Africa in the news

Or rather, Africa not in the news. I have to admit, I haven’t been in news-junkie mode recently, but how did I miss this?

This week we bring you music from the Democratic Republic of Congo to recognize the incredible moment in history we are witnessing. In the largest UN overseen election in history, 58 million Congolese citizens will choose their elected leaders for the first time in 46 years! With over 33 candidates for president and 9,500 people running for 500 legislative seats the ballots are sure to be long, just finding your candidate will be a challenge.

The reason it’s a big deal is not just that a previously undemocratic country is going to try to become a democracy. It’s that between 1996 and 2003, the DRC was the scene of a brutal and long-running war, triggered by the Rwandan genocide, in which about 4 million people are estimated to have died. Nine nations were directly involved.

I’ve read a few people recently try to make some kind of rhetorical point by comparing the amount of media attention that the Middle East gets with the coverage of Darfur. But the truth is that if anything, before the West got bored with it, Darfur got an unusually large amount of attention for an African conflict. After all, Sudan has been in a state of civil war for most of the time since independence in 1956, but that hasn’t spent much time in the papers.

I’m not claiming any personal virtue here – if you’d asked me, I probably would have said that Congo was still at war, even though the war formally ended in 2003. I only learned differently via the quote above, which is from Calabash. And I had to get all my information about the war from Wikipedia. Anyway. Fingers crossed that Central Africa is on an upward path.

And a plug for Calabash. They describe themselves as ‘The World’s First Fair Trade Music Company’, and they’re a great source for world music. Calabash offers regular free singles for download.

To mark the election we give you ‘Ba Kristo’, from Kekele’s hot new album “Kinavana”. By paying homage to the Cuban composer Guillermo Portabales, the album brings the two countries together across the black atlantic in the most joyous and musical of ways. ‘Ba Kristo’ is based on the music of Portabales’ song “El Carretero”, but instead of telling a wagoner’s tale it denounces the efforts of evangelical churches in Africa to ban all music that is not Christian.

I’ve got some great music from them, and I can definitely recommend the latest free single. I think I’ll buy the album. Songs are 99¢ each, but note that you can save money by buying 20 song credits for $14.99 – i.e. 75¢ each.

Culture Other

Rough Crossings by Simon Schama

During the American War of Independence, the British promised freedom and land to any slaves who left their masters and served with the British. Many thousands did so, and after the war they were taken first to Nova Scotia and then settled in a colony in Sierra Leone. This book tells that story.

Among the slaves who decided that their best hope of freedom was with the British were some who had belonged to George Washington. At times I got the feeling that Schama, as a British historian working in the US, got a degree of mischievous pleasure from writing about the War of Independence from an angle that shows the British as the defenders of liberty and equality in the face of American tyranny.

It’s not that simple of course. The original decision to offer freedom was pragmatic rather than a principled, and in practice the implementation of it was consistently undermined by the greed, paternalism and piety of British administrators. The book does include some genuinely heroic British figures, but there are no shortage of complete shits as well.

It’s an interesting story and a moving book.


Argentina, Angola, and Africa

Argentina played the most beautiful football yesterday in thrashing Serbia and Montenegro. That’s the kind of play that you watch the World Cup to see – great individual flair combining in a great team performance. Great goals, great skills. It was like a highlight reel. The only thing it lacked to be a true all-time classic was a great opposing team.

You don’t win the World Cup by playing beautiful football in the group stages, of course. No team produces that kind of quality every time they play, and they’ll face tougher opposition. For the time being, you just have to watch and marvel and take joy in the moment.

I also enjoyed watching Angola scrap out a 0-0 draw with Mexico. We’re always told that Americans will never accept football because it’s too low-scoring and they won’t watch sports that end in a draw; and to be fair, it’s not a lot of fun watching a scoreless draw between Fulham and Middlesborough. But on the right day, between the right teams, 0-0 can be a brilliant and exciting result.

And I always like to see the African teams doing well. There aren’t many circumstances in which African countries get to be portrayed in a positive light, let alone compete with the world’s richest countries as equals, but football is one of them. The great African players – Eusebio, Weah, Eto’o – are legends. The assumption always seems to be that an African team couldn’t win the whole tournament, and there’s not (yet) an African footballing superpower to compete with Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Germany, but over the past few World Cups, they’ve consistently produced at least one team that has mounted a serious challenge. And as more and more African players play in the top European leagues, they’re only going to get better. Who knows what they would have achieved already if so many of their countries weren’t having to deal with poverty, corruption and war.

The consensus seems to be that this time, the best teams in Africa haven’t made it to the World Cup, and that the two strongest teams, Ghana and Ivory Coast, were very unlucky in the draw for the groups. So probably this isn’t their year. But as long as they’re in the competition, I’ll be cheering them. Against everyone except England, obviously.

EDIT:Hooray for Ghana, who just whupped the Czechs. That was such a fun game to watch. If they play like that again I’d certainly back them to beat the USA in their third group game, which would probably mean they qualify for the knock-out stages.