Vol. II, Issue 4 (Fall, 1995): Focus on North East Africa

Table of contents

Editorial: Focus on North East Africa

by Prof. Gloria T. Emeagwali

Chief Editor of AfricaUpdate

The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, brings to a close its exhibition entitled "Ancient Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa," an exhibition which began May 24th, 1995, and which undoubtedly restored to the intellectual agenda a significant aspect of Africa's ancient history.

Nubia, no less than its neigbours Egypt and Axum (Ancient Ethiopia) jostled for power and control in the region. They all engaged in expansionist campaigns from time to time and attempted to tilt the balance of power in their favor.

The Axumites remain famous for their long range maritime connections and building technology, including monumental churches.The Nubians, on their part constructed apparently more pyramids than their Egyptian neighbours to the North. It is clear that Kashta and his son Piankhi's conquest of Egypt shifted the regional center of power to Napata, Nubia, until 664 BCE.

Despite major demographic shifts in the region since antiquity, there has been almost interminable rivalry between Sudan and Egypt.

What better evidence of this is there than the recent war of words between Khartoum and Cairo over an alleged assassination attempt on the life of Egyptian President Mubarak while he was attending a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tout ça change, rien ne change pas!

In this issue of Africa Update we look backwards to Ancient Africa, if only for a moment.

Professor Lobban of Rhode Island College, an expert in the field of Sudanese history contributes to this issue a discussion of on-going research into the reconstruction of Ancient Nubian history, and we were also able to incorporate information related to the Sudanese/Egyptian impasse earlier mentioned. Judging from Yohannes Dawit's article, "Ethiopian-Eritrean Relations," Ethiopia and Eritrea offer a better model of congenial coexistence than Egypt and the Sudan.

In keeping with our determination to reveal various dimensions of African Cinema, from time to time, we have also included a very illuminating discussion on Africa at the Movies by Keim and Stinson of Moravian College. It is a piece that presents us with memorable insights into the distorted and convoluted representations of Africa which Hollywood has presented us with from time to time. Needless to say that some of what is said here about Gorillas in the Mist; Mogambo; Out of Africa; African Queen and even the first Tarzan of 1918 is valid in some essential way to Congo (1995).

Educators as well as historians of African Science mya find useful the concluding article on drumming and mathematics by James Murrell of Duke University.

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The Nubian Dynasty of Kush and Egypt:

Continuing Research on Dynasty XXV

By Richard A. Lobban,

Professor of Anthropology and African Studies Rhode Island College

The significance of the 25th Dynasty is very great. This period (ca. 760-656 BC) was a time when Nubians ruled most or all of Egypt as full-scale "guest" pharaohs. It was in this time that a revival of Egyptian religion and architecture took place and major monumental constructions by Nubians were completed at several locations along the Nile. The Nubian revival also saw a rebirth of pyramid construction which lasted longer and built more pyramids than even in Egypt. Several of these Nubian pharaohs such as Shabaka, Shabataka and Taharka are identified by name in the Old Testament as they had key alliances with the Judeans and Phoenicians in their joint efforts to oppose Assyrian expansion.

This was also a significant period for the emergence of substantial experimentation with alphabetic writing systems, such as demotic which emerged at this time. A few centuries later, the Nubians began their own unique style of alphabetic writing which still needs decipherment today as Africa's oldest writing system outside of Egypt. Such factors serve to document a very early, but key, contribution to world history by an African population and they offer a powerful antidote to the misinformed notion that Africa "has no history" in the sense of a written account.

Although the study of Egyptian hieroglyphics dates back to the close of the 18th century, the study of the second oldest system of writing on the African continent, Meroitic, has only been initiated in the 19th century and was not very seriously advanced until the 20th century. Despite the rapid advance in the transliteration of the Meroitic alphabet, the study has been effectively stalled ever since.

The serious collection of Meroitic inscriptions begins with the first inscriptions recorded by Gau in 1819, or perhaps with Ferlini's 1834 raid on the jewels of the Meroitic pyramids. The father of serious Meroitic archaeology is typically considered to be Lepsius as a result of his 1844 fieldwork in the region. The first systematic work appeared in the Denkmaler of Lepsius in 1849, which includes the formal hieroglyphic form of this dead language. The Mahdist revolt in the Sudan brought the fieldwork to a temporary halt, but Lepsius's 1889 work on Nubian grammar advanced his interest in regional languages.

Long term research may involve the following:

I. Detailed Nile valley and regional chronology and key biographies from the 9th to 5th centuries B.C.E.

II. Foreign Relations between the leaders of Dynasty XXV and the Canaanites / Palestinians; Judeans; Phoenicians; and Libyans.

III. Domestic relations with Egyptians and other Nubians.

IV. Kinship and descent in Dynasty XXV among the royalty and with the priestly elite at Thebes.

V. Monumental art, and architecture during Dynasty XXV in the Delta; the Theban area; Kawa; Napata (and Kurru and Nuri).

VI. Religion and religious icons of Dynasty XXV in temple styles, pyramids, and tomb images.

VII. Technology used during Dynasty XXV regarding metallurgy, military weapons and tactics, hydraulics/irrigation, quarrying, weaving and pottery, paints and cosmetics.

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Cairo and Khartoum Trade Insults Following the Addis Ababa Plot

reprinted with permission from the
Sudan Democratic Gazette, number 63, August, 1995.

On 26 June, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak survived an attempt on his life when he was in Addis Ababa for an Organisation for African Unity (OAU) summit meeting. His motorcade was travelling from the airport to the city centre when it was ambushed and fired upon. At least two of the president's bodyguard were killed as well as several members of the ambushing group. President Mubarak's car did a swift turn and returned to the airport, from where the Egyptian leader flew straight back to Cairo. Almost immediately the Egyptians accused the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum of being behind the assassination attempt. At the time of going to press the matter still remained unresolved.

Little Doubt

Seasoned Sudan observers have little doubt that Khartoum was involved in the assassination attempt in some way. Notwithstanding the claim by the Egyptian group, the Jamaat Al Islamiah, to have carried out the attack, the question remains as to how they reached Addis Ababa undetected. Evidence indicates that the attackers arrived in Addis Ababa from the Sudanese capital several days before 26 June. They were able to rent a house previously occupied by an NIF operative, which was conveniently on the main road from the airport.

President Mubarak's premature apportioning of the blame has clouded the issue and probably made it more difficult to categorically link Khartoum to the attack. Interestingly, the NIF regime has refrained from issuing an absolute denial and preferred to engage the Egyptians in highly charged polemics. Meanwhile, the Ethiopians, who must investigate and clear up the mess, have been angered by the accusations from Cairo and Khartoum. The Ethiopians are being used by each side to justify their claims, whilst the trauma caused by an assassination attempt on a visiting head of state is ignored.

Circumstantial evidence, revealed a week later, further implicated the NIF regime in the attack. The Ethiopian authorities had intercepted and arrested a group of Arab terrorists infiltrated from Sudan a few days before 26 June. Similarly, the Egyptian authorities also intercepted an Islamic group crossing the border from Sudan and seized a large consignment of weapons. Although the NIF regime has routinely used this border route to infiltrate terrorists into Egypt, the latest incident was probably a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the planned attack in the Ethiopian capital.

The assassination attempt very nearly succeeded and only Mr. Mubarak's sixth sense appears to have saved him. The attack on the motorcade was the first part of a double ambush and was intended to identify which car the president was travelling in. A few yards along the road was a car bomb waiting to be detonated as soon as the president's car passed. By instructing his driver to return immediately to the airport, Mr. Mubarak avoided the more deadly second part of the ambush.

Insults and Rudeness

The initial two weeks after the attack were characterised by insults and rudeness from both sides. Angry about the attack, Mr. Mubarak described the NIF regime as criminal gangsters and stated that he could easily wipe them off the face of the earth within ten days if he so desired. Buoyed by the public support and sympathy he received in Egypt, he talked openly about military reprisals against Sudan. Tension heightened in the disputed border area of Halaib on the Red Sea coast which neither the Egyptians nor Sudanese allows foreigners to visit. There was military clash in which the NIF regime accused the Egyptians of opening fire on their border post, killing two soldiers, wounding many others and then evicting the rest from the post. Meanwhile, the Egyptians accused the Sudanese of having opened fire on an Egyptian patrol which merely returned fire, wounding a few Sudanese soldiers who were brought to Cairo to receive medical treatment. The Egyptians made no mention of evicting the Sudanese from the border post because they consider the Halaib region to be part of Egypt and will not publicly admit the presence of a Sudanese post there.

The NIF regime did not flinch from insulting the Egyptian leader, describing him as both criminal and anti-Islamic. It said that the Egyptian people would soon get rid of him. Both Lieutenant General El Beshir and his political mentor, Dr. Hassan Abdalla El Turabi, ignored the details of the assassination attempt but made great play of the Egyptian tradition of killing their own leaders and said they did not need the Sudanese to do it for them. They asked whether the Sudanese had been responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat or the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Rifaat El Mahgoub.

Upping the ante yet further, the NIF regime denounced Egypt to the United Nations Security Council, threatening to divert the River Nile away from Egypt and to turn the trenches in Halaib into an Egyptian military graveyard. This bluster from Khartoum masked the fact that the Egyptian army is larger and better equipped than its Sudanese counterpart. By calling the Egyptians' bluff, the NIF regime hoped to win the war of words. This has been a successful tactic over the past six years for the regime.

It was the Egyptians who decided to back down first. Two weeks after the attack, a presidential spokesperson issued a statement to the effect that Egypt would never take military action against Sudan. The statement said that in spite of the NIF regime's behaviour, Cairo had alternative means other than military ones for dealing with Khartoum.

Sudanese Support

President Mubarak received the overwhelming support of the large Sudanese community in Cairo, who demonstrated their rejection of the NIF regime's methods in a huge demonstration they organised for 28 June. The march went to the presidential palace in central Cairo where the Egyptian leader addressed the crowd and thanked them for their sympathy and support. He praised the Sudanese as good and kind people who are being terrorised by a rogue regime. He said that he had thought twice about pursuing a military option because of the goodness of the Sudanese people. The Sudanese crowd made it plain that they would welcome the Egyptians pursuing the military option, seeing it only as an attack on the NIF regime rather than on Sudan or the Sudanese in general.

Silent Ethiopian Anger

The behaviour of both Cairo and Khartoum would ordinarily provoke any third party into speaking its own mind, yet the Ethiopians have remained silent throughout. Adopting a more dignified approach to the whole unfortunate episode. The Ethiopians have quietly set about investigating what happened. However, even in this matter the Egyptian and the NIF regimes have not allowed them a free hand.

The Egyptians insisted on being allowed to take part in the investigation and flew a team of investigators to Addis Ababa. They created a public impression that they were in charge of the entire investigation.

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Africa at the Movies

By Curt Keim and Robert Stinson

Moravian College

The Questions

Everybody knows that American "African" films from, say, the first Tarzan in 1918 to Out of Africa in 1985 do not offer satisfactory portrayals of Africa. To begin with, they are unrealistic in their representation of societal complexity. Then too, considering the decades these movies were being made, "reel" Africa does not give much sense of real Africa's brutal transition from colonialism to independence. In any case, filmmakers have tended to use Africa merely as an exotic background for love and adventure stories that are not about Africa in any fundamental sense at all.

Our critique of African movies, however, starts where these points leave off. Here are our questions:

  1. What precisely are the images and patterns of Africa which, even in "background" films, were the filters through which Africa itself is interpreted? It hardly matters, in other words, whether a movie was intended to be about Africa or even whether African scenes dominate the film. The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) is a case in point, for its story takes the viewer on such a tour of extended flashbacks beyond the opening African scene that its intention is clearly to recreate the career of Ernest Hemingway, author of the original short story, through many troubled venues. Yet during much of the film the audience saw a version of Africa, and the question is, what did they see? And how does the catalogue of images one can compile from one film compare to the catalogues from the dozen other films on our initial screening list?
  2. What is "American" about American films set in Africa? Does the fact that the studio was American make a movie American? In recent years, does the fact that film production has been freed from the Hollywood studio system mean that a national designation is no longer relevant? Does it help to suggest that a film, whatever its origin, is American if it circulated well in this country and earned a popular response that gave it meaning within the stream of American Culture? Stanley and Livingstone (1939), for example, came from 20th Century-Fox and its director, Henry King, was American. Its subject, like the memoir it was based upon, was an American's search for a "lost" Englishman. It is an American movie. Consider, now, the case of Sanders of the River, made in 1935, just a few years earlier. Released by a British studio, it has all the mechanical earmarks of a British film. To us, however, there is further significance in the fact that Sanders did not circulate in America outside a few art houses. The reason why may lie in the fact that Sanders did not link Americans with any African experience that they could recognize as their own. The film's obvious focus on Africans' child-like "You-are-my-father-and-my-mother" dependence on British imperial authority struck no chord here, since American interest in Africa during the thirties-official or popular-was less systematic. (The story of American movies about China, of course, could be more like Sanders).
  3. What is specifically "cinematic" in the content and conveyance of a given film's interpretation of Africa? Movies are, after all, not just stories but also film stories; film has a very different rhetoric than prose. Even when filmmakers are working from an original novel, as has been the case of most African movies, the movie must be different from the book, not just in what is left out (such as secondary plots or minor characters), but also in the very means used to create for the cinematic eye and ear what was first written prose. Photography, editing, music, and even "intertextuality" play a role.
  4. That last term, intertextuality, refers to the fact that audiences, especially in the era of the Hollywood star system, were accustomed to cross-identifying fictional screen characters with the actors who played them, so it was hard to separate, say, Charlie Allnut from Humphrey Bogart in African Queen (1951). Audiences carried into the viewing of this film the images of all the other Bogart movies they had seen before. Similarly, Eva Gardner played two radically different roles in Mogambo (1953) and Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), two "African" films which were released only a year apart. It was hard not to think of her in both movies simply as "Eva Gardner." Intertextuality also has to do with viewers' auteur sense of the similarities among several films by one director. Henry King made Stanley and Livingstone and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, so despite the 13 years separating one from the other, one can at least look for his movies' common themes. More complicated is the case of John Ford, who made Mogambo in 1953. Is it too much to wonder if his Africans are a little like his "Indians" in Drums along the Mohawk, Ford's 1939 epic of the American Revolution?
  5. We have now analyzed several films and see that, for example, virtually all African movies involve an encounter between "the West" and "Africa," framed from the point of view of the West. This much is obvious, but we are further interested in what we call the "mediator" persona which seems a part of every encounter. This is a man, usually, who lives uncertainly between the West and Africa-between civilization and the primitive-and can interpret one to the other. Often an alienated figure, he seems to know that however usefully distant he has become from the West, he must avoid plunging too far into the primitive, lest he lose himself and loose his tethers with civilization. Alan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is such a figure in King Solomon's Mines, as it Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) in Mogambo. If one can imagine Tarzan, too, as a mediator, in at least some of the Tarzan movies, then the dynamism to fear is the tug in reverse of the dangerous West on this happy primitive. With time and increasing artistic and anthropological sophistication, mediators might be women. Dian Fossey, in Gorillas in the Mist, begins as an "innocent," comes in time to "know" Africa, and then acquires a viciousness in the use of her knowledge. The film leaves in open ambiguity the question concerning the origin of her cruelty. Is it Western or African?
  6. In each of the twelve films studied Africa appears exotic and dangerous. In the 1950s films, for example, so many snakes and callosal spiders appear that films begin to look silly from our 90s perspective. Moreover, there is rarely a distinction between "Africa" and "Africans" as footage of nature is interspersed with footage of "natives." There are, however, some interesting exceptions in non-white mediator characters. Whites rely on a few "good" Africans who can understand the supposed logic of the white heroes. And even more interesting, nearly every film finds a way to depict apes and monkeys as mediators between nature and civilization. As with the white mediators described above, more recent films tend to be more sophisticated in their use of non-white mediators and nature. Thus in Gorillas in the Mist, Sembagare, Fossey's tracker, almost becomes an individualized three-dimensional character, and the revelation of gorilla sensibility poses new questions concerning the meaning of nature.

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The African Drums and Ratios Curriculum

By James A. Murrell

Dept. of Electrical Engineering, Duke University

Whether part of the drum languages for communicating messages between villages or part of rituals for calling down the Spirits, the rhythms of the Drum have long been central to the mundane and spiritual lives of Africans. Drumming has also played an important role in the struggle against enslavement and colonization. For example, the Haitian Revolution began with a priest of Voudon named Boukman calling forth his fellow Africans to the hills of Haiti with the drums. Drumming is an art but also a science, as the manifold intricate patterns bear complex, subtle and powerful relationships to the fundamental forces and patterns of Nature.

These strands of the African tradition of Drumming come together in the African Drums and Ratios Curriculum (AD&RC) being developed in the U.S. by the Algebra Project, Inc. The Algebra Project was founded in the 1980's by a teacher of mathematics, Bob Moses, who is known for his work during the 1960's in the Civil Rights Movement during the voter registration drives in Mississippi. The AD&RC is a recent initiative aimed at the development of important math concepts such as ratios and fractions by having 4th and 5th grade children learn, experience and participate in the traditions of African Drumming.

African Drumming provides a wealth of opportunities for children to see, hear, touch and move with the patterns and number relationships that make up the fabric of African drumming rhythms. With this multimodal sensory and experiential teaching methodology, the Algebra Project hopes to advance the goals of empowering African people.

The core of the African Drums and Ratios Curriculum in its current state of development is a series of lessons that begins with every student making her or his own drum. Concepts of geometry, measurement and estimation are involved as each child measures and cuts a drum head for her drum. The lessons call for the participation of a proficient drummer along with the classroom teacher. The children learn to drum and increase their drumming proficiency. Along the way, concepts of drum language and drum patterns and cycles are learned, and the numerical relationships of ratios, fractions and multiples involved in the rhythms and polyrhythyms are observed and formulated into mathematical language. The key idea is that in each lesson, children experience a real, engaging event or activity, which they then describe and represent in their own language or with drawings; then with the help of the teacher and their classmates, children begin to structure their natural representations into a more systematic language or representation, and continue to the point of formal abstract, symbolic representations. In this way, the mathematics concepts are investigated and developed by the students through inquiry and discussion and guidance from the teacher.

In the approach to math usually taken in most of today's schools, students are fed symbolic representations without sufficient context and then are asked to apply these to solve what appears to them to be meaningless problems. The Algebra Project methodology turns this up-side-down procedure back to "right side up." Meaningful, engaging experience is given first as instances of the concepts, then the children work together to formulate and structure their experiences until they reach the point of abstract, symbolic representation. This allows the children to explicitly see and experience the steps of discovery that are part of exploring and analyzing their world. They become proficient at these skills in a way that gives them the power to apply it themselves in all of the contexts they must confront in their lives. In this method, the children are not "taught at" but are empowered by ownership over their own learning experience. The teacher is then truly an educator in the sense of the original meaning of the Latin "educare" meaning "to draw out"; the teacher helps to draw out of the students that which is within them.

The current AD&RC has been developed over the last few years by a multidisciplinary team of consultants. This school year, the Curriculum is being test piloted and further developed in classrooms in public schools at various selected sites throughout the U.S. A strong component of the Algebra Project approach to education is the involvement and participation of teachers, parents and the community in the development of curriculum and the school environment. This will continue in the development of the African Drums and Ratios Curriculum.

Through continued development, the core curriculum oriented around math concepts will be expanded into a full multidisciplinary curriculum integrating literature, language arts, science and social studies around the themes of African culture. African songs, music, dances and stories from many African traditions will be shared with the children. Children will learn the history of how drumming has been an integral part of the spiritual life and the struggle against oppression. African concepts of Nature and science will be introduced. The children will be provided with the resources and encouragement to explore these themselves, individually and in cooperative groups. Class activities may include visitors from various African traditions around the world and "pen pal" letter writing to African children in other parts of the world.

For further information, please contact John Belcher or Ben Moynihan at the national coordinating office for the Algebra Project.
Algebra Project, Inc.
99 Bishop Allen Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139.

The phone number is 617-491-0200 and the fax number is 617-491-0499. Please send e-mail information requests to John.Belcher@bbs.serve.org or to Ben.Moynihan@bbs.serve.org.

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Africa and the Net

by Haines Brown, C.C.S.U.


The Association of African Computing Engineers and Scientists is being formed to bring together students, academics and professionals so that Africans can assume initiatives rather than have non-Africans continue to define Africa's computer and telecommunication future. It will model itself on the IEEE and ACM and focus on such areas as:

  1. Technical exchange between Africans at home and Africans in the diaspora;
  2. Promote conferences and workshops in and outside Africa;
  3. Promote communication among African universities and industries;
  4. Encourage the professional development of its members;
  5. Offer media for technical and professional communications among its members;
  6. Facilitate further studies by African faculty and students;
  7. Support African institutions of higher learning.

Kingsley C. Nwosu,
AT&T Bell Labs
67 Whippany Rd, Rm 2C256
Whippany, NJ 07981-0903.

E-mail: nwosuck@harpo.wh.att.com

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Ethiopian-Eritrean Relations, 1991 - 1995

By Yohannes Dawit

Ethiopian Constitutional Commission, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ever since Eritrea, the ex-Italian colony, was annexed by Ethiopia after the end of the Second World War, following a ten year British rule, the two countries were locked into a bitter civil war that lasted over 30 years. The bungled de-colonoization came to an end in 1991 when the Eritrean nationalists defeated the military junta that had escalated the civil war into a total war of annihilation. At the same time the EPRDF ( The Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front ) defeated the regime of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who had built the largest sub-saharan Army with the help of the Soviet Union. Immediately the relation between Eritrea and Ethiopia changed dramatically. It is to be remembered that the war against the legitimate interests of the people of Eritrea has never been popular with the peoples of Ethiopia who were themselves forced into the war and suffered as heavily as the peoples of Eritrea. This background helped to bring about a fast reconciliation of the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The first major challenge was the legitimization of mutual interests that led the EPLF (The victorious Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front) and the EPRDF to agree on :

  1. That the EPLF would not make a unilateral declaration of independence for two years at the end of which a UN supervised referedum on self-determination including and up to secession will be held.
  2. That all Eritrean Ports will be accessible to Ethiopia's use and payment to them will be in Ethiopian dollars.

This historical agreement paved the way for the Eritrean people to decide on the creation of an Eritrean nation - state, which they did in a referendum held as scheduled and planned with the UN observing the full process.

With the evolution of independent Eritrea, the governments of both countries have become partners in the search for peace, development and justice.

At the initial period of their relationships the two countries showed massive cooperation in the repatriation and returning home of thousand of Ethiopian soldiers. With the consolidation of peace in both countries, the two countries have established a joint cabinet of ministries to plan and coordinate policies and activities. This is more important as both countries use the same currency: the Ethiopian dollar.

At the present moment the Transitional period in Ethiopia is being concluded. The ratification of the new revolutionary constitution has taken place. The elected parliaments convened for the first time on August 21, 1995. The elected representatives will elect the national president, The prime minister and his cabinet as well as the speakers of both houses for the next five years.

In Eritrea, the transition to democratic elections will not be completed for the next four years. The Eritrean Constitutional Commission is in the process of consultation with the Eritrean public and is not expected to come up with a draft constitution before the next two years.

At the regional level, both Ethiopia and Eritrea are on the forefront in promoting regional integration with their neighbors, Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya.

Meantime the relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia is deepening in the common interest of fostering peace, democracy and development.

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