Vol IX, Issue 3 (Summer 2002): Politics and Culture in West Africa
Peter K. LeMaire
Bernice A. LeMaire
For more information
Politics and Culture in West Africa
This issue of AfricaUpdate focuses primarily on West African politics and culture.
Dr. Natalie Sandomirsky, formerly Professor of French and African Studies in Southern Connecticut State University, discusses the recent presidential election in Mali. She raises issues on gender politics in the region and the real reasons for the ``sidelining'' of Awa DanogoSidibe, the sole female candidate.
It is equally interesting that at the time of this writing, an important victory was being scored against the oil multinational Chevron-Texaco, by the women of Nigeria's Delta State in the southeast. The protesting women refused to vacate the premises at the four flow stations and oil pumping units unless each of their ten communities was given millions of dollars in compensation for the cost of rehabilitating their polluted rivers and streams and to fund development projects. They wanted a micro-credit loan scheme, electricity, clean water, hospitals, and schools. Chevron-Texaco has publicly agreed to fulfill some of their demands, following negotiations.
We decided to include some brief comments on this highly publicized and possibly trend-setting event which contrasts with the political events in Mali.
Also included in this issue is an interview with Souleymane Cisse, the distinguished film maker from Mali who kindly agreed to a brief interview at Harvard University several months ago. Mr. Cisse is wellknown for films such as Baara, Finye, and the 1987 production Yeelen, viewed by some as a political allegory and by others as an adventure in Science Fiction. The interview was translated from the French.
A brief commentary on Ousmane Sembene's latest production Faat Kine is also included and so, too, a brief comment on the Zaar masquerade of Bauchi State, Nigeria, by Dale Emmanuel Ali of the Federal College of Education, Zaria.
We thank the various contributors to this issue of AfricaUpdate for their illuminating discussions.
Presidential Elections in Mali in and the Sidelining of Awa Danogo-Sidibé
Dr. Natalie Sandomirsky, Former Professor of French and African Studies, Southern Connecticut State University
The campaign was in full swing. Outgoing President, Alpha Oumar Konaré, was doing his best to ensure survival of democracy and freedom in the Republic of Mali which for 31 of the 42 years of its existence as an independent nation had been autocratically governed. He even supported the inclusion of term-limits in the Constitution and was now willingly stepping down.
Governmental institutions were busily trying to guarantee strict observance of electoral laws. The media were discussing the platforms of the 25 expected candidates who were wooing the over 5.5 million potential voters. They were also showcasing something new: there was a woman candidate. Malian women, still marginalized by patriarchal traditions, have for the last two years mobilized to increase women's participation in politics. Women's groups, particularly in the capital, Bamako, were now all over the internet and sponsoring meetings to support her.
The woman in question was Awa Danogo-Sidibé. Trained as a chemist, she worked for many years in governmental institutions prior to managing her own small dyeing industry. Most of her fifteen employees are women. She is a Bamako resident, 52 years old, married, with six children. As a mother she became politically active after the 1991 riots in which one of her children sustained serious head injuries. She has militated in the Association of Victims of Repression and in a number of Non-Governmental Organizations where she has helped train young women in the art of dyeing and in the manufacture of soap. The key motive of her campaign was the struggle against social injustice, particularly as it victimized women and children.
Thirty Days prior to the election, the Constitutional Court met to certify the eligibility of candidates, who, in order to be certified, needed to have submitted proof of being Malian born, be at least 35 years old, not active members of security or military organizations, and in full possession of their civic and political rights. With this documentation they also had to pay a sum equivalent to about 7,000, to be refunded to them provided they obtained at least 5 of the electoral vote. Unexpectedly, the Court certified all candidates, except for Danogo-Sidibé: her application was ruled invalid because the monetary guarantee had not been paid.
Upon this news Danogo-Sedibé was in shock and was even briefly hospitalized. When interviewed, she stated that she had entrusted her husband, a successful and wealthy engineer, with submitting her dossier; that she had not engaged in fund-raising because he had told her that he would pay the required sum. He did submit her papers, but failed to pay the money, never telling her that this was what he had done. She did not hazard any explanation of his behavior. He offered no public explanation. Did he block his wife's candidacy because of a deeply felt conviction that women have no place in politics? Did he do so to hurt her for personal reasons? The future may or may not tell. What this writer found distressing was that, according to press accounts a majority of men approve of his behavior on ideological grounds. Even worse were the blunter e-mail messages: ``a woman's place is in the kitchen.'' While it may sometimes appear that feminists exaggerate gender problems, it seems that Malian society still has a long way to go to accept women's rights.
The election has taken place. In the first round no candidate received an absolute majority, but three candidates stood out according to unofficial results; Amadou Toumani Touré with 28.7% of the votes, Soumaïla Cissé, with 21.3%, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta with 21%. Altogether 38.7% of eligible voters went to the polls; 2,201,154 votes were cast. The Constitutional Court found that many irregularities had occurred and validated only 1,564,576 ballots. However, its action did not change the relative standing of the candidates. In 1997, this same Court had found it necessary to annul the results of the elections and require new elections. There has been progress. This did not prevent vigorous protests, particularly from supporters of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta who was certified third, and hence ineligible for the second election round. Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was the candidate chosen by strict Muslims. It seemed for a while that things might turn ugly in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. However, after a few days Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta announced support for Amadou Toumani Touré. As expected Amadou Toumani Touré easily won the second round. Cissé conceded and congratulated the winner. It seems that Malians are faithful to their national anthem: "Saluons la liberté/Marchons vers l'unité. . .''
How will Amadou Toumani Touré rule? What bargain did he strike with Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta? There is reason to hope. Of all Malians he is the one most responsible for the fledgling democracy and freedom. It was he who as a general in 1991 engineered the overthrow of the dictator Moussa Traoré, and as temporary head of state appointed a civilian transitional government and supported a democratic constitution and free elections which led to the presidency of Alpha Oumar Konaré.
I wonder whether Amadou Toumani Touré will remember what happened to Awa Danogo-Sidibé?
Will he appoint her to his Cabinet? Will he support her if she decides to run in the legislative elections? More importantly, will he recognize that women's rights are human rights?
As Chevron Moves to Resume Production inEscravos
By Mike Oduniyi And Onwuka Nzeshi, This Day (Lagos), [18 July 2002]
As the Ijaw women's siege on Chevron's oil flow stations entered its tenth day yesterday, Chevron said it was making moves to resume production at its oil terminal in Escravos, gutted by fire last week even as oil workers threatened to down tools if in the next 21 days the company's managing director was not recalled.
A source disclosed that the protesters have vehemently refused to vacate the facilities until each of their 10 communities were paid N2 million as compensation for the women who abandoned their various trades to occupy the flow stations.
The protesters were also said to have asked for the institution of a N20 million micro-credit loan scheme for each of the communities to enable the women embark on small and medium scale enterprises after the siege.
Oil flows from Chevron's onshore rigs in the Delta swamps have also been shut off while hundreds or women protesting for jobs and investment in their communities occupy pumping stations.
Last week Chevron Nigeria reached a deal with a group of women who had occupied the Escravos terminal and disrupted operations for 11 days, agreeing to build a school in their village, increase local recruitment and supply them electricity and clean water.
Last week, protesting Ijaw women numbering over 150 occupied four oil flow stations operated by Chevron Texaco Oil Company demanding reparation for what they alleged as years of neglect and damage to the economic activities of the community.
Notes on Ousmane Sembene's Faat Kine
By Judith Pevzner, student of Hist 476, African History through Film
Ousmane Sembene's "celebration'' of the new African feminism, as seen in his film Faat Kine, has as its focus a strong and spirited woman, who has transcended betrayal and mistreatment from the men who fathered her children, and her own father. She has also managed to overcome the more traditionally subordinate economic status of women by earning an apparently comfortable living as the manager of a gas station. According to critic Leighton Klein of the Boston Globe, this gas station is the bastion from which she has fought for her life. He observes that "far from signifying Kine's lowly status, the station is the foundation of her hard-won financial and social independence. It is the throne from which she observes, guides, and chastises." Indeed, she does this with a kind of ironic and at times, sharp-edged humor, or simply, as Mr. Kine puts it, "with a slight smile and a knowing glance.''
Although Faat is the sole support of her children, and is away from home every day, she is, as Mr. Klein points out, a traditionally loving and self-sacrificing mother, who can be hurt by her children, as any mother can. When her ambitious young daughter angrily tells her that she doesn't want to be "a gasoline seller'' like her mother, Kine seems terribly hurt, but she remains enthusiastically supportive of her daughter, and determined to send her to university, even if she has to mortgage her house to do this.
One sees the new feminist perspective not only in Faat, but also in the portrayal of the women who are her close friends. The women commiserate with each other, as women have traditionally done, but they also discuss travel plans, and plans to buy and sell merchandise. With regard to men, they discuss the use of condoms, (they can well afford to put their health considerations first), and the possible benefits of giving condoms to a man who doesn't like to wear them! There is not only humor here, but also the sense that these women do not fear the rejection of a man.
When Faat's children conspire to "set her up'' with a man whom they consider worthy of her, she vehemently lets them know that she does not require a partner. Indeed, we are told that she has always rejected conventional marriage. The men in her life are not only lacking in character, but seem clumsy and almost dim-witted in their interactions with her.
What is so striking about this independent lady, is that she has not lost the generosity of spirit which resulted in the betrayal by the lover to whom she had given her savings many years before. Indeed, one often sees her giving money to those who need it, or who simply ask for it. Although she displays anger towards the men who have mistreated her and neglected her children, Faat is not bitter, nor does she seem to hate men.
It is the opinion of the Boston Globe critic Leighton Klein that "Faat Kine turns on a simple question: Who is Fatt's equal?'' It may well be that no man can be, but Faat can still enjoy the company of a man. In the final scene, we see her in the company of a man whom she likes. However, it is she who is seducing him, and is in control of what is about to take place.
African Cinema: Mali's Souleymane Cisse
Interview with Souleymane Cisse (SC) conducted by Dr. Gloria Emeagwali (GE) at Harvard University, Cambridge,Massachusetts, November 18, 2001
The distinguished film maker Souleymane Cisse is a recent recipient of an endowment which brings to Harvard some of the world's most outstanding film makers.
Amongst the works of Souleymane Cisse are the following:
The Wind (1981)
GE. Mr. Souleymane Cisse, what have been the major influences in your work?
SC. I am amazed at the frequency of this question. This question keeps coming again and again in different ways.
GE. Well you should not be amazed. By asking this question one hopes to crawl into a corner of your mind, so to speak.
SC. Well, my influence has been Mali. Everything that I do comes from Mali- its history, its culture and everything about it. I express what I see in my culture. I went to film school in the Soviet Union and learnt how to make films but certainly my style is much different from the Soviet film makers. That is why I don't always understand this search for origins and influences, so to speak. It is up to the critics to come to their conclusions.
GE. Well when one asks the individual, a great producer as yourself, about influences, one hopes that you would reveal some aspects of your innermost thoughts. This helps us. So although the question may sound quite dull and lame, ordinary and boring, it is not the question but the reply that counts. In the same way one may ask about sources of inspiration and so on. On a different note, what about Mali? Are you disappointed with the present in the light of Mali's magnificent ancient and medieval past?
SC. These are two completely different worlds - completely changed. Unfortunately things are going down the drain rather dramatically.
GE. Well, speaking about Mali's past I am particularly excited about the thousands of historical documents identified in Mali recently.
SC. Yes. Those manuscripts and documents exist. You must come to Mali to see them. When are you coming to Mali?
GE. Well, I have been in various parts of Africa. I believe that Mali is next in my itinerary. How do you compare your work to that of Ousmane Sembene?
SC. Our work is parallel and, well, it is up to the critics to decide.
GE. What are the challenges confronting your work? I know that you have been asked this question a thousand times, so this is another boring, repetitive question, but I would still like to get your own perspectives on the future of Africa's cinematic world, the measures that should be taken and so on.
SC. Well, we have established an organization in Mali that is relevant to that. We have a brochure in which we summarize all the challenges. I shall pass that document on to you.
GE. I would certainly appreciate that. I had the good fortune of seeing parts of Waati. This is indeed one of the most fantastic films on Apartheid South Africa that I have seen. Is it in video format?
SC. This film is still in progress.
GE. I know that you did not like the question about sympathetic magic asked earlier this evening but I was responding to comments in the Harvard Film Archive Bulletin. Your work was associated with ``sympathetic magic.'' I was actually questioning this categorization. The classification seemed quite inappropriate to me.
SC. Well, the phrase ``sympathetic magic'' does not mean anything. It is just an alignment of words. Have you seen Baara and Waati? By the way did you not bring up the notion of socialist realism?
GE. No, I did not. I mentioned "social realism'' not "socialist realism.'' I was thinking about Manthia Diawara's classification scheme as discussed in his African Cinema. His categories include social realism
SC. Well, people who talk about ``sympathetic magic'' must go back and have another look at my work to really understand it.
GE. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.
SC. Thank you for taking the time to interview me. I hope it would be useful.
Note: "Sympathetic Magic: The Cinema of Souleymane Cisse", in Harvard Film Archive Bulletin, Nov/Dec 2001. Carpenter Centerfor Visual Arts, Harvard University. The interview was in French.
By Haines Brown, CCSU History Department, Emeritus
From 1996, Internet access in Nigeria was by phone line and therefore subject to regulation by Nitel. ISPs were unhappy about this, claiming that access to telephone lines were denied, exorbitant rates charged, and lines disconnected. Besides their resentment of regulation, behind this frustration was undoubtedly the notoriously poor state of the telephone infrastructure.
The ISPs were therefore happy to find an alternative in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical wireless bands (2.4G and5.8G). Because these frequencies were designated for private use with little regulation, significant investment flowed in and wireless Internet access costs plummeted.
While this overcame the old problems of cost and reliability, it generated a new problem. The stiff competition resulting from the explosion of wireless service providers encouraged some to ignore the only regulation, which was to limit transmission power to one watt or less. The much higher power of some now seriously interferes with other providers. Not only is Internet communications in Nigeria threatened, but also interference with vital medical and scientific data transfer.
Regulation of wireless is the responsibility of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). However, the NCC limits itself to facilitating market access and does not check on the behavior of providers. While communications might be an arena obviously in need of public regulation, the gigahertz bands escape it. As a consequence, an unfettered drive for profits has emerged as a significant danger to the public interest.
To counter this chaos, the providers this month formed the Internet Service Providers Association of Nigeria (ISPAN). It spoke favorably of the liberal environment created by the NCC because it was profitable, and apparently expected voluntary self-regulation would limit abuses. (Information drawn from issues of This Day [Lagos]).
Notes on the Zaar Masquerade
Ali, Department of English, Federal College of Education,
The masquerade is a terrestrial religion and a kind of atavistic mode where one returns to life after death. In many Nigerian societies masquerade performances exist where the adherents of that culture celebrate their collective spiritual, social and economic anxieties of a majority of the so-called traditional members of the culture. In Zaar tradition of Tafawa-Balewa and Bogoro Local Government Areas of Bauchi State, masquerades, which are believed to be spirits of the dead, come out at different times and seasons of the year. They serve as a link between the dead and the living and are presided over by a priest called "sengwaari.'' The shrine where they emerge from under the ground is forbidden to women. Some masquerades are usually identified with some families as an inheritance and it is a pride and symbol of bravery.
As spirits of the dead, masquerades watch over the living and avert epidemics like sicknesses and misfortunes. In times of droughts rain is caused by masquerades to ensure a bumper harvest. It is claimed that wicked people in the community like witches and wizards are checked by their special intervention. It is only the priest and the initiates that can eat and drink any food prepared for a masquerade. Any attempt by a non-initiate to eat such food leads to death or serious illness sometimes.
Zaar masquerades have coded language that is never understood by anyone except the initiates. This writer is privileged to know that while local beer is ordinary called ``duu'' masquerades refer to it as "ngaashi.'' Masquerade songs are never sang anywhere (even by the initiates) except in their times and seasons. The meaning of the songs and the rhythm of the drum only makes sense to the initiates since it is presumed they are invoking the spirits of the ancestors. It is forbidden to touch any instrument used for such performances and the flutes blown are believed to be the fingernails of the dead ancestors. After the festivals the masquerades normally retreat to the shrine and sink beneath the earth only to come out someday during a festival.
In this manner the Zaar people celebrate their self-extension to the next world (land of the ancestors/dead) and ensure the maintenance of cosmic order. With the advent of Christianity masquerades have become mere performances for entertainment and "the belief that sustains it has lost its potency.''
African Writing and Text
(Legas Press, 2000)
The author of African Writing and Text, Simon Battestini, points out the limitations and ideological conditionings of many texts. He refutes stereotypes and myths created to justify the colonial enterprise. Bringing African data into the sciences of writing and text leads to the proposal of a new grammatology of the text as a product of writing.
The author, a Georgetown Professor Emeritus, trained as a linguist and semioticist in Dakar (Senegal) and Paris, conducted research and taught in Africa (1951-1983) and in America (1983-1998). All of his publications are inspired by discourse analysis.
The book is translated by Professor Henri Evans from the French text published in May 1997: Ecriture et Texte, Contribution Africaine. Les Presses de l'Université Laval (Saint Nicolas, Québec, Canada) and Présence Africaine (Paris, France).
By Gamal Nkrumah (http://www.ahram.org.eg/weekly/2002/593/in4.htm)
The tone that the leaders of the world's richest and most powerful nations set at the G-8 Summit meeting in the Canadian resort of Kananaskis did not ensure that past mistakes on Africa will not be repeated. To the Africans' chagrin, there was a hollow, all-too-familiar ring to the solemn pledges made for Africa's development. Neither the continent's acute economic crisis will be assuaged, nor the anxieties of African leaders who secured little meaningful support for their brainchild, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
An unsettling sense of déjà-vu currently grips Africa's perturbed leadership. They have heard similar promises before, most notably at the special United Nations session on Africa in May-June 1986 when a programme of action for African economic recovery and development was adopted. It failed. One can only conclude that the annual ritual has reduced the continent's leaders into a state of abject confusion. They are urged to grovel for a marginally larger percentage share of the meagre assistance on offer. Not to mention the attached conditions and strings. African leaders are encouraged to open up their economies, privatise, deregulate, liberalise and even vote themselves out of office for adopting unpopular policies.
Mounting foreign debts, plummeting commodity prices, low levels of foreign investment and a drastic reduction in international development aid are all key factors that have contributed to Africa's downward spiral in recent years. These critical determinants of African development are largely induced and controlled by outside forces. Both rich and poor nations know all too well that poverty today kills far more people in the world than terrorism. Yet the US Congress, which approved 40 billion to fight terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, is loath to seriously tackle poverty in Africa.
The flow of development aid to Africa has dwindled to a trickle over the past decade. In 1990 Africa was receiving 19 billion in aid; today the continent gets a mere 12 billion. France is still the most generous donor to Africa, disbursing some 1.8 billion in assistance, mainly to its former colonies and francophone countries. It is followed by Japan and the US whose aid to Africa amounts to around 1 billion each.
Reluctantly, the G-8 pledged 1 billion towards fighting poverty. But even this paltry sum has strings attached. The West views economic deregulation, privatisation and political liberalisation--including the institutionalisation of multi-party political systems--as the only important yardsticks of progress.
"I'm sick of them all, to be honest with you,'' Paul Geldof said of the G-8 leaders. Geldof, one-time leader of British pop group The Boomtown Rats, organised Live Aid in 1985 in response to the Ethiopian famine. He criticised the fragmentary solutions which he believes are inadequate for the scale of Africa's problems. "You can't do it piecemeal, you must do it as a totality,'' Geldof said.
While the notion of helping Africa is fast gaining support among G-8 nations, the world's wealthiest countries are reluctant to make a meaningful commitment. The wealthy countries preach free trade while practicing protectionism. African leaders at Kananaskis begged for better trade terms but it is the G-8 nations that have introduced, in the past few years, non-tariff barriers that pose no less of a threat to exporters from impoverished African countries than the tariff barriers enforced by rich countries on African goods.
According to the NEPAD plan--marketed as a blueprint for African economic survival--African economies must grow at a virile seven per cent plus annual rate over the next 15 years if the number of Africans living in extreme poverty is to be halved. The continent's average economic growth in 2001 has been half this. Yet NEPAD largely overlooks the vested interests and power relations that perpetuate the stranglehold of wealthy nations on the markets.
Blinkered by its obsession with the war on terror, good governance, multi-party democracy and individual human rights, the US has spent 100 billion on a missile defense system but finds it hard to cough up another couple of billion dollars to combat poverty.
Politically, too, the West has applied considerable pressure on African states to institute "good governance.'' Good governance, human rights and democracy are pivotal elements in the NEPAD plan. But concerns have been voiced that undemocratic African leaders will reject the so-called "peer review'' principle whereby African countries monitor each other's conduct.
Selective deafness seems to be a G-8 characteristic, especially when it comes to cancelling Africa's crippling foreign debt. Even in relatively developed African countries, such as South Africa, more than five times as much money goes to servicing foreign debt as to education. Effective debt relief would free up money for housing, education, medical care and sanitation. But G-8 nations will not hear of it.
Another NEPAD cornerstone is attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) to Africa. Africa receives less than one per cent of the world's FDI flows, and most of this is poured into the extractive and mining sector--oil and diamonds.
Nonetheless, action is being taken, with or without the consent of Africa's leaders, something that is likely to force the continent to search its conscience and make a choice. The G-8's plan for Africa promises benefits for African countries "whose performance reflects the NEPAD commitments.''
The main elements of the plan reinforce traditional neo-colonial relations between Western powers and African countries in economic, military and political matters. Under the guise of instituting peace and security, an agreement has been conjured up for a peacekeeping force in Africa--significantly, it will be under Western supervision. Economically, there was a vague commitment made to improving global market access for African exports by tackling trade barriers and farm subsidies by 2005.
Ironically, the poorest, least developed countries in Africa usually receive the smallest amount of aid, trade concessions and FDI. Moreover, the benefits of increased agricultural exports from developing countries can be detrimental to the welfare of the poorest people in those countries, especially where farm exports are produced by large scale, capital-intensive, mechanised farms. In countries where agricultural exports are produced by labour-intensive, small-holder producers there is a close correlation between rural poverty reduction and increased agricultural exports.
Trade barriers and tariffs imposed by rich nations must be lowered if African products are to access Western markets. Moreover, subsidies on agricultural products in the North must be reduced if the pauperisation of peasants in the South is to be stopped.
Buzz words like democracy, good governance, human rights, sustainable growth and development often crop up in the G-8 plan for Africa, but no serious effort is made to bridge the technological and infrastructural gap between rich and poor countries. Market access initiatives have floundered and the promotion of African exports and the removal of non- tariff barriers by the rich have failed to materialise. Most crucially, calls for cancelling Africa's debt have consistently been ruled out by the G8.
With the Permission of Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), issue no. 593, 4-10 July 2002.