Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Africa 50 Years After Colonial Rule: From Ouagadougou to Tombouctou (Timbuktu) Africans Speak Out

Last Updated: June 07, 2010

Since the beginning of January a good friend and fellow blogger from Angola has been publishing a special series (in English and Portuguese) on the 50th anniversary of African independence from colonialism (see K Faktor 1960-2010: The Year of Africa – 50 Years On). To be more specific regarding these celebrations, seventeen nations gained their independence from European colonial rule in 1960, fourteen of which were under the rule of France (Nigeria, Congo-Kinshasa, and Somalia being the exceptions).

I do not know how many people have read Koluki’s series since she started the project but what has been somewhat surprising to me is the scarce coverage of this historic year for Africa by much of the news media outside of the African continent. If it were not for contributions online from some talented African journalists, writers and new media producers (including a small group of independent blog authors) along with a handful of international foundations and government websites, Africa’s Golden Jubilee of Independence from Colonial Rule (1960-2010) would go largely unnoticed in many parts of the world.

List of African countries which gained independence in 1960:

1 January 1960: CAMEROON
27 April 1960: TOGO
26 June 1960: MADAGASCAR
1 July 1960: SOMALIA
1 August 1960: BENIN
3 August 1960: NIGER
5 August 1960: BURKINA FASO
7 August1960: IVORY COAST
11 August 1960: CHAD
15 August 1960: CONGO
17 August 1960: GABON
20 August 1960: SENEGAL
22 September 1960: MALI
1 October 1960: NIGERIA
28 November 1960: MAURITANIA

What also prompted me to write about this “golden anniversary” was a brief exchange between myself and Shay Riley of Booker Rising (Chicago, USA) regarding the visit of Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Washington DC last month. President Sirleaf paid a visit to members of the U.S. Congress, the Whitehouse, the State Department, and she spent an evening with the public over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As I expressed to Shay, Liberia’s President Sirleaf is without a doubt one of the best-loved and most respected political leaders on the African continent (from a Western democracy point of view) as well as being a key strategic ally in Africa for the U.S. Government and other Western capitals. Yet there was a lack of news coverage in the Western media regarding her visit with President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, House Speaker Pelosi, and others on Capitol Hill and inside the Beltway. The same can be said about the visits and appearances at key events and forums on Africa this year by several of Africa’s most prominent and respected political and civic leaders. I shall get to that subject ASAP after completing this short introductory post on 50 years of African independence from European colonialism.

New Addition June 07, 2010

Adam Nossiter reporting for the New York Times may have taken a hint about the poor coverage of Africa’s 50 year independence celebrations in the Western media.  He has just published a piece about the anniversary year and has included commentary on the France-Africa Summit 2010 in Nice. Here is an excerpt from Adam’s June 4th article at The New York Times.

African States Weigh 50 Bittersweet Years of Independence
By Adam Nossiter

DAKAR, Senegal — In a fancy resort on the French Riviera this week, limousines bearing African leaders gathered at the doorstep of France’s president for the France-Africa Summit, a time-honored ritual involving pledges of mutual love and, not surprisingly, some backbiting.

Conspicuously absent from the gathering in Nice, however, was a collective reckoning of a major milestone on the calendar: It has been 50 years since many of the countries gained independence.

Unlike the glittering extravaganza on the Riviera, where extensive retinues accompanied the leaders, the anniversary — and its potential for taking stock — is passing largely unnoticed. Few official celebrations have been organized to mark the passing of five decades since France tentatively let go, albeit with many continuing ties, of 14 of its colonies; in all, 17 African countries, including Nigeria, gained independence in 1960.

Perhaps the most substantial collective commemoration is, paradoxically enough, not being held in Africa at all. Leaders from Senegal, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Madagascar have all been invited to Paris to parade their troops along the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day, the national holiday of their ex-colonial ruler.

Here on the continent, the few remembrances so far have at times been freighted with just as much ambiguity. In one of the rare, large-scale commemorative events, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal inaugurated a giant bronze statue meant to symbolize “African Renaissance” on a desolate hill near the airport here. Built by a North Korean company in pure Soviet-realism style, it is 13 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty and its three gigantic figures — man, woman and child — tower over their surroundings.

But nearly everything about it has provoked controversy, rather than the outpouring of pan-African pride that Mr. Wade had hoped to generate: from the cost, in a country that ranks 166th on the United Nations’ Human Development Index of 182 nations; to the scantily clothed figures, in an overwhelmingly Muslim country (local imams raised a vigorous protest); to the questionable aesthetics of a monument that recalls Stalinist Russia rather than the distinctive Afro-Islamic culture of the Sahel. Some Senegalese debate whether the figures even look African.

Mr. Wade has said he simply traded state land, in exchange for building the statue, to the North Koreans, who then sold it at a profit; local and international media estimates have put the total cost at between $27 million and $70 million.

For some analysts here, the statue’s mixed signals symbolize this anniversary year’s uncertain meanings, calling it a monumental construction project conceded to foreigners and inaugurated in an April ceremony attended by heads of state like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, both of whom have been the object of international scorn for their human rights records.

“The monumentality is somewhat misplaced,” said Ibrahima Thioub, a Senegalese historian who teaches at Cheikh Anta Diop University here. “Does Senegal have the resources to invest this kind of money?” Besides, he added, “Why concede the African Renaissance to Koreans? We’ve got some very good African sculptors right here.”

Elsewhere, commemorations have been sparse or marked primarily by back-and-forth visiting by dignitaries from neighboring countries, as was recently the case in Cameroon, rather than by public outpourings.

“It’s tough to mobilize people for celebrations, because the flowers of independence have faded,” Mr. Thioub said. “The last 50 years have not at all met the people’s hopes and expectations.”

End Excerpt from the New York Times.  Read the complete article here.

Lastly, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France along with his colorful and outspoken Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner hosted 38 presidents and prime ministers from Africa along with over 250 business leaders at the 25th France-Africa Summit in Nice (May 30-31). Again, if you didn’t know where to look for information about this important gathering of French and African political and business leaders the event would have passed largely unnoticed by much of the global audience interested in news about French-Africa relations. On the other hand, when one reviews the list of leaders in attendance at the summit and reflects upon President Sarkozy’s low popularity in Sub-Saharan Africa combined with the ‘Stop Francafrique’ backdown by the French government and business community last year, a lower-profile summit may have been in France’s interest. (reference the 2007 European Union – African Union Summit in Lisbon)

So, let’s start this ball rolling with an outstanding multimedia presentation from a French/German co-production here in Europe.  I also recommend that readers view the video interviews on African independence at, a new online African TV news service based in London  I shall follow up with a seperate post about a speech delivered by one of Africa’s favorite sons (no, not U.S. President Obama) as he addressed a group of African leaders last month attending the 50th anniversary celebration event in Cameroon.

The first video presentation is from the Franco-German news and cultural TV network ARTE TV (French and German language programming) who is airing a special production about life in 12 African countries celebrating their 50th anniversary of independence from colonialism. The 12-part series is produced and narrated by journalists, producers, and personalities who live and work in each of the countries featured. I highly recommend to my North American readers that you check out the ARTE Reportage even if your French and German language skills may be a bit rusty (my Canadian visitors of course will have no problem with the French reports at ARTE TV).

The second video presentation “Africa at 50” is from the new Pan-African TV channel VoxAfrica which produces programming about Africa in both the French and English language. You can read more about VoxAfrica TV here. VoxAfrica's "Shoot the Messenger" program host Henry Bonsu is joined in the studio by SYLVAINE DE BOGOU, Ivorian Writer and Journalist, and on the telephone ALBERTO AMURGO PACHECO, Economist at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Also featured in the 47-minute long report is Senegalese President ABDOULAYE WADE and DIDIER AWADI, an activist and founder of the hip-hop band Positive Black Soul.

ARTE TV (France, Germany) Special on 50 Years of African Independence
Afrique: 50 ans d’indépendence – Afrika: 50 Jahre Unabhängigkeit (homepage of the special feature program) (the blog for the series) (blog post for June 2010: Burkina Faso)

Video clip of comedian and producer Aminata Diallo Glez reporting from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
(Note: the rocking music tracks and HD video is simply too hot to embed here.  Check the links above.)

Note: the ARTE TV website links to full-length HD Flash videos and multimedia presentations may not work for visitors outside of the select countries where the ARTE TV network is available due to EU licensing agreement restrictions. Please notify me via the comments sections if this is the case for visitors outside of the European Union and I will try to find an alternate source for the programs.

Special Report on 50 Years of African Independence
Africa at 50 | Voxafrica, La télévision Pan-Africaine

Related articles, editorials, and other resources
Last Updated: June 07, 2010

European Union
Africa and Europe in Partnership - 25th Africa-France Summit in Nice

U.S. Department of State – Bureau of African Affairs
Celebrating "Africa Day": The 47th Anniversary of the Founding of the Organization of African Unity by Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson – Ritz Carlton Hotel, Washington DC (May 25, 2010)

VOA News (Voice of America online)
'Africa Day' Tuesday Focuses on Peace and Security
Senegal Marks 50 Years of Independence With Calls For African Unity
Senegal Set to Inaugurate Towering Monument of African Renaissance

Cameroon Faces Risk of Unrest Before 2011 Elections
Cameroon Celebrates 50 Years of Independence

Afrique Avenir (French, English)
EU congratulates Africa on 50 years of democratic process
Nice Summit’s outcome: towards a new Franco-African cooperation

Chris Blattman’s Blog
(Asst. Professor for Political Science and Economics – Yale University)
Zimbabwean ambassador calls Johnnie Carson a house slave. Carson spanks him.

Foreign Policy Magazine
The Cable blog by Josh Rogin (reporting inside the US foreign policy machine)
Zimbabwe ambassador calls U.S. diplomat a 'house slave'

BBC News (UK)
French President Sarkozy backs African global role
France-Africa summit in Nice seeks business boost
BBC Focus on Africa - How France maintains its grip on Africa

Agence France Presse (AFP)
After 50 years of independence, African states reflect
Talking Points: France - Africa: a new relationship?
Franco-African Summit: relations for the future

Radio France Internationale (rfi)
UN Security Council reform on the agenda at Nice summit
"Africa is our future", says Sarkozy at Nice summit
50 years later, Françafrique is alive and well by Christophe Boisbouvier

The New York Times
Letter from Africa - President for Life, and Then Some by Howard French
Howard W. French is a former foreign correspondent and bureau chief (West Africa, Shanghai China). He is presently teaching at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His personal blog can be found here: A Glimpse of the World.

The Washington Post
In Africa, 50th anniversary of independence is an occasion to celebrate, lament

The Associated Press (AP)
Africa marks 1960, when 1/3 gained independence

Project Syndicate
Françafrique at 50 by Sanou Mbaye
Project Syndicate is supported by funding from the Open Society Institute and works with 431 newspapers in 150 countries

VAD Conference 2010 at Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz, Germany)
Continuities and Dislocations: 50 Years of African Independence
Kontinuitäten und Brüche: 50 Jahre Unabhängigkeit in Afrika 7.-11. April 2010

Northwestern University Library - Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies
In the Spotlight: Exhibit Honors Fifty Years of African Independence


Koluki said...

Many thanks for this BRE.

BRE said...

You are very welcome dear. Hoping that all is well with you and as always thanks very much for the visit.