Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

A different image of Africa

June Arunga tells us in her three minute talk that, as a kid growing up in Kenya, she was fascinated by “cool stuff” from around the world. “All this stuff had a label on it ‘made in X country’ and none of those countries where in Africa. “Why does the cool stuff come from elsewhere?” she wondered. “Why can kids at 16 get cars at graduation in the US, when it’s hard to get a car with a PhD in Kenya?”

Arunga ended up making a film for the BBC, travelling from Cairo to Cape Town, documenting the interaction between politics and economics. She believes that politics gets in the way of economics. The exciting recent development is that technology is now outpacing politics. The rise of mobile phones is creating new businesses that challenge how business is being done. The rise of a business around used cars is forcing ports to revamp – there’s a domino effect that comes from technological and economic change that forces governments to change as well.

The connectivity in the hall is down, so these posts are going to have fewer links than usual. Hope to flesh them out a bit more once I can get online…

Andrew Dosunmu, a filmmaker and photographer from Nigeria, starts his talk by telling us about encountering Joseph Conrad for the first time. He was a student in the UK, and he wondered about this Africa he was discovering for the first time, the Heart of Darkness that was so different from the Nigeria he grew up in, a place of life and vitality. As he looked aroung the UK, he found himself “confronting images that the Europeans were able to use to colonize Africa, grotesque images.”

Dosunmu’s quest is to show different images of Africa, “images of ourselves” that reflect the reality on the ground, not just the view through outside eyes. Dosunmu’s work has been through TV programming and music videos. He shows us a pair of videos, one made for Magic System, the remarkable band from Cote d’Ivoire. They’re colorful, vital, and show modern, urban Africans in cities that look unfamiliar to people who haven’t spent time on the continent.

We see clips from a TV show he’s producing for South African television, “Yizo Yizo“, which looks at the dark side of business in South Africa, and at the struggles of entrepreneurs to make it in contemporary society. The dialog shifts seamlessly from English to Shona and other languages. The visual sensibility looks a bit like Oz, a bit like the Sopranos – cuts between wide, cinematic shots and tightly framed closeups. This is miles away from the TV programming I watched in Ghana a decade ago – you could overdub and put this on HBO and I suspect it would do very, very well.

Dosunmu reminds us that he need to show “images of ourselves that are positive” – not all these images are positive or easy. Many are tense and uncomfortable, but they’re real, and radically different from the views we’re used to seeing from the outside of the continent.

he ends with a slideshow of images from Cote d’Ivoire, just as the nation learned they’d be playing in the world cup. His shots from here and around the continent are slices of life – people in their Friday best, young men looking tough, women smiling. They are faces we can’t see enough of.

One Response to “A different image of Africa”

  1. Lucy says:

    it would be great to try and get Yizo Yizo on HBO. You know I tried to get the first series (made in 1997 ten years ago) onto Channel Four in the UK. Why – well not only as I made my documentaries in South Africa with part of that early team, but because the vitality and harshness of the characters and story were so vibrant and shocking. Ten years on, who knows – are you going to have a try?

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