Cash & Commerce – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za now-now, a pan African gazette - in print quarterly and online Mon, 16 Aug 2021 15:24:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/cropped-CHIMURENGA-LOGO-32x32.jpg Cash & Commerce – The Chimurenga Chronic https://chimurengachronic.co.za 32 32 IMAGI-NATION NWAR (APRIL 2021) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/imagi-nation-nwar-april-2021/#respond Mon, 14 Jun 2021 12:24:26 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=17867 Genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

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imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

de-composed, an-arranged and re-produced by Chimurenga

feat. Mongo Beti & Odile Biyidi’s Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains; Elsie Haas, Julius-Amédée Laou; Cheikh Anta Diop; FEANF; GONG; Gérard Lockel; Glissant’s IME; Suzanne Roussi; Paul Niger; Andrée Blouin; Maryse Condé; Guinea’s Cultural Revolution; Awa Thiam; Francoise Ega; Yambo Ouologuem; Groupe du 6 Novembre; ACTAF & Revolution Afrique; Med Hondo; Sidney Sokhona; Nicolas Silatsa; Somankidi Coura; Edja Kungali; Sarah Maldoror; Sony Labou Tansi; Madeleine Beauséjour; and many, many more…

New writing by: Michaela Danjé; Hemley Boum; Olivier Marboeuf; Marie-Héléna Laumuno; Amzat Boukari-Yabara; Amandine Nana with Julius-Amédée Laou; Sarah Fila-Bakabadio; Pierre Crépon; DY Ngoy; Dénètem Touam Bona; Christelle Oyiri; Native Maqari; Seumboy Vrainom with Malcom Ferdinand; the “undercommons” collective translation workshop coordinated by Rosanna Puyol (Brook).

French/English/Kreyol


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Survivor’s Guide to Smelling Naais https://chimurengachronic.co.za/8111-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/8111-2/#respond Wed, 05 Apr 2017 03:01:24 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8111 In the pre-Apocalypse, Zayaan Khan nurses the Apartheid hangover that carved up […]

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In the pre-Apocalypse, Zayaan Khan nurses the Apartheid hangover that carved up sensibilities, lives deep in the crevice of being and after more than 20 years still sticks to the roof of the mouth. To empty out the bitter taste, she sucks on fennel flowers and takes her sweetness where she can get it – walking in the fallow land of District Six and sharing odes to the plucking and sucking that a good harvest delivers.


Introduction to the Apocalypse Pantry

The apocalypse has already happened or, in Public Enemy’s words, “Armageddon been in effect.” So how do we get a “late pass” that allows us to continue in the aftermath of colonial and capitalist catastrophe? In the Apocalypse Pantry it starts with food – as a basic of survival but also a source of pleasure, a site of knowledge and a communal conduit around which we regularly gather.

Founded by Zayaan Khan and Heather Thompson, two Cape Town-based activists set on reclaiming the kitchen as a space of liberation, Apocalypse Pantry recognises that food (in)security is an invention of capitalism, as is hunger; that vulnerability is the default, and so support must be primary. It offers community and self-sustenance as solutions.

“The number of people growing their own food is on par with those remitting food or depending on aid; for every 50-60 persons accessing their food through a supermarket or a restaurant there are two growing their own,” the two women explain. “It has become a global condition in developed areas that healthy food remains a privilege of the wealthy when in fact, we believe, healthy food should be the most cost-effective of all.”

Heather and Zayaan maintain that food sovereignty – not just eating, but eating well – can be improved by reconnecting to the source of the food – the land, the sea, and the farmers and fishers that cultivate and collect our food – and by drawing on time-honoured food preservation and nutrient optimisation techniques to make healthy ferments, broths or preserves, thereby creating one’s own pantry system.

This requires learning and experimenting. The Pantry is thus also a laboratory – a site of corporeal research, experiment and revelation that takes seriously growing, preparing, and consuming food as knowing activities. It’s a space occupied by envelopes of rare seedlings, charcoal rubbings of tree barks, hand drawn maps of the Cape Peninsula, vats and vials of oils and salts in a thousand shades of white, large jars layered with indigenous foods in different stages of ferment. Everything tastes. Everything smells. Here, hands, muscles, tongues, noses, eyes, fingers, and stomachs are combined sites where knowledge resides. It celebrates the pleasure of food, while recognising the political implications of taste, with its connected cultures, politics, imaginaries and identities.

In the Pantry food is also always magic – not simply the material resources for human survival, but a means of regeneration through engaged interaction between the physical and imaginative worlds. There’s an alchemy involved in its kinetic, improvisational experiments that draw on a spiritual tincture of historic, cultural and scientific knowledge.

The Apocalypse Pantry’s website and blog (http://www.theapocalypsepantry.com) is the space they use to perpetuate their survival knowledge. At once a research tool and an archive, it takes the form of notes and photographs from fieldtrips, recipes, “inspiration seed bombs,” videos, and podcasts that provide thought windows on how to survive in the current apocalypse. – Stacy Hardy


So many of our families were forced out of District 6, Cape Town. My family too (they lived on Dover, on the corner). With this forced move came a cultural shift – no longer were doors always open for unexpected guests: not a plate of food for hungry souls nor a couch to rest on for weary travellers. Gates remained locked and neighbours gradually became more distant. Every time I walk over the fallow land of District Six, I imagine the hundreds of little feet kicking up dust, the neighbours, the friends, all the loves and all the calls to prayers that echoed through the streets.

The Apocalypse came through the foot of this mountain and in its place sprouted hundreds of fennel. The sweet one, not the bulbous one. Where you might see weeds, I see sweets, wild and dripping. And while I’m harvesting and licking my fingers, I’m doing soft calculations of how much this costs me in the slave house of capitalism: two hours’ intensive harvesting of pollen (in glaring sun and even sometimes South Easter tempest) gets me an amount that makes it very expensive to sell. And who would buy it at such a price? My pantry is invaluable, the collections of flowers, resins, salts, woods, minerals, herbs, insects – how could you charge for such things? Money makes no sense here.

This thing of owning land – with all the roots in the ground, every stone and every hole – is this where all the trouble started? When the continent was divided by the colonisers? And we are still here, with the majority of the people landless and the forced removals continuing. Land occupation is something that stems out of survival and a need to sustain livelihood. It is as if the Apocalypse came when the colonisers hit, then had a biggerlypse in Apartheid, and now all the residual shrapnel lingers in the land and people.

In the aftermath – surrounded by growing yellow sweets and memories, in the quiet and heavy heat, the heady fragrance of hot grass and hot fennel – there’s no way to change this devastation, only to continue to pluck and suck, licking sticky beads of pollen sacs that cling to me.

Nature/Natural

When I think about Victoria Walk Park (also known as Victoria Park), I think about open space. Woodstock homes tend to be dark, mostly semi-detached, not too much open space.  

I’m here to look at this space through the lens of: how natural is our nature? I always consider the eucalypti, how economically viable they are while also being so detrimental to our water table and allelopathic to other plant species competing to live where they live. I stop at the red flowering gum, so stunted where it stands, but pushing out flowers. They’re at my height (and not the normal grand diplodocus size), so I notice them for the first time. They are exquisite in colour and in their formation, as if they landed here from space. Yet, they are obscene, a luminous coral red gaping sex, enticing pollinators and radiating lust. These alien plants settled and assimilated in Woodstock, Cape Town.

Part of me feels guilty for using the term alien. Who am I to judge the rights of life and species; whose fault is it that they are here? Global trade routes? They are up high on the local chain of commodity: paper (toilet paper), pulp, wood, honey, essential oil, real stuff.

Yesterday as I left home to run my dog at Victoria Park, I could smell chicken being cooked in someone’s kitchen, a smell I know so well, roasting gharam masala wafting round the park. Smell is one of those senses that have evaded the greatest of scientists and designers; smell-o-vision has a long way to go to be captured technologically. The story of food as nature is an obvious yet convoluted one. The chicken most likely came from a factory and not a farm. How much nature is in that food? Still, the aroma is enough to catapult me back in time, putting me in the kitchen with my mother, us talking about our day or maybe about the food we will eat in an hour.

Survivor’s Guide To Smelling Naai’s

Flowers. Flowers all over the lands. Different species of these reproductive organs, standing erect or hanging soft and low. So many colours, textures, tastes, smells, shapes, feels. Where fields lay fallow and within the stillness of our arid spaces, hundreds of thousands of daisies pop up as if a sex meteor has hit. It’s incredible that these are evolutionary adaptations, but mostly that they’ve evolved so particularly for insects (sometimes rodents or birds or even the wind) to get busy in them. It’s been this way for millions of years. Such ancient sexy times.

It’s season for Rosa and Jasmine. These flowers are friends, they can smell each other’s heaviness on a good berg wind day. Their scents are heavy, heady, full, sweet like the first kiss of a marshmallow. They make you wish you were an insect so you could have this rose as your bed, undressing under the soft rose sheets. Or slipping down the tube of the jasmine, sucking the nectar at the tip, can you imagine? Sex on sex.

I used to grow poppy plants from seed. The most minuscule seed would blossom into the most perfect cups, dark purple, lilac, white, sometimes shades between. Often this would coincide with chafer beetle recreational procreation. It looked fun from where I stood, the beetles abuzz with love, dusted up as they rolled amongst the opiates.

When you come into an abundance of these insect sex beds, collect what you can and prepare them for transformation soon after. If you’re serious and intend to alchemise them, then dawn is the best time – before the sun gets the best of them. Apocalypse perfume is not so hard to come by in the Cape, but this is the smell of love. They work even better stored on your skin – a perfume bag, if you will, nestled beneath your bra, just like Marjane’s grandmother in Persepolis, the heat of your body puffing Turkish delight clouds. Or wear them under your scarf, your hair will smell defuknlightful.

Place them in a low dish or basket so air doesn’t stagnate around them. Do this somewhere where you spend most of your time, so your vibes are delighted. In the Apocalypse, you’re going to have time to collect flowers, so it’s good practice to carry smells with you. We all have to deal with stinky stuff from time to time – the apocalypse is no different. Nostrils are a great place to store petals, just don’t sniff them into your nasal canal because that would be most uncomfortable.

These flowers could go into tinctures, bakes, an enfleurage, macerations, waters and a bajillion other things. The moments of living with them are fleeting, but their seasons are abundant so your time together will linger.

Smokablez

Oh sweet tobacco, how you have become an evil in this contemporary world of consumption. Nicotiana tabacum, like many other sacred plants, quickly became bastardised through commercialisation via colonial mercenaries (the earliest multi-national corporations). Tobacco is now grown all over the world and cigarettes are sold in every nation.

Tobacco evolved in the Americas and its use is an integral part of indigenous cultures. The smoke is used as a mode of communication, in prayer, for protection, cleansing, and healing. The plant was (and still is) used as incense, bunched up and burned, and smoked also, though not to be deeply inhaled. Nicotine is a very poisonous substance, it can and will kill you as well as many other smaller creatures. You need to treat it with respect.

Now take all of that knowledge that has been garnered over centuries, strip it down completely, and, in fact, negate it all by growing the plant as a cash crop for the masses. Grow it with chemical input, process it with chemical input, package it with chemical input, light it up and suck on it. Crying shame. Never mind the marketing. Now cigarettes are all about Pall Mall, Dunhill and Peter Stuyvesant (a Dutch coloniser celebrated on cigarette packs around the world).

Yet, smoking is a cultural practice all around the world. It has come out of every culture, whether recreationally or medicinally. That means there are many other smokable plants all over the globe too, right? Down here we’ve heard about smoking kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) and wilde dagga (Leonotis leonurus), but what else? We began looking at plants, not only in terms of medicines or foods or cosmetics, but also in terms of smoke and created blends that became plant world answers to our bodies’ call, subject to change and future curiosities.

The Bug Bang Theory

I am fascinated by insects. They have become metaphors for survival and intrigue. They are enigmatic, surreptitious, ubiquitous, eternal and adaptable.

The first time I intentionally ate an insect was with Justin, a fynbos farmer, outside his home in Hopefield, north of Cape Town. A hot summer, dry and dusty, heat packing. Typical West Coast. The termites, in a deep hustle, orderly, in tune, in time, almost institutionalised.

I remember a moment when I was eight years old and my baby sister was deep in thought, lying down with baby fat fingers learning to grasp. She plucked at ants and put them in her mouth. How entranced she was (the inherent knowledge this new person had) to see these tiny insects and to instinctively put them in her mouth. It took a moment to shake out of it. When she was picked up, her face brushed of grass and the insects, her new brain must have computed this as a food truth, ants must not be for eating. I know better now, of course – it’s taken a few years to unlearn and relearn food truth. The true meaning of edible.

I’d given a talk about indigenous food revival, where a new friend had heard me sing the song of insects as edible. He connected me to confection demiurge, Heather. Heather needed insects to enrobe in chocolate and play with flavours – like bacon on waffles, so crickets and chocolate. The crickets were blanched in boiling water before being roasted for 20 minutes. They were spiced and enrobed in dark chocolate, sprinkled with smoked salt and paprika, chilli or rose or cinnamon, and some set in chocolate bars. It was especially auspicious because these were the last nine crickets and two grasshoppers left of the season’s hunt.

Enrobed, chocolate works with everything. Like when the Mad Hatter started eating his plate.

Upon the Mantle of Mycelium

To be self-aware is to gain awareness of everything outside of yourself. Of course, this is the complete antithesis of what we have come to know about self-awareness. This thinking builds upon the thought that we cannot grasp our ego within the vacuum of our single existence. Nothing, not even the intricacies and extremities of space, is separate to anything else.

Perpetuating this understanding of self-awareness – that says that it is the “capacity for introspection and the ability to recognise oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals” – is incorrect for me. It’s inside out. I am self-aware because I am aware of the other, I know myself because of how I exist, have always existed, will always exist, within the other.

Opening up your every sense to what it takes to survive, you begin to see the value in every bacterium, every virus, every plant, every insect, and every life.  Every life (and non-living life: water/virus/mineral) is valuable in a way capitalism cannot quantify. We begin to see or uncover uses for the smallest and simplest natural things. In the pre-apocalypse, we have the years of scientific (and non-scientific) uncoverings to map out why things work the way they do, sometimes to uncover new exploratory routes to newer innovations, or find the answers to the greatest questions the universe continues to entice us with.

Mycelium was there before us all, a bajillion years ago. When you pick up a mushroom, when you eat it, you never think of how fucking old that DNA is. The way mycelium and insects live in community, even having little fungi pouches, is the sweetest of life’s loves. Fungi are e v e r y w h e r e.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus, the strands of growth that reproduce asexually (in the same way that strawberry plants, potatoes or bananas reproduce asexually). These strands find their way through rock, through the earth, through decaying matter and into any suitable substrate.

The sex bits of the fungi, the mushrooms, are the parts we eat for food and medicine, the parts we notice in the state of awareness when we forage, hunt or gather.

إِنَّاللهِوَإِنَّـاإِلَيْهِرَاجِعونَ (I Am God, And To Him We Shall Return)

Death is the mystery in which I hold the most faith. Living in an Apocalypse is the acceptance of my own demise, to think about the end of me. My end. I have seen a lot of death since I was very young and not everyone has that experience, I have come to learn. This doesn’t normalise death, but makes it more acceptable. Death becomes a peace. It humbles you right down, debilitates you, crushes you and breaks you. To deal with grief, the trauma of death, you have to let it flow out of you, even if it takes years. You go through all of it, an unbearable burden of mourning, and mostly come out of it OK, open to more of life and grateful to be among the living.

I was so madly in love this one time that my spirit was weaving poetry for the most wonderful person. He filled my home and my mother’s home with flowers, , spilling out into the streets. The fragrance and life from all of the vases made us all heady. Hearts in our eyes. I started collecting all the pollens in their different shades from all the lilies, stockpiling dyes for the future Pantry, yellows and burnt oranges and rich reds. I saved all the petals and made potpourri, like my grandmother used to do. I added to it every time something magical happened, like Kholofelo and Farhan’s wedding: the eucalyptus hangings were invigorating, some were burnt and the rest went into the Pot of Love Pourri. 

So in love were we two that we wanted to do it forever and we almost did except that our love made us too hungry and we started eating ourselves. It was fine that it didn’t work out, it was our decision and it was better to be friends who can love instead. A few weeks later my grandmother passed away, the love of our lives, the Rose, our Matriarch, most beloved Mamma. Death had finally arrived for her, she welcomed it and we knew it would happen. There was absolutely no space to feel anything else but the full gravity of her passing, the agony of being without her. I could not mourn the love who filled my home with flowers, I had absolutely no capacity and of course he could not compete or grieve with me.  

The days before her final passing, I came to recognise the face of death. I’d seen it before and understood at that moment the truth was absolute, she was already within death’s loving embrace. It is certain that death was a gradual process.

I knew exactly the moment my grandmother passed away. I was not with her, but in meditation I felt her last breath come from me and my eyes shot open. I needed a moment to be in myself before I got back to her and my family. To fall apart, even just for a bit, before having to stand up again and do the necessary duties to prepare for the burial the next day.

We were privileged to prepare her body, to wash her with all the women in our family, altogether. We dried her and shrouded her, her kaffang (shroud, from Malay “kafan”) so much bigger than she. Roses and camphor with her in her linen sheets. There were so many flowers that I kept them and dried them with the camphor. Of course I had to, I couldn’t throw them away or compost them. Camphor has a very specific smell if the first time you smell it is when you kiss the forehead of the deceased as a child. A smell of death for me. I had that smell in my room for months as I would toss the flowers. They had eventually withered, dried and died and they were beautiful, even more beautiful. I had so much of it, huge piles, but I could not throw it away. I poured vinegar over some of it, preparing a potential of uses from cleaners to conditioner. Preparing a new life to the things that had died. Refreshing and restarting.

Grief is not something that goes away or heals entirely, it stays with you forever, as long as you live, and as Mamma said: “Death often comes to show, we love more deeply than we know.”  When death happens, our depth and capacity to love is expanded beyond our knowledge and experience. Imagine how much space that creates for those of us in life. The ultimate potentiality of Love Matter.

As for the broken heart, to give him the respect he held in my heart I decided to remember only the good and only the magic, the sanctity and not the struggles. Keep it as a memory, something that happened to us in our pasts and dilute the sense of time. It’s about survival, this life.   


This piece features in the Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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The Chronic: Who Killed Kabila II https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chronic-who-killed-kabila-now-out/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chronic-who-killed-kabila-now-out/#respond Mon, 01 Apr 2019 08:07:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12556 On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks. 

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On January 16, 2001, in the middle of the day, shots are heard in the Palais de Marbre,the residence of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila. The road bordering the presidential residence, usually closed from 6pm by a simple guarded barrier is blocked by tanks.

At the Ngaliema hospital in Kinshasa, a helicopter lands and a body wrapped in a bloody sheet is off loaded. Non-essential medical personnel and patients are evacuated and the hospital clinic is surrounded by elite troops. No one enters or leaves. RFI (Radio France Internationale) reports on a serious incident at the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

Rumor, the main source of information in the Congolese capital, is set in motion…  

18 years after the assassination of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, rumours still proliferate. Suspects include: the Rwandan government; the French; Lebanese diamond dealers; the CIA; Robert Mugabe; Angolan security forces; the apartheid-era Defence Force; political rivals and rebel groups; Kabila’s own kadogos (child soldiers); family members and even musicians.

The geopolitics of those implicated tells its own story; the event came in the middle of the so-called African World War, a conflict that involved multiple regional players, including, most prominently, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

So, who killed Kabila? The new issue of the Chronic presents this query as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination by writers from the Congo and other countries involved in the conflict.

The issue is the result of a three-year research project that included a 5-day intervention and installation at La Colonie (Paris), from December 13 – 17, 2017, which featured a live radio station and a research library, a conceptual inventory of the archive of this murder – all documented in a research catalogue.

As this research revealed, who killed Kabila is no mystery. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

Telling this story then, isn’t merely a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion. We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – in this issue we explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh.”

However, this editorial project doesn’t merely put music in context, it proposes music as the context, the paradigm for the writing. The single story we write borrows from the sebene – the upbeat, mostly instrumental part of Congolese rumba famously established by Franco (Luambo Makiadi), which consists in the lead guitarist playing short looping phrases with variations, supported or guided by the shouts of the atalaku (animateur) and driving, snare-based drumming.


The Invention of Africa by Franco & T.P.OK Jazz – Ntone Edjabe on the Pan African Space Station.



“Franco, c’est l’inventeur du sebene. Parce que… et à coté il y avait Nico Kasanda, le docteur Nico, qui lui avait plus de technique de guitare mais qui jouait très mélodique, et Luambo c’était le mec qui est vraiment le mec du quartier avec sa connaissance intuitive de la guitare il a inventé cet manière de faire des sorte de boucle rythmique. Sa manière de jouer c’est un boucle rythmique. Le même phrase rythmique qui revient tout le temps. Et c’est ça le sebene congolais. Et jusqu’à aujourd’hui nous fonctionnons par sebene. Même moi même.“


Interview on France Inter : « Le labo de Ray Lema du 16 mars 2014 »

Ray Lema shares more stories and sounds from his life in music with Bintou Simporé onboard the Pan African Space Station.
Recorded for PASS in Paris at the Fondation Cartier exhibition Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko. For more visit http://panafricanspacestation.org.za

Similarly, to follow Ousmane Sembene’s method of using multi-location and polyphony as decolonial narrative tools, we invited writers from the countries directly involved and implicated in the events surrounding Kabila’s death (DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and a de-territorialised entity called AFDL) to write one story: the assassination of Kabila.

Working fluidly between fact and fiction, and featuring multiple forms of writing, the contributors – Yvonne Owuor, Antoine Vumilia Muhindo, Parselelo Kantai, Jihan El-Tahri, Daniel K. Kalinaki,  Kivu Ruhorahoza, Percy Zvomuya and Sinzo Aanza – use the event-scene of the shooting is their starting point to collectively tell the single story with its multiplication of plots and subplots that challenge history as a linear march, and tell not the sum but the derangement of its parts.

The issue thus performs an imaginative remapping that better accounts for the complex spatial, temporal, political, economic and cultural relations at play, as well the internal and external actors, organized into networks and nuclei – not only human actors but objects; music; images; texts, ghosts etc – and how these actors come together in time, space, relationships.

This edition of the Chimurenga Chronic is conceived as a sebene of the Congolese rumba – enjoy the dance!

The Chronic is a quarterly pan African gazette, published by Chimurenga.

This edition is part of a larger research project of the Chimurenga Library. It is produced with support from Heinrich Boll Foundation (Cape Town), and in collaboration with La Colonie (Paris), Cosmopolis Bienial/ Centre Pompidou (Paris), Marabouparken Konsthall (Stockholm) and Kalmar Konstmuseum.

For more information or to order your print or digital copy visit www.chimurengachronic.co.za and/or contact Chimurenga on +27(0)21 4224168 or info@chimurenga.co.za.

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WHO WILL SAVE THE SAVIOURS? https://chimurengachronic.co.za/who-will-save-the-saviours/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/who-will-save-the-saviours/#respond Wed, 11 Aug 2021 11:23:33 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18147 A close gaze at the collective apathy that killed Dr. Sebi

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In the annals of challenges to orthodox medical consumerism belongs the science and practice of one Alfredo Bowman – aka Dr Sebi – a Honduran of humble origins, scant formal education and voracious curiosity. A sailor by trade, Bowman learned the functioning of ship drainage and applied the same principles in pursuit of optimum health of the human body, particularly the black body. His African bio-mineral treatment, founded on the science of intracellular cleansing and electric revitalisation using natural vegetation, was used to treat celebrities from Michael Jackson to Lisa Left Eye Lopez, applied to the taboos of AIDS treatment in South Africa, and pitted against the hyper-consumption of laboratorised, genetically manipulated Western pharmaceuticals that Sebi claimed were to blame for chemical imbalances at the root of disease. His life and work were the subject of debate, derision, legal action and infighting. His death was ignoble. Harmony Holiday takes a close look at the collective apathy that killed Dr Sebi.


In the iconic photograph of black men in suits on a dingy balcony, pointing toward the empty sky above Martin Luther King’s bloody, bulleted body, there’s an eerie sense of choreography and the seed of accusation looms over every phrase in the scene. It would not be until about forty years later, King long dead, his mother also murdered by gunshot while playing organ in church, that one of those sudden dancers from the photograph would slip at a live press conference and admit his role as an accomplice: “[W]hen I moved out of the way that day so they could get a clear shot”. He was speaking of the scene on that Memphis motel balcony that endless April day, gloating how well he had danced it. He was proud. He had never been complimented on his ability to be an unsuspected enemy of the King of Love. The confession slipped out, like OJ’s hands wished to have slipped out of those gloves, and just landed right in that disaster happy press conference light.

But it was too late for true retribution, too dispersed, the delayed gasp too shallow. And who’s to say the calculated grooming of a martyr doesn’t begin with the will of the martyr himself. King’s family went back to trial in 1993, was placated with a verdict substantiating their claim that the US government, in cahoots with the Memphis Police Department, colluded to have our King of Love murdered. The family was awarded $100 in damages.

Everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga
The antiseptic folklore will tell us that MLK’s autopsy revealed the heart of an old, ailing man. A sick man. A man heartbroken by the obstacles on the road to healing the sickly-pretending-to-be-robust nation into which he was born. When shot, he was having a cigarette on the way to a feast, elated about the soul food he would enjoy after a heavy day and his heaviest, most anchoring speech. King had been trapped in a cycle of monasticism and temptation, stuck wearing three-piece suits and shiny church shoes, looking respectable, staying black while craving a backlash of wilderness. Can a corroding heart keep the pace of a redemptive soul? Can we repair the socio-economic condition of black people without first healing the black body, returning it to its optimal function, and letting go of the habits that soothe us into the wrong kind of citizenship? At what expense do we struggle for integration? What if the grandest irony is that the very contrived value of equality that we faintly believe will rescue us from being black, when achieved or even pursued, proves far more dangerous and dishonest than segregation. Do you really dream of milk and honey?

Tradition is not what we think it is
The legacy of black diasporic culture in the West is haunted by the tradition of our most sublime and messianic men dying, or being murdered the way King was, before they reach the age of 40. It’s as if these deaths are a rite of passage. Subconsciously, we are made to know that any black leader or cultural hero in the West who makes it past 40, does so at the expense of his spirit, is rendered useless to the revolution, has skipped his turn and will slip into wilful spiritual atrophy for the remainder of his days, afraid to suffer, afraid to bleed, and full of excuses for his complacency or just more and more trapped in the rotting fat of American bureaucracy. There are a few vivid public exceptions I can think of: James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Miles Davis, and Alfredo Bowman, aka Dr Sebi. These men lived relatively long lives and never became total mules to their comfort. These men are the redeemers of a long list of fallen, including everyone from Martin Luther King to Tupac to Malcolm to Trayvon Martin to Sam Cooke to J Dilla to DJ Rashaad. They give survival real meaning beyond the mundane symbolism of proving that black men can live like white men, which is actually to prove that we can reject ourselves and effectively numb our deeper yearnings in the service of fitting it to a system that destroys us.

But even these redeemers tend to die like their martyred cousins. Even after biding their time, they pass on suffering, working tirelessly to their very last days, unappreciated and with fewer and fewer loyals around to check on them. Many of them broke, broken, suddenly gone. And once they’re gone we often revise the reach of their accomplishments before the work can speak for itself, nervous at what a closer look at the end of the life of a delayed blackman martyr might reveal about the clear and present danger we all face when awake enough to be our truest selves.

Here we take a close enduring look at the life and death of the most recently fallen, Dr Sebi, born Alfredo Bowman, raised in Honduras, appropriated by the US, and who died this past August while in police custody, allegedly having been placed in jail for carrying US$37,000 in cash. He died just days before he would have been exonerated on the public record and released back to his famed Osha Village, a Honduras-based healing centre where he had cured everything from AIDS to sickle cell disease (SCD), where he had mastered healing the human body through the lens of the black genome and melanated peoples, using food, sunlight, water, air, and herbs.

In the last circulating photograph of Dr Sebi, he’s sitting, back against the wall, on the floor outside an airport in Honduras, his gangly, kingly legs huddled at his chest, his knees nudged into arrows, his arms wrapped around his shins and his forehead resting on his knees. He appears anguished and utterly abandoned. There are no men in suits pointing. This is not the sabotage plot of grandiose cogs of empire, but the quiet hunt for any black man who stands in the way of Big Pharma, anyone who’s hip to the fact that if you wake up the body on a molecular level, the systems controlling the mind and soul of black men and women in the West will be decimated, the collective frequency will shift and there will be no more telling us how to live and what to live for. We will want to live again, for our spirits, with a sense of purpose that transcends that cotton and flax currency we chase all our lives. Dr Sebi was taken from this slump at the airport to a local jail, charged with money laundering and held until proven innocent. And he was proven innocent, all charges dropped, but he didn’t live to witness it.

We’re told Sebi succumbed to pneumonia while in jail. We’re told betrayal and loyalty are equally impossible and we were left to resolve the riddle at that impasse. Some of us watched and learned how not to take ourselves or our healers too seriously when we realised Sebi smoked weed every day, a steady rapture to bend the monastic metronome. We know that at the same time he imbibed only herbs, juice and water, like a bona fide nigga jesus, consumed his herbs and sea moss daily, and when he ate, stuck to a strict list of non-hybrid, starch-free foods. He talked a lot of the “mucus membrane”, how it had been compromised by modern patterns of consumption. He candidly admitted that he had been schizophrenic, obese, diabetic and impotent, and was cured by a Mexican herbalist also named Alfredo, Alfredo Cortez. Sebi was so moved by his regained health at the time, so roused by the simplicity of real healing and cellular regeneration, that he left his work as a merchant seaman to become a healer. He wanted to heal the black race worldwide. To wake and repair the DNA, the genome, and with that literally rewrite our history, restore the matriarchy, grant us our happiest and most eternal feminine ending. So a man who had no formal education and was raised on joy and nature in a humble village in Honduras set out to study herbs and water and soil and anatomy, to self-educate his way into natural genius and redemption.

A man who loved jazz, loved his mother, and loved his sin sincerely, set out to purify the black spirit, to rescue it from the vestiges of slavery. Because more than anything, Dr Sebi loved black people. The sad volta is that even if you heal yourself to a large extent, surpass yourself even, when you love sick people, a group obliviously living out a blood-addicted necrotic culture and vibrant in spite of, not because of, what its members consume on a regular basis, part of you loves what they’re sick from. The healer – one who deliberately sets out to fix the perceived flaws in our way of life from the bottom up – is deeply lonely and vulnerable to an addiction to black culture, to belonging, to the bastard rhetoric of liberation that associates it with mastering, rather than quitting, the West.

When Dr Sebi formally became a healer, he relied on the dualistic zeitgeist he carried as a city dwelling former villager. He went into cities such as Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. He left a sublime refuge in St Croix to tackle the crack cocaine epidemic in Harlem. He catered his teachings to the people suffering there. He also hobnobbed with black celebrities; was taken to court for practicing medicine without a licence – there, he claimed that he had reversed what is called AIDS in 77 patients. This was in 1989. He survived. With this and other victories, Sebi developed a following, wives, groupies, hopelessly ailing entertainers knocking on his door in minor disguises looking to be saved, a diverse posse who viewed his teachings as the secular gospel, the mercy they had been waiting for. Although it was rooted in the intention of healing, the more healing he did, the more Sebi was forced into becoming a brand, a commodity, another of the West’s fetishised rebels. Dr Sebi’s attempt to save his people from within the social and economic structures that strangle them was his ultimate shipwreck. This seemingly harmless nuance of integration, where we gain visibility for our most authentic truths and systems by subjecting them to the rubric of their predators, is almost more dangerous than the full cries for utopian unity we saw at the height of the civil rights movement. Dr Sebi’s consciousness was in effect split between hermetic shaman and saviour complex and these two distant states of being united by a fundamental charisma cannot be safely reconciled. Los Angeles/ Hollywood and a tropical village in Honduras cannot be reconciled. Love and money cannot be reconciled. One has to make a choice about which laws he will live under and force his environment to conform. Ambivalence when you know the truth can kill you faster than any fully formed lie.

***

In his own gorgeous and frankly informative improvised speeches, Sebi would hint that he needed healing too, that he was stressed out too, that we all were. He mentions this while bursting with energy and information at 82 years old, with two children under three he’s busy raising, and his healing centre in Honduras thriving, along with his shop in Los Angeles. He’s wearing a three-piece suit because he’s in the US. In Honduras, he wears linen and no shoes. He’s using the iron slang of urban Americans, calls himself a nigga, falls to his knees to demonstrate what sea moss does for his bone density. There’s a faint hint of heartbreak in his eyes when he admits he thought he was going to heal all of his people and realised few cared and fewer could translate that care into action. But Sebi’s overall spirit, the cheerful despair spiralling out of him, was be as children.

He spoke with the frankness of a child and called out what he saw so openly that honesty could have been mistaken for bitterness, though it was actually just him being a conduit, a consummate griot. Sebi knew, like King knew, the generosity and soul loneliness that had forced him to try and hip people to his simple secret would be his undoing. He warned himself, he knew the heroic impulse is as suicidal as it is life-giving, and he risked it because love and danger become one in the West, inevitably.

As with Sandra Bland, so too with Dr Sebi: we do not know, can’t get straight answers, and we may never know on paper what really occurred in those cells. We can speculate and cross reference and accuse and insinuate our way into private verdicts, and we will, forever. One of the questions leading the private inquisition being: who let them stay behind bars for so long for such petty offenses? In Sebi’s case, why was his jailing silenced, where were his allies, where were his enemies, what were they feeding him in there, what was he given? Where is the autopsy? How sudden the shift from vibrant man with a bright swinging light in his eyes to prisoner suffocating in his own skin. We know that environmental activist Bertha Caceras was gunned down in the night in her own home in Honduras and wonder if a government capable of arranging that might also arrange to off a herbalist, whose techniques could single-handedly send all the assumptions of allopathic medicine into pandemonium and disrepair. Or could grief and exhaustion and all the acid trapped in his lungs from smoking weed so often have invaded Dr Sebi’s will while he sat in the jail awaiting trial? Could he have just allowed ambivalence to yield to distant certainty?
In either scenario, Dr Sebi is a martyr and, like MLK, asserted his fallibility and manhood almost aggressively, as both a cry for help and an announcement that no matter what about society and the black experience they had set out to fix, fixing themselves completely would have been a threat to the survival of their reckless need to try to heal the world of its sacred affiliations. They needed a taste of the poison they set out to destroy; they needed to understand the difference between morals and brainwashing. They needed their problems, their flaws, their pain and their distractions from the pain of so much seeing and so little being seen and heeded. They needed to be betrayed to be fully seen in a way.

What’s different, what should alarm us into some sense of urgent torch handling, is that in a time when we are supposed to be liberated from Jim Crow fanaticism, Dr Sebi died virtually unknown and unnamed. There was a brief and muffled uproar before it felt like he had never even existed: no major obituary, no autopsy or open investigation into his final days. It’s possible that Big Pharma colluded to have this man who set out to really heal the whole of the diaspora, killed in his tracks, right when he was about to open free healing centres on a mass scale, and that no one even flinched, no one mentioned it in the mainstream news, the ads for fried chicken and antidepressants kept running, the shop in LA got almost famous, raided by guards, kept running. The centre in Honduras kept running. The healers who learned from Sebi began advertising their products more, but with fewer and fewer nods to his. His sons and daughters argued publicly over who owned what, who was a fraud, who a chosen heir. Men half Sebi’s age and stuck in the matrix started editing his teachings with minor but arrogant caveats. A circus of imposters now stands in the place of this monolithic figure who managed to unite the thinking on the black genome for a while by simplifying its tenets. And very few are the wiser.

Dr. Sebi went from vibrant living legend to distant myth in a matter of weeks, and no one is outraged. We’ve made no demands on the state or ourselves, we have no manifestos, no threats of mobilising the forces he put in place for good. And what’s most disconcerting is that we still don’t see the uselessness of social, economic, and cultural freedom when our cultural habits demand oppression, and wilful illness. Freedom to kill ourselves is what Sebi died trying to save us from. Will we at last wake up to the importance of how we treat our bodies every day, or did he die in vain? Without repairing our DNA, the epigenetics embeds repression in the genome so that we keep recreating it in new ways like the creative geniuses we are. Without getting our feet in the earth, bodies in the sun, the herbs in our bloodstream, the dead animals out, without making serious changes to the way we treat our bodies, to the very way we think about success on a material level, no amount of social change will add up to anything. We’ll keep inventing new ways to oppress ourselves the more resources we access. New resources are new ways to die in the current paradigm. We’ll keep stuffing starch up a turkey’s ass while a saviour passes away on a cold jail floor and wonder why we feel like smuggling screams into our laughter.

I give you your problem back
Maybe, like MLK, like Sebi himself, there’s a part of us that doesn’t want to be healed, that believes that being saved has something to do with keeping one foot in the slave quarters while the other gallops adjacent to the wheel. I believe that every saviour of their stature is both suicidal and deathless, but they do not go softly into the broken night of empire. Reparations begin in the body. Sebi was the realest and repairingest black saviour alive. His ambivalence is what made it thus, because it aches to transcend yourself alone. Back through the septic waters of empire, he marched home.

The day after his so-called death was reported, mainstream news outlets also reported that AIDS had been cured. There’s a patent on every virus, every disease, every mythic lethal invention, and there’s an equally valued contrived cure and it could cost you your life to question this. Not every rebel is a saviour, but every saviour knows the wages of showing us which way is up.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Who Killed Kabila I https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/book_series/the-chimurenga-library-who-killed-kabila-catalogue-now-available/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 08:12:16 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=book_series&p=12558 The Chimurenga Library is a research platform that seeks to re-imagine the library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal.

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From December 13 – 17, 2017, Chimurenga installed a library of books, films, and visual material mapping extensive research that ask “Who Killed Kabila“, as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination. This book catalogues all the research material produced and collected for this installation.

The equation is simple: the length of a Congolese president’s reign is proportional to his/her willingness to honour the principle that the resources of the Congo belong to others. Mzee Kabila failed.

Who killed Kabila is no mystery either. It is not A or B or C. But rather A and B and C. All options are both true and necessary – it’s the coming together of all these individuals, groups and circumstances, on one day, within the proliferating course of the history, that does it.

So telling this story isn’t merely be a matter of presenting multiple perspectives but rather of finding a medium able to capture the radical singularity of the event in its totality, including each singular, sometimes fantastical, historical fact, rumour or suspicion.

We’ve heard plenty about the danger of the single story – we want to explore its power. We take inspiration from the Congolese musical imagination, its capacity for innovation and its potential to allow us to think “with the bodily senses, to write with the musicality of one’s own flesh” (Mbembe).


The catalogue is now available for sale in the Chimurenga shop.

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A Brief History of Fufu Pounding https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-brief-history-of-fufu-pounding/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/a-brief-history-of-fufu-pounding/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 11:51:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8852 The preparation of fufu is a far from the drudgery and waste of time bemoaned by the World Bank.

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By Moses März

In July 2016, the Kumasi Polytechnic presented the K-POLY FUFU MAMA, the latest machine promising to ease the labour-heavy preparation of Ghana’s national dish. The selected audience of fufu pounders, connoisseurs and chop bar owners present at the launch covered by TV3 is shown as enthusiastic recipients of this Ghanaian technological breakthrough. The inventors of the machine rehearse the ever-same argument: K-Poly is more hygienic, less burdensome, less noisy and more nature-friendly than the traditional pounding with mortar and pestle. And even more importantly: with K-Poly, fufu is ready in less than five minutes.

However convincing this might sound, chances are that, like its many predecessors promoted since 1975 – the Hobart mixer, the Kenwood mixer, and hammer mills – K-Poly Fufu Mama will not enter Ghanaian households at all. Prices such as US$225 for a comparable yam pounding machine can only be part of the explanation. The sophisticated palates of many fufu eaters insist that one can taste the difference. The sound of two metals rubbing against each other can never match the rhythm of topam-topam or the soft fu-fu, fu-fu sound the air makes when it escapes from the mash in the final stages of pounding. As a result, what is not prepared with mortar and pestle cannot be fufu, and the use of machines is nothing but laziness.

As long as the culinary standard remains this high, there will be competition for the machine. And Ghanaians will keep pounding, with hardening of palms, sweat dripping into the mash and all – the same way as “from time immemorial”, in the words of the Daily Graphic article announcing the new machine.

Without even going as far as the preparation of the soup that comes with it, the creation of a perfectly smooth fufu ball can take anything from the main hours of the afternoon to a couple of days, or, if fermented cassava is being used, a week. At the very least, it involves two people, the pounder standing upright, and the moderator, flipping and turning the mash of plantain, yam or cassava in the mortar in the brief moments after the pestle is lifted and before it is dropped again. In the process, all remaining lumps are meticulously taken out by hand until the ball is so soft that it can be swallowed without chewing.

Fufu is not reserved for special occasions. Before the recent rise in the price of cassava, it could be bought for GH₵1.00 at chop bars in Kumasi, an affordable price for those without the manpower to do their own pounding. More importantly, fufu is not food, it is a culinary choice. It is a passion, both in the intense excitement leading up to the meal, as well as in the enduring and suffering having gone into its preparation. It is a dish standing for the nation’s place in the world.

But maintaining such a high level of culinary sophistication on a national scale comes at a price. If it is not backed by the right kind of imperial machinery it will almost certainly earn you one of the lower ranks on the world’s GDP table. On a geopolitical scale, the World Bank is a powerful ally of those who invent pounding machines. A 2006 World Bank report, Gender, Time Use and Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, found out that “time poverty” needs to be understood as a new dimension of poverty on the continent, meaning that reproductive/ unproductive/ unpaid/ care/ domestic labour takes up too much time. What they call a culturally determined “household time overhead” is the total of things that need to be done around the house. And in their view it is configured in particularly unproductive ways in Africa. Seen from New York, what is worse is that this type of work is also unevenly distributed among men and women. Their numbers show that African women work 30 per cent more than men – and that is even though most of their activities are not even reflected in the data, because women tend to not consider what they do as “work”. In conclusion: “labour-saving domestic technology relating to food processing is likely to have a greater immediate impact in raising the productivity and reducing the time burdens of many women.”

As Yemisi Aribisala points out elsewhere in this edition, Nigerian women in fact use the labour-intensive work in the kitchen to showcase their strength over men, and they have been doing this very successfully: “Over 70 percent of our immunity to disease is sitting inside our guts at the mercy of the food we eat. SHE has license to spit in his meals or lace them with arsenic. She has him, innards and all.” Against the “gender equalising army orders” calling for the inclusion of women into the capitalist work force, she warns that the kitchen is “being falsely implicated in the diminishment of a woman’s power. This much-needed, loved and utilised room is now outrageously persona non grata.”

Accordingly, for Aribisala the preparation of fufu is a far from the drudgery and waste of time bemoaned by the World Bank. She writes:

“The mortar is the vagina, the pestle the penis… but the pounding of yam into a supple mound is at the woman’s pleasure. She decides pace, force, beginning, end, heat, coolness, yes or no. Being in that room where fires are lit is an apparel of power worn by a woman that money cannot pay for. The room yields its secrets to its owner and not to the paid drudge.”

In “The Truth about Fufu”, published in Kalahari Review, Kofi Akpabli also makes use of the sex analogy to explain why fufu is life for many enthusiasts: “When all is done, the pestle is no longer needed until the next session. Meanwhile, the end product lies in the bosom of the mortar just like a new baby issues from the woman’s womb.”

The time poverty strategy is not the first time the World Bank has intervened in the division of labour in African families to save women from using their time in unproductive ways, that is, in ways that do not necessarily produce products to be sold on the market. Three decades ago, when it identified that too much money was being invested into the African state – the national “household time overhead” – the World Bank put a lot of money into attracting women to work on the plantations for the cash crops economy.

According to Silvia Federici in A Feminist Critique of Marx, the refusal to being recruited to work on the plantation, once again, and the defence of subsistence-oriented agriculture by African women, was in turn identified by the World Bank as the main factor in the crisis of its agricultural development projects. A flood of academic papers on “women’s contribution to development” ensued, turning first into NGO-sponsored “income generating projects” and then into “microcredit lending schemes” – all aiming at integrating women into the system of paid labour.

In this light, fufu pounding is a political tool of resistance against a long tradition of Western philosophising about “taste”, stretching from Plato to Hegel to Hannah Arendt. Marked by a profound disregard for the actual taste of the tongue, it locates taste among the lower regions on the hierarchy of the senses and in opposition to the rational character of genuine, cultured, aesthetic experiences. The view that food is fuel derives from this tradition, and it is a prerequisite for how willingly industrial nations have given into the promise of fast food being just that, fast.

In his writings on labour in Capital, Marx never recognised reproductive work – such as cooking or childcare – as work per se, and instead associated it with the world of nature and instinct, like “a spider weaving a web or a bee building a honeycomb”. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith claimed that not the goodwill of the butcher or the baker provides our daily supper, but the self-interest of all economic agents involved in the process of food production. It should be mentioned that he was still living with his mother at the time. In Arendt’s influential conceptual trinity of labour, work and action, homo laborans works like a machine to meet the basic needs of life, remaining a slave and leaving the freedom to act with others and to affect change as an exclusive privilege of homo politicus. Be it the belief in the economic man or the political man, liberals, Marxists and capitalists all agree that technology will eventually pave the way to a better life, will liberate first men, and then women too, from the “burden of chores” like cooking towards more meaningful work.

Little do they know of the Ghanaian kitchen as a place where communities are created, knowledge transmitted and, perhaps most importantly, where those homines politicus who appear to make all the decisions are subordinates to the absolute power of the one who does the cooking.

According to Kofi Akpabli’s account, fufu pounding underwent several technical innovations over time. The spread of chop bars has, for example, given rise to the specialised profession of “fufu macho-men” operating with giant pestles and mortars. If the pounding is not done by a pounder and a moderator in the classic fashion also known as “Fufu-One-on-One”, it can also be done by a single person who possesses the outstanding psychomotor abilities and the mental balance to do the pounding by herself. This technique is also known as “Automated Fufu Machine”. The so-called “Pestles of Mass Destruction” technique requires a massive mortar and can involve about six people. No moderation is needed in this case.

In the latest survey on work and leisure in the high-income countries forming part of the Organisation of Economic Corporation and Development (OECD), time spent cooking or preparing food is so insignificant that it does not even feature in the statistics. People in Germany, for example, work for an average of 1,478 hours a year and have 7,282 hours of leisure, of which sleep makes up the biggest chunk, with an average of 8 hours and 22 minutes a day. Ninety-seven minutes per day are dedicated to eating.

If this “work-life-balance” is to be maintained, a diet made up of sugar cereals for breakfast, bread, spaghetti and frozen pizza makes sense. It can all be arranged in five to ten minutes. That is if one does not have the money to afford food that is prepared by someone else who does the hard work of operating a restaurant or take-out place.

Apart from the compromised quality of the food, the health hazards posed by sugar, fats, excessive wheat consumption and preservatives have all been linked to diseases ranking from schizophrenia to cancer, autism and ADHD. As a result, “bio” and organic supermarket chains are on the rise in urban centres of the West, selling rye and spelt (instead of wheat), and gluten-free, dairy-free and preservative-free products at premium prices.

As John McMurty wrote in The Cancer State of Capitalism, there is something to be learned from feminist economists working from the vantage point of the “unwaged force of women who are not yet disconnected from the life economy by their work. They serve life not commodity production. They are the hidden underpinning of the world economy and the wage equivalent of their life-serving work is estimated at $16 trillion.”

Women have for some time seen through the false promises of capitalist or Marxist progress. Despite washing machines and dish washers, mixers, blenders and microwaves, nappies still need to be changed, rooms need to be cleaned, the young, weak and old ones need to be taken care of – that is if one does not opt for the robot-option as currently being explored in Japan’s “carebot project”.

Even taken on its own terms, the technological liberation thesis does not hold. The divide between paid and unpaid work, between a mother and a chef, is still very much in existence and jobs are still unevenly distributed and remunerated by a patriarchal system. With every new invention, it also becomes clearer that the technologisation of reproductive work has not eliminated its exploitative elements. Just as we know by now that no time is saved by machines, it remains doubtable whether there has been an actual speeding up of the cooking process in the West. Has it perhaps rather been outsourced from the kitchen to the factory, where the work is still being done in the hidden areas of fully industrialised societies?

The first pasta machines date back to the early 17th century. In the mid-19th century, commercially produced pasta was widely available throughout Italy. Meanwhile, the cultivation of wheat, spanning a period of 10,000 years, undertook a drastic change in the last 50 years. To enhance its resilience on the world market, its genetic make-up has been changed so dramatically that the metabolism of human beings – still much the same as 2,5 million years ago – cannot keep up with the genetically engineered grain.

Moreover, the fermentation process of bread dough that has been part of baking bread for millennia, taking place the night before the baking and reducing the amount of protein to make the bread more easily digestible and tastier, has been cut short since the age of industrialisation. More large-scale bakers, pasta and pizza producers are now using ready-made mixtures and frozen dough, and leading to a sharp decline in taste and a rise in intolerances. It is perhaps needless to add that the pressures placed on the yam or cassava root to change its genetic make-up in order to conform with the norms of the world trade system were not nearly as devastating.

And yet, even in societies that depend almost entirely on the consumption of quick and convenient wheat products, a poetics (in the original sense of “making”) of buttering bread, of fixing a tomato pasta sauce, of cutting up the vegetables of a salad, or decorating the base of a frozen pizza, serves as a reminder that the creative and the productive can never be completely divorced from the process of cooking.

Among the alternative economic models on a global scale – beyond social security and basic income grant schemes that operate on the basis of the same capitalist system – some economists have recently started to advocate for the introduction of a new distribution system based on the actual energy that goes into the production of a product. Only then, they argue, could the myth be dispelled that money is an adequate representation of human energy. Their basic unit of value would be the calorie. Finally, then, a system would be in place that values work according to its difficulty, its hardnesss, its social usefulness, the time or energy invested into a product.

Among the only downsides of such an approach would be that fufu in its current form would probably become unaffordable.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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THIRD TRANSITION https://chimurengachronic.co.za/third-transition/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/third-transition/#respond Tue, 27 Jul 2021 11:38:48 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=18049 Shoks Mzolo and Bongani Kona trace the path of South Africa’s transformation from a criminal apartheid state to a criminal neoliberal state

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Shoks Mzolo and Bongani Kona trace the path of South Africa’s transformation from a criminal apartheid state to a criminal neoliberal state, where a handful of old-monied white capitalists still turn the screws and call the shots, while a newly monied black bourgeoisie stands to attention. The authors examine the knowns and unknowns of the ongoing struggle for economic freedom.

Late in June 2003, Joseph P. Overton, a senior vice-president at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a US think-tank based in Michigan, died when the ultralight plane he was flying crashed near an airport in Caro, Michigan. He was 43 years old. His principal research was concerned with the convergence of politics, media and democracy, and how right-wing think-tanks could influence public policy.

His pioneering insight – devised in the mid-1990s and known in the field of political science as the “Overton Window” – was in establishing that political ideas have their time. At any historical moment, depending on the cultural and economic processes unfolding, Overton intuited, there exists a range of political ideas in the public sphere that are deemed to be acceptable, acceptability being defined as the range of political propositions public office holders can support without risking re-election – the threshold, in other words, determined by the prevailing social orthodoxies.

But the window of acceptability can be moved, Overton established, to encompass radical ideas which lie outside the prevailing mainstream – from “free, quality, decolonial education” to “Brexit”, for instance. Crucial to this observation, however, is that politicians are seldom responsible for moving the window: “Politicians typically don’t determine what is politically acceptable; more often than not they react to it and validate it. Generally speaking, policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change.”

Listening to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma talk about the urgent need for radical economic transformation during the tumultuous 2017 State of the Nation Address (SONA) is to have to understand that a deeper historical process is presently unfolding. Hardly three years have passed since the president used the very same occasion to declare to members of parliament, and live television viewers, that the African National Congress (ANC), the governing party since 1994, had a “good story to tell” about the first 20 years of democracy it has presided over.

Now, however, the president – and by extension, the ANC – have been coerced into doing something they are unaccustomed to: speaking in the present tense – a shift in tone exemplified by the president speaking in parliament, a fortnight or so after SONA, about the possibility of re-drafting the constitution to allow for land restitution without compensation. Such a proposition would have been unthinkable to past presidents of the ANC post-1994 despite it being one of the stated ideals of the anti-apartheid struggle. “Radical economic transformation” and its bête noire, “white monopoly capital”, have moved from the periphery to the centre – from being discredited in the mainstream press as the tin-foil-hat brainstormings of a trade union and communist party left wishing to turn the clock back to Petersburg, 1917.

In the mid-1980s – a time when just over 80 per cent of the shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) were in the hands of four large, white-owned conglomerates – the phrase “white monopoly capital” clung to the lips of every trade union leader and reverberated across the country. Like countless of our teenaged contemporaries, we sat up under the cover of night, listening to Radio Freedom, dissecting the term and its wider import in our umrabulo or informal political education sessions. We lapped up banned books, anything from the Communist Manifesto, Chocolates for my Wife, to I Write What I Like. We understood then that we were fighting a political system as much as an economic one. In the words of Ebrahim Harvey, “The white racist Nationalist Party was our political enemy but white capital – which stood behind them – was always our class enemy.”

Indeed, then, as it is now, the two were inextricably linked. Politics is economics. In order to thrive, white monopoly capital, which controlled all the major spheres of the economy, relied on apartheid’s “racial subsidies”, to quote Achille Mbembe, “in the form of low skills levels, inadequate nutrition, poor health, bad housing, [and] social instability”. The ties between capital and an increasingly authoritarian state were obvious, even to a teenager with a rudimentary understanding of the Communist Manifesto. The shared goal was to limit all black people (including those of Asian descent) from any meaningful economic participation, while ensuring a steady supply of cheap black labour.

Yet the term – together with the ANC’s more radical economic propositions enshrined in the Freedom Charter – all but vanished from the vocabulary of mainstream political debates during the first 15 years of South Africa’s nascent democracy. Its return to the centre is due to a confluence of factors – both historical and contemporary, some global and others local – which have led to the questioning of the legitimacy of the 1994 national consensus.

The so-called “pact with the devil”, as Ronnie Kasrils calls it, was agreed upon in the early 1990s, a time of global realignment. The most significant of these shifts was the collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – the ANC’s once powerful ally – together with the preeminent rise, in the 1970s and 1980s, of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the new global economy. These developments forced the ANC to re-think its radical economic agenda.

The collapse of the old communist regimes meant that in actuality there was no alternative economic discourse to that of the free market. Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s longest-serving finance minister, said as much in an interview in 1995: “[T]he collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Berlin Wall broke the… revolutionary romantic illusions of many. That very stark collapse shifted the debate very significantly.”  Nelson Mandela himself, once a vocal proponent of nationalisation, had by 1991 – a year after his release from his Victor Verster Prison – tempered his tune to reflect the changing balance of economic power.

The ANC was itself fractured along ideological lines. In the introduction to his brilliant autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, Ronnie Kasrils writes that from “1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC’s soul got underway and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we ‘sold our people down the river.’” In place then of a radical economic agenda, the ANC signed a bargain, which, according to the current deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, entailed “a political and class compromise which (1) safe-guarded the interests of the existing (white) economic elite, (2) created a new black elite primarily through state employment and rents” and which created the largest welfare state on the continent. (At last count, 17 million South Africans are dependent on direct income transfers from the state – in the form of social grants – for their upkeep).

The legitimacy of the 1994 national consensus, yielding as it did to corporate power, has been in question from the very start, exemplified by the ubiquitous service delivery protests and the emergence of small-scale civil society organisations such as Abahlali baseMjondolo (a shackdwellers’ organisation) agitating through a variety of means for better state housing. But the objections, on the whole, were not as vociferous as they are now.

The 2008 financial crisis and the attendant decline in economic growth shored up popular discontent with capitalism. But in South Africa, the Wall Street crash was parlayed into a greater dissatisfaction with the technocratic ruling elite responsible for having set the country on a neoliberal economic path via the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy in 1996. Dissatisfaction made itself heard in the broad coalition of voices (marginalised trade union and South African Communist Party leaders in the main) that helped Jacob Zuma ascend to the presidency of the ANC and, consequently, of the republic. Then, of course, came the removal of Thabo Mbeki, a University of Sussex-trained economist, from office.

But it was not until 2012 that ground firmly shifted against the 1994 national consensus. That year, 34 striking mine workers died in a storm of bullets after clashing with police in Marikana, near a platinum mine 100km northwest of Johannesburg – a seminal event, which more than any other in South Africa’s brief post-apartheid history, underlines the obscenity of the status quo. The deaths, which resulted in President Zuma’s sanctioning a week of official mourning with flags flying at half mast, occurred when 3,000 miners – rock-drill operators, all black – decided to stage a strike demanding an increase to their monthly wage from R4,000 to R12,000. Ian Farmer, the white CEO of the company in question, Lonmin, a London-based entity, earned upwards of US$2 million at the time.

The Marikana massacre remains the only historical event the ANC is incapable of speaking about. The South African government has yet to sanction the building of an official memorial to commemorate the deaths and this reluctance to do so should tell us something. To commemorate the event would require an historical explanation, a reading of the massacre which places it in the larger national narrative about where the country has been and where it is going.

In a very real sense then, the emergence hardly a year later of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a strident, youthful opposition party with a name that perfectly articulates its political raison d’etre, could not have been better timed. Dressed always in red overalls, a symbolic gesture of allegiance that ties the party to South Africa’s underclass – domestic workers, gardeners, the large swathes of the unemployed – has been instrumental in giving vocabulary to what most of us have already intuited: that the economy is controlled by white hands. The EFF has warned its growing electorate: “Sure, you may be allowed to vote every so often, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that real power is vested in the ballot box.”

That South Africa’s main opposition party (numerically speaking), the Democratic Alliance (DA) – whose key decision-makers are mainly white and pleasantly salaried (the billionaire Natie Kirsch, who makes a living building apartheid walls in Israel, is one of their biggest donors) – has not been able to profit meaningfully from these seeds of discontent is a story worth telling – one that reveals the limits of English in South Africa.

In the classic opening of Charles Dickens’s novel, Hard Times, Mr. Gradgrind intones: “Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” The DA, faithfully abiding by this instruction, speaks factually about economics (low-growth, GDP, fiscal discipline, Gini coefficient, etc.) and it can only do so in English. But economics here, like anywhere else in the world, is not only about facts. It’s also about narration – how the interpretation of those facts may be formed into story.

The story the EFF tells about capital in South Africa, in the vernacular (even if it’s spoken in English), draws from a reservoir of shared experience. Anyone who has ever walked in the cool of an air-conditioned office, or sat in a sidewalk café in the city centre, doesn’t need to be told that, in 2017 in South Africa, “the wealthiest 10% of the population [overwhelmingly white] own more than 90% of all wealth and more than 55% of income”; or that “the poorest 50% [overwhelmingly black] of the population, who earn about 10% of all income, own little to no measurable wealth”. Politics is economics and vice versa. Thus, when the EFF speaks about white monopoly capital, it is not simply talking about the facts, but evoking a larger set of historical betrayals and grievances.

Consider this: Johann Rupert, chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont, as well as of the South African-based company Remgro, and son of Anton Rupert (Hendrik Verwoerd’s comrade-in-arms in the 1960s), is the country’s third richest person. Ahead of him: Nicky Oppenheimer, whose grandfather founded the mining empire, Anglo American, and Shoprite founder, Christo Wiese. Between them, the Oppenheimer and Rupert families control R180 billion, the equivalent of what 26 million South Africans in the bottom half own, according to Even It Up, a 2014 Oxfam study. Wiese, the country’s wealthiest citizen, is worth R80 billion. How else do you tell such a story without mentioning the need for reparations?

“White monopoly capital refers to unjust ownership, facilitated and enabled by apartheid laws,” says Zanele Lwana of the Black First Land First (BLF) movement, founded in 2015 by Andile Mngxitama following his expulsion from the EFF. We met on a cloudless summer day in Johannesburg. Looming large from where we sat, and darkening the skyline, were the Absa Towers – the headquarters of the bank that has generated so much ill-feeling since a Mail & Guardian exposé about an apartheid-era bailout said to have unlawfully given the bank access to an estimated R2.5 billion of taxpayer funds.

We met that morning to talk about the surreal turn of events in December 2015, when the head of the country’s finance ministry changed three times in the space of a week – events which led to Blank First Land First (BLF) lodging a criminal case with the High Court and a complaint with the Office of the Public Protector to investigate “white corruption including white state capture”. The respondents in both matters are nine high-ranking white executives who between them control billions of dollars:

1. Businessman and Chairman of Swiss luxury group Richemont, Johann Rupert [that name again];

2. Barclays Africa Group CEO, Maria Ramos;

3. Goldman Sachs South Africa head, Colin Coleman;

4. Investec Bank global CEO, Stephen Koseff;

5. Imperial Holdings CEO, Mark Lamberti;

6. Sanlam CEO, Ian Kirk;

7. Business Leadership South Africa chairperson, Bobby Godsell;

8. Toyota Europe CEO, Johan van Zyl; and

9. FirstRand CEO, Johan Burger.

The events of that December, precipitated by President Zuma’s surprise sacking of then minister of finance, Nhlanhla Nene, demonstrate how white monopoly capital is still running the show, Lwana said. She continued:

“Johann Rupert flew from London to summon ANC seniors to have Des van Rooyen pushed out. He said there would be an economic meltdown unless (Van Rooyen) was gone. Why do you think the Rand fell [to below R15 to the US dollar]? Because of Des van Rooyen? It’s not as if he was the first ‘unknown’ [civil servant to occupy such a crucial office].”

Nelson Mandela, she added, had never occupied public office until he became the country’s first legitimate leader, yet there was nothing on the scale of the outcry that followed Van Rooyen’s appointment.

It’s not coincidental that the phrases “white corruption” and “white state capture” appear in BLF’s complaint to the Office of the Public Protector and in the criminal case lodged with the High Court. Following the sacking of Nene, the president was accused of acting in concert with the Gupta brothers – an Indian business family who migrated to South Africa in 1993 and who have assets and investments totalling billions in rand – to capture the state treasury. Mcebisi Jonas, then deputy to Nhlanhla Nene, would later say he had been offered R600 million by the Gupta brothers if he consented to being appointed as the new minister of finance. The resulting uproar, which led to calls for President Zuma to resign and for the Gupta family to be deported, BLF said, seemed to miss the point entirely. The state has long been captured by white monopoly capital. Hence they are able to push for Pravin Gordhan, a stooge, BLF say, to be appointed as the minister of finance.

But just what transpired – who said what to whom – to have Van Rooyen’s appointment rescinded after he had spent only four days in office, remains in dispute, in keeping with Donald Rumsfeld’s shadowy territory of known knowns – things we know that we know – and known unknowns – things we know we don’t know. We know, for instance, that a high-powered delegation of senior ANC leaders (Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize, among others) and influential players in the business sector (Maria Ramos and Johann Rupert) met with President Zuma to discuss the matter. A matter, it must be said, the latter seemed unwilling to discuss in any great detail from the onset. The initial press release, sent out to announce the news, was less than 100 words.

Then of course, there are the things that we know we don’t know. We don’t know what was said in that meeting, but the weight of what was said was enough to strong-arm the president into reversing his decision and re-appointing Pravin Gordhan to his old post. “For President Zuma to be forced to change ministers makes it clear who is calling the shots in our country. White monopoly capital has long captured the state and we’ve taken the matter the Public Protector, but nothing has happened since,” Lwana said.

To say nothing has happened may be an understatement. Shortly after the re-instatement of Pravin Gordhan, ABSA closed all accounts linked to the Gupta family, citing “reputational risk” and “suspicious transactions”.  Then, in April 2016, within five days of each other, three other banks – First National Bank, Standard Bank and Nedbank – followed suit. The Gupta family are contesting the decision in court, in a matter that also involves the finance ministry, and there’s no telling how all of this will end.

In the meantime, calls for radical economic transformation and for the dissolution of white monopoly capital have only intensified, emerging from a diverse coalition of voices, from the EFF to disaffected university students agitating for free tertiary education to trade union leaders.

Late last December, President Zuma – back to his combative self after having survived calls for resignation from his own party, or a regime change agenda driven by white monopoly capital, depending on who you believe – gave the keynote address at the ANC Youth League Economic Freedom Lecture at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban. “They called it the ‘Nene disaster’. But is the nation really aware of what is happening?” he said, his eyes darting across the packed auditorium. “The monopoly capital and their stooges attacked me.”

The crowd rose to their feet and cheered.


This piece features in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017). To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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The Chronic (August 2013) https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/the-chronic-august-2013/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/inprint_posts/the-chronic-august-2013/#respond Tue, 06 Aug 2013 09:46:04 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?post_type=inprint_posts&p=12055 Writers in the broadsheet include Jon Soske, Paula Akugizibwe, Yves Mintoogue, Adewale Maja-Pearce, Parsalelo Kantai, Fred Moten & Stefano Harney, Cedric Vincent, Deji Toye, Derin Ajao, Tony Mochama, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah,Agri Ismaïl, Lindokuhle Nkosi, Bongani Kona, Stacy Hardy, Emmanuel Induma, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Lolade Ayewudi, Simon Kuper and many others.

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This print edition is a 48-page broadsheet, packaged together with the 72-page Chronic Books supplement.

Writers in the broadsheet include Jon SoskePaula AkugizibweYves MintoogueAdewale Maja-PearceParsalelo KantaiFred Moten & Stefano HarneyCedric VincentDeji ToyeDerin AjaoTony MochamaNana Darkoa Sekyiamah,Agri IsmaïlLindokuhle NkosiBongani Kona,  Stacy Hardy, Emmanuel Induma, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Lolade AyewudiSimon Kuper and many others.

The  Chronic Books supplement is a self help guide on reading and writing, with contributions by Dave MckenzieAkin AdekosanFiston Nasser Mwanza, Yemisi OgbeVivek NyaranganPeter EnahoroTolu OgunlesiElnathan John,Rustum KozainOlufemi TerryAryan KaganofRustum KozainHarmony HolidaySean O’TooleGwen Ansell,Binyavanga Wainaina and more.

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop,or get copies from your nearest dealer.

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CHIMURENGA CHRONIC – IMAGI-NATION NWAR – OUT NOW! https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga-chronic-imagi-nation-nwar-out-now/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/chimurenga-chronic-imagi-nation-nwar-out-now/#respond Wed, 24 Mar 2021 21:52:24 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17743 A new issue of Chimurenga’s Chronic – out now. imagi-nation nwar – […]

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A new issue of Chimurenga’s Chronic – out now.

imagi-nation nwar – genealogies of the black radical imagination in the francophone world

de-composed, an-arranged and re-produced by Chimurenga

feat. Mongo Beti & Odile Biyidi’s Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains;
Elsie Haas, Julius-Amédée Laou; Cheikh Anta Diop; FEANF; GONG;
Gérard Lockel; Glissant’s IME; Suzanne Roussi; Paul Niger; Andrée
Blouin; Maryse Condé; Guinea’s Cultural Revolution; Awa Thiam;
Francoise Ega; Yambo Ouologuem; Groupe du 6 Novembre; ACTAF
& Revolution Afrique; Med Hondo; Sidney Sokhona; Nicolas Silatsa;
Somankidi Coura; Edja Kungali; Sarah Maldoror; Sony Labou Tansi;
Madeleine Beauséjour; and many, many more…

New writing by: Michaela Danjé; Hemley Boum; Olivier Marboeuf;
Marie-Héléna Laumuno; Amzat Boukari-Yabara; Amandine Nana with
Julius-Amédée Laou; Sarah Fila-Bakabadio; Pierre Crépon; DY Ngoy;
Dénètem Touam Bona; Christelle Oyiri; Native Maqari; Seumboy
Vrainom with Malcom Ferdinand; the “undercommons” collective
translation workshop coordinated by Rosanna Puyol (Brook).

Get your copy through our online store, or soon come at your nearest dealer.

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Your Own Hand Sold You: Voluntary servitude in the Francafrique https://chimurengachronic.co.za/your-own-hand-sold-you-voluntary-servitude-in-the-francafrique/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/your-own-hand-sold-you-voluntary-servitude-in-the-francafrique/#respond Mon, 28 Dec 2020 11:07:33 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=8683 In the CFA franc, the French colonial mission in West Africa found a way to ensure a paternalist and pernicious stranglehold on the economies of a vast region of the continent.

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In the CFA franc, the French colonial mission in West Africa found a way to ensure a paternalist and pernicious stranglehold on the economies of a vast region of the continent. Critics are vociferous and persistent in decrying its catastrophic effects on the socio-economic development of 150 million people in 15 countries over more than seven decades. French corporations and African elites are the few beneficiaries of CFA-zone machinations. Historically, those who opposed the currency risked alienating the metropole and were on the receiving end of its intransigence and outright violence. Not much has changed, writes Moses Marz, and a significant shift in the mindset of the French bureaucracy is the only likely remedy for monetary servitude in the Francafrique.

On 7 January this year, the Front Anti CFA organised by NGO Urgences Panafricanistes for a demonstration at the Place de l’Obélisque, a plaza commemorating Senegal’s 1960 independence from France. A set of plastic chairs is arranged in a circle. Kémi Séba is standing at the centre, wearing a tightly cut purple boubou with an Africa symbol over the pocket. About 50 people are sitting or standing around him, listening to his rant against the CFA franc, the currency that Charles de Gaulle created in 1945 for the Colonies Françaises d’Afrique, only renaming it into Coopération Financière en Afrique after the wave of formal decolonisations in 1960, but still used in order for France to remain in control of its former colonies. Séba tells his listeners that de Gaulle adopted the CFA from the Nazis’ occupation of France and that during slavery the French also told them that they were better off as slaves, that they would get food every day and that liberation would be too risky. Hulo Guillabert, who is in the audience, responds: “No, we don’t give a shit if it is risky. We don’t want this CFA anymore. If that means we’ll die, we’ll die!” Gaïnde, also in the audience, explains: “If there are only a few of us here today, it is because we are already in the future. We no longer live in the past. We are the thinkers and actors of the avant-garde. We are already sovereign. We are already independent. Now we need to spread this message to get a critical mass.”

For Séba, the founder of Urgences Panafricanistes, it is clear that the struggle against the CFA cannot take place on a national level and needs to move gradually from sensitisations to mobilisation and to a boycott of French products. The franc zone includes a population of 150 million people across eight countries forming part of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo), as well as seven Central African countries forming part of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Cameroon, DR Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Chad) and the Comoros. The demonstrations on 7 January take place simultaneously in Abidjan, Bamako, Bohicon, Bologna, Brussels, Casamance, Dakar, Haiti, Kinshasa, London, Ouagadougou, Ouidah and Paris, a new pan-African map that, for now, mainly exists in online discussions among university students.

On 14 December 2016, Ali Laidi interviews Kako Nubukpo on his France 24 TV-show Intelligence Economique. Since his dismissal as minister in the Togolese government, Nubukpo is a frequent guest at talk shows and round tables on the CFA, promoting his new book Sortir l’Afrique de la servitude monétaire – A qui profite le franc CFA? (Freeing Africa from Monetary Servitude – Who profits from the CFA franc?) When he lists the negative aspects of the currency, one after the other, a disarming smile accompanies what must be a delicate topic for the audience. Preferring to speak of servitude instead of neo-colonialism and diplomatically calling for greater flexibility instead of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, Nubukpo quickly convinces the moderator of his views. Towards the end of the show, Laidi himself ends up referring to the currency as an “incredible absurdity”.

A year earlier, at the occasion of the 55th anniversary of Chad’s independence in N’Djamena, Idriss Déby, Chad’s president since 1990 and graduate of Qaddhafi’s World Revolutionary Centre, announced unexpectedly that it is time to “cut a string that is preventing Africa from developing”, calling for the creation of a proper African currency that no longer relies on postcolonial mechanisms of domination. At first no one knew what to make of this statement by a Françafrique faithful. Was he trying to threaten French authorities because they did not support his 2016 re-election campaign? Was this connected to his country’s war against Boko Haram? Déby repeated his claims in a Jeune Afrique interview in February 2017, stating that “a revision of the terms of cooperation is absolutely necessary and unavoidable”. His pronouncements hover in the background of the ongoing discussion as a broken taboo, and an indication of the possibility of a change of mind in the current generation of African politicians.

What at first looked like the annual rehearsal of anti-CFA rhetoric has taken another discursive dimension after the currency’s 70th anniversary in 2015. The unlikely confluence of interests between Nubukpo, an economist-turned-academic, Déby, the autocratic ruler of Chad, and Séba, a professional pan Africanist with links to the Nation of Islam, has combined the technical and symbolic anti-CFA arguments to move the debate away from discussions about the possible effects of another devaluation – a concern that preoccupied the debate before – towards a complete abolition of the currency.

Kémi Séba’s anti-CFA project has been more successful than any other of his previous organisations, two of which were disbanded by the French government for anti-Semitism and inciting racial violence. Fashioning himself as a black radical in the line of Malcom X and Cheikh Anta Diop – with books such as Supra-Négritude and Black Nihilism – and having recently changed supremacist views for what he calls ethno-differencialism, Séba moved from France to Senegal to benefit from greater levels of freedom of expression.

Before his contract with the Togolese government, Kako Nubupko worked for the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) for three years before posts at business schools in Lyon, Oxford and Princeton. He has experienced the power and intellectual laziness of bureaucratic routine first hand. He is confident that a change of mentality is taking place – at least in the French administration. His talk about the strategies of the Asian Dragons, the disjuncture between South Korea and Senegal’s monetary policies, and the Millennium Development Goals, at times neatly fits into an African Rising discourse and has pushed the level of attention in French media significantly higher than the academic works of Nicolas Agbohou and Moussa Dembélé, who carried the discursive torch on the CFA franc up to 2014.

Around these figures, a larger conglomeration of politicians, artists, technocrats and activists has gathered across different continents, including people as diametrically opposed as the French right wing politician Marine Le Pen and Mamadou Koulibaly, former Ivorian Finance minister in Laurent Gbagbo’s government.

Currency Can Get You Killed

Historically, going against the CFA franc has come with a high price in Franco-African relations. Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of Togo, was assassinated in 1963 shortly after announcing his intention of creating his own currency. In the hours leading up to his murder, the French and American ambassadors to Togo exchanged phone calls, essentially extraditing him to Gnassingbé Eyadéma and the group of soldiers around him that was demobilised by the French colonial army and wanted a space in the new Togolese army. Eyadéma eventually became president in 1967 and, backed by France, remained in power until his death in 2005. Olympio’s death sentence was pronounced as early as his first meeting with Jacques Foccart, the “shadow man” of France’s Africa policy from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac. After their talk at the Elysée, Foccart simply said about Olympio: “He is not one of our friends”.

Half a century later, in 2011, the assassination of Muammar Qaddhafi is also, in part, linked to the CFA. The recent Wikileaks of Hillary Clinton’s emails revealed that Nicolas Sarkozy’s motivation for the military intervention in Libya was to prevent Qaddhafi from launching his own pan African currency backed by his reserves of 143 tons of gold and silver, prospectively ridding France of its dominance over francophone Africa. Laurent Gbagbo’s anti CFA stance, since his election campaign of 2000 to the bombing of his residence in 2011, eventually lead to his ICC detention in The Hague – the West’s current preferred means of political elimination of inconvenient African rulers.

In the context of Françafrique, the mafia-like network of French and African elites that grew out of Foccart’s network and still works to maintain France’s geopolitical, military, cultural and institutional dominance in its former colonies, the monetary system of the CFA functions as the cement holding these different spheres together. Although the CFA underwent several adjustments over the last 70 years, its main goal has remained the same: to preserve the value of the currency – by all means necessary.

The tools used for this include, in official economist language, a fixed exchange rate between the CFA franc and the euro set in stone at the equivalent of CFA655.957 to €1; the centralisation of 50 per cent of foreign exchange reserves at the French Treasury, to guarantee “unlimited convertibility” in France; the freedom of transfers within the area and the fixed parity between the two African sub-regions part of the CFA zone. A last unofficial principle holds that the French Central Bank has the veto right in all management decisions by BCEAO, based in Dakar, and the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), based in Yaoundé. The integration of the French franc into the eurozone in 1999 did not affect this arrangement at all. The CFA continues as an enclave in the new system as if nothing happened, like in colonial times when the metropole’s imperative was to import cheap primary resources from the colonies under the auspices of normal economic practice.

Protests against the CFA are not new. They have been around since its inception and resurface on a regular basis. Over the last seven decades, dependency theorists, liberal economists, Marxists and pan Africanists have created a canon of articles and books devoted to the critique of the CFA. Osendé Afana’s L’Economie De L’Ouest-Africain (1966), Pathé Diagne’s Pour l‘unité ouest-africaine (1972) and Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi’s Monnaie, Servitude et Liberte (1980) form part of that tradition. Nubukpo’s Sortir l’Afrique de la servitude monétaire is only the latest contribution forming the analytical background to the current protest.

In these works, the CFA still stands for a lack of sovereignty for the African member states. A state or a federation of states that cannot decide on its own when to raise or lower the value of its currency, to adjust to new developments by changing course, is devoid of any political capacity and has no way of bettering its economic position. It is, for example, a common-place notion that it would benefit Malian or Beninese cotton producers a great deal if the CFA franc were no longer overvalued through its tie to the euro.

In terms of hard socio-economic results, any economist would struggle to disprove the fact that the 15 countries that make up the franc zone are part of the poorest of Africa. In the terms of the UN data of reference for international organisations, seven out of eight UEMOA-countries (West African Economic and Monetary Union) are classified as “least developed countries,” with nine out of 10 people living on the equivalent of US$2 a day. Ivory Coast, the only exception and the largest contributor to BCEAO making up to 40 per cent of its resources, was a “heavily indebted poor country” according to the IMF before Alassane Ouattara, formerly of BCEAO and IMF, and the guardian of Françafrique, became president and received a debt cancellation gift from his former colleagues in New York.

Despite being in existence for seven decades, the CFA franc has done next to nothing for the regional integration of its member countries. The level of imports within the UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union) is less than 15 per cent of their total imports, only four per cent in the case of CEMAC, the Central African equivalent – compared with 60 per cent within the EU zone, for example. This is not surprising since in the logic of extraversion there is no space for horizontal relations. Meanwhile, in terms of legal financial flows, French companies like Bolloré, Total, Societé Générale, BNP-Paribas, Orange and France Télécom get the main state tenders through the well-oiled channels of Françafrique and can operate without the risk of depreciating currency and with easy transfers back home. In terms of illegal financial flows (IFF), the free capital movement that is part of the CFA agreement leaves member countries no power to control the sums being transferred in and out of the country. On the IFF heat map, Ivory Coast is marked in deep red and, even more embarrassingly, BEAC governors were caught by Wikileaks transferring €500 million to the Societé Générale.

Moreover, the fact that the CFA agreement dictates that African countries have to deposit half of their foreign exchange reserves with the French treasury deprives these countries of vital resources to finance their own projects. The part of the interest on this money that France transfers back is declared as development aid. In 2005, it was reported that €72 billion had accumulated as reserves in the French treasury over the last 50 years. The amount equals a coverage rate of 110 per cent – when the agreement only prescribes a rate of 20 per cent.

What makes no economic sense to the CFA-critics is a source of pride for Ouattara, the most fervent defender of the CFA. Repeatedly referring to his credentials as former governor of BCEAO, the Ivorian president proclaimed in 2016: “I can assure you that the CFA has been well-managed by Africans”, citing as the main reason that the zone is one of the few that has a coverage rate of 100 per cent.

Kaku Nubukpo reads in this behaviour by the central banks a voluntary subjugation that can be explained by African rulers’ attempts to cast themselves as “good pupils of monetary orthodoxy” – to create the impression of a credible monetary zone in what is, by financial standards, an absolute catastrophe. The extraordinary high interest rates the African central banks place on credits given to businesses and their decision to prioritise keeping inflation levels low form part of the dogma of the 1980s. By limiting inflation levels to two per cent, the same way the European Central Bank does, the BCEAO follows the simple logic of “what is good for Europe is good for us”, which is particularly absurd given that, in times of crisis, the European Central Bank is the first bank to leave monetarist orthodoxy behind.

While technocrats, importers and urban elites might benefit from the CFA, buying imported products and property that does not lose its value, for the overwhelming number of people living in rural areas it would be better otherwise.

*

The only real public outcry across the CFA franc region came in 1994 when the French government of Edouard Balladur decided unilaterally to cut the value of the CFA in half, following structural adjustment pressures of the IMF and World Bank. The news reached the African heads of state while they were discussing the future of the already financially defunct continental airline, Air Afrique. It was up to Alassane Ouattara, then prime minister in the regime of Félix Houphouet-Boigny, Foccart’s best friend in Africa, to convince all the other presidents to sign off the devaluation. The official announcement by Balladour was that the “CFA franc was devalued in 1994 at the instigation of France, because we felt it was the best way to help these countries in their development”.

What was, politically, an embarrassment for the heads of state and unmasked their neocolonial dependence on France, had even more drastic consequences for the populations of the member states. People were completely unprepared for the devaluation and had their purchasing power effectively cut in half. The devaluation marked the beginning of an ongoing recession and the end of a period up to the mid-1980s in which the franc zone states saw relatively strong levels of economic growth and greater stability than neighbouring countries, Ghana and Nigeria.

Still, although the trauma of 1994 lives on, nothing has changed in the architecture of the currency.

The neat, neoliberal separation of economy, politics, culture and history forms part of the explanation why, with all the counter-arguments in place, the CFA is still around. From the brightly lit France 24 TV studios and the amazingly local sounding RFI Afrique broadcasts, to the weekly covers of the Jeune Afrique magazine carrying the posh image of the powerful big man in a suit, there is a complete world in which a “CFA fort”, a strong currency, appears completely natural and is even a source of pride.

In this world, it also makes sense to depict the contours of France hovering over West and Central Africa like holy spirit, as on the map of the 40th anniversary of the CFA. Or for a 2005 French law to be passed by parliament that reads: “School courses should recognise in particular the positive role of the French presence overseas, notably in north Africa.” Or for François Fillon, the current Republican candidate for the French presidential election to declare, on the same subject, that France cannot be sentenced “guilty for wanting to share its culture with the people of Africa”.

Trying to make sense of France’s inability to engage its colonial past and present, academics have reverted to psychoanalytical models to explain what Achille Mbembe calls the “long imperial winter” of France, referring to narcissism, a desire for apartheid, or just that: racism. To keep the marriage with such an abusive partner alive, the franc zone cannot but maintain the practice of servitude volontaire as a kind of masochism that keeps the cooperation alive.

The illusion that money is nothing but a means of exchange, a reflection of the objects that can be bought with it, or a precious metal with an intrinsic value, has been propagated by Euroliberalists who, since the end of the Second World War, want to keep currency debates as far away from politics as possible.

Anthropologists know that money has always functioned much like a semantic system that has historically more to do with appeasing social relations between human beings and the gods, through sacrifice or payments of debt, hence the etymological roots of to pay. Money does more than establish equivalences – it contains violence and its main social function is the construction of the state and a stabilisation of norms of consumption.

The coins and notes of the CFA efface any political reference, other than those to modernity itself. The separation between planes, satellite dishes, trains, @-signs and electromagnetic waves on the obverse part of the notes, and birds, fish, hippopotami and camels on the reverse leave a distance of modern civilisation that needs to be crossed from one part of the bill to the other.

When operating in this logic it also makes sense to accept the explanation given by the Central Bank of France – flanked by representatives of BCEAO and BEAC – in a recent press conference to the question why CFA franc notes, which are after all printed in France, cannot be exchanged in France. To avoid the threats of financial terrorism and the circulation of false money, it has opted to only accept modern means of financial transactions – in other words, electronic transfers to France. At last, the number itself has out-ruled all other symbols. And who wouldn’t want to be modern?

*

There is no agreement on a way forward among the activists and economists of the Front Anti CFA. There is no evidence that opting either for single currencies or other regional ones will, in any way, be better. What is clear, however, is that lack of political will has hindered projects such as the common ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) currency, lying dormant since 2005, or a similar project by the East African Community started in 2010. The way Germany dealt with Greece in proper colonial terms – accusing it of collective laziness and unreliability – in the recent crisis is a prominent example for demonstrating that a currency needs a union of solidarity across individual national markets.

So, if a natural disaster does not strike, it looks like, again, only change among the French bureaucrats is going to bring about a change in the CFA zone. France has for a long time been good at downplaying the benefits it draws from retaining its colonial ties. Chances are that, behind the curtain, the administrators are no longer sure whether it makes sense to keep the zone in place once a wider audience finds out what happens in its African pré-carré. Its main trade partners in Africa are Angola, Nigeria and South Africa. And they are using their own currencies in any case. A sign in that direction was that, for the first time since the time of decolonisation, and in the immediate aftermath of the wave of Front Anti CFA protests, the French foreign ministry issued a questionnaire to the African students of the Paris Institute of Political Science, the reproductive machine of the French political elite, to ask them what they think about the CFA.


This piece appears in the Chimurenga Chronic (April 2017), an edition which aims to complicate the questions raised by food insecurity, to cook and serve them differently. To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop.

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Ibadan, Soutin and the Puzzle of Bower’s Tower https://chimurengachronic.co.za/ibadan-soutin-and-the-puzzle-of-bowers-tower/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/ibadan-soutin-and-the-puzzle-of-bowers-tower/#respond Tue, 15 Sep 2020 16:17:20 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17442 The jingle would survive the event, as the poetry of a battle-cry outlives a war, but that eventuality belonged in the future.

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(for Taiwo ‘Tarifomah’ Fatoki, in memoriam)

by Akin Adesokan

I

December in southwestern Nigeria is a thirsty, incandescent month, halfway through the dry season. The evening air is burnished to tinder-edged sharpness by the harmattan, cool, sandy wind blowing southward with imperceptible haste, eager to catch fire before it reaches the coast where humidity lies in wait like a spider to quell the happy-fly noise of the haughty breeze. These are the times of arson and brushfires, and you can sense it in the gaiety of public conduct, the upbeat display of enthusiasm that propels itself toward the disastrous with a little lack of care. It is not for nothing that the dying months of the year are called the ‘ember-months’. Mix this atmosphere with soccer, ‘good’ nationalism (as opposed to the bad varieties in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda), home advantage, and faith too deep to need work as supplement, and you have the unforgettable encounter between the IICC Shooting Stars FC of Ibadan and Zamalek FC of Egypt, in the second leg of the finals of the 1984 African Champions Club Cup, played at the National Stadium in Lagos on Saturday, December 8. Everyone and everything in Nigeria, and especially in Ibadan, home base of Soutin, as the team was admirably called, depended on this match. For weeks, especially for the last two weeks since the home team had lost the away-match in Cairo by two slim goals, national interest had begun to rise in the media – passionate, effusive and complacent, driven by the dead certainty that the current Soutin line-up was the best in the team’s long history. The excitement spilled into the streets, or rather spilled from the streets – it amounted to the same thing. Journalists were hard to tell apart from veterans of the supporters’ club. The air was dry all the time, and as we counted down to that fateful Saturday, radio and television jingles, posters, newspaper cartoons, loudspeaker-bedecked supporters’ vans prowling the streets, recorded-music stores partisan but businesslike, added to the sense of anticipation.

The most memorable, for me, was this jingle in Yoruba, a cross between wish, incantation and malediction, a gnomic Ase on the airwaves, periodically played by the culture-conscious official broadcast organ, Radio O-Y-O, based in Ibadan like the football team:

                   Egibiti o ri’ran osan o

                   Balubalu nt’afin o!

                   (May the Egyptians be blind this day

                   Blurry-blurry does the albino glimpse)

It was rumoured that the high-spirited supporters’ club, headed by Mr Ganiyu Elekuru (a.k.a. Baba Eleran, because he was a professional butcher), had even paid witchdoctors for charms and fetishes. Probably an idle rumour, but Mr Elekuru would go to any length to demonstrate his support for the team, which was so total and frightening it attained the condition of fanaticism. Two years before, during a match in Tanzania, it had taken the personal intervention of the Nigerian High Commissioner in Dar es Salaam to rescue Elekuru from a mob which suspected him of being a witchdoctor and would have lynched the daylight out of him. Writing these reflections today, in the shadow of reports of ritual killings of albinos in Tanzania, one has an uncanny sense of the futile attractions of the occult, of beliefs which do not have to be true before they acquire immense material force, indeed acquire such force because they do not have to be true. The jingle would survive the event, as the poetry of a battle-cry outlives a war, but that eventuality belonged in the future. On the evidence of this unsurpassable enthusiasm in Ibadan, Soutin had won the match and carried the elusive Sékou Touré Cup. The game being a national event, however, it would not be played in Ibadan. On to the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos; we’d reserve the partying afterwards for the legendary City of Seven Hills.

‘A War Encampment’

Founded in the mid-1820s as the base of bandits, soldiers, warlords and refugees fleeing the old cities in the aftermath of the fall of Oyo, the savannah empire which attained its peak in the eighteenth century, present-day Ibadan, capital of Oyo State, observed no architects even in its peripheral vision. Geographers and city planners have had many field days proclaiming the city’s singular identity, the breathless manner in which it developed with few of the features of the traditional Yoruba city. In the classical model of this urbanism, the main road of the town leads directly to the market, which is adjacent to the palace of the king and where, on occasion, residential quarters (compounds) converge with the farms and the smaller towns for business and social interaction. Ibadan has these features, but only as an afterthought – as the consequence of the trial-and-error process through which the war encampment became a town. The most famous figure at the time of the town’s second founding (the earlier Ibadan was first settled in the fifteenth century, according to history) was Oluyole, the Basorun or prime minister, who used the diminished power of the king of Oyo and the unfeasible old capital as a pretext to develop his own political base to the south. This soldier’s pioneering ways and quirks have earned the city its main alias; Ibadan is also known as ‘Oluyole’s homestead’. He was one of those incredible figures from the age of upheaval, the mean time when only the mean survived: Kurunmi of Ijaye, Generalissimo of the Yoruba confederate army; Ogedengbe of Ilesa; Somoye of Abeokuta; Aduloju of Ekiti; Kosoko of Lagos; Latoosa of Ibadan; and female notables like Efunroye Tinubu of Lagos and Efunsetan Aniwura of Ibadan. They were coevals of Samory Touré, Tippu Tip and Lobengula, in much the same way that Mohammed Farah Aideed, Charles Taylor and Laurent Nkunda could be today. If the Yoruba generals didn’t attain the global fame of their western and southern African peers, it was both because of the nature of the colonialism in Nigeria, and because the Yoruba wars were a resounding implosion: the warring brothers were spent from decades of attrition, and the British generals, aided by African missionaries, stepped in as providential mediators.

In the new military capital the civilian head would emerge with time to complement the soldierly echelons, but while the Basorun remained the embodiment of power, the market that developed, Ojaa’ba (Basorun’s Market), quickly assumed the character of the traditional market. Until the 1980s, there was no central king’s palace. The fortunes of the commercial structure mirroring those of the body politic, Ibadan’s rise as the base of military commanders in an age when soldiers thrived best became identified with the ethics of a republic. The civilian head became less irrelevant, first as the Bale when the establishment of the colonial Protectorate of Southern Nigeria clipped the wings of the 19th-century warlords, then as the Olubadan when the Richards Constitution (1946) chipped away some of the pomp of the Indirect Rule system under which the new Oyo empire had regained suzerainty. The ceremonial base of this civilian head shifted with the appointment of a new person, for the new Olubadan emerged not in the hereditary fashion of most Yoruba towns, but through a process of rising through the ranks in which a vacancy at the top created opportunity at the bottom. Thus, every male citizen of Ibadan (understood as belonging to any of the families of military commanders and their civilian allies who had settled the town) can aspire to the highest traditional office in the city, the kingly position of the Olubadan – if he wants it enough to work for it!

Nearly three decades ago, the writer Paul Wheatley described the distinctive Yoruba living quarters, the agboole (or compound, but literally, ‘a gathering of homes’) as ‘large permanent, compact aggregations’ of landholding corporate groups descended along agnatic lines whereby the male members of a group live with their families. These compounds constituted the regular homes and held much of the population of a given city around the precinct of the palace. He was thinking about the generic urban setting, and he allowed that relatively recent settlements like Ibadan and Abeokuta, while retaining the main features of this genre, differed in some significant ways. The traditional urban form developed over a long period of time, probably from the 15th century through the major upheavals of the early 19th century. There was a religious rationale for this spatial organisation, because the king was the spiritual head of the town and maintained control of the cult groups and their associated rituals and festivals. In the post-1820 format, a military elite displaced the religious powers significantly, especially in Ibadan, where the agboole retained the physical attributes of the tradition: the long rectangular structure fronted with a courtyard, behind which the living quarters are organised into compartments each belonging to a nucleated unit in the agnatic family. Due to the manner in which the city unfolded, the compounds were homesteads of war commanders who governed through a hierarchical system in which military prowess and personal ambition were the primary yardstick for advancement. This republican ethic is elastic, and its elasticity is a source of great indignation among many indigenes who count themselves as meriting special consideration on the basis of birth, as the scholar Ruth Watson found out while researching her book, Civil Disorder is the Disease of Ibadan. Yet this is what distinguishes Ibadan from any other Nigerian city – its corporate image as a traditional city-village with unimpeachable cosmopolitan credentials. The Yoruba compound, according to the architect David Aradeon, is a spatial distillation of the practice of tolerance, and Ibadan offers a fascinating example of this hypothesis. A distinct kind of nationalism, city-based and negotiable, is deep-seated in Ibadan. The rise and fame of the Shooting Stars FC between the 1970s and the 1990s reflect a successful, if sometimes irksome, management of this nationalism, and this is what differentiates it from the blood-spilling variety.

II

The Egyptians were no strangers to Soutin. Both teams had met at the semi-finals of the 1976 African Cup-Winners’ Championship, and the Ibadan side had won, going on to defeat Cameroon’s Tonnerre Kalara (of Yaoundé) in the finals, an encounter that has now become legend. (Fanatical supporters of Tonnerre Kalara attacked the Nigerian players with werepe, the powdery crusts of poison-bean which create painful, hours-long itches on contact with bare skin, and the team played throughout the inconvenience.) But there was no other meet in the next eight years. To get to the finals, Soutin had sailed past SEIB Diourbel of Senegal, overpowered their old Cameroonian antagonists, sunk the Maghrebi Fes of Morocco, and dispatched the little-known Semassi Sekode FC of Togo in the semis. Unlike their Nigerian opponents, Zamalek had never won a continental cup, although two Egyptian sides had won this particular championship three times before – Al-Ismaili in 1969 and 1970, and Al-Ahli in 1982.

The first leg of the finals was scheduled for Friday, November 23. It was a rainy day in Cairo. There was a small group of Nigerians in the stadium, and two of Nigeria’s famous sports commentators, Sebastian Offurum and Ernest Okonkwo, who had accompanied Soutin to Egypt, ran commentaries in drenched clothes. The match was broadcast on the radio in Ibadan, early in the afternoon. I huddled over a radio with a group of friends soon after the end of classes, with rapt interest and confidence in our side’s prowess. (I had begun to lean toward the more cosmopolitan Leventis United, Soutin’s arch-rival managed by John Mastoroudes, the Greek director of the department stores after which it was named. I went to school in Ibadan but spent more time reading the ‘Africa and the World’ columns of newspapers, and paid equal attention to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the election of Ronald Reagan and the International Trade Fair in Lagos. However, while among friends I retained some enthusiasm for the hometeam, and this pleased my Cousin T enormously. At any rate, Soutin were representing the whole country, and it made sense to leave personal preferences aside.)

Rain was not the only obstacle. For one, the Nigerian side was deficient on one particular point that day. Their star player, ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami, arguably the best Nigerian footballer of all time, had suffered an injury during the semi-finals, and watched the match from the sidelines. Rashidi Yekini, later to be famous as the scorer of Nigeria’s first goal at the 1994 World Cup in the US, filled in for him, and in spite of his best efforts, didn’t net any goals. In a dramatic moment, twenty minutes into the game, the commentators’ voices rose several octaves as the tall striker found himself deep inside Zamalek’s box, but his wide shot quelled that enthusiasm. The other obstacle was the crowd, which awoke with the renewed vigour of the home team during the second half. A slight defensive error by the left fullback, and a pass sailed down to the goal area, where an Egyptian striker was waiting with a header. From this curtain-raiser on, the decibel level of the noise in the stadium would not wane; it merely reinforced Zamalek’s aggression, which paid off with a bonus second goal – an undeserved penalty-kick awarded by the Gabonese referee in the 70th minute. Newspaper accounts of the match recorded that Soutin played well, with a superior command of the midfield and the left wing.

One afternoon in Albany, New York, I sat in a mid-scale restaurant near the Greyhound bus station and nodded to a casual conversation which had developed from a question I’d posed to jump-start some small-talk. It was a few days before the 2000 US general elections, and I had been intrigued by a Gore/Lieberman badge donned by an attendant. Then an African-American guy who fancied himself as possessing political opinion said with a gentle wave of the hand, ‘Hillary [Clinton] will get the black votes.’ No one had asked him, but he felt that as a sponge for mass-circulating views on an issue of great currency, he could weigh in on his own. The general public attitude in Nigeria toward the chances of Soutin before and after the first-leg match in Cairo was something of this nature. Not only did everyone have an opinion, he or she felt able to express it with a casualness which signified supreme confidence. In Ibadan in particular, it was not unusual to hear that all the city’s team needed was a draw in Cairo. Then they would return to Ibadan, and drown Zamalek in goals. Even after the loss, with two goals down, optimism endured with a few adjustments: all Soutin needed were two quick goals in the first half, and a resolve to play defence in the second, sending the match to a shoot-out. It would be a replay of the encounter of 1976, when Soutin had cancelled their goal deficit in the dying minutes, eventually triumphing during the penalty shoot-out. In this frame of mind did the Ibadan-based team return to Nigeria in late November to prepare for the final of finals.

‘Like broken china in the sun’

The map of Ibadan is difficult to visualise. You will have a hard time imagining it as a fearsome cat, the form in which Ireland appears to the anti-hero of Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth, or of Florida as a pistol in the thriller of the 2000 recount. This is in part because the precise reaches of the city, excluding its outlying districts collectively tagged ‘Ibadan region’ by city planners, are hard to determine. It is also in part because even as we write the city is still growing, the outlying districts continue to be turned into citified residential areas in the relentless sprawl of urbanisation. On a map, however, the metropolitan core of the city, what used to constitute the Ibadan Municipal Government area with headquarters at the Mapo Hall across from Ojaa’ba, looks like a soft-rot peach gently pulped at the top end. It is the region demarcated by urban planning experts to define the areas which once constituted the original clusters of agboole. These are the sections where industrial activities are nil, and commercial and residential purposes are integrated in such a way that their separation is impossible, even in theory. They might have been called the musseques and the bidonvilles if we lived in the 19th century; and though we didn’t, their location at the city’s core rather than at its periphery, integrated with the bases of political, religious and economic powers, and their preindustrial rationality, too, might suggest a new way of using the old grammar of relations of wealth and prestige. For we know, from Cheik Anta Diop’s account in Precolonial Black Africa, that the exercise of caste privileges was inconceivable without the relational hierarchies of the preindustrial West African city, and considering the conservative alliances between kings and slaves, it was possible to have nobility without wealth. This style of urbanism, among other factors, precluded the formation of a revolutionary consciousness on the scale and character of the European city. Ibadan went without a master plan for a long time, until the dissolution of the Western Region in 1976 caused city planners to etch perspective into the fatty sprawl of the legendary godmother. With time, Ojaa’ba acquired the character of the classic Yoruba market, because at some point in the 1980s a permanent palace was constructed to retire the practice of the moveable palace. The result was a complex of traditional and westernised centres of governance mediated by the market. Modern residential arrangements in these parts of the city were closer in form to the agboole than to the rationalised built space of the so-called ‘elite quarters’, which formed the outer rings of a concentric circle.

The city is located approximately on longitude 3° 5´ east of the Greenwich Meridian and latitude 7° 23´ north of the Equator, at a distance of about 130 kilometres northeast of Lagos. In physical outlook, it is made up of ridges of laterite (rock-hills), the largest of which lie in the central part of the city, and with peaks at Mapo, Mokola, and Aremo. The remaining four of the seven hills celebrated in J.P. Bekederemo-Clark’s classic poem, the five-line ‘Ibadan’ (1965), whose enjambed last two lines supply the title of this section, are Oke-Ado, Oke-Are, Oke-Bola, and Oke’Badan, the rock-hill near Eleyele on the western outskirts. This last is never acknowledged as part of the poetic seven because it is not within the city, but as the legendary refuge of the founders of the first Ibadan it is revered and honoured annually as the goddess of fertility, during the licentious Oke’Badan Festival. The seventh hill is at Ojaa’gbo, a mile north of Mapo Hall, where Bower’s Tower was erected in 1936 in honour of the city’s first British Resident Officer, and from its height atop the natural elevation of around 275 metres above sea level, one can see the entire city by moving in a circumference. Situated right next to the old Rediffusion House, the Tower is locally named ‘Layipo’ because of the winding staircase by which one gains ascent to the top for a bird’s-eye view of Ibadan, and the naming embodies the city’s puzzle of cultural insiderism (á la Paul Gilroy), its subtle retort to arch-rivals like Oyo, Ijebu, and Lagos.

For Ibadan, eternal enmity is the price of eminence. Oluyole the Basorun did empty Oyo of political gravitas in the several decades between the fall of Old Oyo (1825) and the end of the Kiriji War (1886). But with the appointment of Captain William Ross as its Resident Officer in 1911, Oyo became so serviceable in the execution of the Indirect Rule system (the deployment of native institutions as the basis of colonial governance fashioned by Lord Fredrick Lugard) that Ibadan lost its pre-eminence as a political-military centre. Thereafter, it took the combination of the good offices of Henry Ward-Price (or evil, if you were an Oyo partisan) in the late 1930s, and the Richards Constitution of 1946 to enable Ibadan to engage in muscle-flexing with its ever-resentful uncle to the north.  Nonetheless, Ibadan’s rivalry with Oyo was a sibling tiff, compared to what transpired between it and Ijebu. As one of the allies in the confederate army which founded the second Ibadan and decisively vanquished the Fulani jihadist aggression in 1840, Ijebu became integrated into indigenous Ibadan, sub-ethnic Ijebu settling in the southern part of the city, the Isale-Ijebu area. Renowned for their astuteness as entrepreneurs, a class of prejudice when you take a closer look at it, the Ijebu were not much loved in Ibadan. Worse still, they could point to another base of nativity, their twin-towns of Ijebu-Ode and Ijebu-Igbo (in present-day Ogun State), and this opened their claims of being indigenes in Ibadan to question. To Ibadan natives, the Ijebu were at best native strangers, at worst interlopers.

The rivalry with Lagos was more recent and without the kind of nationalist passion which characterised Ibadan-Ijebu enmity. Lagos – cosmopolitan, showy, shallow, culturally bastardised, elegant and ruthless – was a more fitting claimant to cultural sophistication than Ibadan in late-colonial Nigeria, when modernisation equalled opportunities for professional and social advancement. Ijebu was also geographically closer to Lagos, and positioned itself as a natural ally of the country’s cultural and commercial capital, what with the inseparability of commerce and bureaucracy in the scheme of colonial ideology. For all its wildcat stance toward Oyo, Ibadan remains the bridgehead of Oyo-Yoruba (or ‘Yoruba proper’, as the Oyo historian Samuel Johnson would have it), the cultural template on which modern Yoruba was fashioned in terms of language, culture, and religion. It is the custodian of the ‘deep structures’ of Yoruba, closer to traditional values than the border-trading Ijebu and the coastal Lagosians, yet not as intermediate as the mid-level towns like Osogbo, Abeokuta, Ogbomoso, Ilesa, and so forth. The truth, of course, is that as in most matters relating to difference, all Yoruba sub-ethnic groups are variously branded according to what others determine as their distinctive social characteristics. The prejudices which define Ibadan for its cultural and geographical neighbours are shaped by these relationships, for which three factors are decisive in annealing into cultural certitudes.

The first is the ubiquity of facial scarifications, lineage-based marks of varying patterns etched on a person’s cheeks at infancy, usually during circumcision. This West African practice began long ago, but probably became popular in the era of the slave trade, when it was necessary to identify those who could not be sold into slavery, at least in theory. That, at any rate, was Ousmane Sembène’s point in the short story ‘Voltaïque’ (or ‘Tribal Scars’). There are at least twelve types among the Yoruba, from the simple pélé (three vertical marks) to the elaborate kéké covering the width of the face up to the temples and usually reserved for the families of professional circumcisers. Again, given the heterogeneity of Ibadan’s ethnic makeup from the 19th century, different lineages became indigenised with their marks, leading to what one may call the mass production of lineage-marks as a distinctive feature of a ‘proper’ Ibadan person. Like most features associated with social prestige, an absence of these marks used to signify a lack of authenticity. By contrast, the practice was not common in places like Lagos and Ijebu, and so it became a sign of too much authenticity – in contexts where an unscarred face was the norm.

Another factor in the normalisation of cultural bias is the problem with the stressed ‘S’. The Yoruba alphabet of twenty-five letters has two consonant sounds for the letter ‘S’, differentiated in the pronunciation of ‘shaw’ and ‘saw’. In everyday usage, however, the difference disappears when the speaker is of Ibadan stock. Thus it is not unusual to pronounce ‘Adesokan’ with the neutral ‘S’ or smuggle the stressed form into a word like ‘soil’, hence the expression ‘shons of the shoil’ which puts a derisive spin on claims of authenticity. In fact, the problem is not particular to Ibadan; outside of the southern and coastal settlements, the conflation of stressed and neutral ‘S’ is standard practice. The phonological differentiation is probably the result of the complex negotiations that produced modern Yoruba orthography, but again, Ibadan’s position as an amalgam of cultural groups and the butt of intra-ethnic rivalries makes it the target of such prejudices. There is a rich trove of jokes whose punch-lines turn on this speech habit. One in particular is the elaborate Q-and-A-format joke:

Omo-Ibadan, kinni sow?

Sow suoh…

(Denizen of Ibadan, what’s the show [i.e. what’s happening]?

Show is sure…)

When you add these two factors to the third, the process of benign stigmatisation is complete. Most censuses of Ibadan at the time these conceptions crystallised recorded that more than two-thirds of the city’s indigenous population were Muslims. In the context of Western education modelled on Christian mission schools and instruction in Western classics, this was not an idle fact. Christianity arrived in the mid-19th century, but Islam was much older and more adaptable to many of the people’s cultural practices. By the 1950s, when Ibadan’s position as the administrative headquarters of the Western region brought about increased development in the industrial, commercial and social spheres, the population of indigenous Ibadan children attending primary school was 20%, compared to 70% in rival regions like Ekiti and Ijebu. Thus, they tended to be less entrenched in the professions. To put it crudely, as a former governor of Oyo State did to his eternal regret, Ibadan indigenes didn’t go to school and couldn’t sway the scales in the modern scheme of things. Of all Ibadan’s rivals, the Ijebu were the most routinely singled out because they constituted a sizeable part of the population – unlike the distant Lagosians and the Oyo cousins. Not surprisingly, most of the satirical and abusive songs during the Oke’Badan carnival targeted the Ijebu, and also the police. Finding political focus in the figures of an Ijebu like Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987) and the legendary Ibadan politician Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu (1915–1955) in the early 1950s, the mutual suspicion threatened to explode into a ‘war’. Not only was Awolowo a Methodist and a successful lawyer, he also didn’t have facial marks like Adelabu, a Muslim whose aspiration toward a British law degree never materialised.

Above all, his aversion to earthy populism was not the reason he didn’t say ‘Up Soutin!’, in case you’re wondering what happened to the ‘h’ in ‘Shooting’.

III

The IICC in the full name of Shooting Stars FC stands for the Industrial Investment and Credit Corporation, a government-run limited liability company. The team used to be known as WNDC Sports Club (for Western Nigerian Development Corporation), with the alias ‘Oluyole Warriors’. It was actually founded by the expatriate partners of the corporation in the 1950s, but when a flamboyant football enthusiast named Lekan Salami became a director of the WNDC in the 1960s, his interest in the Ibadan District Amateur Football Association found a natural outlet in promoting the football team. With the political realism of national unity necessitated by the harrowing civil war (1967–1970), the 1970s marked the golden decade of football in Nigeria, and the Shooting Stars did battles with other city-identified teams. Raccah Rovers of Kano. Mighty Jets of Jos. Enugu Rangers. Bendel Insurance of Benin City. Stationery Stores of Lagos. These teams dominated the national league for over a decade. Whenever Soutin qualified for the finals of the Challenge Cup, Nigeria’s equivalent of the US Super Bowl, all footballing passions descended on either the Rangers or the Insurance. But the greatest rivals were the Stationery Stores, whom they rarely met at the finals. (Interestingly, Stores didn’t fare that well during the glorious years of the IICC. In the 1985 league fixtures, when Soutin’s chances of escaping relegation to the second division depended on the Stores beating the Flaming Flamingos of Benin, the decisive match ended in a draw. At a newsstand in my Lagos neighbourhood the following morning, I listened with mild resentment as the supporters of Stores, also known as Lagos Flamingos, exchanged cavalier repartee over a game that was simply a case of two flamingos playing… anyway, I was no longer an ardent Soutin fan. The Ibadan team dropped to Division Two for the first time that week, and remained there for a couple of years.)

An answer to the perpetual Soutin-Stores rivalry came in the early 1980s, when Leventis United was established. Another team based in Ibadan?! Didn’t Mr Mastoroudes get the memo about one-team domination, or was he looking for trouble? Taboo! Didn’t they tell him what happened to the Water Corporation, which, like a young wife menaced by a fierce rival, embarked on serial marriages, settling first in Oyo, then in Osogbo, and finally in Ilesa where it found peace in oblivion? By my third year in high school, my support for Soutin was waning. The Leventis line-up was youthful and Pan-African – half of the regulars were Ghanaians or southeastern Nigerians – in a way Soutin never cared to be. They didn’t rely on sheer brawn to win a match but had a style of cumulative passes organised around the control of the midfield which many would come to associate with Brazilian football. Whereas Soutin’s generational rivals were the Rangers, the Stores, and the Insurance, Leventis ruled the league with young teams like the Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, BCC Lions of Gboko, Femo Scorpions of Eruwa, Sharks of Port Harcourt, and the Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri. But my interlocutor was Cousin T, whose fanaticism would embarrass even Mr Elekuru, although I doubted that he attended any of the matches. He had only one response to any defence of Leventis:

“Koraa don’t have a say in Ibadan!”

(Middle-easterners, from Syrians, Lebanese to Greeks, even Indians, were lumped under that generic term, Koraa, derived from the fact that the Lebanese used to trade in corals in Nigeria. Like the Ijebu, they were resented in Ibadan, but they didn’t dabble in local politics.)

In the 1980s, before and after the historic clash with Zamalek of Egypt, Leventis United either lost a match against Soutin or faced reprisals from the fans. Soutin’s home games were played at the Liberty Stadium, and there was an implicit understanding (sanctioned by the Nigerian Football Association) that the other stadium in Ibadan, at Adamasingba, belonged to Leventis. But the best the new team could hope for, even in this home territory, was a draw. They had to allow their match to be forced into a draw. In case the rivalry seemed bitter and coarse, let us note that Chief Lekan Salami, de facto owner of Soutin after whom the stadium at Adamasingba was later named, was a very stylish man who dressed in flowing agbada or a safari suit for football matches, with a further distinction – he brought a talking-drum along! It was a practice he’d begun in the 1970s, when the great rivalries had racial or ethnic undertones. For example, in a match with the Raccah Rovers, a team based in Kano, the northern Nigerian city, Chief Salami said the following through his drumming:

Sabarumo soo loo gbon ni?

Waa sare!

Gambari soo loo gbon ni?

Waa sare!

(Sabarumo, are you so audacious?

You’ll soon flee!

Gambari, are you so audacious?

You’ll soon flee!)

Sabarumo is a Yoruba expression for Arabs – never mind that the Rovers were a Nigerian team – and the same tune applied when Sudanese, Tunisian or Egyptian teams were visiting. In Ibadan anyone living north of Oyo was a Gambari, though in fact the name belongs to the royal family in Ilorin. The drum was a complex instrument in this context, a dexterous rousing-tool-of-exclusion, since special training was required to decode its tunes. It reinforced a sense of identity among the supporters. When the drummer changed the tune to ‘Ibadan lo mo, o o mo Layipo’ (You may know Ibadan, but Layipo is beyond your grasp), encouraging the audience to singalong, every Soutin supporter knew what having a home meant. The local name for Bower’s Tower connotes discursive circuitousness and dissimulation: Ibadan the city may be transparent, but there’s more to reality than appearances, and it is the lot of the outsider to be denied access to insider info. Addressing an insult to a stranger who was not expected to understand it – what a confident way to affirm your place in the familiar world! When Soutin returned from Cairo in late November 1984, diehard fans like Mr Elekuru and Cousin T had put the disastrous loss behind them – it was more uplifting to aim for the second leg. Cousin T always said, in exonerating his darling team’s poor performance: ‘It is not every time that Odegbami wears top form [plays well].’ But the star player was missing in action in Egypt. This asymmetry between received wisdom and facts on the ground should have sent enough signals to the fans. After all, a bit of superstition wasn’t unknown in matters of sports.

‘Shons of the Shoil’: The Troika Plus One

Basorun Oluyole – Here is how the Reverend Samuel Johnson described Basorun Oluyole in his magisterial History of the Yorubas:

As a ruler he was arbitrary and oppressive and that was the cause of several civil wars at Ibadan. As a commander he was almost always successful although he had many narrow escapes. As an excuse for him, his was an age of anarchy and lawlessness, and a ruler who showed himself weak would soon be compelled to give place to another. He could endure no rival and was exceedingly ambitious, hence the two inexcusable flaws in his life history, the perfidy to his faithful friend Eleepo, and the disloyalty to the Alaafin, his uncle and sovereign.

He cannot be properly spoken of as a bloodthirsty tyrant because although sometimes inexorable, yet he was frequently merciful and forbearing. We may note for instance his treatment of those caught in the insurrection against him. In this respect he contrasted most favorably with his contemporary Kurunmi of Ijaye…

Oluyole was fond of husbandry; he had extensive plantations of okra, beans, vegetables, corn and yams, a separate farm for each, and whenever he had to take any to the market, no farmer was allowed to sell that particular article that day as he had sufficient to supply all the traders in the town and could undersell any farmer…’

Adegoke Adelabu – By the time of this controversial politician a hundred years after Oluyole, literacy was already an achievement in Ibadan, and many ambitious people could pen their own subjectivities. Self-acclaimed stormy-petrel of Ibadan politics, Adelabu had a predilection for jingoism, not unusual for public figures of his time and social inclination. He authored an iconoclastic ‘handbook of freedom for Nigerian nationalists’ titled African in Ebullition. ‘Lion of the West’ was a stalwart of the nationalist party, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, of which Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was inspiration and leader.

Here is Adelabu describing his own book in 1951:

This book derives many illustrations from astronomy, physics, chemistry, geography, engineering, agronomy and mathematics. It employs copiously the language of art, civics, biology, sociology, music, literature and history. It is liberally spiced with Greek drama, Roman law, English idioms, American slangs, French logic, Indian mysticism and African folklore. It is an Ode to Liberty, a Guide to Nationalists, a Handbook of Freedom, a Grammar of Politics, a Revolutionary Manifesto, our Book of Revelation, an Encyclopaedia Nigeriana, the Voice of the People, a Challenge to Imperialism, an Indictment of Colonialism, an Abrogation of Gradualism, an Invitation to Youths, a Call to Arms, the Sacrament of Patriotism, a Psychoanalysis of the Nation, a Dissection of our Soul, an Answer to our Detractors, a Reaffirmation of Faith, a Plea for Unity, an Appeal for Understanding, a Rededication to the Struggle, a Bill of Rights, a Declaration of Independence…

Much of the book goes like that, and it is only a little over a hundred pages in length. Those who attended his political rallies in the 1950s claimed he spoke in similar vein. His rivalry with Awolowo, founder and leader of the Action Group, deepened the historical rivalry between Ibadan and Ijebu in the city, and days of violence in which Ijebu persons and property were singled out for attack followed his tragic death in a car accident in March 1958.

Lamidi Adedibu – A thuggish chief who could have become the Olubadan had he not died in June 2008, and who played an ignominious role in Nigerian politics during the second coming of General Olusegun Obasanjo as Nigeria’s president (1999–2007), Adedibu combined the worst aspects of his two predecessors, with a further touch of perfidy. Between 2003 and 2008 all politics in Oyo State revolved around him; on his say-so the parliament impeached the governor who refused to turn the state coffers over to the so-called ‘strongman of Ibadan politics’.

His memoir, a dictated narrative with the typically implacable title, What I Saw: On the Politics and Governance of Ibadanland and the Issue of June 12, 1993, was an exercise in self-mystification. June 12 is the metonym for the presidential elections of 1993, adjudged the fairest and freest in Nigeria’s history, but annulled by the military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (1985–1993). It was typical of Adedibu’s political myopia (he described himself ad nauseam as a ‘realist’) that he would establish a parallel between the politics of Ibadan and the historic elections of 1993. In Adedibully, a devastatingly witty profile published months before Adedibu died, the Nigerian poet Tade Ipadeola disclosed that the politician had taken that name early in his career as a declaration that he meant to best Adelabu’s renown. Prior to June 12, however, he had been put in gaol for flouting the national ban on politicking. Here is an excerpt from his uncanny account:

After interrogation, the security agents asked us to come back the second day. However, the day appointed by the police that we should report to them was the burial day of Chief Lekan Salami who had died a day before. Because I had to attend the burial ceremony of this illustrious son of Ibadan, I decided not to keep the appointment…

It was the only mention of the flamboyant drummer/supporter in the whole book. Two pages later, a full-page picture shows Chief Salami receiving a trophy from a match official. We are told that he does this on behalf of the WNDC. This mixture of sports, localised tragedies and national politics may appear unsystematic, but as a witness to the annual Oke’Badan carnival once observed, there was a method to the madness: the Islamic burial of a local champion provided an auspicious occasion to traduce the law. Chief Lekan Salami died in a car accident in March 1988. He was sixty at the time – a double tragedy: he died young, and African football lost a great supporter.

Plus One – Like most prejudices, those directed at Ibadan are constituted by blind spots. The Olubadan Isaac Akinyele (1955–1964) published a masterful Yoruba-language history of the city in 1911, when Johnson’s masterpiece was still a misplaced manuscript. It has been translated into English by his niece, Kemi Morgan; Akinyele’s own biography was in turn written, also in Yoruba, by Chief J.A. Ayorinde, who used to delight television viewers with his elegant quotations from Shakespeare. As an Episcopalian Ibadan indigene who belonged to the Action Group and embraced the city’s martial heritage with a Christian touch, Olubadan Akinyele was the crucial factor in the equation between Awolowo and Adelabu.. A city-village like no other, Ibadan is variously called ‘Harlem of Africa’, ‘the London of Negroland’ (a tinge of racial prejudice there), and the ‘largest indigenous city in sub-Saharan Africa’. Attaining its modern prestige in the 1950s, the city has suffered a series of decapitations as new states emerged to chip away some of its pomp as regional capital: in 1963, when the Midwest region was carved out; in 1967 with the creation of Lagos State; in 1976 with the creation of three new states; and with the creation of Osun State in 1991. These serial and partial transfers of human and material resources have naturally affected the city’s standing among its peers: Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt now appear more important than Ibadan from the point of view of economic development. It is a state of affairs which reinforces the view of Ibadan as a large village, and turns fixations with facial marks and suchlike into markers of real ‘identity’. Things are this way, the skewed reasoning goes, because, after all, the ‘proper Ibadan’ cannot hold their own in the fast-moving scheme of things.

But Ibadan is…

In the mid-1990s, at the peak of the state of emergency superintended by brutal soldiers and marked by an extreme form of destitution which turned self-respecting but hungry citizens into beggars by decoy, a visitor walking through the motor-park would encounter a woman wiry with want or age panning for coins. She conducted herself with a disarming blend of grace, intimacy and importunity, and one had to lack manners to behold that quietly charming demeanour, and refuse to give. Then a certain parvenu arrived, in the manner of parvenus, almost out of nowhere, styling himself ‘The-Wealthy-One-Who-Uses-His-Money-To-Dispense-Kindness’. On Fridays, after the Muslim Jumaat service, the hungry folk thronged his sprawling house along Iwo Road and got treated, so the legend goes, to a meal of amala-gbegiri-kundi, a combo as ‘national’ to Ibadan as thiembu-dien is to Dakar. It followed that Adedibu too would be identified with this genre of kindness, and that his reactionary and anti-democratic amala politics attracted rather than repelled the Ibadan folk in a long season of hunger and warped perspective. That partly explained the grovelling of virtually all politicians before this ‘strongman’, and the largely intellectual character of the opposition to his terror.

Besides Adedibu and the parvenu merchant of second-hand automobiles, there was yet another Ibadan indigene, a staunch supporter of General Sani Abacha in those days. He unabashedly used his emergency newspaper as a propaganda tool of that regime of repression, and so was highly resented by those who, though hungry, banked their integrity. Then, in November 1999, with the military back in the barracks, during the graduation ceremonies at the University of Ibadan, restless students ambushed this influential man’s car, resolving to tear him into pieces for his bad politics. Security agents got wind of the plot and smuggled him out through the back roads, or bundled him into the trunk of his car, but it is significant that this happened at all, and that the setting was a university campus, the bastion of opposition to Adedibu’s alimentary populism.

So, Ibadan ain’t, either.

Its map may be tricky to the eye, but the aura, its brimming-over abundance of an aura, is far from ineffable or timeless. Ojaa’ba with its airy smell of lafun, the cassava flour, of iru, fermented locust seeds used as condiment, and of dried meat, called kundi; Gege with the whiff of butchered-animal entrails in its air; Bodija redolent of ground peppers, hen-coops and thawing mackerels; horny danfo drivers letting go of their libidinal frustrations on their horns, like ’Trane on tenor sax, from Mokola past Oniyanrin and Yeosa through Orita-Merin; the impertinent bus conductors more at home in the wiles of Gbagi-Ogunpa-Dugbe than wherever they called home; the once-famous Cocoa House at Dugbe, so high your cap fell off with the effort of glimpsing its peak. And the names, names so resonant with incantatory grace it would be common to call rose by an alias: Mapo, Beere, Yemetu-Igosun, Yemetu-Alaadorin, Yemetu-Adeoyo, Yemetu-Alawada, Alli-Iwo, Total Garden, Orita-Mefa, Agodi, Ikolaba, Idi-Ape, Monatan, Iwo-Road, Gate, Oje, Alafara-Oje, Alafara-Olubadan, Orita-Aperin, Adekile, Odo-Oye, Alakia, Agugu, Koloko, Ogbere-tio-ya, Odo-Ona-Elewe, Challenge, Ring-Road, Onireke, Iyaganku, Irefin, Itutaba, Beyerunka, Ori-Eeru, Foko, Agbeni, Alekuso, Gbenla, Oke-Seni, Oke-Ofa-Atipe, Oke-Ofa-Babaasale, Oke-Padre, Ayeye, Idi-Ikan, Inalende, Ode-Oolo, Labo, Elekuro, Eleta, Ile-Titun, Idi-Isin, Oke-Oluokun, Molete, Oranmiyan, Imalefalafia, Oke-Ado, Kudeti…

The city has both an oriki, as befits any Yoruba entity worth its existence, and an anthem that speaks to its status as a modern city with national aspirations. Haunt of masters of the eloquent Verb, homestead of Oluyole, where the thief gets the better of the owner, the stranger prospers more than the native, and the bandit-ruler, forswearing strife, makes captives of an entire town, for no one exists without some blemish, and civil strife is Ibadan’s eternal affliction. An affliction with its soothing moments, during the masquerade parades in June, when Alapala battles Paje in the street, their hardy followers tearing mutual skins with razor-sharp whips, Alapansanpa prowls the entire city in ungovernable fury until he arrives at the Olubadan’s palace, ringleaders of Abidi-Elege and Alemojagba air their sponsoring families’ realpolitik in public, and the most revered of them all, Oloolu, lord of Ode-Aje, revels in inscrutable self-regard, until an irreverent mullah dares to pull off the veil. It is still Nigeria’s publishing capital, and the first television station and the first university in West Africa were established there. It boasts a number of important research institutes whose current fortunes may or may not reflect those of the country, like the world-famous centre for tropical agriculture. It is called ‘Harlem of Africa’ because between 1951 and 1966, some of the leading lights of contemporary arts and letters such as Ulli Beier, Es’kia Mphahlele, Wole Soyinka, Geoffrey Axworthy, Chinua Achebe, Dennis Williams, Gerd Meuer, Tchicaya U’Tamsi, Jacob Lawrence, Mabel Segun and Robert July coincided in Ibadan, drawn thither by the university and the Mbari Club in the vicinity of today’s Lekan Salami Stadium. It is home to Nigeria’s only surviving colonial-era newspaper, Nigerian Tribune, founded by Awolowo, and the IICC Shooting Stars FC, to whose story it is now time to return.

IV

Soutin left ibadan for the second-leg match in Lagos ten days early, on a Thursday. December in southwestern Nigeria is a thirsty, incandescent month, and you could feel the excitement of the impending football match in the texture of the evening air, burnished to tinder-edged sharpness by the harmattan. While the players worked out at their training-camp inside the Trade Fair Complex west of Lagos, Ibadan remained agog with exhilaration. Jingles, hortatory public announcements, parades flavoured with evangelical drama, ruled the airwaves. Committee meetings aimed at ensuring success went apace with plans for post-victory parties. The military governor of Oyo State (the country’s civilian government having been booted out of power the previous December) probably instructed the director of sports, the coach and individual players to bring the Sékou Touré Cup to Ibadan or else…! (This, by the way, was the year of the Guinean strongman’s demise.) I distinctly remember a cartoon on the back page of Daily Sketch, another Ibadan daily, in which a meteor (or a star) crashed down on the head of a Zamalek player. The caption read: ‘Hey! Something is Shooting me Down!’

All appeared set. Odegbami, Soutin’s star player, had spent the last several weeks recuperating, and he looked fit enough to play. The coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, who later coached the Nigerian national team during the 2002 World Cup, hoped to bag a convincing win as a belated 40th-birthday present for his wife. The supporters’ club moved home to Lagos. Fans from different parts of the country came too, and the stadium began to fill up as early as 10:00 a.m. Pool aficionados knew that only the English league fixtures were worth banking on, but they placed bets on the match in Lagos all the same – old habits died hard. Everything and everyone was ready.

In ninety minutes, it would be over, and Soutin would shut down Western Avenue, the road leading to the stadium, with a victory dance.

In reality, the team was not ready.

Odegbami was not quite fit, but that match would be unthinkable without him. So he strode onto the pitch and played.

Felix Owolabi, the team’s irrepressible left-winger, could not play for technical reasons. He had bagged three yellow cards, and only on Wednesday, when a letter arrived from the headquarters of the African Football Confederation (CAF), did he realise this.

Much of the playing was concentrated on the right flank, largely because Owolabi’s shoe was too big for the replacement’s foot.

Buoyed by home support and convinced of technical superiority, Soutin went for broke and played like bravehearts.

Toward the end of the first half, a play-within-the-play unfolded. Zamalek’s goal-keeper, Abdel Maamour, started relying on delay tactics by holding on to the ball for longer than necessary. Whereupon Odegbami attacked and retrieved the ball from him for a successful shot at goal.

The Malawian referee had his hands pointed toward the centre, but he changed his mind after a protest by Egyptian players.

Then the unthinkable happened: Ogbein Fawole, an otherwise reliable defender, headed the ball back to the goalkeeper to deflect the aggression of a Zamalek attacker. The keeper was out-of-position. An own goal had occurred. The stadium went dead. It was 76 minutes into the game.

Moments later, another Zamalek player handled the ball inside the 18-yard box. Hope sprang eternal. But the striker couldn’t find the net. Another penalty offered itself soon after that, but the result was the same.

Finally the 90 minutes were over. Fans trooped out of the stadium, mournful and dejected. Days of passionate postgame analysis would follow, none too useful. We read in the papers and heard on the television that Soutin had not prepared well for the game. The coach was wrong to trust tactics of brawn and overwhelming raw power. One analyst speculated that the pitch at the National Stadium was rough, unlike the grassy turf at the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan. Another wrote that ‘the Stars were not tactically and strategically equipped to make the difference. They lacked the ammunition to shoot down their opponents.’ The Daily Sketch cartoonist clearly saw matters differently, having seen them earlier.

Fans went home. The Soutin players were abandoned at the stadium that night. The following morning. The following night. Three days and counting.

The worst was yet to come – or had arrived prior to that sentence of abandonment. On Sunday morning, December 9, the military governor ordered the dissolution of the team. Insult upon injury. It is doubtful that IICC Shooting Stars ever recovered from that action.

Postscripts

In the late 1980s, Soutin changed its name to the Shooting Stars Sports Club (or 3SC), with the general objective of functioning as a sports holding company catering to football, track-and-field sports, and so on. By 1991, the 3SC stabilised somewhat, and managed to emerge as Nigeria’s representatives at the CAF Cup the following year. The opponents were the Nakivubo Villa of Uganda. The finals were played at the stadium named after Chief Salami, and the Nigerian team won. Many people had moved on. The 1984 captain, Taiwo Ogunjobi, had retired, as had Odegbami (who never played another game after the disaster of December 9). Leventis United reigned and fell, disbanded by its owners in 1988. The current manager of the team is another Ibadan indigene, Mutiu Adepoju (Headmaster), who headed home Nigeria’s first goal against Spain in France ’98. Mr Elekuru died in 2006, at the age of 78. Cousin T is also no more; he died in 1989.

Ojaa’ba thrives, but a more inscrutable market has risen at Bodija, near the University of Ibadan. Military governors/administrators follow in quick succession, mirroring the rapidity of the baton passing from General Babangida to General Abacha. A certain Colonel Ike Nwosu comes to call the shots in Oyo State. He brings out an edict that prohibits the use of malleable measures for retailing grains and other dry goods, because it is believed that retailers cheat that way. To enforce the new rule, he orders the mass production of plastic containers, imprinted with Nigeria’s coat of arms as proof of authenticity. The market, the zone of occult instability where the people spin their spidery webs in Frantz Fanon’s enigmatic postulation, is both rational and warm. ‘Ike’ is the Yoruba word for plastic, lacking the fragility of a plate, so the military strongman seems to have hit on an elastic idea of buttonholing the folk consciousness to the import of his innovations. But the denizens of the market, the same folks who partake of free meals of amala-gbegiri-kundi on Friday afternoons, have a different idea. When left for minutes in hot water, the official plastic measurement shrinks in size.

The soldier ruled Ibadan, but could he grasp Layipo?


This story features in the Chimurenga 14 – Everyone Has Their Indian (April 2009) .
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Yellow Fever, Nko? https://chimurengachronic.co.za/yellow-fever-nko-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/yellow-fever-nko-2/#respond Fri, 24 Jul 2020 15:11:38 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=15269 Skin bleaching is often described as a manifestation of ‘colo-mentality’. However, argues Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, mimesis here is both an affirmation and a contestation of power.

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Skin bleaching is often described as a manifestation of ‘colo-mentality’. However, argues Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, mimesis here is both an affirmation and a contestation of power.

From Lagos to Los Angeles, from the Congo to Cuba, who can argue that colonialism has not had a devastating effect on the black world’s perception of itself, its choices, its opportunities and even its life-worlds? Both colonial and slave societies created a world where lighter skinned and white people got more social and economic privileges.

When black people contest and reassert their renewed humanity, it is the skin that they return to as their primary canvas. This is why skin bleaching is viewed as such a negating experience, a sign of low self-esteem, self-loathing, and reflecting the triumph of the corrosive effect of Euro- Western norms of beauty. Bleaching is therefore seen as the very antithesis of the idea that “black is beautiful”.

While I would not argue against the view that white supremacy continues to wreak havoc on the black world in its economic policies, representational regimes, political manipulation and ideological impositions, I doubt that this is the only explanation for what Fela Kuti refers to as Yellow Fever. To continue to explain why millions of people can knowingly continue to use products that contain hydroquinone and mercury, which can lead to blood poisoning as well as skin disfiguration such as ochronosis, only in terms of “colonial mentality” is to deny the agency of those involved and their power of choice.

I think another interpretation is available which stresses agency rather than collusion with racial hierarchies. Skin bleaching can be seen as a superficial form of self-styling, a form of adornment and bodily enhancement, just like plastic surgery, make-up or hair straightening. The aim is to use the chemical opportunity afforded by bleaching to achieve a certain beauty ideal and spectacle that is not about devaluing blackness. Rather, it is about expressing one’s participation in the global fashion system, and showing off an ability to rework socio-biological memes.

We should remember that many of the people who unabashedly bleach their skin occupy the lower socio-cultural and economic rungs. For them, appearance is everything. It is often the only currency they have to trade with; their first and only engagement with the world. They therefore invest more in their physical styling. Part of that currency is to ‘step out’ with luminous, light, radiant skin enhanced by hydroquinone cream and layers of pale foundation, mascara, rouge, eye shadow and shimmering painted lips.

Some of the women I know on Lagos Island who bleach their skin do so on their own terms without any desire for whiteness and its privileges. Far from self-hatred, these women are so self-possessed they would find the idea of desiring whiteness quite ludicrous. For them, skin bleaching provides the opportunity to change what they don’t like about their appearance or to further enhance what they find beautiful with cream or ‘concoction’.

There is no shame or hatred or deep reflection behind the choice. It is a fashion statement, a way to show-off and be the subject of marvel. That bleaching should induce shame in the participant is more a projection of the bourgeois world that are so angst ridden they fear that yellow fever threatens to expose their own indebtedness to the European beauty ideal. Privileging whiteness and adopting yellow fever for these participants are not one and the same. Yellow fever connotes freshness and vitality, whilst whiteness is synonymous with fragility and bile.

Some of these partially literate women, those on Lagos Island and in large markets across the West African coast, control billions of Naira or local currency selling fabrics, fast moving consumer goods for multi-nationals or acting as ‘general contractors’. They prop up the economy of their cities. Heads of banks will readily pick up their calls in the middle of the night. These are women who command resources that educate children and grandchildren in private schools in England and Switzerland. They support entire extended families, neighbourhoods and political parties, including often errant and inept husbands. Such men are needed not only for procreation, but also to ward off probing, accusatory eyes as to the source of their wealth. Lest we forget, female economic independence and power still arouses fear and accusations of witchcraft. The presence of children and a token Patriarch without power reduces accusations of the occult.

Unlike their educated, middle class counter-parts who may bleach and hide that fact or believe in discrete and fine make-up, these women care for no such subtleties. They draw attention to their made-upness, and the transfigurative power of hydroquinone on the skin. The artifice of beauty is there to be revealed so that others can pause, wonder and hail their triumph against nature. Their glowing skin, flickering eyelashes, charcoaled knuckles and French tipped nails communicate in multiple languages. These women want to be seen as they enter the dance floor where the Fuji maestro, KWAM ONE, or the Fuji queen, Salawa Abeni, is playing and have everyone attest to the fact that the flashing, mascaraed eyes are speaking Latin, the shimmering red lips are talking Spanish and the hydroquinoned skin is radiating beauty. The very idea of o ju so Latin e nu so Spanish (the eyes are speaking Latin and the lips, Spanish) references both the parodic playfulness and the give-and-take agency involved in practices of beautification and corporeal styling.

Apart from skin bleaching being yet another superficial form of styling in the fashion system, it is also a form of mimicry. Mimicry can be ironic, playful and at the same time subvert the very structure of power and value it imitates. Mimesis here is therefore both an affirmation and a contestation of power. The practice of skin bleaching therefore shows that what had appeared to be the preserve of the few can in fact be taken up and replicated by the many on their own meaningful terms.

Bleaching shows that it is possible to take on any identity, skew it and reorder it purposefully. The superior logic of white flesh is critiqued and exposed as also unstable; a part of a wider field of representation and global signs that is available to be consumed in the same way that “blackness” is available for global consumption of coolness.

But the question remains, given the continued hegemony of white norms of beauty, is it possible to use the very tools of the master to dismantle the master’s house? If we accept that a fundamental ambiguity and ambivalence haunts every expression of bleaching, then we might stop feeling so affronted by it. Instead, we see it for what it is, at least in the contemporary African setting, as a form of appropriation and expropriation that does not necessarily have deep political implications. Health implications? Of course! But as a site of cultural practice, bleaching is in murky territory. It is not either pure collusion to norms of whiteness or purely autonomous agency in opposition to it. It is yet another expression of the African world’s pragmatic and playful embrace of otherness in order to assert its own unique worldview and agency.


This story features in Chimurenga 16: The Chimurenga Chronicle (October 2011) .
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Urbanism Beyond Architecture – African Cities as Infrastructure https://chimurengachronic.co.za/urbanism-beyond-architecture-african-cities-as-infrastructure/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/urbanism-beyond-architecture-african-cities-as-infrastructure/#respond Wed, 29 Jan 2020 10:05:03 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17269 Vyjayanthi Rao, in conversation with Filip de Boeck & Abdou Maliq Simone […]

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Vyjayanthi Rao, in conversation with Filip de Boeck & Abdou Maliq Simone

In Kinshasa: Tales of the Invisible City, Filip de Boeck writes:

In spite of the fact that an analysis of the different physical sites through which the city exists and invents itself helps us to better understand the specific ways in which the materiality of the infrastructure generates particular sets of relations in the city, I would submit that in the end, in a city like Kinshasa, it is not, or not primarily, the material infrastructure or the built form that makes the city a city.  The city, in a way, exists beyond its architecture . . . the infrastructure and architecture that function best in Kinshasa are almost totally invisible on a material level.

This understanding of the city, expressed so succinctly by de Boeck, is shared by all three of us. But as anthropologists speaking to architects, we are also concerned with exploring the relation between visibility and invisibility and with the ‘networks of concrete becoming,’as Simone puts it, at once engaging and going beyond the artifice of material infrastructure and physical site.  Built form may be, as de Boeck states, ‘produced randomly in human sites as living space.’As urban studies have taken a ‘southern turn,’with an increasing number of works in mainstream urban studies focusing on cities of the global south, this contrast between built form and living space is indeed critical. But equally central, it seems, are questions of global scale and the possible political and spatial descriptions of particular cities, especially these cities of the southern hemisphere, at the global scale.

For this conversation, we take as our point of departure the multiple uses deriving from the Latin root capitalis (chief, principal, in the sense of sovereign power), which is both the root of capital as well as of capitellum, meaning small head, or the top of the column in the architectural sense.By juxtaposing these multiple uses, we enter into a contradiction: we are speaking both about the sense of a vanguard and of fixing, of that which tops off and shows off the solidity of the architecture as well as that which circulates and controls the expression of sovereign power in the political sense insofar as it is able to circulate. 

We are especially concerned with where we can situate ‘networks of concrete becoming,’ both in terms of forms of accumulation and in terms of the possibilities for articulating political power in a continent that is increasingly subjected to global flows of finance capital, resource extraction and migration. We found that the best place to begin was with the transformations of the physical environment of African cities. While Simone unpacks the developments in and around Dakar and their political effects on other Senegalese cities, speculating on the causes of such massive investments in construction, de Boeck reflects on the intensification of urbanity without architecture throughout Congo, in part as a result of the diamond trade. The relationship between what de Boeck calls the ‘ejaculation’ of wealth and the accentuation of non-investment in the physical space of Kinshasa is contrasted, for example, with the imaginary ‘urban planning’ encouraged by the various churches that have gained enormous popular appeal in the Congo. Can a conventional understanding of architecture sustain the weight of this imaginary planning? Can one think of the city outside of material forms of representation and aspiration such as those of architecture? These questions also motivate de Boeck’s explorations of Kinshasa at the 2004 Venice Architecture Biennale and his more recent exhibition, Kinshasa, The Imaginary City, in Johannesburg (2006).

Non-investment in material terms might also be linked to a return of the colonial comptoir economy, the economy of the trading post and the generativity of certain kinds of urban performance.  These performances center around the ‘hunter’s landscape,’ in which capital works only through its incessant expenditure and circulation rather than through a logic of accumulation and maximization of profit. It works, in other words, through the creation of social networks that make investments work for the urban hunter. In this landscape, colonial histories seem to endure inasmuch as the city continues to be seen as a site of exclusion by the vast majority of the people who developed Kinshasa outside its colonial boundaries. It is therefore a place where everything that comes from elsewhere – from outside the ludic spaces of social networks in formation – is thought of as being there to be ‘ripped off.’

Thus, the concentration of political power in the realm of the capital city is challenged by its circulation in and through diverse spaces and amid those networks that constitute the invisible architecture of connections of the contemporary African city. The physical aspect of the city, especially as the signal of a growing densification and convergence of trajectories, has, however, also become crucial. A history of Dakar, from its origins in the comptoir economy and its territorial incorporation into France that defined its relations with the other cities in the Senegalese metropolitan system, reveals these new trajectories.  These trajectories are at once global in their reach—controlled by actors from the Senegalese Murid Diaspora as well as the Lebanese Diaspora—while also having effects at the level of the nation, expressed in the investments that new actors from the hinterland are making into the landscape of Dakar, gaining new visibility for their activities. 

We explore here these dispersals of capital (financial and human) and their relation to these capital cities (Dakar, Kinshasa, Khartoum) and in the peculiar relations that cities like Lagos have to capital in both senses, economic and political.  In other words, we try to open the question of the location of capital in this conversation. In so doing, we attend to other forms of invisibility as well.  For what happens in the course of the circulation of capital across Africa is the generation of capital and of urbanity outside of known forms, outside of the structuring contexts of architecture and the planned insertion of material infrastructure.  “These cities are often invisible to the outside world,” de Boeck says, because “they function in ways that we are not used to seeing and therefore go unnoticed.” Thus we face the question, “where should capital/the capital city be located?” by asking, “what is the scene/site of urban action?”  We face the question, “what conduits of access are being developed in order to facilitate investment, expansion, accumulation or “ejaculation” of capital?” by asking, “what forms of social complexity are being explored in the development of these conduits?”  What sort of etiquette is being developed by residents of these cities in the drive of their residents to becoming visible in order to enable social being?  We turn to situations of boundary maintenance in Abidjan and in Khartoum, and we also turn to the emergent play of aspirations that reach for under-coded territories. Recent Malaysian investments in Senegalese social housing in the name of an ethical Islamic practice as well as Chinese investment in a transcontinental railway system represent gestures of a new kind of global play. In this conversation, we think these contradictions between the material and the non-material, the visible and the invisible, the push for material infrastructure in Africa and elsewhere today and the relationship that this push articulates between political power and capital, in the sense of the ‘topped off,’ aligned and accumulated stashes of wealth in its multiple forms.

Vyjayanthi Rao

CAPITAL CITY

Imaginary Urban Plans

Vyjayanthi Rao:  What are the spatial expressions of capital in contemporary Africa? How do these expressions relate to expressions of political and subjective power?

Abdou Maliq Simone:  Currently, in Dakar, you have the rather recent and still opaque project of building a new capital, for the moment designated as ‘Dubai sur Atlantique,’ some sixty kilometers to the north.  Partly this reflects the generalization of the reinvented logic of the entrepôt associated with Dubai; partly it emerges from the fact that there exists a kind of conurbation that leaves Dakar and then begins to link what were some major small cities like Thies and M’bour. In some ways you have this residue of a kind of colonial bifurcation. Fifty years ago, Dakar started to become too overcrowded, becoming too much of a threat to certain kinds of order and processes. Dense quarters were displaced to Pikine and Guediwaye, and that in some ways, culturally, became the real Dakar. Outside of colonial specifications, these areas reflected many of the tensions of urban spaces attempting to articulate temporal and spatial divergence. The same for Freetown, the same for Conakry, the same for Dakar and to a limited extent for Abidjan, you have coastal capitals where, geo-morphically, it’s quite limited in how they can grow. You have this kind of concentration in these very limited physical spaces. It becomes impossible to navigate. This kind of trajectory of expansion then makes it quite physically difficult to access the centers of power and centers of commerce. So, in terms of President Abdoulaye Wade saying we can no longer have the airport where we have it, we can no longer have ministries where we have them, we have to relocate, we have to bring them out to make them more accessible, to recenter, to reconstitute somehow the gravitational field of the capital means in one sense this old reiteration of new grand, grand works. Still, the former center, Plateau, continues to be a huge building site. You still see these immense kinds of constructions taking place there.

Filip deBoeck:  It’s incredible.  I just drove through it a couple of weeks ago.  Whose money is driving this?

AMS:  In some sense the appearance of continuous development signals a certain availability of this area to investment of all kind, and this plurality itself can constitute a platform for real occupation.  Whatever is put up will in the end be used in some way.  So residents in Dakar don’t usually have the sense that this is something that’s being inflated. Spaces are being bought.  There’s a market.  People are buying these things: office space, apartment space…

VR: In other words, it’s somehow not virtual?

AMS:  I can’t say for sure, but there’s a kind of popular understanding that there are real buyers for these things, real occupancy.

FdeB:  I think that is the difference with a place like Congo.  Clearly in Senegal or in Dakar, you have a middle class or upper middle class of people, merchants with financial means who are doing their own trade and commerce and investing in their own city. In Congo, such a local middle class is absent, and there are, of course, historical reasons for that. For a long time the whole country was run by a small group, a power elite around Mobutu. There was no middle ground between the very poor and the very rich.

Mobutu’s downfall created a void in that respect. Those with money left. In Kinshasa, as a result, the housing market just collapsed. Those who remained in the city could afford to buy housing. Today, real estate is booming again as never before, but the boom is not caused primarily by Congolese. The capital flowing into the city comes through ex-pats and foreigners. The latter often Lebanese—people from outside, who start to redevelop the city but only to a certain and very minimal extent.

VR: What about the diamond trade in the early 1990s and the kind of wealth it generated?  Was it at all reflected in what was happening to the physical space of Kinshasa?  

FdeB:  Well, on the one hand, it just accentuated the level of non-investment in physical space because all of that money would leave. Very little of it would be invested in infrastructure.  On the other hand, it did have a huge impact in other ways because the informal diamond economy allowed for local actors to all of a sudden gain access to a lot of money. People, often youngsters, would go to Angola to dig diamonds, and often they would come back with $1,000, $10,000 or even $100,000.

VR:  What would they do with this newly generated wealth?

FdeB:  Well, most of the time it was very quickly ejected and spent—kind of ejaculated, really, all over the place. Few were those who invested it in building, in houses, in plots of land. But some areas of certain neighbourhoods in Kinshasa did witness a modest construction boom thanks to that kind of money. But already, when you talk about the capital of Kinshasa, the question immediately is, the capital for whom? or who defined what the capital is, and who has access to it?  In Dakar, it was merely a discussion of where should it be.  In Congo, the colonial city really emerged as a non-place. It was defined as a ‘centre extra-coutumier,’ that is, the city placed itself right from the start outside of all locally existing cultural, social, and political frameworks. In the postcolonial period, Kinshasa became a major political centre. But in recent years, even that role has slightly changed. In the late 1990s we saw how regional players (Rwanda, among others) tried hard to make the capital move eastward, away from a Francophone sphere of influence. In the end that hasn’t worked, if only because of the sheer size and weight of Kinshasa as a cultural centre. And it has, of course, also remained an important political centre, but contrary to an earlier period, it is perhaps no longer exclusively the only political centre. There are other centres of power as well. With the Kabila dynasty, Lubumbashi, for example, has once again become more important.

And, second, the capital, already when the city was founded or when it grew out of really a comptoir economy, it was a trading post originally and then transformed into a huge labour camp.  The city that the Belgian colonial administration developed was a deeply segregated one, certainly in terms of race but also in terms of gender, for example. Basically, it was a depot of cheap labour force. Access to the city was strictly controlled. The city itself was dual: there was ‘la Ville,’ the exclusively white, colonial heart of the city, and then there was “la Cité,” the vast, indigenous peripheral city, inhabited by Congolese. The city in itself has always maintained a state of exclusion, even today. For example, where the colonial borders of the city end today, the real city starts, much like Pikine. But in Kinshasa, you have a colonial city with a very small heart, which stopped growing in 1960, when Kinshasa’s population did not exceed 400,000. Afterward, 4 million to 6 million people have been added onto that, but in areas that have not been urbanized along formal lines.

Today, one of the access points into the old colonial Ville is marked by a statue, which Father Kabila erected in memory of Lumumba, Congo’s first prime minister after independence. The statue itself is of a Lumumba who stands with one hand raised. And there are all kinds of popular interpretations of that statue.  First of all, in Congo, there is no real culture of statuary in public places, so its sudden appearance generated all kinds of comments. Painted in gold, the huge and heavy statue reminds one of the former Soviet Union’s aesthetics.  The first remarks people made were, “This is going to be heavy to move and steal when another wave of looting sweeps through the city.” And second, “why is he standing there with his hand like this?”  He’s basically saying, “Stop, you can’t get into the city.”  To all of the multitudes who live in the peripheral city that has become the real city, the statue says, “You’re not allowed to come in.” It’s basically perceived as the government denying access to all these people who want to get into the city but who are not allowed to, who can’t afford to, who can’t make use of it, who are blocked and excluded.

The areas and neighbourhoods that extend beyond the statue are referred to as ‘La Chine populaire,’ or the Peoples Republic of China, because they are so populous.  They are called “Bana terre rouge,” or the children of the red earth, in reference to the dusty and un-asphalted roads in those areas.  The people living there have never had a real sense of the colonial city as their own. Very often, I think, they don’t feel as if the city belongs to them.  It’s not their city. 

Father Kabila, I believe, understood that very well and tried to decentralize the urban space, much like Wade. As an alternative to the Central Market in the colonial centre, Kabila ordered another market to be built in the city’s newer periphery. But even then that market picks up only very slowly because people do not really consider it their own: it is a top-down government initiative.  It has been there now for almost ten years, and the feeling about that market is not good. People start working and functioning around the market, but the market itself as a constructed space by the government has never really been fully adopted.

So that other city, that peripheral city that is the real city, has developed according to its own notion of what capital might mean, or what forms of accumulation might mean. In order to exist socially in a city like Kinshasa, expenditure, circulation, and conspicuous consumption are far more important than accumulation or maximalization of profit. Accumulation requires a directionality, a teleology, a specific temporality which is not the temporality of the city today. The city, on the contrary, is a space of the sudden, the unforeseen, the unexpected and fleeting moment. In order to survive in it, one has to know how to capture that moment. It is this praxis of capture and seizure that determines life and survival in the city, which itself is often compared to the space of the forest. As such, the city does not function according to a standard capitalist logic as we know it. The city, essentially, is a hunter’s landscape. In order to survive in this forest-city, one has to be a good hunter, that is, know how to seize an opportunity and know how to make that known. The new figures of success within the city, whether it be preachers, politicians, or musicians, are, in a very real sense, the city’s best hunters: those who know how to capture wealth, inject it again in social networks, and gain social weight through it.

That also means that the urbanscape is not so much shaped by the dynamics of modernity but rather that it is constantly infused with all kinds of other notions and moralities that often have longstanding, rural roots.

The practices of seizure and immediate expenditure make for the fact that there is no build-up of any surplus; the notion of accumulation is absent. Everything you have or everything that is sold in the market is everything that can be contained by one’s belly, everything that can be eaten and digested immediately in the moment.  There is no use in buying ten cans of something because you don’t know whether on the tenth day you will still be there to drink it.  So you buy what you need in the moment. You don’t buy a whole bar of soap, but you buy just a third of it, enough to wash yourself with this one time.  You don’t buy a whole pack of cigarettes; you buy just one or even half of one cigarette.  And so all the heaps of foodstuffs that you see at the market are measured by the quantity of the belly, the quantity of the stomach.  Capital in that sense starts to mean something else; it becomes something else, away from standard notions of accumulation.

VR:  If notions of accumulation are displaced from the logic of capital in the urban practices of the Kinois, is there a different sense or understanding of investment as well?

FdeB:  Well, there is a lot of investment in social relations and in one’s self-realization through these relations, but far less investment in material infrastructure.  Not in buildings, not in a city that is still perceived as something that is not fully ours after all those decades. And since it is not fully ours, it means there isn’t a sense of responsibility about it: the material infrastructure and everything that comes from above and from outside is there to be ripped off, to be captured and taken advantage of, whether legally or illegally. The term now is kisanola, or ‘combing your hair.’ ‘Combing’ in the sense people now give to it means stealing, looting, ripping off.  If I, as a white person, walk through the street, people will make the kisanola sign, by which they indicate ‘You are there to be ripped off,’ basically because I don’t belong there and can therefore be taken advantage of without any moral objections or feelings of guilt or wrongdoing. Similarly, a money changer in the street might advertise ‘double kisanola.’ meaning, ‘Here you will be ripped off twice.’ It indicates that the money changer you are dealing with knows what he is doing, that he is shrewd and streetwise. Paradoxically, the fact that he is not to be trusted is a sign you can trust that guy. Another image people use is that of an injection. In order to socially exist and survive in this urban environment, one has to know how to stick a needle into someone and suck the victim’s blood. So that’s the way in which capital moves in the city, that’s what it is about.  It’s not about accumulating; it’s not about maximizing.  It is not about having but about being, not about possessing but about consuming, about singularizing oneself by immediately putting capital in constant circulation.

VR:   If these actions do not have a standard capitalist notion of investment, which is typically directed toward future profitability and to something that might materialize at some other point in time, then what kinds of future are being imagined by the Kinois?

FdeB:  Such a sense is emerging today but in the religious sphere, where money has come to mean something very specific. Within Pentecostalism and other ‘prosperity churches,’ you see how the switch toward a capitalist notion of money and of accumulation is made. There you also witness the introduction of new notions of individualization. These churches turn away from older collective identities based on kinship or ethnic belonging. Within that new religious public sphere these former group identities are disfavoured. On the contrary, one becomes an authentic Christian as an individual and through one’s own work and effort.  And that’s the constant message of these churches. Here one witnesses the introduction of a new subject formation, the introduction also, of a new work ethos and of new notions of accumulation. In these churches accumulation is no longer something that is socially negative. It is, on the contrary, something that is favoured, even though the fruits of that labour and accumulation are often not harvested instantly in this life. When people give money and goods to the church and to their preacher, they do so because they believe that God will multiply these gifts and return it to them. During Masses and prayer meetings the believers often listen to testimonies by people who died and were resuscitated through the force of prayer. Often, they report back to the church community about what they witnessed in Paradise: “Everything that we give to the church, everything that we give to the preacher, is being invested for you in heaven,” they would say. “And with the money you give they are already building your house and your villa in paradise.  When you die, your house will be there, a house that you were never able to afford here on earth.”  So ‘giving’ in this religious context has become an investment in real estate, even though that real estate is located in heaven. In this sense, the churches do contribute to a new form of urban planning, but it is an imaginary urban planning in the hereafter.

In those churches, within these new forms of Christian fundamentalism, you clearly see how the switch is made from the notion of the gift toward a notion of capital, with all of the fallout that it produces too—because it means that stress is put on individual success and not on group solidarity.  And it means that the notion of the group, of what ‘family’ is, for example, is being redefined at the moment away from the reality of the extended family toward the new and more restrictive notion of the nuclear family. In the process, people whom one would have defined as kin before are now being labelled as outsiders, strangers, or even witches. These are radically new geographies of inclusion and exclusion that emerge within the urban locale and redefine the boundaries between inside and outside, kin and stranger, endogamous and exogamous.

A city like Kinshasa has really become the fault line where these two different logics—the logic of gift- and kin-based reciprocity and the logic of money—meet, so far without really merging, and that produces huge upheavals.

VR: In the book, you talked about the idea of the jungle, and how it’s becoming part of the landscape of the city. The growth of the city seems to be premised upon the encompassing of this forest through new forms of action such as those in the religious sphere.

FdeB: Well, as I said, it’s again about the hunter. In the forest, in order to survive, you have to know how to hunt. In the city, in order to survive, you have to know how to hunt. Well, that means, what does the hunter do when he goes hunting?  He comes back with meat and then distributes it according to specific roles and rules that indicate what one should give to one’s maternal uncle, first wife, the owner of the gun, the owner of the land where you shot the animal on, and so on and so forth. And that’s how he makes that capital gain, in this case, work for him. He gains in social prestige by investing in social capital.

In order to survive in the city, you have to do the same thing.  You have to constantly make sure that you create and invest in certain networks, which are no longer the network of the household, maybe, or of your ethnic group or your village, but different kinds of associations, different kinds of groups of cooperation—maybe a gang, maybe all kinds of groups.  But you constantly have to invest, you constantly have to be present, constantly have to exchange, constantly be “in touch” with others.  In order to survive in the city, you have to know how to do that.

When people speak of the city as forest, they refer to a specific kind of forest.  It’s a forest in which you can become modern, where you can attain and access a certain modernity, even if it’s only in imaginary or oneiric form. I gave the example of the church, but the bar is another concrete example of a space where you can do that, and the church and the bar overlap to a certain extent.  They are basically the same ludic spaces.

VR:  I was also interested when you talked about the hollowing out of political power in Kinshasa—the colonial Kinshasa, not the other Kinshasa that has developed later on—and the concentration of that power in other cities, like Lubumbashi. What is the relationship between these various concentrations and expressions of power?  What is the kind of impact they have on the landscape of the capital city?

AMS: Looking at some of the overlaps and divergences of Dakar may be somewhat interesting.  Because one has to keep in mind that Dakar and other Senegalese towns were actual—

FdeB: Those were comptoirs.

AMS: They were comptoirs and also part of France at one point.  Dakar was literally integrated into French territory and done so in a way to mark the strong divide between the city, the urban and the hinterland.  The hinterland was the province of the Marabout, a kind of religious power that had to be contained, that had to be marked.  I don’t know a lot about that history, but it is a clear history with ramifications to this day.  In some ways, outside of Kinshasa is a hinterland that is teeming with certain possibilities.  It teems with both an excess of life and death.  Whereas outside of Dakar is increasingly a hinterland that is over.  It’s wasted.

But what’s interesting, too, is the fact that you have Touba.  It was a religious city and was at one time exempt from taxation and had no kind of local municipal structures. The buying and selling all was concentrated as a kind of terrain of the Murid social structure and also exempt from certain kinds of applications of customs law. 

Touba really grew a lot through trade, so it was a kind of entrepôt masked as sacred city.  Then, when people began to realize that it was a sort of booming commercial centre on the basis of illegal trade, there was the attempt to domesticate it in some way.  The domestication, the complex negotiations to bring its urban economy, which was not just an economy of Touba, but a transnational economy— that somehow symbolically and administratively was administered from Touba.  The complicated negotiations to try to bring it into the ambit of the state meant that certain deals had to be worked out.  And an important deal was that Plateau, the commercial, administrative, colonial centre of Dakar, became—through many different policies, many different deals—increasingly available to the Murids.  So, the Murids began to take over.  They began to take over certain Lebanese commercial interests, particularly that kind of intermediary between wholesaling and retailing.  What was interesting is that the Dakar’s urban economy in some ways became an extension of Touba.  But you have then a kind of indigenous entrepreneurship that really is within an urban economy and is really strong, unlike in many other places. 

FdeB:  That’s really different from Congo. I mean, in terms of indigenous entrepreneurship, what has worked well in the past decades are those parts of the country that knew how to evade Kinshasa. A very good example are the Nande cultivators and traders of coffee in a secondary city such as Butembo, in eastern Congo, who through their own networks managed to really inscribe themselves in transnational commercial movements which link them to Dubai and Asia. Very wealthy, a whole new form of urbanization, a kind of very provincial urbanism, all of it because they are not under the control of the capital city and know how to evade the state.  Otherwise, it would never have happened.  The real urban growth and the notion itself of urbanity often develops, I would say, outside of Kinshasa, as long as it’s not controlled by the capital.

The same is true of the diamond trade.  Even though materially they do not represent much, little diamond towns that spring up along the border with Angola, for example, or the gold mining towns in the East – those are the places where the idea of capitalism and urbanity is most fully generated.  But again, materially, these cities and towns do not correspond to the form of what we think of as a city.  And yet they are much more urban in a way in their dynamics than what goes on in the ‘real’ city. 

AMS:  In Senegal, in some ways, the predominant mode of urban accumulation can be attributed to what goes on outside of Senegal.  There’s nothing within the nation of Senegal itself that could account for the kind of—

FdeB:  No, but within Senegal, there are local autochthonous groups that have the capacity and strength to impose themselves and become key players and control that game. In Congo, you often don’t have these, in that sense. Whether small trade and commerce or industrial activities in the fields of mining or wood-logging today, these activities often were and still are not in Congolese hands but are controlled by the Lebanese for example or the Chinese, for that matter.  Even in the early years of Kinshasa’s existence, the trade was not in Congolese hands but was often controlled by what were called the ‘Coastmen’: people coming from Freetown or Dakar or later the Greeks and the Portuguese and now the Lebanese and the Pakistanis and so on. 

When it comes to the broader geopolitical game, I mean, why is Uganda there?  Why is Rwanda there?  It seems to be Congo’s fate to always be exploited by and profited from outsiders.  Congolese, even the Congolese government, tries to get its hands on some of the crumbles that fall off the table, but it never fully controls the game, it seems to me. Whereas these Murid are in control of what they’re doing, to some extent.

AMS:  And increasingly so. 

FdeB:  And increasingly so, yes, increasingly taking over the state.

AMS:  So that sort of division, of keeping the state separate from capital, Dakar separate from Touba—

VR:  In practical terms, it seems to be blurring.  This relation between the capital city as the expression of political power and as the space for capital as economic field of operation —

AMS:  It’s not there.  For example, during the periods of intense religious ceremony in Touba, you can walk down the main street of Dakar and have almost no traffic.  Otherwise, streets in Dakar, where I used to live not far from Plateau, which used to be a 10-minute taxi ride, today takes an hour and a half.

FdeB:  Absolutely.  Or even longer now, because of the road works.

AMS:  But also because there are limited feeder roads, because of the increased densification.  In some ways, what accounts for that kind of densification?  All right, many of the Lebanese have gone away, have been displaced.  So they go, but many of the Lebanese also continue to have important kinds of economic circuits.  As they’re displaced from certain kinds of economic activities but because of the ways that many of those Lebanese networks were implicated within the socialist party, they simply take another form of accumulation, which is through extending their real estate. So, you have these big Lebanese investments in building.

Now, the Murid are also capable of doing that.  I mean, its not that the particular form of economic activity is anything different from a kind of corporate structure. They do that as well. But there is something important about the market.  There is something important about the logic of the way in which the market operates, as an intensely mutable form.  There’s something very material about the way that this market operates: small traders who are more than small traders, of shifting alliances that are made visible, of a form of visibility where people can watch, observe, see what’s going on, who’s dealing with whom.  But that has to be serviced, so you have big trucks coming in and traffic.

It becomes a densification by virtue of multiplying these trajectories in a way that’s partly symbolic, partly a kind of nerve centre. The antecedents want to reproduce themselves spatially, yet veer off and transform into a sort of Murid version of corporate headquarters—big buildings, because they’re investing in that as well—and also the way in which Dakar is increasingly implicated in other economies elsewhere.  For example, the political crises of Abidjan during the past several years has meant key corporations, multilaterals, move from Abidjan to Dakar.

But what’s also interesting is the attempt to host the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Dakar, something that was supposed to have already taken place.  It has been postponed now three times.  Wade always says the reason for this delay is because Dakar needs adequate infrastructure in order to sufficiently host the meeting.  For him, that means the construction of eight new five-star hotels on the Corniche.

In some ways the infrastructure of hosting this meeting already exists.  It already exists in tourist areas outside the city.  But in some ways, that’s too much a kind of budget tourism, bordering on some sleazy activities that can’t really be the site to host an Islamic meeting.  Maybe any other meeting could take place there.  But because this is the Organization of Islamic Conference and as the basis of accumulation of the Murids, Senegal has always in some sense been marginal to the rest of the Islamic world, there is some perceived need to use this gathering as a way of normalizing Senegal’s relationships with the Muslim world. 

Not that Senegal itself hasn’t always been seen as part of the Muslim world.  But increasingly, as the Murids assume more political and economic power and then become available as an expression of a certain kind of national cohesion, signalling the distinctiveness of Senegal as a nation but also its integration into a larger theatre of operations.  “We’re Muslims, we’re clearly Muslims, we take Islam seriously.” Singularity is very much wrapped up historically into a sense of national identity, a sense of national cohesion.

In some ways, the hosting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference signals almost the normalization of Senegal’s position within the Islamic world, so it has to be done right.  But to be done right means that you have to make this big intervention into the built environment. The money is coming from Dubai, from Kuwait.  These hotels basically belong to them, and what is their interest? What is the interest of the Emirates in the Gulf?  The financially ambiguous role of Dubai World and its real estate arm, Limitless, in the proposed construction of the new capital simply accentuates the impression that the country is being brought into a particular field of orbit that is being elaborated through major urban and financial engineering projects managed by Gulf companies across the Maghreb.

Somehow there’s something about locating what will be Gulf-owned pieces of real estate on the Corniche, facing the Atlantic in the westernmost Islamic country.  A six-hour flight from New York—there’s something about that.

FdeB:  Are you saying this, or is this the way this has been perceived?

AMS:  On the street in Dakar, there’s this kind of talk, you know?

FdeB:  Like we’re in the middle of—

AMS:  All I’m saying is that when you look at the relationship between capital and the capital city, the kind of project of centralizing, the kind of expression of the capital, of the national cohesion—

VR:  The way I’m hearing it is that there’s some relationship between being aligned to these other sorts of flows—from Dubai or elsewhere—on the one hand, and to the regeneration of the city, of the nation on the other hand, which cannot any longer be expressed without this alignment?  Without this movement toward bringing those elements into the space of the city—in a very concrete expression. The buildings almost become that medium as it were, where—

AMS:  Yes, but combined with a very old story too. Wade is a very old guy.  He’s in his early 80s. He’s just begun his last term in office at what may be a high political price for the country. He knows that time is running out, and he’s waited to be in power for a long, long time, and somehow the notion of the grands travaux, the big works—

FdeB:  Very French.  Like a French President.

AMS:  To make the mark, to leave the trace, with also very old ideas about making Senegal really a modern nation—that’s reflected in this.  It’s an old story.

Invisible Infrastructure

VR: Turning to a related but different question, I want you both to elaborate why the notion of invisibility seems so analytically central to thinking about the contemporary African city? 

FdeB: The question seems to be the things that Maliq was talking about: urban networks and how people move through the city, make use of the city, and create the city and generate the city while doing so.  How can you capture that? How can you start to understand, capture, contain, and represent urban life?  How do you represent an urban reality like that? You cannot. All the means that we have at our disposal to do so, whether it’s writing or whether it’s photography, seem to be in a way not sufficient.

VR: So the question is also about epistemology having to do with the urban as object. It seems that writing about invisibility is a productive way of describing what’s happening in African cities.  And part of the interest is also to understand whether those forms of description are particular only to Africa or if they can travel to other urban conditions.

FdeB:  Well, invisibility can mean many things. There is invisibility on many levels, of course.  There is the fact that these cities are invisible to the outside world because people don’t know much about African cities.  There is the fact that these cities function in ways we’re not used to, and that we therefore do not see, that go unnoticed.  There is the fact that forms of urban planning and so on continue in very much literally invisible ways, like the urbanization that I was talking about – urbanizing in Paradise rather than the real life.  Invisibility might mean a number of things.

AMS:  I agree.  As part of this New School grant, there has been this project in Douala for the past eighteen months.  One piece of that was to have a working group of young, middle-class kids in a middle-class area of Douala, Bonamoussadi.  They meet once every two weeks for eighteen months.  This notion of invisibility was something that was on their minds as well.  It was a word that was used, it was a concern that they had, it was a very particular kind of concern because these are middle-class kids.  They come from families that are civil servants or lawyers or teachers, professors, business people, and live in a quarter of Douala that has maybe 300,000 people.  It’s not small; it’s a significant chunk of the city.

When they talked about the changes that they have seen taking place over the past couple of years, the discussion started on the level of something very visible.  That is, the changes in the built environment and the way in which there was this popularity of a certain kind of tile that was being put on the houses. Old houses were being torn down, and on the façades of these new ones that were being built was a particular kind of tile—white tile.  They started to talk about the way in which this was a kind of uneasy thing, an unsettling thing, for them because it had these connotations of the cemetery, the mortuary, of death—the kind of the white that you would put on graves.  

They would talk about the façade as some kind of death.  In many of the new constructions, people would spend so much money putting the tile on the façade that they didn’t have enough money left over to furnish the house inside.  You’d have these beautiful, nice façades but inside something that—

FdeB:  Emptiness.

AMS:  Emptiness. So, again, sort of intensifying this kind of connotation of death.  They would see their neighbours, but the concern was, “Okay, this is the built environment, it’s a nice house, but who is inside?”  This thing about being visible in the built environment was also a kind of concern about with whom do we live?  The sense about living with people you don’t quite know. 

And then, of course, the notion of the living dead—those who are able to operate in the city without being interrupted, whose operations cannot be made visible, rendered visible. We don’t know how someone’s gotten their money.  All of a sudden they have a lot of money, or all of a sudden someone loses a lot of money.  Or all of a sudden, people move from a house without anyone knowing.

In some ways, their concern was “Okay, we’re all sort of middle class in this boat.  We all have sort of narratives about how we got here.  My mother, my father, they went to university . . .” But they would talk about going to shop at a new mall, a new supermarket.  They would talk about the anxiety of with whom would you be shopping, because you never know who it is that these people are.  So the concern was always to make that which is invisible visible—to interrupt it, to trip it up, to find ways of trying to slow down possible neighbours who could operate with such speed through the city that they wouldn’t be visible.  How do you make them visible?  How do you trip them up?  How do you set up roadblocks?

They then went on to talk about what people they knew were actually doing to try to trip them up.  The stories get quite complicated and quite political and involve other territories and people in the city that they would never deal with.  The notion sometimes of visibility and invisibility is a concern that people themselves raise. It’s a kind of language that they themselves bring, so it’s not an analytical thing necessarily imposed.  It can be that, but…

FdeB:  It’s a natural thing that comes out of the reality that people inhabit.  In Kinshasa, the same.  The relationship between visibility and invisibility is a very weird one, in a way, because on the one hand, in order to exist socially in the city it is all about being as visible as possible. It’s about appearance.  That’s why you have that whole popular urban culture of sape and elegance, about the clothes you wear. It’s about knowing how to put yourself on stage, and it’s the only way to acquire social weight and impose yourself in public space. All of a sudden there is this person emerging, this preacher, politician, musician, or businessman, very theatrical and very physically present, although you never see how he got there. The modes in which visibility was achieved remained rather invisible.

Performing Urbanity

VR: So are there particular forms of etiquette associated with becoming visible?

AMS: I am thinking about the work I did in Lagos, which was some time ago.  It was in a particular neighbourhood in Lagos, which was very peculiar to Lagos, very particular to Lagos. There, the questions of visibility and invisibility were largely about witnessing. How do you turn yourself into a receiver of the kinds of information that might be useful to you in order to know how to insert yourself into some kind of emerging deal or scenario? Because all that this neighbourhood had was its deals: the deals that didn’t take place inside but always outside.  There was always this kind of incessant process of visiting each other, showing up, visiting, making oneself visible, to go to a store where other people are showing up. But then as other people are showing up, how do you not insist upon your agenda? How don’t you dominate this space, this scene, but how do you become visible and almost disappear in the face of others who are also there, in some sense, for the same agenda?

Because this was largely a Hausa neighbourhood within a Yoruba city—or a Muslim place, West African Muslim place—it wasn’t that there weren’t visible associations and visible rules and visible representatives of the emir and his business interests.  Somehow, in order to make the thing work, people had to put together new crews with new kinds of skills, with different kinds of experiences and trades than in the past, because you’re trying to take on something new. You’re trying to configure new kinds of deals now, you’re trying to go to new cities, you’re trying to buy new commodities, you’re trying to relate to other kinds of syndicates.  

So, I want to put together a new crew, but how do I do that?  But also, how do I not enter?  It’s complicated because this is a spatial arena that knew it had to survive in some way because Babandiga and the military wanted to seize it because it’s an interlocked, an interstitial zone between Lagos island and Victoria.  It was ceded by the British to the Hausa as a kind of space of operation, so there are very visible solidarities that had to be maintained.  You can’t include everyone, but you can’t be seen excluding people in particular.  How do you create the sense that your new crews are in some sense self-selected, that you’re not the one who’s excluding?

So it is just a complicated kind of elaboration of a social etiquette in a way, a kind of business practice that had to keep channels of information open, had to not keep secrets, but had to have an informational economy where you minimized competition. It was all done through these quotidian practices of having sites that apparently didn’t sell much of anything but were places of reception. There’s a way of managing an economy of visibility and invisibility, where the two had to be brought together in some kind of functional calibration and recalibrated all of the time.

Within the larger scope of Lagos, given the fact that there are usually eight people to a room, always in very dense quarters, how can you keep something to yourself?  How can you keep something away?  Is there, in any sense, privacy?  Privacy doesn’t really exist spatially.  It has to be a calibration of not seeing what you see, and also seeing what you don’t see, because you have to be able to see.

Even in the everyday cognition of this kind of density, visibility and invisibility are day-to-day matters.

FdeB: But you also need to be invisible or to know how to disappear and reappear at a good time. 

AMS:  Timeliness.

FdeB:  Time is very important. 

AMS:  The calculations of acting in a timely matter…

FdeB:  That’s why everybody also seems to be waiting all of the time, I think.

AMS:  Given the sort of big-man or big-woman syndrome, particularly in a place like Lagos, you need a protector, you need a patron, you need someone you can have recourse to, you can appeal to, who can arbitrate, who can make a decision so that you don’t have to: “Okay, I know the one that I appeal to, that I regard, that I owe, that I depend on …”

This person has a lot of other people around. What happens if we all show up at the same time?  How do we know how not to all show up at the same time?   


VR:  How do we know not to crowd the space?

AMS:  To crowd, yes.

AMS:  In this one area I lived in when I was living in Khartoum, people from Darfur were living with people from the South in a complicated relationship with lots of tension but lots of complementarities. As the area was growing, so were demands for space and services.  But it was always interesting because the households from Darfur were saying, “Implement Sharia. We want Sharia, we want to live in terms of Islamic law.  We want this to apply to ourselves.”

And so these people working in the area—local NGOs, activists—were always concerned that in some way this would create a legalistic divide with people from the South, who would not fall under Sharia law.  The people from Darfur were saying, “No, you don’t have to apply it.  But we want to live under it. Please make it applicable for us; we want it.”  There was always the concern that this would polarize relationships more and really intensify conflict.

But because people from Darfur would then say, “No, this is not the point. We want Sharia for us. We want to mark the difference with our neighbours even more, because it will allow us to deal with them in a much easier way.”  When I then do all these other things, it’s not that I’m doing it as part of my zone of operation, but I’m becoming part of their zone of operation. So I’m then exempt; I don’t have to implicate myself. I can retain my sense of being a good Muslim, because that’s my operation in their zone.

In some ways, the desire for the legalistic divide wasn’t a desire to cut off contact but, quite on the contrary, to maintain a sense of a certain kind of integrity.

VR:  It seems that there is an interesting contradiction here with laws in the municipal, urban planning sense, and these other understandings of law, which don’t quite territorialize in the same way, which are universal at some level. In other words, not quite cutting off or zoning behaviour and restricting it to a particular sphere of operation; instead, which allow universalization, based on that which is mobile, which can be carried around, through the person, through their ability to act and be governed by a set of invisible structures, rather than visible barriers of the ways in which cities are normally understood: barriers of neighbourhoods or barriers of access or transportation, infrastructure of various kinds, and so on.

FdeB:  But at the same time [these barriers] do exist.

AMS:  This is the claim that’s made by my friend Ousman Dembele, who is an urban geographer in Abidjan. If you’re in Kumasi [a quarter of Abidjan is largely populated by Ivorians from the North of the country] and the kids are stuck in Kumasi for the most part because surrounding them if you go to Marcory, it’s dangerous territory. You could be killed, you could be beaten up.  These territories of operation depend on where you’re from, your religion, your region, and your political affiliation. The territorialization is really strong.

But what Dembele describes is that in some ways it’s impossible for this kind of strict territorialization to be maintained. Somehow there’s a sense of boundaries, and the boundaries are dividing lines but also works-in-progress. They become spaces of revision, trying to come up with new terms of connection. But, of course, this is somewhat invisible work. He claims that at these boundaries, there’s a lot of boundary maintenance work taking place.  The maintenance is not to keep the division in place necessarily, but to work out what are the terms through which there is interchange. It’s impossible for people to stay put necessarily.

We know that there’s a lot about urban life that increasingly enables the capacity to stay within segregated spaces but, we know, also risks atrophy overall.  It risks the kind of urbanizing trajectories that an urban system needs in order to be able to function. We also know that these kinds of spaces of segregation are dysfunctional in some ways.  In some way, the boundary becomes a kind of place where it’s transgressed, not just about transgression, but about trying to come up with something that you don’t necessarily commit yourself to, which is continuously revised, worked out—a language, a terrain of transaction itself.

Dembele claims that the relationship between contiguous areas with very different histories of inhabitation, where everyone is an enemy to each other, when you look at it as a kind of system, that system can’t function just simply by being. There are these points of intersection at boundaries, but you can’t make them too visible because you know that people might be looking, you could be killed. There’s something else that does take place.

FROM COLONIAL TO GLOBAL

The Capacity for Networking

VR: If we were to return to our original point of departure and think about the problem of the visible again, we have to also confront these various global trajectories of investment in Africa that are increasingly visible now. 

AMS: The Chinese will probably end up putting in one billion dollars to Lagos, and much of that will go to the cultivation of a kind of Chinese entrepôt.  I’m not sure if this is still the case, but at one point this was to be the site of Chinese personnel, of services, businesses and residents—of those that are responsible for managing West Africa. 

It is almost like a large, gated community, but it is also more than just a kind of residential facility. So what happens?  Always the thing is that unlike colonial relationships of the past, where the ability to operate was predicated on all of these other, ancillary activities like civilizing missions and destructive—

VR: The display of excessive power…

AMS: Yes, but this is: “We’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone.” It’s a kind of capacitation of a kind of parallel play, of a quid pro quo.  You allow us to bring our engineering teams, our staff, our personnel; you allow us to evacuate particular kinds of resources, again using our infrastructure, then we will pay you for the right to have done that. Part of that payment is, once again, investment in infrastructure. This is a kind of connection that will have really massive implications.

VR:  Yes, that’s something that I want to hear more about, especially in the light our discussion about the operation of very low-end Chinese merchants or retailers in places like Douala and smaller towns in Africa—the ways in which they integrate themselves into local networks, markets, and economic flows, and so on.  How do you think this massive infrastructural investment and capacitation that arises from that is different from the operation of these merchants?  Or maybe it’s not different.  What is it going to do to the shape of the city or the future of the city? 

For example, I’m thinking of the way that Khartoum is being transformed, not from the West but from India, from China, and not in the traditional forms of trade, which are historic.  You have had Indian merchants in Africa for centuries, coming in through the Indian Ocean trade, and similarly the Chinese as well.  But this is something new.  This is Capital, with a big ‘C,’ coming in from the East.  That’s not so much built of these human networks, but built of something more inhuman, a creation of an inhuman platform.  It probably has great ethical implications for the way that architecture, especially, inserts itself into the city.

AMS:  Yes.  The Malaysians, for example, wanted to make this deal with Wade where they would build 30,000 units of social housing, but they had to be built within one year, and it had to be done under particular kinds of conditions. And in some ways, it was. It was a Malaysian company that specializes in quick housing construction for lower-end consumption, from which they think they can profit.  It has antecedents in a particular kind of Malaysian aspiration, which is that Malaysia can embody a kind of progressive, Islamic capitalism that is able to take certain kinds of risks but yet has an interaction with other fields of possibility.

It’s still a playing field. In Cabo Verde, Irish investors want to build 15,000 units of retirement housing for European investment. In some ways, there is this sense that there is no place that can’t be inhabited, there is no place that can’t be potentially occupied, there is no place that is in some ways off-limits.  Because you still have these kinds of undercoded territories, they also can become playgrounds for ideas and aspirations and of a variety of different external actors. 

The Chinese juggernaut is the most dominant, the most visible kind of actor in this, but there are others.VR: It’s perhaps appropriate to end here with this gesture toward these singular projects that have great potential for generating urbanism beyond the city in ways that are perhaps different from those projects for renovating the capital city that we began with.  Thanks very much to both of you for your time and energy.


This article first appeared in African Cities Reader I: Pan-African Practices (published April 2010), and is available for purchase at our online shop.

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Quel Est L’Endroit Idéal https://chimurengachronic.co.za/quel-est-lendroit-ideal/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/quel-est-lendroit-ideal/#respond Tue, 28 Jan 2020 14:15:07 +0000 https://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=17263 Les Brasseries du Cameroun is the country’s largest industry and dedicated to guaranteeing a steady flow of liquid amber to the vast proliferation of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other unidentified nightspots – some still in Maquis-style hiding – that have mushroomed all over the city.

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Christian Hannussek and Salifou Lindou

Douala may not be the ideal African city for religious redemption or happy-clappy born-again-Christian speaking in tongues, but if your idea of salvation after the hardships of daily life is a refreshing beer, then this is the place to be. Les Brasseries du Cameroun is the country’s largest industry and dedicated to guaranteeing a steady flow of liquid amber to the vast proliferation of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other unidentified nightspots – some still in Maquis-style hiding  – that have mushroomed all over the city.

But how do you make your night? What is it that attracts you to one place and not another? Our survey has no claims to reflecting anything but personal preferences – but that still won’t deter us from analysing our criteria of choice, from interior design and architecture to how the venues are anchored in the life of the city in today’s urban space. Admittedly, we aren’t drawn to expensive furniture and upmarket decoration in that hallmark ambience irresistible to wannabe snobs. In our quest for real style, we have to leave our options open. Even after a great time at one venue on one evening we still have to confront that fundamental question the morning after: But what is the ideal place?

The city’s longstanding bar-strip is a 200-metre stretch of beer-fuelled raucousness in the Bali quarter; if you want simultaneous music from several competing sound systems above the yelling of the crowd but still enjoy your drink and retain control of your basic motor functions, “Nuit Blanche” is the place of our choice and the perfect spot to observe the action.

Its white walls and furniture reflect the current penchant for snowy hues. The divinely unpretentious Monoblock A chairs are the most comfortable bar seating in all Douala and the atmosphere swings between garishly lit and sultry and well, garishly sultry and lit.

The beer on offer is brewed in accordance with the German purity law of 1516. It’s a nice venue, immaculately clean and very spruce – a place where even the German purity law could feel at home.

Here, we meet local artists Hervé Yamguen and Hervé Youmbi and over a beer or two we get all the latest gossip about the Douala art scene.

“C’est bon mais c’est trop fort.” (“It’s good but it’s too hot”) says Dou Kaya, putting even more pepper sauce on his grilled fish. Dou – multi-talented Egyptologist and musician  – lives in an impressive mansion, a signature building of German colonial architecture right across the street from ‘L’Escale de Bonantoine’. This restaurant/bar heads our list for its excellent seafood and the sophisticated atmosphere of the mixed but distinguished Deido quarter crowd. The high-concept design of intersecting patios and terraces with soothing purple and green spots blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, design and function, seeing and being seen. We can comfortably watch the constant flow of passersby or a selection of international video productions on multiple screens that include stunning surprises, even for the new media connoisseur.

The interior has plenty of wow: a shell of a building with exposed raw concrete beams and walls in a teasingly unfinished state skilfully set off against a corrugated steel ceiling.

The toilets are also deliberately designed to perplex alcohol-addled minds: the doors are hinged in the opposite direction to the way they look and there’s no light switch… the door snaps shut behind you and ta-da! Total darkness and no sense of orientation. What a lark.

The pleasure-themed ‘Alt Délices du Wouri’ guarantees the ultimate in relaxation. The well equipped shelves behind the bars provide the input for heavenly dreams and the sheer enjoyment of the good vibes of the company around.

In the early evening, this is the preferred meeting point for amorous couples and later – after they have left for the more serious part of the date – the artists and intellectuals take over.

We were honoured to share the night with painter Koko Komegne, the good spirit and heart of the Douala art scene. He always finds the right words to express the most profound thoughts with lightness and humour. But why do we discover the highest level of aesthetic consciousness here?

It must be the bar’s understated, minimalist design and soft flow of fluorescent light that gives this venue its unique atmosphere – which is just pinch-me-I’m-dreaming magical.

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“We should take out that word ‘national’ and reconstruct that word ‘theatre’…. https://chimurengachronic.co.za/we-should-take-out-that-word-national-and-reconstruct-that-word-theatre-it-could-become-a-play-house-or-an-artist-city/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/we-should-take-out-that-word-national-and-reconstruct-that-word-theatre-it-could-become-a-play-house-or-an-artist-city/#respond Thu, 01 Aug 2019 16:30:06 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=5731 Perfect, perfect, you have solved the problem for me, we have deconstructed the idea of National Theatre. We have taken the national and thrown it in the dust bin.

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It could become a play house or an artist city.”

A conversation between Jude Anogwih and Ayodele Arigbabu

Jude Anogwih: I find it interesting how the idea of the National Theatre as an institutional organisation just sits there in a wide open space. It’s a bit embarrassing, but it is also exciting, because if you are to imagine that land mass … imagine that as an artist village, and the kind of activity that would be going on there. The nature of our products, the nature of intellectual context, the creative energy that would really be evolving there. It would be like some sort of a high-tension power space.

Ayodele Arigbabu: Haawww, well, that’s if wishes were horses, as they say, but then, there is an artist village there, isn’t there? On the fringes…

JA: That’s just a bit of the entire land mass, you know? I’m looking at the entire space; so…

AA: So you are looking at scale?

JA: Well, if you may use that term…

AA: Because what you are talking about exists in some form, especially when you are looking at this scale, excluding that activity to a scale that will fit to the size of the National Theatre, not just its physical size, but also the emotional and symbolic image and baggage that the structure carries. So I suppose what you’re looking at is scale, exploding all those activities. But what’s missing, what’s preventing that scale currently, in your opinion?

JA: I’m also looking at another aspect, which is more like reactivation. I know quite a lot exists already, you have the national galleries there, you have the artist village there, the workshop for creating sculpture… you also have the National Theatre, and then you have very relaxing spaces. But I’m looking at how we can reactivate these energies. Currently, they are playing their role in a most minimal way, but how do we get them to bring out the best of what they can offer, within a wider perspective, possibly as an international space for artistic collaboration and intervention. I think my emphasis is more on how to reactivate the space.

AA: Yea, that’s what’s missing, why? Because some of the things that you are suggesting, I agree should be happening there, and some of those things are happening but at a very small scale. I mean there is a National Gallery there, but I don’t know how many people visit that place. You have the artist village and the other cultural things happening around there. So, my question is, if that huge building is there, that land is there, and that intention to have this things happen is still there, and is evidence in the fact that people are still there trying to do this thing, then what we are complaining about is not being done at the right scale? What’s missing, what’s needed for that reactivation? To make it happen at the scale?

JA: Why don’t we look at cross-collaboration of ideas and practice? Maybe we look at some synage that can come out from the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), working collaboratively with the artists’ workshop or working with the National Theatre staff; each person drawing resource and information from the others and possibly seeing how these collaborations can come into some hybrid forms. But let me come back to my earlier word, reactivate. I didn’t say its not active, but more about building up its capacity to maximize the output and possibly make it more vibrant and attractive to people and to draw on the the existing ideas and activities already going on there.

AA: Ok, but let me ask a question, you’ve been in practice for a couple of decades at least?

JA: Definitely! AA: Of what use has the National Theatre been to your career as an artist, especially in the last 10 years? How central has it been to your practice? That’s an interesting question. As a kid I remember watching the broadcast of the FESTAC 77 activities in the National Theatre. The dance, the music, it was so amazing and it was one of the things that nourished my intent, my desire to be an artist. And then all through my schooling, we always encountered the National Theatre one way or the other, especially when it cames to African culture and arts. And this was also another amazing time for me, I mean learning about the Ghanaian culture, learning about southern dance and activities from Tanzania, from Morocco, from all over, you know? I think at every moment I am inspired by the physical structure of the National Theatre, the beauty of the landscape and the diversity of interest. Aside from all this, one can have a bottle of beer at the corner with pepper soup and hang out with friends and get some fresh air. So for me there has always been a very interesting inspiration that I draw from this structure, either from its activities or from the physical content of the place, and also within the visual of work within.

AA: So, the National Theatre has provided you with essence of nostalgia: But I have not seen it impacting directly on your career, beyond the services provided in giving you a connection with what happened during FESTAC, that historical concept. It seems that the National Theatre is becoming nothing but a shell, it’s just the building: if its about abe igi (under the tree) where people drink beer, there are lots of spots in Lagos where people drink beer. If it’s about the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), they have space at Freedom Park. Indeed, there are other venues that are taking care of some of these things that might have occurred or been housed within the National Theatre. For me, this makes the NT redundant, a space that has outgrown its use. So why don’t we just advise the government to create a performative event, in which the National Theatre is rigged with explosives , and its blown up, and the explosion is recorded as video art, so that at least the building can be put to some use and is demise becomes a huge event at a monumental scale compare to FESTAC, and then we can clear the debris away and build an estate from that land. And then we can all go to sleep and stop worrying about this terrible building that has not achieved anything for us in the past few decades.

JA: You know, I wouldn’t buy that idea of blowing up the National Theatre. I rather buy the idea of reformation. As an artist, and in line with my practice, my work is never finished – after 10, 20 years I could go add some elements, I could take out or totally dismantle the whole piece and rearrange it. So I’m rather looking at the idea of reconstructing the National Theatre. I’m very careful about this word we call structure. I know to somebody like you, an architect, it would mean bringing in new material, taking away or possibly erasing the entire structure and having a better place and then you would have another dimension take form there. For myself, I think its about bringing in certain things that will change the original perspective or the original functions of this building. It’s an amazing building, it’s something that should be kept as a symbol of national pride. Now, if it’s not meeting our expectations, what do we do? How do we reactivate it, how do we reconstruct it? How do we reposition? You see it’s a very beautiful space in the sense that you can imagine that space being run as a residency space for artists, as a home for artists. Ok, and then we can make more spaces for theatre, for an art school… imagine a whole lot of activities going on there, all building on the history of the structure, building on the original or initial intent of that structure. It was built to unite the Africans culturally, which is still a very utopian idea, because I don’t think there is any need for us to talk about Panafricanism, when we know we can all grow individually, independently and also meet the expectations of others. So I’m looking at the idea of reconstruction. I wouldn’t blow up the National Theatre; I would only rescale it, give it new functions and take away certain elements, keep others for historical purposes. A place that takes its history from something that happened in the past, from a lesson we might have learnt from the misappropriation and misuse of resources. It could even break ground for intellectual research on corruption, on the misappropriation of funds, on bad governance, on maladministration, and then invite artists to create works on these topics.

AA: Don’t you think you are indulging in wishing for utopia? I mean that in two ways: First there is the economy behind the whole idea of cultural production and managing the cultural space. And if you look at the global scene, funding for culture is not doing very well. If government has not been able to manage power generation, which is very very central to the existence of nation; if government could not run a telephone service and has to rely on private entities to manage these basic …

JA: I’m sorry my friend, if the private sector can reactivate the telecom, what makes you think that the private sector is not interested in reactivating the culture industry, with special emphasis on the National Theatre? Government wants to sell off the structure… AA: Then let them do it, because I hate the idea of everything depending on the government. But don’t you think if the government sells it to private interest, then you are putting your heart in the hands of capitalists who care all about profits. They might be able to make more profits if they put up malls, and maybe cinemas and just forget about live theatre. JA: Super scary, but I remember earlier, I made mention of capitalists. I think it doesn’t have to be sold to capitalists, but governments could create a fund or an independent organisation, that requires private influence. The government can also see that these people have all power to make the best use of that space, not really turning it into a money-making environment. I’m not a fan of government selling it to Mr Money Bag. Im not interested in that because I know it’s going to turn into some kind of hotel, into some kind of pure water factory, just because he needs to make his profit. But I am interested in a group of people or minds taking up that structure and running it on behalf of the nation. If they abuse the opportunity, basically we get rid of them and they suffer the consequences of their actions, but they have every power to determine what position or how that space is used.

AA: Yea, but what if they are not able to run it and keep it afloat, in terms of recovering the money used in such a huge facility, and even for creating all this programming that we are talking about, which, you must agree, is hardly ever break even? So, if at the end of the day, they can’t win that war against commerce, then what’s the point if they are just going to do less than what the government could have done. Now the other perspective that I want to talk about in terms of my question about this utopia of the National Theatre that is blossoming with activities… In the first place, is there enough of a national consciousness and zeal in the people to sell it? Is there enough demand for the kind of culture that we produce? That’s the other thing required to support such a huge facility. Is our dream for that space not a bit unrealistic, both economically and in terms of existing demands. Are our dreams not as huge as the dreams of the military government that was flushed with oil money at that point in time they thought the next thing to do was to build a massive structure, which was fine for FESTAC, but immediately after FESTAC, it became too much to handle. So maybe if they had even built the National Theatre in such a way that it could have been scaled down immediately after FESTAC? I think they did that with the aquatic center for the Olympics in London. It was designed so that during the Olympics they have it at the full scales, because of course they were going to have a large turn out of people and after the Olympics, it was designed so that they could take away some part of it, and it would be suitable for the immediate local community after the Olympics, not too big for the community to handle. So I’m just doing a reality check here, I love the National Theatre – just in case people are wondering who is this idiot who is suggesting we blow up such a building. I am emotionally attached to that building, but let’s do a reality check, are we not trying to fit a utopian dream into a space that is not ready, that does not have the capacity to accommodate it?

JA: Let’s go back a little, like you said, how many people are aware of the cultural activities going on in this country? I think with a bit more research, we would find that the cultural industry in this country has generated more funds both local and international over the years than any other sector. The only problem is that most of these are not properly documented. We don’t have the record of number of people who are coming to Nigeria or travelling within in to attend cultural activities. And let’s not forget our artists who are moving into the world. How many contacts are being made? What ideas are they bringing back and how are these integrated to sustain their interest and profession? I think a little research would reveal that this country is hungry, people of this country are hungry especially for good things, especially for cultural things. People don’t just want to drive out and listen to music, they want more than music, they want a live performance and they want to sit with the actors and the musicians and the performers and the artists and get an understanding about what sustains them, and why they do what they do.

AA: I’ve been trying to sell theatre tickets for a few years in this town [Lagos], they don’t necessarily get sold out just like that.

JA: I know, the reason is that these days most cultural activities are illusive. It’s only the rich, the people who are well-travelled and enlightened who are considered consumers of culture. But consider an example: we were at Bariga, on the street corner, I remember, in December 2009, and we had a street intervention programme and we had projections and performances, we engaged the the entire street, fish sellers…. everyone stopped at a moment to refresh and enjoy themselves before going back to their homes or work.

AA: Oh yes, but they didn’t pay for it

JA: They never paid for it

AA: Ha! Ha!

JA: Ok, but I am coming to how the resources had to be generated. And it brings me again to the idea of exaggerated things. We exaggerate things in this country, we exaggerate the price, we exaggerate the idea, so much so that we have lost the meaning of cultural exchange: people – artists and community – coming together to produce something that their reciprocal interest can sustain. So I think we really need to reason carefully, you know, so much is bloated in this country which is not good for us, especially in the creative industry. Look at Nollywood! Nollywood is so locked up in the space that they don’t want to collaborate with anyone else, or when they see you coming, they think you are coming to take a whole chunk of the cake or whatever they are enjoying, you understand? AA: I find that strange, because Nollywood is…

JA: I am putting more emphasis on collaborative ideas, and the flexibility to bring them to fruition. Why don’t we key into basic things like festivals and art fairs and see how we can grow them, move them forward a little. It doesn’t take much, I’m sorry, I’m always optimistic about doing things in the right ways, with the right people and we shouldn’t exaggerate the way we publicise things. These guys pay billions of naira to publicise/advertise on Third Mainland Bridge and then they transfer the cost on you and me. And for Gods sake, if you are over-taxed or if something is overpaid for, you do that once, you wouldn’t want to do it a second time. You lose total interest and then you seek alternative places to get your message across, and you just realise you have to go to that beer parlour under a tree and listen to the sound coming from the speakers… it gives you almost the same feeling as if you were listening to a live performance in any other place. Fela made it very beautiful for everybody, the ordinary man could go to the shrine and watch Fela perform live, have his drinks, interact extensively and go away inspired.

AA: Yeah, but Fela’s shrine still exists in some form, as the shrine run right now by Femi Kuti, it was and is still is providing music. So why then are we looking for the National Theatre if there are already other spaces doing these things?

JA: Maybe we should take out that word “national”, I hate it with passion because that is what causes the confusion in this whole structure.

AA: So when you remove “national”, it becomes theatre

JA: We can also reconstruct that word “theatre”, it could become like a play house or like an artist city.

AA: That is a more interesting idea to me…when you say an artist city, then you are describing Lagos to me, because Lagos is an artist city, because there is a performance every second on the street of Lagos. If you go out there, the conductor on that bus is ready to give you a performance.

JA: There is a difference between a spontaneous and well articulated program, creative program and what happens on the street ok? Lagos is a huge super active eccentric space and it inspires me.

AA: You are going to dangerous ground now because when you are trying to separate the heart of the conductor from the orchestrated heart of the actor… You are going to a dangerous ground.

JA: No, no, I still come back to the idea of linking each form, but careful linking, done with very intelligent and worthy perspective. I can’t just take a bus conductor who needs to shout, demonstrate and do other things to earn a living and then tell him, ‘leave that bus that’s going to Iyana Ipaja, come here, come and shout, demonstrate and earn nothing’. But I can take my crew, get into the bus, tell the bus driver ‘shout, scream, do your business, earn your money and then we do our documentation’, and we also make you happier, you know by promoting what you do and also encourage you. And the next time the bus driver is off duty, he’s going to come see what he did last time with those guys that came with camera in the bus. A conversation between Jude Anogwih and Ayodele Arigbabu

AA: Perfect, perfect, you have solved the problem for me, we have deconstructed the idea of National Theatre. We have taken the national and thrown it in the dust bin. We have taken theatre and we have turned it around and it has gone beyond even the idea of a play house and to an artist city, which Lagos actually is. Thank you, so can we now forget about the National Theatre and talk about something else. If the entire city is an art space, and the entire city is designated as such and it’s in the DNA of the city to create and promote art … if that sort of thing continues and it expands, that might also be part of why the National Theatre is not working, because the arts have diffused across the entire city, so is there a need for the National Theatre?

JA: Remember we have already thrown that word away, and we have reconstructed the second, which means there is no need for a National Theatre. Good, look, it could be just a space like every other space, where interest comes into that place, interest chooses to create dimension out of that place, interests choose to replace it or move it around. It’s a free working table – for example, my work as an artist entails making drawing on any surface; those drawing can at a point become sculptural, I call them all out and they become three dimension pieces that can form an installation. But it is still all about working with a space.

AA: Don’t you think its counter-productive to try to graft or force energy into the space?

JA: Look, creativity is the most beautiful thing in life. I think of an idea, I don’t bother myself about the material or medium, because I know, that creative force or idea is going to direct me to the kind of material that will help to bring it out in its best form. It will also direct me to other multiple materials that can also give it multiple dimensions and meanings. So we have to be flexible with this dynamic structure of creativity. You can’t force something into an idea. You can’t force an idea into an individual. You can’t force energy into a space, but you can, with careful insight, observe how that energy migrates into any space or any part of that space. And then when that happens, you see you get excited and you either begin to create dimension out of it, or you begin to articulate it in more defined ways, or you begin to make sketches or scans that might guide you towards redirecting that energy – like channelling a river to where you want it to be more functional. But remember, energy is like a river, it never forgets its root and it will take you back to the source, and that means there is a lucrative practice at all times and you can enjoy moving your idea, situating your idea, interacting with your idea, sharing your idea as a form of collaborative content. And this will give you new inspiration and content. You have created a mark or network of creative channel, and you can’t exhaust it, unless someone somewhere says ‘I don’t want to do this’ or ‘I just want to refresh and build into something like an hybrid form’. This is what I’m looking at. It’s not complex.

AA: So what is our agreement? We have agreed that we don’t need the National Theatre. Also to make the space available to other lucrative energy and see how that guides and protects the space. If we are left with this place, what can you do with it?

JA: This place is hungry for a whole lot of creative activity. I know this place used to be a printing press. So as a writer, I know what this place meant for the work that I do. So, I would bring it back to its original form. There would be all sorts of machines, with designers, and also a small space for the writer, where he can think and receive more inspiration for his work. I would make it an outlet where everyone comes together, learns from one another and inspires one another. We have to find a way of pushing out this creative energy, so it will meet the needs of the people.

AA: It all boils down to capital. The energy is out there, although it might be scattered, with people doing their different things, but if you want to bring that together to form a critical mass, it all boils down to question of capital. I mean the solid cash.

JA: Do you know that if you have a very wonderful idea, there are capitalists out there, who are ready to give you the financial support you need? But it is things like Big Brother, Project Fame and Idol that get the biggest support these days. Does it mean that no-one has ever come up with a very good theatre idea? What I’m suggesting is that people need to create more platforms, to think a little bit more, to be positive in their aspirations. I am an addict of positivity; I believe everything can actually work out.

AA: I would like to see a program with a strong emphasis on digital communication in literature, publishing films, visual and video art in the practical and not theoretical sense. Also live performances that rely heavily on digital should not be left out. Just like a festival in UK, called Time Wave, which is all about digital media. People now use digital like never before. By taking the notion of National Theatre beyond something archival, it will make it something like a time capsule. It would really be interesting to have such a festival whereby we showcase our culture as Africans, but stretch out the point that technology is not strange or alien to us. Part of why the country is the way it is, is because we don’t engage sufficiently with the future.

JA: It’s a shame that we don’t go to the schools and universities where we have these young minds. If we could encourage and support these young minds, it would really make a whole lot of difference. We should come together and think about how we can create something like a miniature of what we want in the future.

The African Cities Reader is a biennial publication that brings together contributors from across Africa and the world to challenge the prevailing depiction of urban life on the continent and redefine cityness. This articles appears in the third ACR, published April 2015. 

 

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TO REFUSE THAT WHICH HAS BEEN REFUSED TO YOU https://chimurengachronic.co.za/to-refuse-that-which-has-been-refused-to-you-2/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/to-refuse-that-which-has-been-refused-to-you-2/#respond Fri, 19 Oct 2018 17:49:53 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=10784 Fred Moten and Saidiya Hartman sit down to talk about the temporal […]

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Fred Moten and Saidiya Hartman sit down to talk about the temporal and traditional in the age of refusal – of movement, of citizenship. They offer up a different way of thinking, a pathway to another understanding of community as well as the possibility of harnessing fugitivity as a creative empowering strategy*.

Saidiya Hartman: One of the places I think about the outside is in this constitutive paradox. Frederick Douglass talks about the thought in deed or the thought in song and a philosophy of abolition that’s made inside the circle of slavery. He says, “one is only able to give an account of it from the outside.” One way of thinking about this idea is in temporal relations, which I think is wrong because then the outside comes after the inside. Rather, I think the tradition is to produce a thought of the outside while in the inside. Yes, the enclosure is brutal… but the practice is always about finding a way to produce an outside within that space. It seems to me that a history of black thought (one that’s not the thought of canonical thinkers) the thought of most folks is really devoted to this labour of trying to produce an outside, trying to create an opening, which is often only discernible belatedly and it’s discernible as it becomes marked as crime or as it’s subject to a new form of enclosure that is the response to a certain kind of making/happening. Given the kind of unceasing onslaught of militarised violence directed against a civilian population, I’ve been thinking a lot about the space of the hold and what happens there. For me, part of the paradox is that the ordinary is constituted by stuff that is so terrible and impossible to bear and yet in that context, people make things happen, they continue to act/ produce. I want to keep those two things in tension; both the terror and the opening.

Fred Moten: It reminds me of an essay by Foucault on Maurice Blanchot called The Thought of the Outside. One way to think about it is the reason why we feel it necessary to constantly, I don’t want to say go back to the hold, but the reason we feel it necessary to renew our consciousness of being in the hold, so to speak, is because maybe there’s a way in which the thought of the outside can only occur from the inside. On one hand we speak in reverence of a tradition of the thought of the outside or the tradition of those able to be in two places at one time. I always thought that was the real importance and beauty of Harriet Ann Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave, which is about constantly trying to figure out how to be in two places at the same time, under absolute duress, often in both places. But there is a sense in which the constant renewal of the terms and conditions of that inside/outside opposition becomes debilitating in many ways in and of themselves.
It reminds me, I’m from small town in Arkansas called Kingswood that only has 300 people. My aunts lived in another town that wasn’t really a town, called New Edinburg, which the people in Kingswood would call “the country”. Then there were people who lived so deep in the woods that we referred to them as “living out from” New Edinburg. So, I’ve been trying to think of living out from the outside, or out, so to speak, of that inside/outside opposition. It’s hard to not think of yourself in some kind of infinity loop or some kind of Yayoi Kusama infinity room, but when I think of the outdoors, the black outside, I think of it as this thing which is to be out from the outside. Or what are the conditions that would make such a thought possible, and also necessary, so a meta out; an ec ec; extra ecclesiastical.
The thing that was in my mind for the last few weeks before coming back here, was that when I lived here before, as a kid, I could just always hear somebody running. I just felt like being in those instances of being out in the woods. That for me is where I was closest to the runaway. So, I can’t separate the outside from this constant necessity and activity of running away, of flight. This means that the outside is always bringing those constraints with it. And it’s impossible not to think about those things now. It’s always impossible to not think about those things, but for some reason it just seems like there are more people getting shot these days. It’s not actually true, but it just feels like it is… so…

SH: One of things I thought was interesting from this “out-from”, even in this space what you’re already countering is that threat of enclosure/captivity. When you describe the “out-from”, there is a lovely book on marronage and it talks about petit marronage and marronage on the border, people who were close enough to the plantation to still be caught, who found a way to live in the trees but couldn’t leave any marks of human habitation. To me that’s a kind of an out-from. So, you escaped a certain kind of enclosure but that threat… it’s a certain dance… you’ve made this other mode of dwelling often inside the trunk of trees but you’re not in a relationship with the land via farming, the land isn’t displaying any signs of cultivation. What I wrestle with is the threat, the terror, the violence of enclosure and the vulnerability, the precarity of these makings. And we continue to make and create because that’s all we can do. There’s a kind of opening but there’s the structural container—the forces that are making living hard, impossible. And that those define so many of the circumstances in which these experiments and living unfold.

FM: Somehow, I haven’t been able to make myself clear when it comes to certain things but I feel like it’s probably not my fault. I don’t know that it’s possible to be clear when it comes to these kinds of things, but let’s say… and I get scared about saying certain kinds of stuff because I feel like sometimes it could seem really callous and I don’t mean… I don’t want to seem that way because it’s not that I don’t feel, or that I don’t care. But let’s talk about it in terms of what it means to live in a way that would not reveal, not show, no signs of human habitation. Obviously there’s a field, a space, a constraint, a container, a bounded-space because every time you were saying unbounded, I was thinking, is that right? Noam Chomsky used to make this really interesting distinction –and I don’t think I really fully understood it – between that which is bounded but infinite, and that which is unbounded but finite. So, if it’s unbounded, it’s still finite and there’s a quite specific and often quite brutal finitude that structures whatever is going on within the general; if we can speak of what it is to be within the general framework of the unbounded… there’s never… I mean, the whole point about escape is that it’s an activity. It’s not an achievement. You don’t ever get escaped. Like, “I escaped!” No! And what that means is that what you’re escaping from is always after you. It’s always on you.
What’s interesting to me – but its hard to think or talk about – is that we can recognize that absolute horror, the unspeakable incalculable terror and horror that accompanies the necessity of not leaving a trace of human inhabitation. And then there’s the whole question of, what would a life be that wasn’t interested in leaving a trace of human habitation? So fuck the human, human-inhabitation!
I think of a phrase I often use – and I always think of it in relation to Fannie Lou Hamer, because it’s just me giving a theoretical spin on a formulation she made in practice: to refuse that which has been refused to you. And that’s what I’m interested in. And that doesn’t mean that what’s at stake is some kind of blind, happy, celebratory attitude toward all the beautiful stuff that we’ve made under constraint. I love all the beautiful stuff we’ve made under constraint but I’m pretty sure I would love all the beautiful stuff we’d make out from under constraint better. But there’s no way to get to that, except through this. We can’t go around this. We gotta fight through this. But, by the same token, anybody who thinks they can come even close to understanding how terrible the terror has been without understanding how beautiful the beauty has been against the grain of that terror, is wrong. There is no calculus of the terror that can make a proper calculation without reference to that which resists it. It’s just not possible. So this is the key thing to me.

SH: I agree. When I think about these forms of living like petit marronage and how they come to an end and not even an absolute end because new practices emerge and there have always been an endless number of beautiful models of living otherwise. But that encounter: defeat and then we must reemerge again. So it’s not like you’re insufficiently accounting for the terror but I think that maybe we’re at this kind of shift. Like my own thinking right now is that we just have to be involved in that unceasing labour, producing these new experiments in living even as defeat continues to be the outcome… but we’re not stopped by that defeat. To escape isn’t finite. And I understand my “now” always in relationship to all these other “nows”. And often what has met those kind of beautiful experiments is certain forms of defeat, by the state, by the police, by reforming agents. It doesn’t mean that they kill or quash or can stop or snuff out that process but that’s also part of the field too.

FM: I remember when you and Frank B Wilderson had that interview on “The Position of the Unthought” and you were messing with Fredric Jameson. There’s a romanticism that goes with detachment around this notion of the narrative of defeat, which he thinks specifically in relation to the league of revolutionary black workers… and it’s an insufficient account, it’s problematic. Part of the problem is what if it turns out that the kinds of terror, the particular kind of history that we’re trying to work through – talking about you as historical figure and me as profoundly ahistorical figure. It’s like, it’s not even something you can really talk about within a calculus of victory and defeat.
Defeat is a word that seems applicable in many ways. And then you know there’s a whole specific black Christian discourse on victory that one wants to appeal to every once in a while… but it just might be that part of the problem is that the concepts we have been given in order to try and think and talk about this stuff we try and talk about, just don’t work. They’re inadequate, inoperative. And it might even be the case that the concept itself is an inadequate mental construct or that conceptualism itself is an inadequate intellectual disposition. It’s like we’re working on some other kind of stuff. I feel this reading your work all the time. You’re saying these things, using a given language but I know you’re talking about something else, in some other language. And so you have to work through that, it’s a difficult thing and I’m gonna just keep going. And I see black studies now as reaching a kind of crisis in a certain way; we just can’t keep going on like this. The conceptual apparatuses at our disposal are inadequate. And we’re just kind of spinning our wheels in a lot of ways, pushing up against the same hard rock so to speak. And it doesn’t mean that what’s needed is a new kind of theoretical disposition. It’s really a new set of kind of moral and ethical dispositions about how we treat one another and how we talk to one another. And it goes against the grain of any kind of a sense of somebody being able to achieve an adequate theoretical perspective on things by themselves. It’s a great relief to realise that I don’t have to do it by myself anyway. So whatever is inadequate about what I’m doing; luckily you’re doing something. It’s just not a one-person job.

SH: I agree with you, we could say that’s an inadequacy or incommensurability between an available critical vocab and that which we’re trying to describe. You might think about this with W. E. B. Du Bois and the general strike. What he’s trying to describe is so vast and this is like okay, maybe if I call it this, it can bring some stuff into the view about how this is a politics of refusal against capitalism and the conditions of work, even as it is so much more than that. So, I agree with you about that inadequacy. I feel like I’m involved in a much more humble labour. I think I’m trying to describe belatedly, the things people have fought and have done and I’m just attending to them. So it’s this labour of regard, it is tripped up or struggling with how to illuminate that and it’s not that it isn’t a resource we work with and in some way know, but it’s an intimate labour in regard to what others have done and have thought, so, I’m a describer. But Fred, I don’t know if you want to talk about the poetry, your writing practice, which is so rich and varied and multiple…

FM: I got to the point where, I mean, there’s so much overlap between the two things and I’ve never felt embarrassed about being interested in theory. I never was all that invested in being called a theoretician either. I was just somebody who was interested in theory and in that kind of general sense of people seeing, thinking about stuff and maybe certain movements of abstraction from what one sees and feels. I was always happy to be interested in doing that kind of stuff and I was also always happy to be interested in poetry and I never thought of these two things as being so utterly separate. The older I get, the more impossible it is to keep them separate but I do think, they both constitute, in the end, two different forms of description but it’s the same work.
One way to think about it is people have different approaches to things, and a lot of it is just kind of temperament. The whole time I’m thinking of that classic old time song, “Keep on the Sunny Side”. I love that song and the way I do my work is I’m always looking at the sunny side. The peculiar nature of the sunny side in regard to black social lives is that it’s dark, but I’m still looking for the sunny side. But I know there are other people who don’t need to look for the sunny side. They’re more like midnight folks or 3am folks. Like Bobby “Blue” Bland, where every blues song happens at three in the morning? My mom used to say her arthritis always hurts most at 3am. Luckily, everybody doesn’t have to do the same thing. And what sad ethical condition are we in when it seems like everybody has to do the same thing? Why, now, does everybody have to do the same thing? All this writing, the state of this or that discipline, all carry an unspoken assumption that all are doing the same thing and everybody not doing the thing that I’m saying, is wrong. No! That’s just stupid, ridiculous. So there’s a bunch of different ways, attitudes, dispositions that are necessary to try to provide something that would approach an adequate description of who, what we are and who, what we might be.

SH: I’ll say two things, and it’s a kind of a gross simplification, but in certain liberal storeographies of slavery it ends with a great legal act of emancipation. And writing scenes and writing my dissertation, one was about the non-event of emancipation because of the way in which these emergent modalities of servitude took place within a discourse of freedom, rights, liberty. I guess for me there was something more rotten at the core, which is about the imposition of a certain regime of the subject that was so fundamentally defined by property, and that being as good as it gets. So, I think it was both the impossibility of the achievement of those things that define a kind of liberal citizen subject in the West, the free being excluded from that. But then what are the kind of constituents of that subject to begin with and is that something that one wants to sign onto anyway? So many of the articulations of freedom, so much of the kind of practices of the ex-slave or the freed, articulated kind of another imagination of freedom altogether. So there’s the imposition of a certain regime of the subject and a certain conception of the domestic is crucial to the production of that subject.

FM: I feel this general sense of having come to an impasse in a certain kind of way is interesting. It depends on how you think about it. So, let’s say that within a field that is bounded on the one hand by incompatible predications of the free, and on the other hand the burdened individuation (to use Saidiya’s terms). That within this structure that is bounded so to speak by those terms, there’s only so much you can do theoretically but that doesn’t mean that you stop trying to come up with things. Because the other notion of predication that has been in the back of my mind the last couple months is this predication that Nate Mackey had as he talks about predications “rickety spin”. I guess I’ve just begun to think what one might be able to do against the grain; of an incompatibility of a set of imposed predications that is continually spinning out, in however rickety, raggedy way, an endless series of predications.
There was a certain moment in which the critique of authenticity, let’s say in black studies or whatever, became so puritanical, that any sentence of the type: “blackness is x”, was almost against the law, against the rules of the people and somebody would come get you… Touré or somebody. But, I’m interested in something like an endless proliferation of sentences of the type: blackness is x. Recognizing that those sentences might come from anywhere and might be animated by any number of possible motivations. But that necessity of predication, which could even be said to take the form of a certain kind of a meditative, worshipful kind of form, that’s important. And I think it’s one of those things in terms of describing what people have felt and what they’ve done. That’s one of the things that people have done.
By the same token, there is this other slightly parallel track to predication, which may be just naming or nominalisation of these things as kind of connected but not exactly the same thing. And these are important cultural, aesthetic and intellectual activities that are crucial to anything; like what one might call a kind of… whatever you want to call it: A resistance. Fugitivity. War. Whatever. These are important activities to be engaged in because then it gives us a chance to think and talk. It gives us a chance to be together, as we meditate with one another on these questions. Hopefully with some friends, food, wine, kids running around. This is totally important. And from my perspective, these are activities that must be done, to use the old Cornel West phrase, “outside of the normative gaze of the white man”. It’s just that at a certain point, you can’t be worried all the time about what he says or thinks. For some reason I think this is particularly difficult for academics because we are addicted to being graded and they do the grading, or let’s just say the degrading.
What I’m trying to say is that sense of… well, is this the right term? That’s a debilitating question but is this a term that we can start… that can get us talking about something? Is this a term that can help structure a certain kind of fellowship amongst us? That’s a different kind of question.

* This is the edited transcript of a conversation that took place in 2016, part of a series titled “Black Outdoors: Humanities Futures After Property and Possession”.

 

 This and other stories and maps are available in the new issue of the Chronic, On Circulations And The African Imagination Of A Borderless World, which maps the African imagination of a borderless world: non-universal universalisms, the right to opacity, refusing that which has been refused to you, and “keeping it moving”.

 

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop, or get copies from your nearest dealer.

 

 

 

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The Impossible Death of an African Crime Buster https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-impossible-death-of-an-african-crime-buster/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-impossible-death-of-an-african-crime-buster/#respond Tue, 18 Sep 2018 13:36:08 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=13509 Spearman… Lance Spearman – the name synonymous with the intrepid hero of […]

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Spearman… Lance Spearman – the name synonymous with the intrepid hero of the photo-comic staple, African Film, started by the publisher of South Africa’s Drum Magazine, produced by fledgling writers and read voraciously by 1970s Nigerian schoolboys, including Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, who dreamed of wars and victories other than those around them.

The Biafra War had just ended in January 1970, but at the age of nine I felt none of the general despondency that gripped the country. All I could think about was war and heroism. So much so that I fabricated fibs to my credulous mates of how, in the company of some diehard Biafran war commanders, I had brought down enemy Nigerian planes from the sky with the aid of a special magnet called Magnetor.

It was against the background of lapping up heroes in the post-war broken city of Onitsha that I came into the unforgettable company of Lance Spearman. I met Spearman through a dog-eared copy of the photo-magazine African Film, given to me by Jude Akudinobi, who was then a secondary school student at Christ the King College, Onitsha, where his father taught alongside my uncle, the linguist J.O. Aginam. Shortly after seducing me into the arresting world of Lance Spearman, alias Spear, the selfsame Jude took me with four of his younger brothers to Chanrai Supermarket and asked us to pick any novel of our choice. Remarkably, I chose a book, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, without any knowledge whatsoever of the classic Western movie starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. The daredevilry of the novel’s toughie, Desperado Tuco, became aligned to the intrepidity of Spear in my imagination and came to define my growing-up years.

It nearly led to a tragedy. One of the local Onitsha boys who could not bear my hyperactivity brought a friend of his to fight me. The entire neighbourhood gathered to watch. It took no time at all for me to floor the boy, using him to “stone the ground” as we used to say. The boy passed out, and the fellow who had brought the floored fighter was now accusing me of killing the lad, saying, “Have you seen what you have done to him?” It took some heart-stopping moments for the boy to be revived. Reality invaded my fantasy world and the threat of a stint in jail or even the hangman’s noose effectively marked the end of my brief career as the local Lance Spearman. Witnesses of the incident still rib me about it to this day, especially Jude Akudinobi who, perhaps unsurprisingly considering his love for African Film, would take a doctorate in film studies, and now lectures at the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara.

In the heady days after the Nigerian Civil War the look-read photo-magazine African Film starring the dapper Lance Spearman was our hebdomadal staple in Onitsha, the overpopulated township that earned its mark in the world of letters on account of the market literature available there. Some Monday for sure, as Nadine Gordimer would put it, the paterfamilias of the Akudinobi family shelled out one shilling for a copy of African Film magazine, and another shilling for Boom magazine starring the Tarzanlike Fearless Fang. Scores of us had to make do with each edition of the magazines until finally the wear and tear triumphed over our reading.

Spear was our darling crimebuster par excellence, a cigar-chomping champion who was a serial lady-killer in the mould of James Bond 007. Riding in his Stingray coupé with his trademark Panama hat on his head, Spear showcased the urbane and the modern. Talking through his walkie-talkie and drinking scotch-on-the-rocks, Spear was indeed the toast of the generation. The breathtaking car chases were grist to the Spear mill that kept us hooked for weeks on end. The modernity of technology added cubits to the appeal of Spear as the role model of the new age of ultra-modern architecture, sharp women and sharper criminality in Nigeria.

Given the anti-apartheid politics of the era, no mention was made that the magazine originated in South Africa. A Lagos- Nigeria address was on hand as the place of publication. It was only much later that I learnt that African Film was originally produced out of South Africa by the legendary publisher of the influential Drum Magazine, Jim Bailey. In the manner that Drum offered fledging writers, such as South Africa’s Can Themba, Nat Nakasa and Nigeria’s Nelson Ottah their break in magazine writing, African Film provided work for about 25 writers, some of whom were students of the University of Lesotho. Initial photo shoots were undertaken in Swaziland, and the strips were then sent to London for mastering before their eventual transnational distribution all over Africa. In the end the publishers had to settle for printing by local subsidiaries. The leading man who starred as Lance Spearman was a fellow named Jore Mkwanazi, a former houseboy doubling as a nightclub piano player, who had been discovered by the white photographer Stanley N. Bunn. Spear had for ready company Captain Victor, the police honcho who forever wore his uniform. Spear’s swanky lady assistant, Sonia, was a study in independent womanhood. His young sidekick, Lemmy, lent to the cast a measure of humane and vulnerable precocity not unlike the role of Jim Hawkins among the pirates of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

You would always trust Spear to get out of all troubles, given that Captain Victor, Sonia or Lemmy could pull a string or two on their own to stave off the enemy. The dialogue was hip and contemporary, in the manner of the racy thrillers of James Hadley Chase, the hottest writer we cherished back then. The lines were indeed riveting, such that one readily committed them to memory. For instance, the thug bearing down on Sonia gets the following words from Spear as he steps forward for a fight: “Woman-beater, try me for size!” Before the hoodlum can get to the races, Spear lands him the sucker-punch, saying, “You have a glass jaw!” With the fallen thug crying “Aaaaaargh!” Lemmy would congratulate Spear thus: “Attaboy, Spear!” The archetypal antagonist of Lance Spearman was Rabon Zollo, who had lost an eye and thus wore the hideous black eye-patch. Zollo was menace in overdrive. There were other villains like the Hook-Hand Killer who, as the name suggests, killed with the evil hook on his hand. The criminal mastermind was known as Dr Devil. There was Mad Doc with the bespoke serum that had the power to shrink people. Who will ever forget the antics of Professor Thor, who could read the thoughts of people through his vile machine? There was the other professor, Rubens, who used the organs of animals to produce the werewolf. The menace of the Cats almost overwhelmed Spear; it was quite daunting doing battle with cat burglars in black masks and claw gloves that could climb and scale all heights. Hilda “the Head Huntress” was yet another villain who left a mark on the adventures of Lance Spearman. It was the thrill of a lifetime to savour the spells of Spear’s confrontations with diabolical insurance agents, sinister diamond thieves and baleful power syndicates. The cosmic, end-of-the-world wars of Lance Spearman reverberated and resonated with us in an increasingly corrupt post-war Nigeria. Spear offered hope. He stood as the positive force that could save humankind.

Then hope vanished suddenly. It was in the course of 1972 that the supply of African Film stopped, for no reason whatsoever. We were not abreast of the high-wire politics of apartheid, the Cold War and suchlike. The rumours flew fast and free that Lance Spearman had died. We couldn’t believe that Spear could ever die, for as all Nigerians know, “Actor no dey die!” We had to make do with smuggled back issues of African Film dating to the years of the Nigeria-Biafra War. We devoured the back issues, waiting for the inevitable day when the unbeatable Lance Spearman would make a triumphant return.

We are still waiting. We have yet to see the return of Spear, of hope, of the final triumph of good, but the memory lingers of the dynamic action scenes, the assorted camera angles and the ever suggestive sex acts. Black like all of us, Spear served up a counter to white images of heroes such as Superman. In the age of the so-called Blaxploitation films featuring Richard Roundtree as John Shaft and the former American football player turned film star Jim Brown, who beat the living daylights out of white folks, Spear was akin to the local boy who made good, an exemplar of the middle class youth culture of the race. A potent symbol of a possible future for Nigeria – still within grasp, but forever illusive.


This article first appeared in Chimurenga Chronic: Graphic Stories (July 2014), an issue focused on graphic stories; comic journalism. Blending illustrations, photography, written analysis, infographics, interviews, letters and more, visual narratives speak of everyday complexities in the Africa in which we live.

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The Invention of Zimbabwe – New edition of Chimurenga’s Chronic available now! https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-invention-of-zimbabwe-new-edition-of-chimurengas-chronic-available-now/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-invention-of-zimbabwe-new-edition-of-chimurengas-chronic-available-now/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2018 18:31:10 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=9683 14 November 2017. News breaks of a coup d’état underway in Zimbabwe. […]

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14 November 2017. News breaks of a coup d’état underway in Zimbabwe. Tanks, armoured vehicles and military personnel are seen patrolling the capital, Harare. The images send shock waves through social media, traditional broadcast news networks and diplomatic channels. After nearly four decades at the helm, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Commander-in-Chief, is set to be deposed by his own army, the Zimbabwean Defence Force. Before the month is over, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, is ushered in as the country’s third president.

The events last November form the backdrop of the latest issue of Chimurenga’s pan-African gazette, the Chronic. The issue sits at the intersection of two separate research projects that Chimurenga have been developing since 2015. One on new cartographies, which asks the question: what if maps were made by Africans, to understand and make visible their own realities and imaginaries? And a subsidiary project, Who Killed Kabila?’, where the assassination of DRC President Laurent-Désiré Kabila in 2001 serves as the starting point for an in-depth investigation into power, territory and the creative imagination.

Zimbabwe and the countries bordering it share a complex history of solidarity, conflict and cultural, social and economic exchange, but this relationship is often skewered in the media. Zimbabwe is largely written about and represented through – in relation or comparison to, and by – the region’s economic super power, South Africa. This provides a distorted view that locks Zimbabwe in a logic of emergency, and fails to capture the realities of the lived experience, or the complexity of relations between South Africa, and the bigger story of the region and indeed the continent. 

Chimurenga, an innovative platform for free ideas and political reflection about Africa by Africans, is itself partially a product of this history. Founded in 2002, and primarily based in Cape Town, it takes its name from a Shona word from Zimbabwe, which loosely translates as (revolutionary) struggle, referring to both freedom struggles and Zimbabwean rebel music. This edition of the Chronic brings together voices of journalists and editors, writers, theorists, photographers, illustrators and artists from the country to tell a different story of Zimbabwe, now and in history, and to dream new futures.

In its pages, Bernard Matambo returns to the moment of Mugabe’s deposition, listening closely to the rumour mill to grasp the intrigues of factional politics within Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU PF, the mistrust and ambition which led to the change of power. Economist, Simbarashe Mumera, boards the night vendor bus from Harare to the border town of Musina and reveals how foreign companies, especially South African retailers, continue to make a handsome profit from Zimbabwe’s ongoing economic crisis.

 The story of politics and economics in Zimbabwe cannot be told without the music that has driven, documented and revolted against it. In deliberate attempt to use music archives in the writing of contemporary history, Ranga Mberi travels back in time to the 1980s and 1990s, the heyday of sungura music. Dubbed the “authentic sound of Zimbabwe”, sungura weaved together Congolese rumba with Zimbabwean jiti and Tanzanian kanindo to capture the essence of life and the national mood in Zimbabwe during the best and worst times in its history. Similarly, Percy Zvomuya delves into the history of reggae in Zimbabwe, charting a web of influences that makes up not only the sonic cartography of a revolution fuelled by chimurenga music and reggae, but which are the very groundations of today’s Zimdancehall.

Elsewhere, writer Marko Phiri and photographer Dwayne Kapula look at the history of the ‘Big Dance,’ Gule Wamkulu, a performance that dates back to the Chewa Empire of the 17th century, in what is today’s Malawi, while singer/songwriter Netsayi Chigwendere sits down with legendary poet, Chirikure Chirikure.

Then, Panashe Chigumadzi travels to the rural Zimbabwe of her ancestors to discover that the land reform programme that drives agricultural transformation and justice for dispossessed Africans carries with it the promise of a future, and the pain and patriarchy of the past. Florence Madenga also travels back and forward in time. Through a visit to her ailing grandmother, she reflects on the silences that live in the folds of family – the feigned dignity, nostalgia, and denial that are championed as resilience in the midst of ruin.

Other contributors to the broadsheet include Brian Chikwava, Rudo Mudiwa, Bongani Kona, Farai Mudzingwa, Nora Chipaumire, Tinashe Mushakavanhu, Nonstikelelo Mutiti, Jekesai Njikizana, Melanie Boehl, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, Zenzele Ndebele, Mike Mavura and Robert Machiri.

 

The accompanying books magazine, XiBARUU TEERE YI (Chronic Books in Wolof) asks the urgent question: What can African Writers Learn from Cheikh Anta Diop?

Inside Boubacar Boris Diop engages Cheikh Anta Diop’s legacy to raise radical views on creative writing, a challenge to what he laments as our literary Sahara. Similarly, Ayesha Attah travels from Diop through Ayi Kwei Armah to explore the ‘shared continuity’ of African cultures, histories and philosophies, while Ibrahima Wane presents Kàddu (“Speech” in Wolof), the first Senegalese newspaper printed entirely in an African language, as the missing link between Diop, Senegalese political scientist Pathé Diagne and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène.

The cover itself reworks the cover of the first issue of TAXAW, the journal founded by Cheikh Anta Diop in 1977 – officially, the mouthpiece of his party RND. Initially TAXAW was titled SIGGI, but the journal was censored by Leopold Senghor’s notorious grammar police – the spell-checking directorate Senghor set up to block radical

Mamadou Diallo channels exiled Cuban Carlos Moore, through his special relationship with Cheikh Anta Diop and their foremost, but failed collaboration to launch an organization of scientists of the black world are the focus of this extraordinary account.

Wolof publications on orthographic grounds! Cheikh Anta Diop responded by changing the name of the journal: “SIGGI (getting up) becomes TAXAW (standing), which is even more radical. We can thus sidestep the legal trap that they wanted to spring on us.”

Digging deeper into this radicalism, Souleymane Bachir Diagne enters Diop’s legendary Laboratory of Carbon 14 where he encounters the ‘demiurge’ for a new world view, a ‘new African’ conscious, embracing the genius of the ancestors in all domains of science, culture and religion.

Other accounts are offer by Khadim Ndiaye, himself a follower of the Murid way and author of a recent book on Cheikh Anta Diop, who shows how the late scientist, politician and thinker was a product of the Murid, and Sumesh Sharma who traces Diop’s legacy through the circuitous roots of Afro-Asiatic history, from the world’ first civilisations in Egypt to Dravidian civilisations of southern India.

XiBARUU TEERE YI also includes reviews and dispatches by Lindokuhle Nkosi, Gwen Ansell, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Kibafika Louis Kakudji, Akin Adesokan and many more.

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop, or get copies from your nearest dealer.

Buy the ChronicSubscribe

 

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THE BLACK BOMB https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-black-bomb/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/the-black-bomb/#respond Mon, 09 Apr 2018 13:50:49 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=9650 Mamadou Diallo channels Carlos Moore, the exiled Cuban who traversed most of […]

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Mamadou Diallo channels Carlos Moore, the exiled Cuban who traversed most of Africa and its diaspora, and, along the way, the lives of some of the most revolutionary thinkers the continent has produced. Moore’s special relationship with Cheikh Anta Diop and their foremost, but failed collaboration to launch an organization of scientists of the black world are the focus of this extraordinary account.

Translated by Eva Munyiri.

Cheikh Anta Diop in the chemistry room of his laboratory.

In central Senegal, slightly to the west, in the small town of Bambey, a small dirt path opens. Etched along its 24 km, far from the bustle of civilisation, are a surprising number of hamlets. Between these stand magnificent forests of baobabs, cultivations of millet and peanuts, and ambulating herds. We are in the Baol, the peanut-growing basin, the epicentre of Wolof culture and of muridisme. The dirt road ends at the village of Caytou, founded by Massamba Sassoum Diop, the grandfather of Cheikh Anta Diop, and close friend to Cheikh Ibrahima Fall: the first and most zealous of the disciples of Bamba, and the inspiration of Baay Fall.

A NOT SO PHARAONIC GRAVE

The eighth day of February is set aside in Caytou to commemorate its son, whose book, Black Nations and Culture, was according to Aime Cesaire “the most audacious that a negro had hitherto written and that would no doubt count in the awakening of Africa”. On a sandy path between some neem trees, a mausoleum rises. It’s here that, on his request, Cheikh Anta Diop is buried next to his ancestor, Massamba.

The annual commemoration has happened since the late 1980s, but I visited for the first time this year, accompanied by young activists of Le Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND), the last political party founded by Cheikh Anta Diop. We left Dakar in the early morning and headed east. I was seated in the back of the car, next to the window, with Galaye, a young local elected representative and agent of the water company, on my right, alongside Alassane, a PhD student at a Chinese university and head of the Party’s youth arm. Both are in their thirties. Trained within the Party, they can legitimately project themselves as its future leaders. Deeply committed to a political party whose uncompromising first four decades are set against a backdrop of material deprivation and electoral failures, these youth are clearly idealists. They are the true heirs of Cheikh Anta Diop, who once proposed utopianism as a counter to the unflinching realism that dominates the present and dictate Africa’s current state.

For the past three years, the ritual in Caytou made news. A government minister, Mor Ngom, took an interest in the commemoration and logistical support increased, as did the number of visitors and television cameras. This year, those in power have clearly grown bored with remembering. The rows of empty chairs indicate the unfulfilled expectations of the villagers, as does the activity of several women, who are cooking up a festive meal for an absent crowd in a large kitchen area.

At the entrance of the mausoleum that holds Cheikh Anta Diop’s remains, the visitor is immediately struck by a commemorative plaque, dusty and cracked, lying in the dirt. The general appearance of the monument (moving but decrepit), together with the  mood of pilgrimage (solemn but intimate), evoke the figure of Cheikh Anta Diop that coheres in the collective memory: that of an unkempt, yet affable scholar who, entrenched in his laboratory and immersed in his research, working in destitution and adversity, long upheld the most fundamental truths. Although this omnipresent representation may have something to do with the man that he was, there is another vision, revealed by Carlos Moore, a man whose life, spread across three continents, is dedicated to the fight for the emancipation of the black world.

“There were two sides to Cheikh Anta Diop,” confides Moore, “the scientific side and then the political pan-African side… He was heavily political. Outside of Kwame Nkrumah he was the only person that I knew of, in Africa, who had such a clear vision of the twentieth century and what type of measures were required to secure the welfare of Africa.”

Moore speaks from experience. Like Cheikh Anta Diop, he traversed most of the African continent and its diaspora, meeting with the revolutionary figures and intellectuals who were his contemporaries. At the invitation of Cheikh Anta Diop, he settled in Dakar at the end of the 1970s, following a brief and chaotic stint in Lagos where he was involved in the organisation of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC 77.

 

BROTHER CARLOS

Carlos Moore was born in the small Cuban town of Central Lugareno in 1942. In his autobiography, Pichón, he remembers his birthplace as “one of Cuba’s most backward towns”. His parents, both from Jamaica, had immigrated between 1918 and 1925. Freed from Spain in previous decades, Cuba had passed under the influence of the USA, its Monroe doctrine and Jim Crow, as the African-American historian, Gerald Horne, has shown in his book, Race to Revolution. Moore grew up in a town where the annual harvest was followed by “tiempo muerto” (the dead season), a nine-month stretch when everything came to a standstill and “hunger twisted [his] guts”. The political situation deteriorated under the Batista regime, and Moore’s elder brother, suspected of subversion, barely escaped being beaten to death by the militia. Spurred by this, his father secured the family’s expatriation to the United States in 1957. Carlos was 15.

Carlos Moore & Malcolm X

It took only three years from his first acquaintance with the American dream for the young Moore to lean towards the radical circles of Harlem and Greenwich village. On the shelves of Lewis Michaux’s bookstore in Harlem, where he spent hours learning about the African continent and nurturing his passion for Lumumba, he encountered Maya Angelou. When Fidel Castro and Che Guevara appeared on the scene, he approached the New York branch of the 26th of July Movement and participated in the political organisation of Fidel’s visit to Harlem in 1960. After several adventures, including his participation in an invasion of the UN security council in New York following the assassination of Lumumba, Moore, barely out of his teens, returned to Cuba. It was 1961 and the Cuban revolution enjoyed tremendous support within the African-American community. In response to the growing menace of a US invasion, Cuba organised and armed its population. At the time, the young Carlos Moore was a night guard at the ministry where he worked. Here, he rejoiced with one of his compañeros at news that terrified most of the “free world”: Cuba was in possession of nuclear missiles.

Despite his enthusiasm, the young Moore quickly perceived inconsistencies in racial equality in revolutionary Cuba. “It was hard,” he writes in Pichón, “not to notice continually that the people in positions of authority were whites” and, furthermore “There was a defining pattern in the attitude of white revolutionaries: they felt we blacks should be grateful to them. It was there in the way they looked at you… it was in their tone of voice, the irked, robotic way they spoke. There was no mistaking it. I detected the cacophonous music of racism getting louder.”

An encounter with Walterio Carbonell, an Afro-Cuban academic trained in France, confirmed Moore’s suspicions. Moreover, the increasing persecution of homosexuals, prostitutes and Afro-Cuban spiritual practices such as Santero, troubled his conscience. The young Moore was unable to bite his tongue. He considered it his revolutionary duty to approach the party leadership. This cost him his freedom. Moore was intimidated, imprisoned and finally interned in a labour camp. Briefly rehabilitated, he was finally forced to flee, under the threat of a repeat incarceration and perhaps worse.

Ambassador Seydou Diallo at the embassy of the Republic of Guinea protected the young Cuban and assisted him in boarding a boat destined for Cairo. There, deprived of travel documents and penniless, he decided to travel to Paris. Here he met Aimé Césaire, recommended to him by Carbonnell. He also encountered Cheikh Anta Diop and Alioune Diop, in whose magazine he would publish his incendiary article, “Cuba, the untold story,” which tarnished the Cuban revolution’s commitment to anti-racism and equality. Even before the article’s publication in Présence Africaine in 1964, Carlos Moore was the target of a campaign that depicted him as a CIA agent. Unable to return to his homeland, he remained in France until 1974, working as a journalist at Agence France-Press in the closing years of his time there. Following a tip from Maryse Condé, he left this job to join the FESTAC team in Nigeria.

In Africa, he recalls, “I came to terms with class oppression at the hands of people whose skin was black. That reality was painful. The cold, arrogant, corrupt ruling class I found in Nigeria awakened me to the realities of the new Africa. In Nigeria, I was face-to-face with one of the most deadly and selfish African oligarchies, which took seriously its role as the local pawn of the international conglomerates plundering the country. These new auxiliaries of Western imperialism occupied their position with the greatest ease, unashamed of their inferior status in the world order. On the contrary: these impenitent black nouveaux riches seemed almost to lament the passing of the good old days of the triangular trade of spices, ivory, and human flesh.”

Carlos Moore & Fela Kuti

In Lagos, he met and became friends with Fela Kuti, whose biography he would later write. But here, first, Moore’s past in Cuba caught with to him. He was still pursued by the Castro regime, who, after learning of his position in the FESTAC Department of Communication, pressured the Nigerian government. Surrounded by bureaucrats and soldiers only concerned with filling their pockets, he was an easy target. His experience within the festival organisation was brief and catastrophic. Thanks to MD Yusufu, the head of the Nigerian Secret Service at the time, he was able to leave the country and take up an invitation from Cheikh Anta Diop to settle in Senegal.

 

INSPECTOR YUSUFU AND GENERAL MURTALA

Fela Kuti does not beat around the bush when it comes to speaking truth to military power. In response to the increasingly oppressive and corrupt state in Nigeria, he unleashed Zombie, with a title track so powerful that even its targets were spellbound (“Zombie o, zombie…”). Nonetheless, he gives MD Yusufu his due, as quoted in Moore’s biography, Fela: This Bitch of a Life:

“M.D. Yusufu was a heavy guy. Let me first of all tell you a story one boy told me about him, when M.D. Yusufu was just an intelligence officer. This boy had done something and had to run away to hide in Abidjan, Dakar, somewhere like that. Anyway, Yusufu was the one who was supposed to be looking for this guy. He finally found him sitting in a nightclub in Abidjan or Dakar. Yusufu just faced him and said: ‘I’ve got you!… But I’m not going to take you back. I’m going to leave you.’”

MD Yusufu, who died in 2015 at age 85, had aristocratic origins but plebeian political inclinations. The son of an important official from the Katsina state, he joined the radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in his youth, while rising in the ranks of the police service. When Moore arrived in Nigeria, Yusufu was already an important figure and directed the intelligence services. He was one of the people that the Jamaican poet and naturalised Nigerian, Lindsay Barrett, introduced Moore to, just after the latter’s arrival.

In 1975, after Moore left Lagos, Yusufu participated with other senior officers in the coup d’état against the unpopular regime of Yakubu Gowon that installed Murtala Muhammed as head of state. Muhammed rapidly distinguished himself both in Nigeria and internationally. Richard Bourne writes in Nigeria: A New History: “Muhammed tackles corruption and the lazy and incompetent civil services, and he strikes a nationalist and anti-west position in international affairs.”

When Cheikh Anta Diop heard of the coup d’état in Nigeria, he hastened to see Moore. “Who are these people?” he asked. Moore replied: “These are nationalists, this regime is serious”.

 

THE NECESSITY OF BLACK NUKES

Cheikh Anta Diop was often criticised by his opponents in the academy for his numerous divergent interests and preoccupations. One of these was the question of nuclear weapons, a subject on which he spoke publically as early as 1968. In 1977, this preoccupation formed the basis of a text at odds with the vague humanism that often passes for political analysis in the francophone world, “The Pretoria bomb and the future of our species”. Flagging racist South Africa’s advances in the military nuclear domain, as well as the complicity of Israel and the Western Bloc, Cheikh Anta Diop called on black Africa to acquire comparable arms. For Diop, Pretoria’s nuclear capabilities, coupled with “the duplicity” of those countries in bed with the racist regime, jeopardised the survival of the African people.

Diop’s terminology in the original French essay raises questions. Instead of referring to blacks as a race, he speaks of “species” in the title. The tone is apocalyptic and his argument against Senghor, his eternal nemesis, is vehement. “If nothing impedes its development,” he warns, “Pretoria will be capable of equipping 100 nuclear warheads, enough to keep the large African agglomerations under control… [T]hus when all the bourgeois gentlemen presidents will have finished the transformation of African states to private properties, to instruments of literary promotion, to means of obtaining phony distinctions of all sorts, when they will have satisfied all their whims and will have ceased to occupy the centre stage, while brimming with the blood of their people like translucent leeches, they will withdraw amongst their motley ‘trophies’, the veil will tear, the dramatic realities will emerge in their tragic nakedness.”

Many thought Diop’s interests in nuclear weapons went no further than the heated and somewhat vociferous arguments cited above. Diop, however, combined action with his words. After hearing Moore’s response to his queries on the nature of the regime that had just been installed in Lagos, he asked his young collaborator to organise a meeting between himself and Murtala Muhammed. Moore sent a telegram to MD Yusufu: “MD, I need to talk to you urgently, call me.” It did not take long for the response to arrive, concise and positive: “Come”.

 

THE LAGOS MEETING

Moore headed to Lagos and settled into a hotel on Victoria Island. Two days passed before Yusufu invited him to his private residence. The mood was jovial; it had barely been three weeks since the new regime took power. The tall state representative was affable and spoke to his guest as to an old friend. “Hey, you see what you missed!” he said in reference to Moore’s abrupt departure from Nigeria. Once the minor questions have been disposed of, Moore revealed the motive for his visit and the identity of the person for whom he was an emissary. Yusufu agreed to speak to president Muhammed. The following day, he notified Moore that Muhammed was enthusiastic about the idea of meeting Diop and discussed the security details with him.

When Diop arrived in Lagos, he met MD Yusufu and gave an hour-long presentation on the advances that South Africa has made in the military nuclear domain. Then he told his interlocutor that Nigeria was the only state that possessed the financial resources and, since the fall of Gowon and the accession of Muhammed, the leadership necessary to build capacity for nuclear dissuasion at the service of the continent.

Yusufu listened to Diop with no interruption, even though what he was proposing was nothing short of the implementation of a military nuclear program in Nigeria. History, however, had proven that committing to such a project was dangerous. In November 1964, Kwame Nkrumah announced the construction of the second nuclear reactor on the continent. The first had been built by the American firm, General Dynamics Corporation, commissioned by Belgium, in Kinshasa in 1958. The reactor in Kwabenya was to be operational by 1966 and host several research laboratories and institutes of scientific training.

In order to contextualise Nkrumah’s motives, one must recall that the France of General de Gaulle had ignored Africa’s opinion and carried out several nuclear tests in the Sahara in early 1960. Ghana had reacted emphatically, freezing French assets within its borders, establishing an international campaign that resulted in an international conference in April 1960. Ghana’s activism on the international scene, the organisations and countries that joined in these efforts, the production of several scientific studies showing the toxicity of the French nuclear tests, did nothing to curb De Gaulle’s pursuits until 1966.

Declassified in 2013 as part of a penal inquiry, a map disclosed by the daily Le Parisien in its 14 February 2014 edition showed the spread of radioactive fallout far beyond the Sahara. A response in Le Monde noted: “The map shows that until the thirteenth day following the aerial explosion… the nuclear fallout spread through all of west Africa, to the south-east until the Central African Republic, as well as to the north, to the Spanish coast and Sicily.” The well-argued condemnation by the continent’s sovereign states against what Nkruhmah called the “nuclear imperialism” of De Gaulle was revealed to be incapable of dissuading the West.

Soon Nkrumah himself became a target. The US intervention was swift and in 1966, with well documented participation of the CIA, he was ousted. More recently, many attributed the dismantlement of South Africa’s nuclear arsenal in 1989 to the state’s desire not have these arms fall into the hands of a black majority once the ANC seized power.

MD Yusufu was aware of the consequences of what Diop was suggesting. He listened to him attentively as Diop explained the plan: first, to assemble scientists, from across the globe, particularly the US, Cuba and Haiti. The motive for their gathering in Lagos was to be the formation of an organisation of scientists of the black world. The true objective of the project would only be revealed later.

The discussion between Cheikh Anta Diop and MD Yusufu was lengthy and the following day, Yusufu reported to President Muhammed, who gave his blessing. Thus, the World Black Researchers Association (WBRA) was born. Murtala Muhammed’s regime contributed US$500,000 towards its setup. All that remained to be resolved was the appointment of someone to run the project from Lagos. Dr A. Jeje, a young biochemical engineer in his thirties, educated at MIT, was recommended by Moore and selected for the task.

“I knew him very well,” recalls Moore, “he was one of the people who were anti-FESTAC. He was young and brilliant. So I introduced him to Cheikh Anta Diop and M.D. Yusufu did a background check on him. Everything was fine: he was a real nationalist, a real pan Africanist. He was made executive head of the organisation. Of course, he was never informed of the deeper implications of the project.” Diop would assume the role of Chairperson of the WBRA.

THE IDEAL MAN

Back in Dakar, Carlos Moore and Cheikh Anta Diop were restless. There was no progress on the project. Jeje was summoned to Dakar to present an update to Cheikh Anta Diop, which was not conclusive. “We went to Nigeria,” confides Moore, “and discovered that Jeje could not account for the first installment of funds he had received from the Nigerian state, through the Institute of International Relations. We didn’t even know how much he’d already received. All we knew was that he was to have opened an account on behalf of the World Black Researchers Association to receive the funds coming via the Institute. During our meeting in Dakar he had mentioned a sum of 250 thousand dollars.”

Scandalised, Moore approached Yusufu and insisted that Jeje be arrested. Diop and Yusufu disagreed, fearing that such a move would force them to divulge the details of the deal. Cheikh Anta Diop asked to speak with Jeje. “Diop,” Moore explains, “was a very humane person. He said that he needed to talk with him, personally, to recover the funds. That was arranged. When Dr Jeje came to see Diop, he broke down crying, saying that he had been tricked by others. That he had a family, a child; that this whole thing could destroy his life, and so on. He asked Cheikh Anta Diop to give him a year to put back all the money. I said to Diop that I didn’t trust Jeje anymore for anything. Diop decided to give him a year.” But in that year, Murtala was gone.”

Murtala Muhammed was assassinated on the 13 February 1976 after only six months in power. However, this was enough to leave an indelible mark on the Nigerian memory. A CIA report of 4 August 1975 says this of him: “Mohammed has been described as a cold, ruthless nationalist, intelligent and strong-willed.” Of the assassination of Muhammed and the motivations of those that backed it, Tunji Otegbeye writes: “It was not madness, as some people say. Murtala’s killers, and the forces they represent wanted to totally negate, destroy and eliminate not just his life but his understanding of Nigerian society, his courage, his commitment and his spirit.” According to Moore, “it was I.D. Bisalla, the minister of defense, in cahoots with MI6 and CIA, who did the coup. Because Murtala was taking a totally different direction.”

The power and political will that drove Cheikh Anta Diop’s project disappeared with Murtala Muhammed. MD Yusufu, however, remained in his post. The WBRA, whose ultimate aims were known by just four people – Moore, Yusufu, Muhammed and Diop – dissipated after its first meeting in February 1976 in Dakar, in which scientists and writers of the black world participated. The year 1977 should have seen the preliminary meeting for preparations of its first congress dedicated to determining the axes of the research.

Cheikh Anta Diop, in a long interview with the journal Afriscope in 1977, summarised the aims of the WBRA thus: “We intend to harness the scientific potential and creativity of the black world and place it at the disposal of all black states without distinction. Uppermost in our mind is the welfare of black populations of the world black community.” Today, the only traces that remain of the WBRA are some citations in old articles and interviews.

“This episode is a shame, a damn shame,” muses Moore from Brazil, where he opened up on this chapter of his tremulous life. “It remains in my chest as a dagger, as it did with Diop. The man was in much pain for a long time. That a project concocted for the defense of the entire continent was torpedoed by greed and unscrupulousness, was a horrible thing.

“Diop’s heart was broken. That was the toughest thing that I saw him go through. Really, he was down, he kept asking: how could he have done this? He kept saying that. How could he have done this? Because Diop was somebody who believed in the integrity of people. He had that thing about believing in people, believing in the word of people. Diop was very attached to the word. If Diop gave you his word about something, you’d have to kill him about it.”

 This and other stories available in the new issue of the Chronic, “The Invention of Zimbabwe”, which writes Zimbabwe beyond white fears and the Africa-South conundrum.

The accompanying books magazine, XIBAARU TEERE YI (Chronic Books in Wolof) asks the urgent question: What can African Writers Learn from Cheikh Anta Diop?

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop, or get copies from your nearest dealer.

 

 

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MURIMI MUNHU https://chimurengachronic.co.za/murimi-munhu/ https://chimurengachronic.co.za/murimi-munhu/#respond Mon, 09 Apr 2018 09:35:32 +0000 http://chimurengachronic.co.za/?p=9636 Panashe Chigumadzi travels to the rural Zimbabwe of her ancestors, onto land […]

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Panashe Chigumadzi travels to the rural Zimbabwe of her ancestors, onto land stolen and cash-cropped by a privileged minority under racist white rule. Now, almost 40 years since independence, millions of hectares have been returned to those whose birthright the soil is. Chigumadzi discovers that the land reform programme that drives agricultural transformation and justice for dispossessed Africans carries with it the promise of a future, and the pain and patriarchy of the past.

 

Oliver mtukudzi’s “murimi munhu” (A farmer is a person), is playing for the second time in 12 hours on a local radio station. We are returning to Harare after spending Christmas with family in the ruzevha, what the Rhodesian colonial administration called “native reserves”. This second time I hear it, we are passing a billboard in the agricultural town of Marondera. To motorists and pedestrians, a seed or fertiliser company declares “Kohwa pakuru!” (Reap a big harvest!). After years of difficulty, agricultural productivity levels are rising, in many cases approaching pre-land-reform levels, as small farmers, like the one on the billboard and the family members we have visited this Christmas are gaining in expertise and experience. The song feels fitting for this time.

At the time of the song’s release back in 2001, the Fast Track Land Redistribution Program (FTLRP) was taking place. Understandably, there were many questions around Tuku’s message. Who was, or is, the murimi Tuku was referring to? It was possible to interpret the song in light of the stories of violence, thuggery, lawlessness, cronyism, destitution, incompetence and agricultural sector collapse that dominated press reports and, indeed, much academic analysis of the radical program.

To really understand the complexity behind Tuku’s assertion that a farmer is a person, you would need to know what is meant when a person of Bantu origin asks the question: “Mhunhu here?” (Is this a person?) It is a question you can only engage through an understanding of how southern Africa’s Bantu-language speakers conceptualise personhood and humanity. It’s not according to Enlightenment philosophy contained in Descartes’ famous dictum, “I think therefore I am”, but rather through the aphorism, “a person is a person through others.” This is central to the philosophy of ethical personhood known as Hunhu in Shona, and more popularly known by its Zulu equivalent, ubuntu. To paraphrase philosopher Ndumiso Dladla, to ask if someone is a person is a question of ethical character, having nothing to do with their biology or race, but with the history of their interactions with other people, and whether it can be said that they have conducted themselves humanely, that is, with Hunhu. The judgement of character can be also extended to a group of people with a history of interactions with a given Bantu-speaking community. The history of white settlers’ unjust conquest of Zimbabwe’s land and indigenous people, has seen it that when wanting to know the race of a person it is possible to ask, “Mhunhu here?” and, should the person be white, it’s appropriate to answer, “Aiwa, murungu.” (No, they are a white person.) In other words, varungu (white settlers) haven’t historically been considered vanhu (human), because they failed to treat the indigenous people with Hunhu.

Understanding this, you would have to ask, whose humanity was Tuku affirming? The white farmers who dehumanised Africans as they dispossessed them of their land? The new black farmers whose ancestral land was returned to them?

In the months that follow I think about this audio-visual moment. A song that subtly explores the historical questions of humanity and dignity implied by the land question; an image that depicts a triumphant smallholding farmer reaping his large harvest. Together, they bring to mind the “bread and, above all, dignity” Fanon spoke of as the concrete value of the return of the colonised’s land.

In the time since Tuku’s song was released, the picture of what land reform means for the majority of its beneficiaries, the small farmers, is not entirely coherent. There are many lenses through which to view the picture – the history of African land dispossession, post-land reform livelihoods, the cost to the economy – but what is clear is that it is not a picture of unmitigated disaster, nor of unblemished success. To understand the bigger picture, you need many smaller, variegated pictures of the successes and failures in agricultural production. You need to desegregate the results according to crop, livestock, institutions, climatic conditions, inherited infrastructure and access to farming resources, to gain a nuanced perspective.

“All of this used to be bob’s land,” my father points to vast tracts of land to our left and right. It is “Bob’s land” for a good number of kilometres. It is mid-morning on 24 December. We are passing through “Bob’s land” en route to my mother’s rural home in Makoni district in eastern Zimbabwe.

Along the 80 km drive north-east of Harare to Murehwa in Mashonaland East Province, the landscape varies – some fields are growing weeds, some fields are being cultivated, some are doing both. Take a left at the Murehwa Centre turn-off and you will find grain silos, which until last year were disused but came back into commission as part of government’s Command Agriculture program, towering in the boulder-strewn landscape. Nearby, there is a landing strip, which used to serve the the Rhodesian army and white commercial farmers in the area. Take a right, and you are on your way to our family home kumaruzheva, or part of the communal lands that used to be Murehwa’s “Tribal Trust Lands” (TTLs), created to clear Africans off the best soils reserved for large commercial farms like the one belonging to Bob.

Under the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, 51 per cent of the best land in Zimbabwe was reserved for about 50,000 white settlers, while 30 per cent of land, with poorer soils, was reserved for one million Africans. This dual agricultural regime created a highly developed agricultural sector in which white farmers enjoyed private titles and massive state intervention, and an underdeveloped black agricultural sector where blacks continued to be governed by customary law, lack of land and substandard support services. At independence, the new government inherited an economy firmly anchored on a domestic white landowning class, allied with international capital, and domestically controlling (directly and indirectly) Zimbabwe’s financial, agro-input, processing and marketing subsectors.

Bob, unlike many other farmers, did not have a distinctive nickname like Manyepo, so named for his paranoia about the supposed lies told to him by the long-suffering workers of Chenjerai Hove’s 1989 novel, Bones. At least not one known to my father. My father doesn’t remember his surname. He was simply known to him as Bob. Bob, who owned the big farm bordering their ruzevha. Bob, who drove a Benz, which you would hear from afar, zipping up and down the graded dust road. Bob, whom he, as a school child in the early war years, had seen marching up and down in patrol with the Rhodesian soldiers. Bob, whose wife was a nurse, administering medical care to the natives in the surrounding reserves. Bob, who it was said eventually relocated to town because his wife wanted to practice medicine.

Bob’s land has many new owners now. Farm life is no longer divided between makomboni (workers’ compounds) and the well-appointed farm house. Dotted across the landscape are the neo- traditional homestead set ups, typically with a grass-thatched hut kitchen and one or more dhanduru, the brick four corner dining room where the families can either sit and listen to the radio, or sleep. The more successful have asbestos or corrugated zinc roofing, but for the poorest of farmers, these structures may all be mud, pole and grass. Moving in the distance you might see some of the new owners struggling behind ox-drawn ploughs or moving across their fields with hoes slung over their shoulders. Sometimes, a tractor might be seen taking its owner to the local growth point to get supplies. Globally and locally, the back-breaking efforts of these small farmers are often contrasted against mechanised efforts of the likes of Bob, who earned Zimbabwe that overused cliché as the “breadbasket of the continent”.

The landscape that used to be dominated by 4,500 mostly white, large-scale commercial farmers has been broken up by the FTLRP’s two-tier program: the A1 small farms with six hectares or less, which are geared towards poverty alleviation and are allocated at the local level, and the A2 large commercial farms, which aim to “indigenise wealth” and are allocated at the national level. The landscape is now populated by around 145,000 smallholders occupying 4.1 million hectares, and around 23,000 medium-scale farmers on 3.5 million hectares. Dogged issues around incapacity, corruption, knowing who exactly owns what land have been difficult to resolve. To address this, the government has recently appointed a new land commission to audit ownership and productivity.

Initially, the dramatic reduction and change in forms of agricultural production saw the worst affected areas producing as low as 30 per cent of potential. Over time, as farmers and government alike gained in experience, expertise and capital, the picture changed somewhat. In 2016, government rolled out Command Agriculture, an import substitution programme that saw resettled farmers, such as those on Bob’s land, contracted for a certain number of hectares and agreed to sell at least five tonnes of maize per hectare to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). In return, government provided seed, fertiliser, and, where possible, tractors and fuel for ploughing. The cost was deducted from the maize sale price. Together with good rains, the programme was instrumental in ensuring that in 2017 farmers managed the highest productivity in two decades, with 2.2 million tonnes of maize.

Although it is only 18 km long, the dust road following an unmarked turn-off on the Chivhu-Nyazura highway that leads to my mother’s rural home in Gandiya village takes a long time to negotiate, winding through the former mapurazi (farms) once referred to as kwaDekoko, kwaJosiasi, kwaBhirijhoni, and finally kwaJhani. Now that commercial farmers de Kock, Josias, Viljoen and Jan are no longer there, the roads are not graded as frequently.

Gandiya village is located in Manicaland Province, in a region with very low temperatures, high rainfall and high elevation – best for tobacco, coffee, tea and horticulture. The ancestors of the people of Gandiya originally settled 40 km away in the Mwenje area. They were pushed out to the present reserve, a valley sandwiched between prosperous white-owned commercial tobacco farms.

These farms were underused, an affront to the villagers on crowded reserves. My mother often speaks of how her grandfather, Sekuru Killion Chiganze, was in the habit of taking his large cattle herds to graze on the white fields in the middle of the night.

Despite being forced into an arid, rocky, unfertile valley, the people of Gandiya village managed to farm mostly maize, beans and finger millet, which they supplemented with citrus fruits, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, vegetables and tomatoes. They sold to small grain dealers such as Harry Margolis, who grew his small corner dealership in Nyazura township, buying peanuts from the area, to become the present-day Olivine Industries, part of the Cottco Holdings Limited group, listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE). Later, these farmers would sell their maize, beans and finger millet to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) in the town of Rusape, around 40 km away.

When the liberation war spread to this area, many of the villagers supported the fight for the return of their ancestral lands. The liberation movement’s political leaders and comrades alike, often referred to as vakoma (older brothers), defined themselves as vana wevhu (children of the soil). Writing in Roots of a Revolution (1977), Zimbabwe African Nationalist Union (ZANU) founding president Ndabaningi Sithole declared: “The black man belonged to the Soil by right of birth. He belonged to it by right of death as well. To deprive him of it was to rob him of his birthright and his death right! The Soil possessed him by right of his many ancestors who had lived on it and who had been buried in it. The Soil gave him life, and when that life left him, it claimed him back. He came from it and therefore he belonged to it. No one comes from where he does not belong. At death he returned to it. No one returns where he does not belong. He is the Soil in life and death – ‘Mwana we Vhu’, ‘Child of the Soil’.”

Naturally, identifying with this struggle for the return of their soil, the Gandiya villagers collaborated with the comrades in acts of sabotage on Dekoko, Josias, Jan, Bhirijhoni’s lands. As the war “got hot”, the farmers, including one General Wickus de Kock, a former Rhodesian Minister of Security who had fallen out with the government, abandoned these farms. My uncle, Sekuru Ben Chiganze, a young boy at the time of independence, recalls, that at several night vigils they would sing “VaMugabe tipei mapurazi tirime nyika yaayedu” (Comrade Mugabe, give us farms so that we can plough, the land is now ours). Self-determining as they now were in their newly freed country, many Gandiya villagers did not wait for Comrade Mugabe and took to “self-provisioning” Dekoko, Bhirijohni, Jan and Josias’s abandoned lands.

Soon after independence, as my grandmother, Mbuya Beneta Chiganze, recalls, her oldest brother-in-law, Sekuru Dickson Chiganze, a successful businessman in his day, who had worked in Zambia, came to tell her: “Mainini, huyai tiende ku mhinda mirefu” (Sister-in law, come and let’s go to the wider lands). My grandfather, a primary school teacher, was away at the mission, so she accompanied her brother-in-law and his wife. Weighing the distance from her current homestead, and the effort required in the new war of conquest for the best land, my grandmother decided to stay put in the reserve. For his part, Sekuru Dickson, having secured a portion of Bhirijhoni’s abandoned lands, would eventually acquire the nickname Mudhara Bhirijhoni (Old Man Viljoen).

The emergence of self-provisioning villagers such as Mudhara Bhirijhoni coincided with the post-independence government’s early redistribution programme, which operated within the Lancaster House agreement’s willing-buyer willing-seller framework. In the early land reform programme, planning usually preceded settlement, but in Gandiya village’s case, government rationalised their self-initiated land reform after occupation. Unsurprisingly, about 81 per cent of land redistributed during the 1980s was acquired during the three years following independence. The large tracts of land abandoned during the liberation war constituted the bulk of resettlement land. Where some previous owners, who had long abandoned their farms, later returned to lay compensation claims, this was done without delaying the redistribution programme’s planning and placement.

The early land reform programme initially aimed to resettle 18, 000 families on 1.1 million hectares over three years. In 1982, this was revised to 162,000 families on 10.5 million hectares in 12 years. By 1989, 52,000 families, representing a total of 420,000 beneficiaries, had been resettled on 2.8 million hectares on a voluntary basis. With 68 per cent of families yet to be resettled, the pressure for land remained.

Throughout the 1990s, pressure on the post-independence government mounted as it implemented the World Bank-driven Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), which saw unemployment and inflation rise as per capita income decreased from US$645 in 1995 to US$437 in 1999. National and rural income inequalities deepened, as the rural economy suffered de-industrialisation. An increasingly agitated constituency of war veterans, restive rural communities, local politicians and black businesspeople continued to pressure government to use its two-thirds majority to radically transform the agricultural sector. During this period, government frequently clashed with communities that “self-provisioned” and occupied land.

The year 1997 was a defining year. As government attempted to speed up redistribution through the expropriation of 1,471 farms, Britain’s new Labour government announced that the former imperial power had no historical obligation to support Zimbabwe’s land redistribution. In response, Robert Mugabe warned at a land donors’ conference: “If we delay in resolving the land needs of our people, they will resettle themselves. It has happened before and it may happen again.”

By the 2000s, the war veterans were fed up with the ZANU–PF’s refusal to take over land. As a protest against their landlessness, the war veterans orchestrated a campaign over one Easter weekend, at which time 170,000 Zimbabwean families occupied 3,000 large white-owned farms. Initially opposing the move, the increasingly unpopular government backed the war veterans, sanctioning what Zimbabweans refer to as jambanja (chaos), that would characterize the fast track programme’s initial stages. In Gandiya village, the only beneficiaries of the fast-track program were three former freedom fighters who do not live in the village permanently anymore. Nonetheless, the new programme’s renewed focus on small-holder farms and the push toward forex-earning cash crops like tobacco would have important consequences for agricultural production in the area.

It’s almost dark when we stop at Mudhara Bhirijhoni’s homestead. The power is out, so he and his wife are already sleeping. But hearing that his late brother’s daughter and her family have arrived, he doesn’t mind the disturbance and receives us in their main dhanduru. In conversation, he is sure to remind us of his award as the best farmer for the 2015-2016 agricultural season in the annual five-ward field day organised by the Kumboyedza group, a local farmer’s cooperative initiated by my uncle, Sekuru Ben Chiganze. Bhirijhoni has won in this and many other agricultural field days over the years, the most recent one at the age of 90. He is remarkably sharp and fit.

A few weeks later, my aunt Mainini Foro Chiganze and I return to visit. Earlier in the morning we had called him to say that we would stop by, but when we arrive after mid-morning, he is not there. His wife, Mbuya Miriam, informs us that he has long gone to his fields. When we find him, he is weeding his fields with his hoe. Despite the late coming rains, his green maize stalks tower over his figure. We climb over his neat counter ridges; he shows us where wild pigs are starting to dig into his ripening fields.

Mudhara Bhirijhoni is part of the older generation of Gandiya villagers who have kept or are resigned to growing maize for their own consumption, either because the labour for crops such as tobacco is too onerous or because the GMB has become an unreliable buyer since the dollarisation of the economy. In the past, the GMB, which was opened up to black farmers at independence, provided a guaranteed market for farmers, but was not transformed to accommodate small grains and continued to use the Rhodesian institutional framework skewed in favour of cash crops, such as tobacco, cotton, maize, wheat and soya beans, all of which are more susceptible to droughts and can only be stored for a limited number of years. With the exception of sorghum, the GMB rarely buys the small grains that yield better harvests in drought-prone areas such as Gandiya. The large white-owned seed companies were also reluctant to invest in research and development of small grains. As a result, the first 10 years of independence saw the steady decline of small grains, such as finger millet, which are more drought resistant and can be stored for up to 25 years.

Nonetheless, Mudhara Bhirijhoni remains a successful farmer, true to his surname, Chiganze, which is a relatively recent adoption. It was the nickname given Sekuru Killion Chiganze, Mudhara Bhirijhoni’s father and my great-grandfather. It comes from the word kuganza (to show off). My great-grandfather loved to boast about his unprecedented success in farming. It made him wealthy enough to support three wives and many children, several of whom went to mission schools. When his sons were away working in towns and missions, he would supervise his daughters-in-law on the land. He was tough and known to have a temper, easily set off by perceived mediocrity from his immediate and extended family. So hard was he, that my uncle recalls a deep boyhood hatred-turned–admiration, because of his grandfather’s inclination to throw hardened soil crumbs at him for failing to lead the cattle properly during ploughing time. As people from the community and surrounding villages came to him for grain during difficult seasons, it was common to hear people say havaganzi mahara (they don’t boast for nothing).

We soon set off for my grandmother’s house. The familiar sign ndapota vharai ghedi! (I am pleading with you, close the gate!) appears. The tall matriarch, Mbuya Beneta Chiganze, stands waiting to welcome us with my mother’s only sister, Mainini Foro. We have an early supper, of meat, vegetables and sadza rezviyo (stiff porridge made from finger millet which Mbuya grows and grinds herself). I sleep with Mbuya and Mainini Foro. On Christmas morning, I am surprised – and quite relieved – that we only wake after 5 am. My 80-something grandmother is notorious for waking up at 4 am with the first cock crow. You will be woken up to the sound of her loud talk with Mainini and her beginning to go about her business, getting ready to go into her field by the time the sun rises. Sure enough, we are soon outside sweeping Mbuya’s yard.

My grandmother has been a winner in the annual five-ward field day’s category for widows several times. It is a category that she and some other widows campaigned for, complaining that their efforts cannot be compared to those of younger married couples. For help, she sometimes hosts a nhimbe (a work party) where food and, in the past, beer is served to the community invited to help with weeding, harvesting, and sometimes pounding, in return for goods such as soap, oil and other staple groceries.

After breakfast, we spend the morning visiting relatives in the village. It is Christmas day, but a few farmers, like Sekuru Aaron Chiganze, Mudhara Bhirijhoni’s son, are in their fields. He is part of the generation of young adults in Gandiya village who from 2000 onwards switched from maize to tobacco farming, as tobacco became an increasingly fashionable crop. Given that it is highly labour–intensive, tobacco appeals more to young adults. As a result, many young people, often jobless in urban areas, have returned to the rural areas to try their luck with tobacco. Many of the new tobacco farmers often boast that fodya igoridhe (tobacco is gold). Tobacco is an aspirational crop. Many of the Gandiya farmers have memories of the commercial success enjoyed by tobacco farmers Jan, Josias, Bhirijhoni, and Dekoko. Some now declare that they too have “arrived” as tobacco farmers, “tisu tave mabhunu acho” (We are now the new boers).

In his homestead, Sekuru Aaron has a scaled-down version of the large dhirihori (drying halls) that towered in Jhani, Josiasi, Bhirijhoni, and Dekoko’s fields. Sekuru Aaron shows us his structure as he explains the intensive curing process, which requires a continuous inferno for long periods of time. He explains how he must wake up every three hours to keep his fire going or risk compromising nine months of hard labour. Feeding the fires of these dhirihori has seen the deforestation of the surrounding woodlands, despite the eucalyptus seeds offered to small farmers by merchants and the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA).

Over the years, several Gandiya farmers have complained about being ripped off at the auction floors. According to my uncle, at least three Gandiya tobacco farmers literary collapsed after their crop was auctioned for a song. Nationally, this experience was not uncommon at the beginning of FTLRP. The industry saw an influx of new, inexperienced farmers who suffered low quality and low yields. In 2008, the annual crop reached a record low of 48 million kg. Over the years, yields have since increased steadily as the ZTA and the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) channelled money into education and provided seed and equipment packages to small farmers.

By 2013, the industry had turned a corner. Zimbabwe is now producing 200 million kg per year, a level matching the pre-fast-track days. In 2016, Zimbabwe’s tobacco brought in US$887 million. At 31 per cent of Zimbabwe’s total foreign revenue, it is the country’s single most valuable export. This wealth is no longer the preserve of 1,500 mostly white large-scale tobacco growers. It is now generated by 100,000 growers, of which 70,000 are small farmers. For the average small farmer in Gandiya village, the auction floor income can range between US$2,000 and US$5,000. This is in a country where most people do not make more than US$100 per month, and in a village where few people have more than US$2 a day to their name. In good years, the most successful farmers are able to buy cars, new farming implements, and send their children to school.

While visiting my grandmother’s zviyo (finger millet) fields a few weeks later, I meet Olivia Muza, the local mudhumheni. Literally translating as “door man”, a dhumheni is an Agriculture Technical and Extension Services officer who goes from door to door, demonstrating best agricultural practice on individual farms. Mudhumenhi Muza is one of two Agritex officers in the area. With the responsibility of supervising over 771 families, more than the 400 families recommended by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural organisation (FAO), her efforts are spread thin. The dhumheni who supervise nearby resettlement schemes supervise about 500 families, because they have bigger plots of land.

Mudhumheni Muza is not a big fan of tobacco: “When the farmers tell me they want a field day for their tobacco, I tell them that if they want it, they are free to speak to the other dhumheni.” As we give her a lift back to her home in nearby Rukweza village, Mhudhumeni Muza laughs, shaking her head as she talks of the “miracles” seen at places like Boka Tobacco Auction Floors, one of Harare’s three main auction sites. “Ha, you’ve never seen anything like it. Ladies of the night. Fake car dealers. Hoarders of trinkets which have absolutely no use. Everyone is lined up to make money off of these farmers who have never seen so much money before. Ha, especially in those first years, all of their money was finished at the auction floors.”

As she further explains, it’s not so much this that concerns her, because many farmers have learnt their lesson. It’s more that, between planting and auction-floor sale, many farmers go hungry as they haven’t planted any food crop and the previous year’s tobacco income is often inadequate to cover their food needs for the whole year. The situation is exasperated as the income from the leaf can vary greatly depending on supply of the crop at the auction floor and the quality of the farmer’s leaf. In the case of the latter, the quality is often affected by rainfall, the farmer’s inputs, and their curing and handling techniques. Mudhumheni Muza complains that their dhirihori are too small and that they squash their tobacco in rooms that are also too small. Compounding this, without the storage capacity to withhold their crop when auction floors offer unfavourable prices, farmers are often forced to be price takers. To assist farmers, the ZTA, along with merchants, are trying to get rocket barns on to all farms. These require less firewood and produce better quality crop. To help improve yields, they’re also rolling out a “pay as you plough” tractor hire scheme.

On the same day that I meet Mudhumheni Muza, I find Sekuru Aaron in his tobacco fields. I’m taking pictures of his fields, beautiful as they are, nestled in the Nyahwa and Nyakuni mountain ranges. I’m focusing my camera on the brilliant green of a particular leaf, when I hear Sekuru Aaron’s voice chastising me for taking pictures without letting him know. With his lean frame dressed in a green soccer supporter’s shirt, I had missed him as he bent over to inspect his leaf. He makes his way from the field to the dust road where I stand in the unrepentant heat with Mbuya, Mainini, and Mudhumeni Muza. Even with a hat, I don’t know if I can stand it for any longer. A sweat breaks over Sekuru Aaron’s brow. It’s hard work, and he is clearly tired as he greets us. He nonetheless manages a smile, clearly proud of his work. It doesn’t seem that he’ll stop growing tobacco in the foreseeable future. Putting aside her disdain for tobacco, Mudhumheni Muza offers him some advice on how best to cure what looks like a good crop.

In mid-February, 2018, my uncle, aunt and I drive around 180 km north-west of Harare, to visit a relative who has taken on a resettled farm about 20 km outside the farming town of Karoi. When we stop for refreshments at the OK supermarket in the farming town of Chinhoyi, my uncle meets an old acquaintance. He has moved permanently to a nearby A2 farm and, judging by the enthusiasm with which he discusses his farming, appears to be doing well.

The Sekuru we are visiting in Karoi is a former war veteran who settled full time on his medium-sized farm in the 1990s. He is even more enthusiastic about his new life as a commercial farmer. I have lost count of the number of times I have been told, both by Sekuru himself and other relatives, that it’s really worth paying his farm a visit. And with good reason. As you near his farm, a full-to-capacity dam appears in the distance. It services his and several other resettlement farms in the area. The farm has tall green maize fields. There are too many other crops to count. The compound he has built, following the neo-traditional style, is stunning. The several dhandhuru are tiled, the master bedroom with a built-in bed. There are two large, round kitchens, one for cooking, and one for dining. As we sit in their well-appointed dining kitchen, we are almost embarrassed as his wife presents us the elaborate meal she has prepared – sadza rezviyo, chicken stew, sugar beans, rape, okra – all from their land. When we leave, their family struggles to carry and load the double cab with the produce they have brought for us to take home.

As we return to Harare, I try to press my uncle, a retired businessman and A2 farmer, on his view of land reform success. Eventually he offers: “It really is a mixed bag. It depends on the area. It depends on the farmer. Some are doing incredibly well. Some are doing badly. The yields are not as great as in the past. But overall productivity is improving.”

I bring up Mudhumheni Muza’s view on the social cost of tobacco farming. My uncle is not too interested: “Look, Muza is now doing more than agricultural work and extending herself as a social worker. Here, I am only concerned with the economic aspect of things.”

In many ways, I believe, the very failure to think more holistically about land reform and what it means for social relations has created a situation where many women have been left behind. In 2000, at the commencement of the fast track program, 81 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men were engaged in Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy. And yet, while national figures are inconclusive, it would appear that the vast majority of resettled farmers are men. The few women who have benefitted in their own right are largely ex-combatants turned civil servants who were able to use their relative privilege to access land. Government later tried to address some of the issues facing women’s access to land with the introduction of joint naming of spouses in offer letters for A2 farms. This still did not address the problem, particularly in communal areas where women are subject to the old colonial and patriarchal customary law.

In thinking about my grandmother Chiganze, I am inclined to think that there are parallels between  her decision not to claim new lands, even after her brother-in-law had called on her and the fact that her situation as a widowed woman had not been considered in the field days assessments. Both of these I believe, are reflective of the broader ways in which African women are often erased in our imagining of land and liberation. The patriarchal politics of land is consistent with what Horace Campbell calls the “patriarchal model of liberation”. The stunted vision of land is not limited to political leaders. It is after all the small farmers of Gandiya village who boast “tisu tave mabhunhu acho” (We are now the new boers). For all our aspirations towards African liberation, our imaginations often remain beholden to symbols of colonial patriarchal success.

In many ways, the soil’s return has been a painful experience. In just as many ways, it has been a heartening one. Without a doubt, land reform has driven an unprecedented transformation of an agricultural system built on the unjust conquest of Zimbabwe’s land and people. It has radically changed who can be a farmer and how farming can be practised. As an African woman, who stubbornly holds on to her birthright to the soil, I can only hope that time can help us rise above those limitations in our visions of humanity and liberation.

 

 

 This and other stories available in the new issue of the Chronic, “The Invention of Zimbabwe”, which writes Zimbabwe beyond white fears and the Africa-South conundrum.

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