News Brief
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Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenyan Court Interdicts President Uhuru Kenyatta's Move To Change The Constitution

President Uhuru Kenyatta has reportedly been blocked from altering Kenya's Constitution as his second five year term nears an end. The attempt has been viewed as a power move to stagger Deputy President William Ruto's 2022 presidential plans.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been halted from enacting a complete overturn of the country's constitution. Deemed an unconstitutional move, the High Court of Kenya reportedly blocked the President this past Thursday in parliament, during a gathering where the reform plan, known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), was to be reviewed. The referendum proposes the largest government structural changes since Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010. Kenyatta reportedly bypassed the provision reserved for the inclusion of citizens in the decision to pass BBI as official law, making the process illegitimate.


Read: Kenyan Youth Share Their Frustration With President Uhuru Kenyatta Using the #DearPresidentUhuru Hashtag

The Kenyan High Court, comprised of five judges, had to step in after several opposition parties lodged challenges against Kenyatta. According to Daily Maverick, Jairus Ngaah, one of the five high court judges stated, "The President cannot be both player and umpire in the same match", after halting Kenyatta's attempts to forgo civil inclusion on the referendum for the BBI.

The Building Bridges Initiative was set into motion in 2018, following Kenyatta's controversial 2017 national election's win against opposition leader Raila Odinga. According to The Conversation, the initiative was scandalously initiated in March 2018 with Odinga as a truce. Kenyatta has proposed that the BBI aims to promote power sharing amongst all ethnicities, therefore decreasing voter fraud. However, the move appears to be a clear political ostracisation of William Ruto who plans to succeed Kenyatta at the end of his five-year term. Additionally Kenyatta's executive government has appealed the judicial ruling, proving that loyalty to the President is still tribally determined.

The BBI is set to target 13 of the 18 chapters of Kenya's Constitution, and create 70 new constituencies. Ruto's allies have publicly opposed the constitutional changes bill in parliament and outside. Kenyatta is serving his second five-year term which constitutionally should be his last presidential term. Kenya is billed to host its national elections in 2022.

Kenya
(Photo by KB Mpofu/Getty Images)

Kenya & Zimbabwe Memorialize Queen Elizabeth II

Despite strong criticism about the monarch's legacy in Africa, some leaders, including Kenya's William Ruto, took to social media to describe the queen's leadership as "admirable."


On Sunday, there will be a memorial service for the late Queen Elizabeth II at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi in Kenya. According to a statement from the British High Commission, the service will start at 3 PM. Kenyans who plan to attend the service will also honor the British monarch by signing a condolence book.

Kenya is the latest African country to honor the queen in a memorial service. Senior Kenyan state officials members are expected to be in attendance to pay their respects to the deceased, who died on Sept. 8 after ruling for 70 years. Earlier this week, Kenya's newly instated president William Ruto signed the Condolence Book at the British High Commissioner's residence.

Kenya is not the first African country to hold a memorial service for the late royal. Earlier this week, the Farai Mutamiri, the Bishop of Harare led a memorial service at the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe for the late monarch. The service was held at the Anglican Church in the capital, Harare. During a segment of the service he he made a statement in support of the royal family.

"We think of you and we would like to reassure you of our prayers for the royal family, the new king, King Charles III and the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Commonwealth upon the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II", said Mutamiri.

On the heels of the Queen Elizabeth's passing, there have been mixed reactions from Africa about her death. This was largely due to the decades-long contentious relationship that Britain's leading family has had with Africa. Despite the strong reactions that several Africans had about the monarch's passing, some African leaders, including Kenya's William Ruto, took to social media to describe the queen's leadership as "admirable," a sentiment that a few of his followers firmly disagreed with.

The British monarchy has had a complicated relationship with the African continent, and it is one that is shrouded by painful memories of oppression for some, including Dr. Uju Anya, the Carnegie Mellon University who went viral for speaking about the monarchy's dark history in Africa, and it's contributions genocide in Africa. Many of Anya's sentiments were echoed by several people who agreed that Britain's first family had a problematic past and present.

The queen's state funeral will happen at London’s Westminster Abbey on Monday on September 18, and many world leaders are expected to be in attendance, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

News
Photo Courtesy: Simon Maina

William Ruto Inaugurated as Kenya's 5th President

On Tuesday, Ruto became inaugurated as Kenya's president at The Moi International Sports Center in Nairobi after a month of controversy.


On Tuesday, William Ruto was officially sworn in as Kenya's president. This comes on the heels of his Aug. 9 election victory, and although the electoral process has been controversial, Ruto will be taking the presidential seat to rule the East African party. After strong pushback from opposing candidate Raila Odinga, Kenyans welcomed Ruto as their new leader. According to reports, Ruto immediately made it clear that religion would be a strong part of his reign.

Ruto's inauguration speech gave his supporters insight into his humble beginnings and the role of religion in his victory.

“I want to thank God because a village boy has become the president of Kenya,” he said in his first time addressing the country as their leader.

He also addressed the nation's surging food prices and said that he had plans to make agricultural items like fertilizer more affordable to people. Ruto also promised to invest money in fighting drought, which could eventually cause famine in the country.

According to reports, the crowd loudly cheered in support following the new president's inauguration.

Although the event was primarily a celebration of political victory, it kicked off with a stampede, with over 60 people sustaining injuries as they struggled to enter the stadium. Reports state that the tight security surrounding the stadium was a contributing factor to why so many people were injured while trying to access the already filled 60,00-person capacity stadium.

The incoming president also addressed Kenya's tremendous debt at the height of inflation, which has affected living and the quality of life for many of its citizens. In spite of the overall success of the event, several reports pointed out that Ruto had a contentious relationship with the media, and highlighted concerns that he might have a strained relationship with media outlets during his presidency. The inauguration itself had minimal press, with Ruto's incoming administrative team announcing that it would hand over sole broadcasting access to MultiChoice Kenya. According to The New York Times, Ruto had previously been affiliated with a political organization that tried to stifle the media.

Several media personalities, including seasoned journalist David Makali, also shared that the rollout for the event was a prediction of the future.

“The optics don’t look favorable given how this measure was rolled out,” said Makali, "but, I am ready to give the new government the benefit of doubt and hope this isn’t a deliberate move to suppress the press.”

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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