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Africa On Your Screen: Africa’s Story Goes Beyond The Remit of Hunger, Violence, Corruption and Chaos

5174348_new_africa_introWatching the BBC Africa Season on BBC 4 was a great relief to episode 2 of Welcome To Lagos. From African School to the Tutu Talks to Africa in Pictures to Rock n’ Roll Years, which focused on the ever evolving state of African music was brilliant. My only beef was the fact that they decided to push these fine programmes into late night slots and show us dumps and slums during the day. But I am fully aware that bad news sells, so, we are even.

The World Cup, due to start on 11 June means all news media outlets, from China to Israel, well, Israel does have its own pressing issues right now, so football is the last thing on her mind. So, let me do this again, from China to Japan to the US, and the ‘good ole’ BBC have all been obsessed with Africa over the course of the last few months. It has been a mixture of good and bad reportage but the bad outweighs the good as always. Nevertheless the good has been interesting and sometimes deeply moving. I still cannot get the documentary, The World’s Most dangerous Place for Women out of my mind. It hurts to think about what the Congolese women have been through and are still going through.

Though I am tempted to say the next time the world media focuses on the continent like they have done this year, is when one of its neurotic leaders or for lack of a better word, prima-donnas decides to hack off the citizens of the land. I know, that sounds horrible and like the words of a pessimist but that is not to say, I am not optimistic about Africa’s future and that of its many nations. However, there comes a time when you must call a spade, a spade and if history is anything to go by, our leaders do manage to pull off some of the most psychotic stunts known to the world. They may not physically start killing people, the above picture is a metaphor of what they are capable of, if not worse.

Without digressing much further, I loved African School because it reminded me of my own school days and those kids were such troopers. Some of them have had to deal with so much pain yet, they still have a big smile on their face and are hopeful. My favourite episode from that series was the election of school prefects. It was interesting to experience that system of government once again. I was never one back in Nigeria, thank heavens. I sure did not need such levels of high blood pressure at that point. The prefect role that had me in stitches was that of the person assigned to monitor food serving during lunch time at the school. We did not have that back in our day but if we did, I would have loved that position. It was interesting to learn that the kids also used the term double-dealing where food was concerned. Whereby, they would have one round, go off and then come back and pretend they have had nothing. At other times, they make deals with fellow student, so they have can more food potions. There has always been ingenuity in Africa, just sometimes misguided and misplaced even when it comes to eating lunch at school.

Now the Tutu Talks, I loved and the subjects the panel discussed were so enriching and worthy of the time I spent watching all four episodes. From the role of women in African politics and daily life to China’s presence in Africa, to the role of religion in government and daily life, and the very fact that aid may have just reduced us to one big welfare state. I found it refreshing that these topics were being discussed by Africans in an intellectual and comprehensive manner. If you want solutions to a continent’s problems, you do not always have to look outside. Let us start looking within, in order to create lasting solutions for the future. I was also intrigued by Africa in Pictures which focused mainly on South Africa and the ability of the nation’s leading photographers to document their history and growth through pictures. It was a huge change to the Zuma saga and one that was much needed.

In the last two weeks, there has been the An African Journey With Jonathan Dimbleby and that is my focus for the purpose of this blog. There is no denying the documentary has some of the same old African rhetoric when it is being viewed by a westerner, like the issue of poverty among other words, which every news reportage about Africa must have in order to make it objective. However, I have and must say there is something honest about Dimbleby’s approach and the way he talks about the places he has visited. I also appreciate the respect he shows to the different people he meets and the fact that he immerses himself in the actions and activities of the places he has been to. Building a house in Mali and dancing away to traditional songs and then donning a native attire in Ghana, the man has a sense of humour which I have never seen in his political programmes and I like that a lot.

You cannot beat Dimbelby’s introduction to his series. The fact that he is riding on a moped and on a busy road, and his description of Africa being a restless continent, what an evocative opening. It brings different images to your mind and makes you think about what makes Africa and its many nations restless as such. From the fight for survival to political disorder and the new wave of burgeoning contemporary life, developments and improvements on the continent, Africa is indeed a restless continent.

Once again, we see the lives of ordinary people in this documentary and there are some sweet moments which we would otherwise take for granted. Imagine the family of the young man who is celebrating the fact that he bought a moped and his plans on what he wants to do and achieve in life.  Mali really made an impression on me, which reminds me of an interview with two sisters who were traveling around Africa sometime ago and the fact that they talked about the rapid rate of development they saw on the streets of Mali. It was refreshing to hear music from a different part of Africa, though I had no idea what the lady was singing about but the themes and subjects of her songs, I respect because its about time someone spoke up for women who cannot do that due to traditional values which in turn devalues their right.

My world, Malian women can dress and that wedding was one ‘hella’ of a wedding. Its like none I have seen. Poor Dimbelby, forced to show his dancing skills but he did well.  Now, this is where I am heading, we met the sand diggers like we saw in Welcome To Lagos but it was the preservation of Djenné, the world heritage site, which left me in awe. I have never seen mud like that before and I must say it is out of this world. This is what I call architecture like no other. To think these men or Masons as they are known, are not trained architects or building engineers, yet they come up with such buildings is baffling. Now, I have a place in mind to visit when the time is right. It was also interesting to learn the men are passing the skills down from one generation to another, which I believe is vital in today’s society. We must find ways to preserve things worth preserving.

Dimbleby soon moves to Ghana where we see another aspect of cultural life and in an interesting twist, a mix of the old and new world. I am of the opinion that the traditional court in this documentary did and may just do a far better job than the courts of the government. It was very interesting to see and hear about the power a woman has in the Ashanti Kingdom as demonstrated in the court and of course, the court’s purpose of reconciliation. The Ashanti King sure is smart. I also liked the whole idea of brain gain and it’s about time we took time to rebuild our countries. It was important for me, to see and hear about the beauty of Ghana from the voice of Ghanaians. But hell, the football television show, heaven help us all, Reality TV sure has found its way into the bloodstream of a few African nations.

And finally, Lagos, Lagos. What can I say the resourcefulness of the people as stated by the filmmaker. The growing music scene and of course, we get that slice of Lagos’s own personality. I will not say much about this but his choice of interviewee, please if you believe Alico Dagonte that he has never participated in bribery/corruption. He has not given or taken bribe, please let me know and I will believe you. However, he was not convincing to me even though the allegations have never been proven.  But I liked the idea of him being aggressive in business. You do need that to survive.  Where Dagonte is concerned, he demonstrates the fact that producers are powerful people and that is what we need in Africa. When we start using our own resources to produce what we need, the economic game plan where Africa is concerned would most certainly change on the world stage. And hell, I agree with him about the issue of aid and Africa being a begging continent. It is about working and getting ourselves out of poverty. For that, I respect him and his words about investing in Africa. I thought the musicians were spot on when they talked about Nigerians now being proud of what is coming out of their country and Africans at large. And that is in the fact that we are happy listening to ourselves in the music we create and watching ourselves in our films.

The second installment of the same documentary focused on East Africa. Allow me to sound like a giddy child, I was excited about the Ethiopian female cyclist. I cannot explain it but it was different to the famine story and images, which some argue has come to define Africa to the west. Her personality, the way she carried herself and spoke in those few minutes Dimbelby interviewed her, was formidable. I like that about any woman and find it very attractive and sometimes envy it but in a good way.

It was also interesting to learn Dimbelby was the journalist who brought the attention of the first Ethiopian famine to the world’s attention back in 1973. An event that would trigger others including the fall Ethiopia’s much revered dynasty. It is a story that has formed the basis of many books, including one this year’s best novels written by the American Ethiopian writer, Maaza Mengsite, in her début offering, Beneath The Lion’s Gaze.

This is what gets me about Dimbelby, which I rarely see in other journalists, except a few. He tells you about the problems in Ethiopia but puts it in context without being sensationalistic about it. When he talks about the economical growth, you can tell he is surprised by the changes he has seen in Addis Ababa since he first started visiting. Then he talks about the political repression and this is where I had to sit back and think. Political repression is dictatorship in my opinion but you cannot deny Ethiopia has come a long way since the brutal derg era. Hence, the reason I respect his ability to put things in context.

The Ethiopian church, looks like I have some history lessons to take. Never knew about the connection between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and how that translates into the present day Ethiopian church but I find it fascinating. From the religion aspect of things, it is also interesting to see the country’s two main recognised faiths live side by side, and in peace. My world, the two Ethiopian ladies who are entrepreneurs, that is what I call ‘Girl Power,’ without trivialising their achievements.  From the lady who started the Ethiopian stock exchange for farmers to sell their coffee in a dignified manner and not be ripped off to the young lady, a doctor’s daughter who started a clothing company and employs over 30 people in her local  community.

Dimbelby is doing a lot of dancing in this documentary, which adds humour of course.  If you watch the film from the 24 minutes mark to the 25 minutes mark, that says it all about what we should expect from Ethiopia, if all goes to plan and I sure hope it does. For the world has seen in the people of Ethiopia, a spirit that refuses to die but keeps fighting with every ounce of resilience and tenacity it has.

Next on Dimbelby’s map is Kenya, where we witness a whole new level of communication and the use of mobile phones like I have never seen. The Masai tribe have truly made the job of the mobile phone companies richer and it shows how traditions and cultures are opening up and embracing modern technology, which I believe is good. I tell you, Africa and Africans have humour. The elderly Masia man, who has three wives and uses his mobile phone to communicate with them, you cannot beat that. But I like the attitude of the interviewees to life and the future. It is this indomitable spirit of hope I have come to learn we Africans have despite the woes. Again, we see that spirit of entrepreneurship in Kenya but hello, the call centre with the women masquerading as two people living your local neighbourhood as they do their job is scary. Why? Though technological advancement is great, the downside is your information, really personal ones travels the world without you knowing and that is bigger than you and I.

Tanzania, welcome to ferocious trading, where the motto is, you must buy.  But I like the fact that Tanzania is a peaceful country. I do not know a lot about Tanzania but to know it has the peaceful status a lot of African countries do not have is very reassuring.

And so, one must give honour to whom, honour is due and Dimbelby has my respect. By far, this is one of the most interesting documentaries about Africa I have seen on television this year. I respect the way he puts his case across and tells the story. I think its down to each of us to decide how objective he is, which I say, he is pretty close. The issue of poverty among other grey areas cannot be avoided but he has not done any of the nations he has visited so far, any disservice. If anything, I am keen to learn more about them because he has given me a fresh new perspective. I most certainly look forward to the final episode of the series.

Image: BBC World Service


2 Responses to “Africa On Your Screen: Africa’s Story Goes Beyond The Remit of Hunger, Violence, Corruption and Chaos”

  1. Hans Schippers says:

    I only saw the first part of Dimbleby’s documentary, but was left with similar positive feelings as the ones you describe.

    I also thought it was interesting how they explained that all the Mali mopeds were of Chinese origin, because they were 3 or 4 times cheaper than European ones.
    Imagine, (significant parts of) European industry benefiting from cheap resources from their (former) colonies, and then trying to rip them off a second time when trying to sell the finished product to them, seriously overpriced…
    At least there is no such bitter aftertaste with China selling their products on the African market, even though there are other areas where China’s role in Africa is a lot less commendable…

  2. Good Post. It?s truly a very great post. I noticed all your essential points. Many thanks!

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