Deeper Than The Headlines: Immigrants in Athens, US-Africa Policy + More

Check out the latest news on Africa with in-depth African news featuring opinion pieces from global sources.

This week we continue to bring you the latest news on Africa with selections from different media outlets around the globe. Be sure to check back each Thursday for pieces that dig deeper than the headlines on the latest news on Africa!

1. Letter to Patrice Emery Lumumba

By: Ama Biney

Last week was the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of Congolese anti-colonial leader and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Pambazuka editor-in-chief, Ama Biney penned a passionate letter in honor of Lumumba questioning the persistent instability of the region: "On the 52nd anniversary of your brutal assassination on 17 January 1961, your people of 60 million have continued to see no peace, justice, nor liberation. The people have continued to profusely bleed to death. Rape has become a weapon of war against thousands of Congolese women. Between August 1998 and April 2007, up to six million Congolese have died through unspeakable atrocities, disease, starvation and malnutrition. This figure is almost the same number as the Jews who died in the Holocaust, which leads one to ask: is it because they are black skinned Africans that global humanity responds with paralysis and indifference? If they had been Europeans, would the killings have been averted or lessened?" Please check out the article for a necessary reminder of Lumumba's legacy in mileu of the Congo today.

2. U.S. Africa Policy- A Second Term Pivot?

By: J. Peter Pham

For the duration of President Obama's first term, policymakers throughout the continent have drawn attention to the fact that Obama has, for the most part, been relatively uninterested in Africa. Visiting the continent only twice- Obama has made it clear that his Kenyan heritage was not as significant as many initially proclaimed and hoped. In this article for African Arguments, J. Peter Pham highlights the Obama administration's track record for his first term and suggests that over the next four years we can expect something a little different:  "With [a] rather modest record of accomplishments, rendered all the more so when set next to the activist Africa agendas of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, some Africa watchers have set fairly low expectations for the U.S. policy during the next four years of the Obama presidency, citing in addition the political gridlock in Washington that show little sign of abating. Such pessimism might well be justified, but it need not be dispositive. In fact, there are indications that a modest, but not insignificant, pivot toward Africa may well be in the offing."

3. Nigeria Battles to Stop Spread of Al Qaeda Chaos in Africa

By: Samuel Burke

Back in 2010 Christiane Amanpour was the first Western journalist to interview Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. This past week Amanpour interviewed Jonathan again, discussing the rise of terrorist group Boko Haram in the Northern region of Nigeria. We don't know what to say here- in the video Jonathan insists that "Boko Haram is not a result of poverty or misrule" and also dismisses "interest groups" such as NGOs, which have drawn attention to government security forces that are also perpetrators of violence in the region. He also promises that by the end of 2013 electricity will be stable for the entire country. Wonderful. Check out the brief video and article so you can hear Jonathan say "that is not correct" to just about everything Amanpour tosses his way.

4. A Disaster 50 Years in the Making

By: Nasser Weddady

With different perspective and analysis pieces trying to understand the conflict in Mali, Mauritian blogger and activist Nasser Weddady argues that the current instability in Mali must be understood through a historical lens, which predates independence from France: "Unlike some writings popping up with depressing regularity in English-language media, the current Mali crisis pre-dates Qadhafi’s demise, and even the appearance of Jihadis in the territory in 2003. In fact, Mali’s internal problems started even before it gained its independence from France. Azawadis sought desperately to have their own state when it became apparent that France was intent on abandoning the French Sudan. They latched on the mirage of the Common Organization of Saharan Regions (OCRS) created by the January 10, 1957 French law." Interesting stuff.

5. Immigrants Are Being Stabbed to Death on the Streets of Athens

By: Matthaios Tsimitakis

For Vice, Matthaios Tsimitakis explores xenophobia in Europe, specifically Greece and the "growing wave of racist attacks against immigrants, some of which have been fatal." Tsimatakis details a recent demonstration of immigrant workers in Greece protesting against the assassination of a 27 year old Pakistani worker, Shehzad Luqman, and an alarming increase in the number of racist attacks: "till, the Greek government is unwilling to adopt specific measures that would effectively allow the victims to report crimes and the authorities to provide statistics. It's been months since human rights groups warned the Greek government that both the quality and measure of hate crimes is changing, leading to a new typology of deadly attacks, which have come to include attacks in public spaces – such as squares or on public transport – usually by groups of men dressed in black with their faces covered."

>>>Check last week’s Headlines here.


Image: Courtesy TIFF

Jenna Cato Bass is Capturing the Horrors of an Unhealed Nation

The film marks the South African director's third debut and stride towards making a name for herself in the international film circuit.

Ever since premiering her debut film, Love the One You Love, which won the Best Feature Film at the Jozi Festival in 2015, Jenna Cato Bass has been a name to watch on the international film festival circuit. Her 2017 feature, High Fantasy, was the first of her films to land on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) lineup, followed by Flatland in 2019. Her latest offering, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), debuted at TIFF in September of 2021 — marking her third time at the esteemed Canadian film event.

Often provocative, always thought-provoking, Bass' films have come to establish her as a director who looks at South Africa's youth, the lives they're living and the future that awaits them, with a nuanced, open-minded lens. For the first time in her career, Bass uses the genre of horror to dig into an enduring mark of the country's past — that of the fraught, complex relationship between madam and domestic worker, in Mlungu Wam (Good Madam). Set in Cape Town, the film follows the unusual, disturbing things that start happening when a young woman moves back in with her estranged mother, who is the longtime caretaker for a rich, white household.

Bass also co-wrote the film Tug of War (Vuta N'Kuvute), which became Tanzania's first film to be selected for TIFF this year, and she co-wrote Rafiki, which was Kenya's first film at TIFF in 2018.

She spoke to OkayAfrica about playing in a new genre and her hopes for African cinema.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

This story revolves around the relationship between a domestic worker and her 'madam.' What made you want to make a film about this subject?

When I make films, I like the concept to revolve around something that we all have in common - because, despite the many fractures in our society, these shared places exist. And in South Africa, we felt that everyone - in some way or another - has been deeply affected by domestic work and domestic workers, who are a keystone in our society's structure. Additionally, the 'maid' and 'madam' relationship is the ultimate symbol of race relations in South Africa - as well as how they haven't changed significantly, despite almost thirty years of democracy. So a domestic worker was the perfect character around which to centre a South African horror.

The genre of horror works really well to explore this subject and tell this story — when did you know it would be the genre you'd want to use?

The early stages of developing a film aren't always linear for me. I'll be thinking about a genre I'm interested in, and then parallel to that I'll have an idea for a story or a character, and later on, will realize that these pieces all fit together. In this case, I'd been wanting to make a horror film for ages, but hadn't found the right story… until I had the idea for Mlungu Wam, and I realized I was finally ready to try this genre.

What challenges did you face in making a horror?

It was my first time working in this genre, and it was intimidating because there's no saving you if you fail. We were also working on a very, very limited budget, so it wasn't possible to show as much as we'd like to - but then again, this story was all about the subjective and the unseen, so I did as much research and planning as we could, and just had to trust it would work.

Where did you film, and did that have any impact on the process at all?

We filmed in a house in Cape Town, in a gated community in the Southern Suburbs. The house and the environment had a major impact on the film - especially because we were also quarantining there for the full 7 weeks of rehearsal and shooting. The house was our set and our accommodation, so it was very intense, very claustrophobic, and very triggering for many of our team members.

How did you and co-writer Babalwa Baartman work on the story? You've included cast members in the writing process in your previous work — did you do that here too?

Mlungu Wam was made along similar lines to my first two films, Love The One You Love and High Fantasy, where we started with an outline, cast actors, then workshopped the characters collaboratively before completing the story breakdown and using improv for the dialogue. Babalwa and I had worked together using this method on a short film we made in 2019 called Sizohlala. She really understands the process, and it was a really rewarding experience exploring the story with her and our cast.

How did Kristina Ceyton, who produced the excellent acclaimed horrors The Babadook and The Nightingale, through Causeway Films, come to be involved in this film?

I had met Sam Jennings, who is also a producer with Causeway Films, several years ago at a festival. We really connected and kept in touch over the years, sharing our work, and hoping there'd be a chance to collaborate. So when we were developing Mlungu Wam, I pitched her and Kristina the concept and they were immediately supportive. It has been a massive pleasure working with them both.

Your films are known to venture into themes of identity and healing from the past — how does this film speak to that?

Mlungu Wam is definitely about this too - it's a story about three generations of women (actually four, if you include Tsidi's grandmother, who is an unseen character in the film), how they are haunted by the past and eventually refuse to remain chained any longer. Their healing is collective, linked to each other, and wouldn't be possible for them alone as individuals.

Still from Bass's film Mlungu Wam Image: Courtesy TIFF

You've been at TIFF before - how has your experience of it been this year, with it being a hybrid of virtual and in-person?

Things have been quieter and a bit harder to navigate, but the TIFF staff have done incredible work getting the festival off the ground, despite endless challenges. It has felt very surreal to be here, and a privilege - and inspiring too, that we can still get together to celebrate films, even though our world is in such a mess. We had over 200 (socially distanced) people at our last screening, and that was an amazing feeling.

Yours is one of few African films on this year's line-up - is there anything you'd like to see happen to try improve that?

Regarding African cinema, TIFF has a real range of films this year, across several sections. Compared to many other festivals, they seem really invested in supporting cinema from the continent. Of course, this could be better, but it's also an example to other festivals who claim there aren't enough African films, that this is clearly not the case.

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Tanzanian Filmmaker Amil Shivji is Making History with a Story of Love and Resistance

As the first Tanzanian film to be chosen for TIFF, Shiviji's film is sure to get the African country a seat at the table.