infection.

The meme originates from a funeral performance group based in Ghana, where they perform modern variations on traditional burial dances, where funerals are important social occasions. Benjamin Aidoo, the group’s founder, was surprised to see his troupe become so ubiquitous online, but is nonetheless pleased by the public-awareness message that the meme sends.

 

An activist uses a megaphone to address members of the public on the importance of social distancing in Accra, Ghana. April 4th 2020. Ghana has announced a two-week lockdown in the country's two main regions of Accra and Kumasi. The move came as the authorities reported 137 confirmed cases, including four deaths. Nipah Dennis / AFP
An activist uses a megaphone to address members of the public on the importance of social distancing in Accra, Ghana, on April 4, 2020. (Nipah Dennis / AFP)

 

The government has banned large public gatherings with music.

 

During an interview, Aidoo cracked a joke about the importance of remaining indoors to avoid COVID-19, otherwise, “We’re going to dance with them!”

The attention the pallbearers is getting is some distraction from the somber reality in Ghana, which to date has reported 1,550 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths. The government has imposed a raft of temporary restrictions, including a ban on large public gatherings with music. In the meantime, the pallbearers do more subdued performances at smaller funerals.

Burkina Faso had managed to avoid the worst consequences of the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, until it didn’t.

 

Soldiers of the French Army monitors a rural area during the Barkhane operation in northern Burkina Faso on November 12, 2019.
French soldiers monitor a rural area in northern Burkina Faso as part of Operation Barkhane on November 12, 2019. (AFP)

The West African country is known for its religiously and culturally diverse society, yet it has until recently largely avoided the kind of inter-community violence that Côte d’Ivoire or Mali experienced. Now, it’s become embroiled in one of the world’s deadliest civilian conflicts.

The United Nations estimates that more than 700,000 people have fled their villages in Burkina Faso in the past year due to inter-ethnic violence and jihadist attacks, and that a further 2 million are in need of aid. In March, dozens of semi-nomadic Fulani people were killed in attacks by local Songhai or Mossi for allegedly harboring or being sympathetic to jihadists.

 

A Burkina Faso soldier patrols at district sheltering Internally Displaced People (IDP) from northern Burkina Faso in Dori, on February 3, 2020. 600 000 Internally Displaced People (IDP) have fled recent attacks in northern Burkina Faso. OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT / AFP
A Burkinabe soldier patrols a district welcoming internally displaced people from northern Burkina Faso in Dori on February 3, 2020. (AFP)

Individual Voices

The New Humanitarian conducted interviews with six Burkinabe individuals—including an imam, an aid worker, and a teacher—to get a sense of what this violence has done to social cohesion in Burkina Faso. Read the full article here.

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Jul 27, 2021