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2013-08-16 21.13.20

Zuberi speaking after the film

Yesterday, I attended the opening screening of the African Diaspora International Film Festival, which continues at the Goethe Institute in Chinatown through this weekend.  The first screening was ‘African Independence‘, a film by Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, a Professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania (who was in attendance).  I tend to view Americans with romantic notions of Africa in a weary manner (perhaps because I am very self-conscious about my own tendencies to do so), so I admit to having some preconceived thoughts as to how someone raised in Oakland with an adopted Swahili name would tackle the issue of African independence.

For the most part, I had no qualms about the narrative that Zuberi put forward.  He discussed the pioneering activism of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, resistance in South Africa and southern Africa in general, Mau Mau in Kenya, and the debilitating impact of the Cold War on the continent.  However, having just heard the forceful message of Kingsley Moghalu regarding the need of Africans to develop and articulate a worldview, I was in a mood to be less receptive to Zuberi’s narrative which placed the negative actions of the West in Africa in a prominent light (although he did have an interview with Raila Odinga talking about Jomo Kenyatta as a ‘hero turned tyrant’).  I was also somewhat disappointed to see the prominent role of Ghana and Tanzania in the film, which confirmed my stereotype that these countries are romanticized by Americans of a certain political persuasion (and particularly those with African roots of that political persuasion).

The film had a very interesting mix of interviews with former African heads of state, government officials, and more ordinary folk.  I particularly enjoyed the interviews with the widow of Dedan Kimathi, a prominent Mau Mau leader and a former activist of the Pan Africanist Congress of South Africa, who was a self-described explosives expert.  However, the interviews with former heads of state – John Kufuor (Ghana), Benjamin Mkapa & Ali Mwinyi (Tanzania), Nicéphore Soglo (Benin), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), and several others constituted the majority of the narrative (along with archival footage).  This meant that the film overwhelmingly drew on the perspective of old, elite men.  I do not believe that anyone under the age of 40 made it on the film and Google tells me that even the youthful looking Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Kwame, is in her 50s.

There were two interviews that put forward points that particularly resonated with me.  FW de Klerk, the last white South Africa head of state, compared the desire of white South Africans to have a race-based nation to that of Jews who have a nation based on faith.  Samia Nkrumah also noted that her father’s Pan-African vision has been most forcefully implemented by the nations of the European Union.  I was also pleased to hear Zuberi note in the Q&A that Chinese engagement in Africa, based on resource extraction, is fundamentally the same as that of the West, minus the emphasis on democracy and governance.

African Liberation is an interesting film that could use a little bit more spice.  Although I enjoyed hearing their views, I am perplexed as to why the author gave such significant space to the former heads of state.  African independence would never have been won with merely the demands of the elite and one could argue that the lack of checks on these elites have greatly contributed to Africa’s problems.

There was an overflow crowd.

There was an overflow crowd.