News Brief
Photo by Annie Risemberg / AFP via Getty Images.

Malians Heading to Voting Polls Despite Coronavirus Outbreak

The Malian government has announced that the parliamentary election scheduled to take place this weekend will continue.

Malians are set to head to the voting polls this coming Sunday in spite of the coronavirus outbreak and a raging jihadist conflict.

AFP reports that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced that the parliamentary election would continue "in scrupulous respect of protective measures."


The push for the election to continue is largely due to crisis talks which looked at potential non-military solutions to resolve the current violence the country is experiencing. Experts are hoping that a new cohort of parliamentary ministers will adopt the reforms agreed upon in a peace deal between the Malian government and several armed groups in Algiers in 2015.

Admittedly, Mali's parliamentary election has long been delayed.

Initially set to take place at the end of October in 2018, the election was delayed by a month citing delays in registering candidates following a strike by judges. Thereafter, the election was again delayed by six months and scheduled to take place in 2019 instead following political tensions between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels.

Since 2012, Mali has been engulfed in conflict after Tuareg rebels staged an uprising which resulted in jihadists taking over key cities in northern parts of the country.

More recently, the country has been facing additional security concerns in light of the growing coronavirus outbreak. This past Wednesday, Mali confirmed its first two cases in two national who had traveled from France. Since then, strict curfews and border closures have been enforced as part of efforts to contain the outbreak.

Following the election this Sunday, a second round of voting is set to take place on April 19th.

Popular
Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Bobi Wine Takes His Fight to Venice

Hoping to attract a broader interest in his mission to end dictatorial rule, the Ugandan musician and politician features in a buzzed-about documentary screening at this year’s Venice International Film Festival.


“I had almost forgotten how to be among stars,” tweeted Bobi Wine, tongue-in-cheek, as he posted pictures of his arrival on the red carpet at the Venice International Film Festival for the premiere of Bobi Wine: Ghetto President. Billed as an ‘observational documentary,’ the film brings Wine’s story – how he rose from the informal settlement of Kamwokya and became a star himself – together with his pursuit of justice and democracy in his homeland of Uganda, to an international audience.

Bobi Wine: Ghetto President is showing out of competition and so isn’t up for the festival’s main prize, the Golden Lion. But that’s not why Wine, aka Robert Kyagulanyi, traveled to Italy, wearing the trademark red beret symbol of his People Power movement. Instead, he’s hoping the film draws attention to a cause he’s been championing for the last 5 years.

“I want the people in the international community to know that somewhere in the world, somewhere in Africa, in a country called Uganda, people are being massacred for what they think,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. Above that, Wine is calling for an end to the support President Yoweri Museveni has received, and wants the international community – specifically the US, which provides aid to Uganda – to be aware of how that money is being used to “undermine human rights and democracy in Uganda.”

Taking the film to a prestigious international festival such as Venice presents Wine with a global platform. In a tweet posted by the Venice Film Festival, he’s quoted as saying, “What is happening in Uganda is terrible. I am glad #BobiWineGhettoPresident will bring it to light. People are voiceless there: they need someone to speak for them.”

The film shows how Wine has endeavored to be that voice, both in song and in speech. It traces the start of his grassroots political campaign in 2017 up to 2021, when he ran against Museveni in the presidential elections, and lost, in what many international organizations deemed was a questionable outcome, with claims of vote tampering and fraud.

Ghetto President is directed by Christopher Sharp, who was born in Uganda, and Moses Buyo, an activist who took over camera duties when the film’s previous camera people left the production. Both Sharp and Buyo knew of Wine through his music and had been fans of the messages he sought to share in his music. Following Wine and his wife, Barbie, with fly-on-the-wall footage, the film immerses the audience in their relationship and the trials its undergone as a result of Wine's political activities. One such attack left Wine seeking treatment from the US for his injuries. Indeed, Buyo, too, has suffered his share of assault in making the film, having been shot in the face with a rubber bullet, and also arrested numerous times, while filming.

A still from the documentary Bobi Wine:

A still from the documentary Bobi Wine: Ghetto President, which is currently playing at this year's Venice Film Festival.

Photo: La Biennale Di Venezia

Festival director Alberto Barbera called the documentary “powerful” and “unbelievable,” and it’s received positive reviews so far, with Deadline lauding its ‘stirring’ scenes and message of hope. Similar to Sam Soko’s documentary, Softie, which followed Kenyan photographer-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi, the film is also being heralded for the love story at the center of it, between Wine and Barbie, and how they've persisted in the face of numerous violent actions.

While Ghetto President details Uganda and Wine's specific struggle to fight for democracy, some reviewers have noted it holds a message for governments further afield too. The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Feinberg says its call to action to hold Museveni accountable speaks to the West's need to 'keep an eye on its own democratic virtues too.' In bringing his message to the world, through the form of a documentary that gets people talking, Wine may also find it resonates far beyond Uganda in ways he could not have imagined.

Literature
Photo: Ruvimbo Muchenje

Despite Persecution, Tsitsi Dangarembga Writes On

The award-winning novelist is awaiting judgment, slated for the end of September, on charges of inciting public violence.

Zimbabwean filmmaker, activist and author Tsitsi Dangarembga remains defiant, continuing to write, despite ongoing persecution from the government. She was arrested in 2020 along with another activist, Julie Barnes, while holding placards calling for reform and the release of investigative journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, in the leafy suburb of Borrowdale, Harare.

The President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led regime arrested several prominent activists and opposition party figures to allegedly thwart planned mass demonstrations over poor governance and state-security brutality during the COVID 19 era, in mid-2020. Chin'ono, one of the country’s most prominent journalists, was arrested for exposing a corruption scandal during the pandemic.

Dangarembga, who became the first Black woman winner of the 2021 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for her creative work and social engagement, has had numerous work opportunities affected by the ongoing trial against her. Although she has been able to go to the UK to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival and promote her latest publication – Faber and Faber recently released a book of her essays, titled Black and Female, there – she has missed other chances to travel.

As in most developing nations, the arts sector in Zimbabwe does not pay much and most creatives look out for various opportunities for survival in a country hit by economic malaise, shortages of basic commodities and currency crisis. When Dangarembga was released on bail in 2020, surrendering her passport to the police to ensure she would not flee the country was part of her bail condition.

“In the beginning, I was very optimistic that the case would be dealt with speedily,” she says, adding that in December 2020 when she received her passport back to attend her fellowship at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study in Cape Town, in neighboring South Africa, she did not think the case would have much impact on her work.

The magistrate who ruled in the matter even told her that the charges were not grave. “I received my passport back and no longer reported weekly from December 2020, which was a relief,” says Dangarembga. But she realized her predicament at the hands of the regime in her homeland was far from over when the state took a long time to prepare for trial and kept changing dates.

“It was difficult to adjust my schedule to the court dates. With the creative economy in Zimbabwe being as depressed and specific as it is, I cannot afford to miss any opportunity to earn a living,” she says. “I missed an important teaching job in Johannesburg that I still think about with regret to this day. I love mentoring young African people to tell their stories, whether it be on screen or on paper.”

It is now more than two years since Dangarembga was placed on remand, waiting and going through trials for a case that has yet to be finalized. If convicted, she faces several years in prison. The judgment was due to be delivered on the 26th of August but it was postponed to September 29 because Dangarembga's co-accused did not attend court that day as she was outside the country.

Still, she continues to work on the projects that fuel her fire and further her message. Dangarembga is currently writing a young adult speculative dystopian fiction called Sai-Sai and the Great Ancestor of Fire. “This is the work that has suffered the most from the events of the last two years,” she says. Dangarembga says her concentration on fiction has been affected because the place she writes from is occupied with turmoil about the trial. “However, I was able to work on some screenplays,” she says.

“When the trial began in earnest I did not manage much work at all,” she says. “All my work is generated from my own internal environment as a writer, so the last five months or so have been very difficult for me.”

The 63-year-old writer, born in Mutoko, a town 143 kilometers northeast of Harare, moved to the UK at the age of two. She returned in 1980, before Zimbabwe gained independence from British colonialists. Her first novel, Nervous Conditions, won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989. She is also credited for writing the story that was turned into Zimbabwe’s highest grossing film in 1993, Neria, and three years later, she became the first Black Zimbabwean woman to direct a feature film, Everyone’s Child. Just days before she was arrested in 2020, Dangarembga’s novel This Mournable Body, which is part of a series, was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize.

Regarding Dangarembga’s case, Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer, says there can be no doubt that it is persecution under the guise of prosecution. “The constitution provides for the freedom to demonstrate and to petition peacefully and there can be no doubt that a two-women protest could not have been anything but peaceful,” she says. “Dangarembga’s prosecution is, sadly, one of the many cases of abuse using the criminal justice system.”

Kenyan-based award-winning writer, editor and publisher Zukiswa Wanner says the state does not have a viable case. “It is tragic that Zimbabwean authorities are so full of fear that something as simple as a woman marching alone with a placard is seen as inciting public violence instead of it being seen as a request for them to do better by citizens,” Wanner, who's co-facilitated training workshops with Dangarembga around the continent, tells OkayAfrica.

Wanner, who was born in Zambia but raised in Zimbabwe, believes it’s the top government officials who've destroyed the country that should be in prison, not critics like Dangarembga. Upholding human rights, along with drawing attention to women and gender issues, has long been central to the work that has earned Dangarembga praise.

“I think the state targets dissenting voices. Some of those dissenting voices are women’s voices,” Dangarembga says. “I think the effect of taking action against women is particularly shocking because women’s dissident voices are usually not violent. Peaceful protest is a constitutional right in Zimbabwe.” And Dangarembga intends to exercise that right as much as she can.

Film
Photo: Cyrille Choupas

Alice Diop On Using Film to Center Marginalized Stories

The French director, whose latest film Saint Omer has been selected by France as its submission for the Best International Picture race, is known for her nuanced portraits of humanity.

“When I hear myself through Nicholas, I find me [sic] too radical!” French filmmaker Alice Diop jokes during our conversation, after hearing some of her words and thoughts filtered through her translator Nicholas Elliott.

Diop was responding passionately to a question about the tensions in France between holding onto assimilation policies and embracing a more modern ethos of inclusion and diversity. She is tying her argument to the radical leaning of French republicanism, which is very, very different from the conservative spirit embraced by the Republican party in the United States, where she is expected to appear in October to present her latest film, Saint Omer at the New York Film Festival.

Saint Omer marks Diop’s transition to fiction after seventeen years working as a documentary filmmaker. The film, which won the Grand Jury prize and best debut feature prizes recently at the Venice Film Festival where it debuted, is a wrenching legal drama that follows a young novelist Rama (Kayije Kagame) covering the trial of an immigrant mother accused of infanticide.

Before her triumph at Venice, Diop was in New York to promote the MUBI release of her latest documentary, We (Nous), which premiered at the 2021 Berlinale, where it won the Encounters Grand Prize. The film chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south. Diop makes We (Nous) a personal declaration of belonging, weaving footage from her family archive and trailing her sister, a home nurse, at work as she provides care for her patients.

Diop, who is a first-generation daughter of immigrants from Senegal had a wide-ranging chat with OkayAfrica about her films, belonging to French society, and her reasons for prioritizing the stories of the marginalized.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In We (Nous), you are telling these seemingly unrelated stories without obvious connections. What is the common thread linking these stories or people together?

The link is a very personal vision that I have of French society. It is a vision that is at once a dreamed vision but also something already there and not many people see. It is about what can unite people who appear to be so different in a single territory or country. And in a sense, the thread is one that I am weaving myself. It doesn’t exist as such but something very subjective.

In terms of constructing the film, what was the starting point for you?

It started from the book, The Passengers of the Roissy Express published in France about 30 years ago. It is a nonfiction book in which the writer, François Maspero takes the RER B train and follows it to the last stop. This is the train that has the peculiarity of crossing all of the Paris banlieues (low-income suburbs) from north to south. Now these are very different areas that have a great diversity of populations that really express the complexity of French society. I read this book, and it gave me the framework for using the name of the train to describe these very different territories.

A still from the film, We (Nous) of train tracks.

We (Nous) chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south.

Photo: Mubi

At what point does your family come in and how do you weave them into the narrative?

This film is a composition of the singularities of the many different people who live and work in France, and my family is part of that history. That is why I wanted to use our family archive in the film because it is a symbolic way of inscribing these traces of my family, and people like them, who are not shown in the constitution of French society. The archive, for me, completes a missing part of French history. I have so little in terms of archives of my family. I have only less than 17 minutes of images of my mother and everything that I have is in this film. That is something very painful; the lives that my parents had were not necessarily appreciated. These were lives that were not epic or did not have the right narratives. At least that was the feeling that I had because the people that I saw on television, in films and novels were not like me. They did not have my history or background, so I grew up with that absence. And I think that is why I became a filmmaker, to repair the violence of having this unrepresented life.

In a sense, this film, and your entire career has been about adjusting this narrative?

Absolutely. This question touches me because this is at the very heart of my filmmaking. I have done this work ever since the desire came upon me to do it, as a way to not succumb to the anger. My new (fiction) film, Saint Omer is focused on Black women, and is inspired by my mother, and it made me realize how much I needed to do this. I want to add up their bodies in film and in history.

Film, for me, is not a space for entertainment, it is a space for revenge and self-care. Saint Omer is not about the banlieues at all. I believe that people from the banlieues have every right to make films that are not about the banlieues. It is about maternity, and I have every right to talk about maternity because it is a question that is relevant to Black women, as much as it is to white women. I am speaking from my own body, and I think the closer I am to myself, the more likely I am to touch other people.

In the film, you talk about not paying into the family fund that ensures you are buried back home in Senegal. Was coming to this realization difficult?

Exile is not just measured in economic gain; it is also a loss that I cannot even qualify. This relationship to the land where you will be buried, I find it a beautiful thing to choose where you are going to die. But the most concrete way of saying where you belong is to say where you are going to be buried. And for me to say it publicly the way I did was for me to cut myself off. I have a 13-year-old mixed race son who was born and lives in France. I speak French, I don’t speak Wolof. I go to Senegal twice a year at most. I am a Frenchwoman.

Now, I am a very particular kind of Frenchwoman; I am a Black woman with colonial history so the most concrete way for me to be French is to say I am going to be buried where my son lives, or where he is most probably going to live. And that’s not a choice between France and Senegal that I am making, it is a way of saying that I am in harmony with where I am. But it does separate me forever from the place where my parents came from. It is hard to think about, even in this conversation with you. It is the entire complexity that is raised here: of the path of immigrants, of the trajectories of coming and of going, of where you are. It is something that is so complex and intense that merely signifying it is already an achievement. It is also a very universal question.

A still from the film We (Nous) of the filmmaker sitting at a table with an interviewee.

Alice Diop and Pierre Bergounioux in a pivotal moment from We (Nous).

Photo: Mubi

And when you put yourself in the frame by the end of the film, are you completing this tapestry that you are sewing?

In a sense. My appearing with my Black woman’s body in the frame, next to this writer Pierre Bergounioux, in his office is a way for me to get revenge for my father for the 40 difficult years he spent working in France. There is a point in the film when I ask my father if spending these years in France has been positive or negative, and he says it’s been a positive gain overall. But I have the intuition that for his daughter to be able to go to university and do things that as a working man, and my mother as a cleaning woman, never had the opportunity to do, and then to show myself in the frame next to this white writer in the film that I am making -- that I have invited the writer to -- I think that shows something about French society and what it can allow. And that repairs, to some degree, the pain that my parents experienced by coming here to offer me a life that they could not have.

Translation by Nicholas Elliott.

Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Obou Gbais Is Painting The Story of His Life

The artist is reimagining Cote D'Ivoire's history through modern, contemporary language and his latest project "Man Dan"

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ivorian artist Obou GbaisAKA Peintre Obou. Obou's remarkably detailed style of painting comes after years of training and educating himself in all things Cote D'Ivoire. The artist's work mirrors the society found in the aftermath of the Ivory Coast's political-military unrest, putting paint on the harsh conditions he witnessed in capital city Abidjan. The emotive expressions donned on the Dan masked faces speak to Obou's acknowledgment of his people and the shameful conditions forced upon them due to a war that didn't involve them. As the artist puts it, "The main theme is the human condition, the characteristics, major events, and situations that make up the essence of human existence", and tapping into his ancestry allows the talent to soothe all aspects of his identity, one paint stroke at a time.

We spoke with Obou about the importance of learning from those who are where you wish to be, and finding authenticity.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

I was born in the West of the Ivory Coast and studied in Abidjan, the capital. My ambition to become an artist started at a young age, and knew that I would pursue it in high school, and then when I went to college. I worked hard at improving myself -- and to form myself as well as my art -- and in 2012, I obtained my BA in Art. Two years later, I attended Abidjan's National School of Fine Art and from that moment, I really started to practice and educated myself in the world of art.

For five years I attended painting workshops with teachers who were also artists and who exposed me to the creation of the "perpetual". I learned a lot from them and it allowed me to open my work up to constructive criticism, which today has given me a certain openness of mind on art and the ability to continuously renew myself.


What are the central themes in your work?

My work is the story of my life -- my environment, my culture, my love stories, my traumas. My daily life. The main theme is the human condition, the characteristics, major events, and situations that make up the essence of human existence. I talk about my life, my city and also the people who live there. The element that defines me today is the Dan Mask. I have reappropriated the mask of my ancestors to create a contemporary language. In my work, I reconcile my contemporaries with their ancestral cultures by writing my story in a series of works. Generally, one sees masked crowds, one finds demoiselles of my city Abidjan. Couples and family scenes are perceived with the Dan mask and take the center of interest.


What is your medium of choice, and why?

I am sensitive to all mediums and supports but generally gravitate towards those that allow me to better transcribe the story I am telling. It's enriching for me to keep experimenting with new materials in order to be able to tell new stories. I work mostly with brushes, acrylics, and collages, but also with my hands and natural materials like earth, which give my artwork even more authenticity.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The pandemic has affected my creativity in a productive and positive way. I suddenly had more time alone at home to concentrate on my work and try out new elements and methods. Many people had to limit themselves to a minimum during this time, which can be inspiring, especially for artists. Already this is a time in our lives when we were condemned to wear masks and my work is about people wearing masks. It allowed for some connections with my outside world. The series of confined people in their homes and on the streets was a testimony to the realities of that period in Abidjan.


Can you describe your artistic relationship with 'Afro-futurism' and 'surrealism'?

I consider myself as an Afro-futurist because I use, like all young people today, new technologies such as social networks to talk about my culture and share my creations with the world. Putting my country on the world stage through my work and especially my history. I would say that I consider myself a realist and not a surrealist, just by what I transcribe in my daily life -- I speak about real facts with real forms.


Can you talk about your use of colors and jewelry in your art?

The colors and jewelry are elements that appear at different times. There have been times when my work was quite dark with minimal color. And also periods when I feel a lot and peace which are symbolized in my work with quite fresh colors which give emotions.



Image courtesy of the artist

"Dan Love" 150x150 cm 2022 by Obou Gbais

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