La hora de Angola

Last Friday, two very good stories coming from Angolan crossed my day. A most welcome relief, since often news from Angola, sadly, keep reminding us of how a country’s potential can be held back by corrupt, arrogant, inept leadership ( something we in Spain also know too well).

Firlst, I learnt the news that the judicial prosecution by Angolan generals against Rafael Marques de Morais has ended. Rafael is a great, humble, corageous activist whom I have had the privilege of meeting ( «I would be a couch potato if I things were different» he was told me, implying that most people in such situations would act similarly; sadly that is not true and most of us would not risk nearly as much as he has done to denounce the abuses against Angolans by their leaders).

The news, in a nutshell (thanks Justin Pearce for sharing the news and the succint phrasing), read that: 

The journalist and activist Rafael Marques and the Angolan generals’ representatives in the defamation trial over human rights violations and diamond extraction in Angola reached an agreement in court today and the trial will not continue.
The announcement was made by Rafael Marques himself, who added that the agreement that was reached provides for the “non-republication” of the book “Blood Diamonds”, which was at issue in the trial, and for Marques, following an agreement with the relevant generals, to be able to monitor human rights compliance in the diamond producing areas. 

This good news, not only mean that the judicial nightmare may be over for Rafael, but mostly that the Rafael will continue to be able to monitor human rights in the country.

To celebrate the good news, one may think, fate sent on Friday night to Brussels, Bonga, an Angolan musician with a long and distinguisehed career. I was thus able to discover this great artist i  an outdoors concert (with good Belgian weather on top of it) organised as part of the Brussels Jazz Marathon.

Here is Bonga’s Mulema Xangola


And here is Chalo Correia, another Angolan artist I also discovered today (to celebrate this Africa Day)!


I have just learnt, also via Justi, that, in fact, after the generals dropped their case, it is now the Angolan state prosecution that wants to put Rafael in prison for 30 days… A luta continua!

Link (Portuguese):

African odysseys

That is the title of a captivating exhibition on show at BRASS Cultural Centre, here in Brussels* and which I had the opportunity to visit three weeks ago. The exhibition presents the work of 17 young contemporary Artists from 11 southern and eastern African countries. This is, in itself, a great opportunity, as it is not often that one can see contemporary African art in museums in Europe (although luckily this is becoming more and more common).

Furthermore the curator, Marie-Ann Yemsi, has done a great job by both making a brilliant selection of artists and creating a clear theme for the show, whose message is relevant beyond the art world. The exhibition has the past and the present as two poles between which the artists move, with their pieces reflecting at the same time contemporary reality and how the historical experience shapes the present.

Yemsi herself writes, in the introduction to the show, that Odysées Africaines is conceived as a polyphonic space which:

«involves a multiplicity of viewpoints and positions, and shows that unique ability of artists to play on several registers as they revitalis, update or fictionalise their various symbolic heritages to build unprecedented structures, produce prolific hybridisation or even create new utopias.»


A powerful and very much recommended show.

Athi-Patra Ruga, 'Proposed model of the new Azania' (C) and 'Approved model of the new Azania' (R)
Athi-Patra Ruga, ‘Proposed model of the new Azania’ (C) and ‘Approved model of the new Azania’ (R)


Athi-Patra Ruga, 'Approved model of the new Azania'
Athi-Patra Ruga, ‘Approved model of the new Azania’


Meleko Mokgosy, ‘Fully Belly’


Meleko Mokgosi, ‘Fully Belly’ (detail)


Maimuna Adam, '(M)atrimony'
Maimuna Adam, ‘(M)atrimony’

Odysées Africaines, BRASS Centre Culturel du Forest, Brussels, until 17th May

*Indeed, one of the (few) positive aspects of living here is the big presence of African diasporas (not only from DRC, but also Rwanda and Burundi, former Belgian colonies as well, and from French-speaking Africa generally…) and – related to this –  the large number of cultural events linked to the African continent.

The Killers of Swaziland – recommended longread

Over at The Big Rountable, Shaun Raviv weaves a fascinating (real) story part-True Detective, part- portrait of the Kingdom of Swaziland.

It’s a gripping narrative that brings together murders, witchcraft, the AIDS epidemic in the country and the social and political context in which this takes place alongside the voices of those directly touched by this horrific story.

Very much recommended.

click here to read The Killers of Swaziland:

A different way into a (much recommended) book

This week I attended a speed-reading course. One of the exercises required us to pick a book we had not read but wanted to, and spend 30 min speed-reading it to get as much info as possible from it.
I picked Séverine Autesserre’s «The trouble with the Congo» and it looks like this:


This is clearly not the same as carefully reading something, but it is definitely a good way to become acqainted with a book to see if it is worth reading it entirely.

Which is precisely the case for Autesserre’s book, since her writing is extremely good and the wealth of information (330 in depth interviews!) makes it a brilliant research piece. I was able nonetheless to get a general understanding of the book thesis:

that the international intervention in eastern DRC has largely failed to promote durable peace due to the dominant peace-building culture. This culture is focussed on the national and international contexts and thus has prevented the local conflicts that cause much of the violence from being sufficiently acknowledged or adequately addressed. Autesserre’s recommendation is thus to give a much greater role to local peace-building initiatives.

This is an extremely insightful thesis, valid also for other conflicts outside eastern DRC or the African continent.

Whilst doing some research for this post, I have seen that Autesserre recently recorded a TED talk explaining the thesis of her book.
She does a much better job that I can explains it much better than I can ever do, so please, watch it below (incidentally, also a new – and possibly more effective way – to learn about this very much recommended book!)

Elements for a future ‘mission statement’ (interview with Achille Mbembe)

When earlier this year I wrote about taking up blogging again (after a break of two and a half years), I mentioned that there would be changes in the content and the format of On Africa. Since then, I have thought more about this new direction, and I think it will be a significant change. Things will take a while to get going, and in the meanwhile I will continue to update the blog more or less regularly.

I bring all this up because I would like the new On Africa to have a clear «editorial» line behind it, a «vision» for what it wants to achieve. I do not want to simply write about what is happening, but to try to build certain coherence in what I write, or ask people to contribute (I am hoping this will be another novelty too!). In any case, this «mission statement» is still being developed but I have already certain guiding references. One of the most important ones, are the ideas of Achille Mbembe (whom I consider Africa’s most interesting and relevant intellectual at present).

Achille Mbembe (Africultures)
Mbembe has recently published his new book, «Critique de la raison nègre«, and given various interviews. A recent one has been included in Le Monde special on Africa that was published last week. Some excerpts of this have been posted online today. The interview is very much recommended if you can read French.
Below I translate a few paragraphs that I find extremely interesting. They constitute a central element of the vision that On Africa will try to contribute to:

On Africa’s future

«All in all, Africa is evolving simultaneously in various directions. Which ones, among the many centrifugal and centripetal forces, will be victorious? The outcome will depend on the shape which the social struggles will take. It is in the interest of our world that Africa becomes her own centre and she constitutes herself as a vast space of circulation. This is an essential condition for its future, and for the future of our world»

On Africa’s relation to Europe

«What strikes me is that Europe herself is also ‘provincialising’. She makes things easier for us. We don’t need to turn our back her, she turns her back on us herself. I have the impression that it is a profound movement, that feeds on the myth of the community without foreigners. A desire for apartheid at a global scale. Europe is about to turn her back to the kantian moment that will have founded her modernity and attractiveness.
Africa mustn’t turn her back to no one. She must open herself, open her borders and become a land of migration. We need to reflect at this point on how to include Chinese migrants among us. We have to open Africa! Welcome all of those that come, integrate them. Retake the role that Europe has played. Those educated people who don’t find jobs in United States or in Europe, those floating brains, they should come to Africa. Come to us!»

Afropeans are coming…

If you happen to be in Brussels this Saturday, please be sure to check out the Afropeans + festival at BOZAR (I will most certainly do so!):

Along the lines of the artist Pitcho Womba Konga’s Congolisation project, Afropean+ highlights the added value of the African diaspora in the European cultural landscape. Taking place within the context of the Belgian launch of the European Year for Development, this project affirms the interdependence between North and South, and promotes freedom, diversity, creation and solidarity as driving forces for our future.

More info and complete programme of debates, projections and concerts here.

Photo: Johny Pitts

But what is Afropean? Who are Afropeans?

Writing at Africa Is A Country, Johny Pitts writes:

That’s why I chose to use this rather new word that was born in the early ‘90s when these musical mixtures were being born. Afropean is a term that I felt reflected new identities on the continent and seemed appropriate for a number of reasons. Firstly it hints at cultural influence, rather than simply racial identification, and secondly, for the first time in my life it is a word I’ve been able to use to describe myself that sounds cohesive and whole — isn’t mixed this or half that or hyphenated in any way. Rather, it’s a portmanteau — something whole but born of duality.

Pitts is a photographer and one of the founders of Afropean:

an online multimedia, multidisciplinary journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European cultures, and the synergy of styles and ideas brought about because of this union.
We hope to fill the void left by Erik Kambel’s Afro-Europe blog, which closed down in 2013, and, under Erik’s guidance we will continue to shed light on art, music, literature, news and events from the Afro-European diaspora, as well as produce and commission original essays and projects.

Afropeans are indeed coming!

RIP Terence Ranger

Airport Farewell at Deportation of Professor Terence Ranger in 1962: Left to right: T. O. Ranger, Shelagh, Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Robert Mugabe, and John Reed (Photo courtesy of David Wiley, African Studies Center, Michigan State University)


2015 began with the sad news of the passing of Terence Ranger (85) – one of the most reputed scholars of Zimbabwean and African history.

Ranger’s is perhaps best-known for the volume on «The Invention of Tradition» (1983) which he co-edited with Eric Hobsbawn (another towering figure in academia). Ranger’s essay in the book: «The Invention of tradition in colonial Africa» generated and intense academic debate – and Ranger himself revisited these arguments a decade later.

Ranger began his career as lecturer of Medieval and Modern History in the University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1957. In 1962, following the country’s unilateral declaration of independence, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia and he established himself in newly independent Tanzania, where he directed the  University of Dar es Salaam’s History Department. There he assembled a stellar academic line-up that included John Iliffe and Walter Rodney.

In many ways, the origins of the modern African history scolarship can be traced back to those ‘Dar es Salaam school’ days and to Terence Ranger.

One of the many things for which he will be remembered.


PS You can read a very extensive and extremely interesting inverview with Ranger done by Diana Jeater in 2009 here.

On blogging hiatuses…

So, yeah, that was a long one!
Blogging is usually rather irregular (unless you are very disciplined, or do it for a living), but a pause of 2 years and 5 months is something pretty big for any blog. And it deserves a bit of an explanation. In fact, I am sure that most of the people reading this (if there is any) actually thought this was a dead blog. Another one for the virtual cemeteries.
But no. Not yet in any case.

The reasons for such a long pause are many (some good, others not so). The fact is that life has changed quite a bit for me in the intervening period. Since July 2012, when I last posted here, a great deal has happened: I got married to M (the love of my life, with whom I have been together for over ten years now); I changed jobs and moved countries as a result (I stopped working for FRIDE in Madrid after getting a job in the European Parliament and moved to Brussels); I traveled to some African countries (many of them for the first time): Mali, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa; we adopted a dog (Max, a lovely Jack Russell); went to back to Waterford in Swaziland where it all (my interest in Africa, my relationship with M) started ten years ago. And plenty more, as you can imagine!

All these changes – especially the professional ones – meant that I did not know whether, or how, to continue blogging. So I stopped. Yet, I kept thinking that I would re-start at some point, so I did not delete the site. And it seems that now I am ready to retake On Africa (I hope this is not an ill-fated New Year’s resolution!). Nonetheless, the changes of the past two and a half years, will undoubtedly be reflected in On Africa. I will also slowly tweak things here and there (starting with this new layout) to fine-tune the blog visually and adapt it to this new period.

So, what to expect from On Africa now?
Well, the truth is that I am not really sure, although I have some ideas. For starters, more frequent updates and posts! Also, the blog will continue to look at issues arising from or related to some or all of the countries in Africa. Nonetheless, the blog may have a less political focus (I do this this during my day job, so it is good to keep things separate – this blog reflects purely personal views). Instead, I would like to include more cultural notes; some general reflections on society, technology, economy, etc in Africa, and (hopefully!) a lot more posts on ideas and debates that are emerging and important for the future of Africa and beyond. Because I am now even more convinced that Africa will be able to provide answers not only to the challenges facing its own societies, but also to many important global questions. So, we better start paying careful attention!
On Africa hopes to become my humble contribution to this.

The African Union turns ten: time for a reality check*

An image of the 17th African Union Summit held last year in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea (Photo: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea)

The 19th African Union Summit starts today, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the pan-continental body. Despite this symbolism, African leaders will most likely close the summit next Monday with an anti-climatic message that will be met with a collective yawn across Africa. They may even fail – for the second time – to elect a new head the African Union Commission. An underwhelming performance that contrasts with events across the continent: South Sudan, Africa’s newest country, also turns one today amidst important development and security challenges. Egypt and Senegal have overcome domestic turmoil and peacefully elected new Presidents, and Libya just held its first elections in over 60 years. Less positive developments are also visible in Nigeria, increasingly threatened by terrorism; eastern DRC, where conflict has flared up; and Mali, where a coup d’état back in Marchled to the country’s partition.

The AU certainly lacks capabilities but also, more worryingly, appears out of sync with most Africans’ preoccupations. Its focus on continental economic growth is welcome, but it needs an accompanying political narrative. The “United States of Africa” discourse that gave birth to the AU in 2002 belonged to a generation of leaders such as Thabo Mbeki and Olesegun Obasanjo that have now exited the scene. Continental unity has been reduced to a motto of “African solutions to African problems”, which struggles to translate into real actions. The EU supported this new impetus through the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) but progress remains limited. Even where greater progress has been recorded, in the peace and security domain, challenges persist with an AU dependent on sub-regional and extra-regional actors. Mali is a case in point: ECOWAS is leading the political dialogue and putting forward a 3,000 strong military contingent. And the recent UN resolution on Mali was drafted by France – a country which supported intervention in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire against the AU’s criteria.

These and other challenges have put the AU on a defensive position that converts the demand for “African solutions” into a flat rejection of external interference. This makes the AU defend regimes that not only are undemocratic, but also face domestic opposition. Sudan is a good example: whilst protesters are taking the streets against al-Bashir’s government, the AU provided him with an inestimable backing in choosing to move the location of the AU summit from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa after the Malawian President refused to host the ICC-indicted Sudanese president. This reflects the inability (or unwillingness) of the AU to recognise the magnitude of the changes taking place across the continent.

External partners also need to clarify their approach vis-à-vis the continent. The EU supports continental integration through the JAES, but carries out substantial negotiations with Africa (e.g. Economic Partnership Agreements ) on a sub-regional basis. And its vocal support for democracy and human rights is often contradicted by moves to strengthen EU ties with African regimes of questionable democratic legitimacy. Global reordering and domestic transformations will make Africa a very different continent ten years from now. The AU, the African leaders that form part of it, and its external partners should all recognise this and act accordingly or risk sinking the institution into irrelevance.

* This post was originally written for The FRIDE blog