Tag Archives: africa

Aliens before Africans

So I was happily reading on the BBC site about the latest finds from King Tutenkhamun’s tomb (closet archaelogy fan) – with new X-ray technology they are going over artifacts and discovering all sorts of new details about ancient people and their way of life – when I got to this line:

The researchers say the presence of iron – along with levels of nickel and cobalt – “strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin”.

I’m sorry – what?

For starters, I was a little peeved that the story was filed in the Middle East section and not Africa, but this isn’t really on the BBC. The authors of the report into the artifact actually wrote that, in all seriousness.

We would sooner believe that aliens – ALIENS – which we have no proof for yet (though I’m not ruling it out, the universe is massive) made this fancy knife from meteor rock before we believe that AFRICANS (just erase all those Liz Taylor-as-Cleopatra-style movies from your mind) could possibly have made it?

Couldn’t they have found the rock and made it? Given all that we don’t know about the Ancient World, could it not be that people did it? Why is that so unbelievable?

A lot of the conventional history on Egypt (that Egyptians were somehow European, set apart from the rest of Africa) has been debunked in the excellent history book by Malian academic Cheikh Anta Diop – The African Origin of Civilisation, which changed my whole perspective as an 18-year old history student.

Amid all the talk for the decolonisation of economics and other subjects in academia, it’s clear that archaeology could do with a shake-up too and is still mired in a particular context.

At the time that the Easter Island statues and pyramids were discovered, people of colour were barely considered human. Early explorers couldn’t believe that they could do it. Since then we’ve had all sorts of finds that show that explorers who were not European went all around the world. That people who were not European made stuff.

Stuff that wasn’t “discovered” and countries that didn’t “exist” until Europeans found them.


And they wrote the history books.

They still do.


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Women Fashion Power

WOMEN-FASHION-POWER-Graphic-300-x-400I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum last night.

It ticked all of my boxes.

The evening talk, after the museum officially closed, was preceded by a private view of the exhibition of itself, that charts changing fashion and social status  for women. It looks at mass movements that affected ordinary women and those who occupied positions of power, from the early twentieth century until today. There were profiles of powerful women in positions of leadership from Ancient Egypt to China, but overall it primarily had a European/US focus. It was staggering to see how at times women have subverted the world of men, either by co-opting men’s dress or reclaiming their sexuality. There was a great section on the suffragettes and women leaders from different spheres of life from politics to business to human rights. Corsets, bikinis, beach pajamas (I want one!)…it’s all there.

It really made me reflect on my own style and preferences.

Then came a fascinating talk by Lauren Rhoomes of Akhu designs on the politics, spirituality and history of African textiles. Her focus was primarily on West Africa, but it was an engaging and informative talk, followed by a great head wrap workshop. Now I know how to do the great head wrap styles that I see around London.

Rhoomes also brought along some beautiful textiles from Nigeria that have been handed down through the generations of her family. She expounded on the weaving and printing techniques in Ghana and Nigeria in particular, and also made a powerful statement on the fair trade aspect to the textile trade, especially with the influx of cheap textiles from China.

I would give the whole experience five stars out of five if I had to rate it. The exhibition is a must-see, and I was privileged to hear Rhoomes speak with such authority and pride on African textiles, fashion, symbolism and craftmanship.


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All Glamour

Two coffee table books that I simply must have and which push all my beauty, glamour and fashion buttons:

tumblr_static_rocket88_vintageblackglamour_coverFashionAfrica_online_marketing_17july-wpcf_240x350Vintage Black Glamour, by the creator of the blog of the same name.

And Fashion Africa by Jacaranda Books.


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On Invisible Power structures

David Cameron announced that the “red warning lights” are on for the global economy. Bob Geldof amassed an array of stars to re-record Band Aid for Ebola. Apart from the fact that both of these things are linked by the fact that they annoy me greatly, they are also connected by a (naive?) disregard for structural power.

So…Cameron, who warns that “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty presents a real risk to the UK recovery,” adding that “the eurozone slowdown is already having an impact on British exports and manufacturing.” These things have not happened by accident. Without donning my tin foil hat and Wonder Woman bracelets, I think it’s safe to say that he fails to address the fact that we can’t go back to business as usual because capitalism (at least the way we’ve practised it) is broken. Instead of a real analysis, we get that odd car dashboard metaphor (so awkward when politicians grasp for “genuine” turns of phrase to appear normal) that warns of impending doom but proffers little in the way of a proper analysis of it. Perhaps because a proper analysis would show that welfare and immigrants aren’t the problem, and austerity is not the answer. Also worth mentioning that this is an elaborate exercise in crafting a fig leaf to put over the hiccoughing recovery, given the deep cynicism and unbelievable brass neck it takes to declare that we might be on the verge of a second global financial crisis (second!) when Cameron and every minister in the Coalition government has spent the last five years denying that the first one never happened but instead it was all Labour’s fault, that they crashed the car.

And.. Geldof. I think everything I feel about Band Aid is explained perfectly over on Al Jazeera and the Washington Post, but suffice to say that well-meaning a gesture though it may be, and generous the government’s offer to double whatever is raised certainly is, this sort of charity endeavour (celebrities give their time, you give your money) overlooks structural problems. Like the failures of neoliberal economics (sort of like the above) and the under-resourcing of the very agencies that are trying to help. We shouldn’t have to rely on this sort of endeavour to get the cash where it is needed. The UN and WHO  have repeatedly appealed for funds. That’s before we get to the problems of governance that left health systems in these countries a shambles to begin with. We can sticky plaster all we want, but there’s some hard graft to be done when the crisis is over. And yes, Africans do know it’s Christmas, for goodness sake. (Could they not have at least written a less patronising and more intelligent song? Or just amplified the work that Africans are already doing?)

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Big Men

One of the best articles I read last week was from Business Day Live, on the subject of Africa’s Big Men, and how African civil society is beginning to assert itself. It’s a twist on the usual diagnosis of Africa’s problem with Big Men, and I think it hits the nail on the head regarding the issues of weak governance and rule of law, which create the environment in which Big Men flourish.

“AFRICAN “strong man” leaders are not the cause of Africa’s problems — they are symptoms. And some African citizens may slowly be fixing the problem and its symptoms.”

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I was listening to BBC World Service last week, to an eloquent Liberian analyst discussing the Liberian government’s request for aid to assist in combating the Ebola outbreak. He pointed out that the money requested was for medical supplies, including bleach, gloves etc.

It pulled me up short. Of course, African governments need support in combating the Ebola threat. But part of the reason health crises can escalate is because the medical system is already in disarray. The expert mentioned how people are reluctant to go to the doctor except in dire circumstances, and the fact that Ebola’s early symptoms are indistinguishable from other diseases mean that a diagnosis is slow coming.

There’s so much to this. So often people don’t go to the doctors because it is expensive; so you only go if you must. It may be expensive to get there, or far away from where you live. It may be that you could make the journey and there’s no medicine anyway. If this is the normal state of affairs, then what of when a crisis hits?

African governments and Ebola

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Three for Monday

I’d love to see these artists live (in fact I will be seeing Hot 8 next month), but I’d settle for their albums:

OneLadysmith Ladysmith Black Mambazo need no introduction. Their music soothes and unsettles me at the same time. They make me homesick for a time long past, at home with my family before my father’s passing, in Malawi – for the beauty and security of a time of my life shot through with laughter and love that I took for granted and will always treasure.

Their new album, Always With Us, is dedicated to the memory of Nellie Shabalala, wife of Joseph Shabalala, the band co-founder. An American news station did an interview with the band, with songs.

Two Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I haven’t been able to shake their new song Retreat out of my head for weeks. It’s an unapologetic, fierce song that turns the usual “Come hither” soul song on its head. Their new album, Give the People What They Want, is a sort of soul-funk homage. Sharon Jones was recently diagnosed with cancer, which pushed the alblum launch back, which might be why they opted for a cartoon video for Retreat, but I have to say I would have preferred to see her in it.

Three Hot 8 Brass Band. I blog about them all the time, so I won’t go on. But here’s their cover of Rastafunk.


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Mother Courage

I read this profile of the new President of Central African Republic with a little disquiet.

It’s true; a crisis does often allow for a woman to take charge, but like so many women before her, the pressure of expectation can almost seem to set the stage for disappointment:

“Why did the CAR, where the level of early and forced marriage is above 60%, choose a woman to save it? “

I hope she does a good job and she sounds like a sound candidate. But she won’t do a good job just because she’s a woman; I hope she’s got the skills, nous and ability to steer a nation in crisis into calmer waters. She only has a year.

I remember another woman who received similar plaudits and admiration; as time went on the reports of dissatisfaction at home began to clash with glowing plaudits abroad, often more for what she said and signified than what she actually did (or, rather didn’t do – like stay put long enough to actually run the country.) And right now Malawi’s Joyce Banda is up to her neck in the cashgate scandal . She may yet pull through, but like so many, my high hopes were dashed when she disappointed, more through neglect of her duties and due diligence than the usual grand plots. But there’s still more to come on that.

We do female leaders no favours by not subjecting them to the scrutiny we would any man, or expecting gender-neutral attributes such as professionalism, dedication, skill and integrity.

As an African, I don’t want a “Mother” of the nation any more than I want a “Father”. I want a public servant, who is keenly aware of the second half of that word.

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Thank You

nelsonmandelaAnd so, the end.

Acres of newsprint will be written extolling Mandela’s virtues as a leader, a revolutionary, an inspiration. There will be obituaries (that let’s be honest, have been touched up and kept current since his condition deteriorated a few months ago). They will all be true. How do  you sum up the impact he had on South Africa, Africa, the World? That is for others to write.

I would simply like to say: Thank  you.

Thank you for all that you gave, for all that you fought for, for all that you taught us.

And perhaps the greatest tribute would be for us to remember that Madiba was only human. I don’t mean that as an insult. How marvellous that he acheived so much in his 95 years – and the challenge to us all is perhaps to think about how best to use our time, our talents and our heart to take what he left us and build on it. For South Africa, for Africa, for the World.

The Disneyfication and squabbling over who can exploit his legacy will come soon enough. But let’s not forget that he has shown us the best of what the human spirit is capable of – the strength of forgiveness, the courage to fight for what’s right – and even to risk death for it.

That’s something to cherish. And build on.

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Crowning Glory

“Dearest Future Queen, you are enough.”

I had the pleasure of catching Crowning Glory, the debut play by actress Somalia Seaton, the day before it ended at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

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TRSE is one of my favourite theatres in London, particularly for unexpected, edifying plays, and Crowning Glory didn’t disappoint. I was struck by the set when I first walked in – it was jagged and at an angle, with a couple of movable screens which were later used for projections of video. It felt pared back and minimalist, which really suited the content. The dialogue was poetic – a series of monologues blending performance art, poetry and dance to uncover the complicated relationship between black women and their hair.

There were all sorts of perspectives – tomboys, mixed race women, women wearing weaves, one who cut her hair off, the Black Panther – the list goes on. There were also memories of growing up in African and Caribbean households and a humorous but searing take on the relationship between generations of black women, their daughters and their hair.



What struck me about this multifaceted play was that there was something for everyone to identify with, regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of natural-relaxed-weave-braided hair. The play threw down a challenge to the European paradigm of beauty and urged Black Women to see that they are beautiful too – and this is important for us to remember because our little girls need to hear the message too.

And the message was this: You are enough.

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