By Peter Uduehi
Mali singer and actress Fatoumata Diawara says she’s excited by a renewed spirit of hope among the country’s youths following years of terror by jihadist rebels who shot their way to power in the north.
Commenting on the recent Toronto International Film Festival-featured documentary “Mali Blues”, Diawara says the film is an attestation that Mali’s youths were always on the right side of history as they endeavour to realise their dreams in music, literature, painting, and other forms of art.
The singer, whose personal story featured prominently in the German Lutz Gregor-directed documentary, told the African World there’s a “new awareness in the country to fight Islamic fundamentalism because it is ludicrous to ban an African from playing, or listening to, music.
“How can you tell an African to stay away from music?” the singer asked, adding that “music to an African is like oxygen to the human lung.”
Mali is one of Africa’s biggest contributors to the continent’s primal reputation as the citadel of modern music as well as the influential “five notes”, an artform responsible for much of syncopating heart-beat sound of music worldwide. It’s in the beat of jazz, pop, R&B, salsa, rock, and other modern genres. Prominent Mali musicians, accused of anti-Islamic lyrics and moral decadence by the rebel Islamist group Ansar-dine, took to their heels as many fled the country in 2014 for fear of their lives. African traditional music, the mainstay of the country’s social life and economy, was banned by the terrorist group in the areas of the country they had seized. In the ancient city of Timbuktu, Christian churches were burned and libraries and museums containing relics of important medieval African institutions and kingdoms (considered United Nations protected world heritage sites) were also put in jeopardy. But West African troops, with the help of the French army, flushed out the rebels and today do not present the kind of threat they once did.
Gregor agrees Mali Blues reinforces many positive things about the true nature of the proverbial “African Personality”, a request first moved by Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in post-colonial Africa promoting self-awareness, self-reliance, equanimity, and resilience qualities.
“If you take a look at the rapper Master Soumy, his role in the documentary is instructive that young people in Africa are in steady control of their social life,” he explained, noting that “Master Soumy is like many youngsters who refuse to be brainwashed and are doing something great to assert themselves against a religious sect that is ruining their country.”
Scenes of Soumy playing to different audiences capture his ebullient rap lyrics and sonorously and vociferously asking: “why do the Islamists use torture, deceit, lies fake religious tenets, and Kalashnikov rifles to force people to convert to Islam?” Peppering them with enraging rhymes, Master Soumy digs in and taunts and challenges the terrorists to “Explain your Islam”.
“This is powerful,” says Gregor, adding that “Mali’s youths are vibrant, determined and often positive people who want something good to happen in their country.
Himself a grandfather of an African mixed child of Nigerian (as in the country Niger just north of Nigeria) and German descent, Gregor says there are great things happening in Africa that he wants every Westerner to know about, noting that “African people are too often not shown in the proper light by western media. “I have been to Mali more than ten times and I love going back to Africa to find the positive stories, and they are many,” he said.
One positive story has to do with what some are doing to wage war against female circumcision (or female genital mutilation — FGM).
In the documentary, Diawara sings for her womenfolk at a gathering and while still captivated by her homecoming as she recants her brief exile in Europe, the raptured women are admonished by the singer to stop allowing men and elders in society to force them to circumcise their daughters and granddaughters saying “circumcision damages the morale of girls” and opens them up to emotional trauma and diseases. A rebel of sorts, Diawara ran away from her parents in Mali at 18 after she refused an arranged marriage to a handpicked cousin. She went into exile in France returning six years later to yet another social wrinkle, the exigencies of Muslim fundamentalists and terror groups who seized large swathes of the country banning musicians and artists and targeting them as decadent and immoral people who must be eliminated.
Gregor says Mali Blues itself is, in a lot of ways, a “celebration of Diawara’s homecoming after her exile”.
By Peter Uduehi
Few people were familiar with “Upper Volta” in West Africa until it became Burkina Faso, thanks to erstwhile president Thomas Sankara who fashioned a pan-African revolutionary approach to governance.
Sankara came to power in a military coup after overthrowing former colonial power France-backed Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo in 1983. Considered Africa’s Che Guevara, Sankara adopted Marxist-Leninist approaches, sacked lazy and corrupt civil servants, planted millions of trees to avert desertification of the Sahel, invested heavily in education, dismantled the village feudal system, drastically lowered his pay to just $450 a month as well as those of top-ranking government officials, preferred his motorbike for transport and, among other austere measures, employed the cheapest car (no-more Mercedes) as the official service vehicle –and without chauffeurs.
He enjoined African governments to resist paying back loans or debts to multinational companies and Western governments, saying the poor should not be paying the rich and their former colonial exploiters. He angered former colonialist France and the World Bank and IMF who began a plot against his government,
an incentive for his long-time friend and adoptive brother Blaise Campaore to overthrow his governemnet, assassinated him in 1987. Sankara was loved by the poor in Burkina Faso but loathe by the rich and powerful as well as the West.
His life was played out on stage in a play recently in Toronto at the Small World Music Centre Studio in Toronto, to an audience packed with attendees who were not even born when the Burkinabe was in power. It was organised by the African Theatre Ensemble.
Artistic director of the ensemble Jude Idada, who also wrote the play “Sankara”, says the event was not only to mark the 30th anniversary of the former Burkinabe leader's death, but also to remind people that Africa is replete with the history of great leaders.
“People always think of Africa as devoid of exemplary leadership in its history, but here was a man from Burkina Faso who taught us that we can produce good governance and leadership and that we are capable of bringing positive change in our lives,’ Idada said.
Play director Chibie Okoye concurs. She says it’s high-time Africans began “filtering the propaganda that keeps us away from knowing the truth about our histories“. This, she said, will enable us to understand why things are the way they are in Africa, “because for too long we have been victims and enablers of a certain kind of propaganda form those who oppressed and continue to do so today. Our history need to be told objectively,” she stressed.
Two Canadians and two Americans have been freed in Nigeria after their abductors lost the battle to police in an exchange of gunfire.
The four men were ambushed in a forested area near the capital Abuja. Nigerian police and military forces mounted an operation that sought their location. Two of their local escorts were killed in the gun battle. Abduction for ransom is common in Nigeria as wealthy Nigerians and foreigners have become primary targets for bandits.
Over half of the migrant asylum claims heard by Canadian refugee officials this year have been successful.
New figures released by the federal Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) show that of 1,572 claims heard so far, 941 have been granted.
The IRB has a backlog of 12,895 cases currently pending.
Canada has seen a spike recent months of migrants crossing illegally into the country via the US and making asylum claims.
The new figures look at claims received by the IRB from "irregular border crossers" between February and October of this year.
Those made by migrants from Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and Turkey were the most likely to be accepted.
The IRB data confirms that Haitians are by far the biggest group of asylum seekers, filing 6,304 claims with the refugee board over that period.
However, of the small number of claims by Haitians processed so far, 298, only about 10% have been accepted. Failed claimants face removal to Haiti.
The IRB notes that the new figures represent a small sample - 1,572 of 14,467 total claims - and that "caution should be exercised in drawing conclusions regarding trends".
The Canadian Press reported that PM Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that Canada's refugee system is not meant for those merely seeking a better economic future but for those not being protected by their home country.
Many Haitians had been living in the US for years but chose to seek asylum in Canada due to fears of deportation.
The Trump administration hinted in May it would terminate a programme that gives over 50,000 Haitians in the US protection.
It was officially scrapped this week.
The programme grants temporary US visas to more than 435,000 people from 10 countries ravaged by natural disasters or war.
Canada is planning for another possible wave of migrants as a consequence of the policy change.
Canada completely lifted its own protected status for Haitians over a year ago.
In terms of numbers, Haitian migrants were followed by Nigerians, who have made 1,911 claims in Canada so far this year.
The other top countries in order are Turkey, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, the US, Sudan, Djibouti, and Pakistan.
Canadian officials say US citizens included in the figures are mainly US-born children of migrants.
IRB spokesperson Anna Pape said that refugee claims made by Americans are "by and large dependents born in the USA and accompanying parents who are alleging persecution against a different country".
In total, 652 Americans have made refugee claims in Canada this year, including 366 who made claims at an official border crossing and those who came through illegally.
Between 2013 and 2016, the numbers ranged from 69 to 129.
By Peter Uduehi
Despite social media chatter spreading the notion and unscientifically- tested premise that Black people are immune to the coronavirus, Africans in Canada are not taking chances.
Rumours swirled recently due to fewer incidences of contractions of the virus among citizens of African countries as compared to the rest of the world, leading to the notion that Black people cannot catch the disease dubbed by the World Health Organisation as Covid-19.
Worried, because he has heard the rumours, actor Idris Elba, who contracted Cocid-19, said it is “pseudo-science to think that coronavirus cannot affect Black people. No one is immune,” he said, noting that such unfounded chatter “is dangerous”.
Toronto-resident and lawyer Peter Kalu, whose background is Nigeria, agrees. “Anyone with common sense should not fall for hoaxes surrounding Covid-19. Use your common sense, be wise. Coronavirus knows no-one of means, status, race, colour or religious affiliation; it can be contracted by anyone.”
Some Black people like myself have caught the virus, Elba says, “so let no one trick you into a false sense of invincibility”.
The World Health Organisation has said that fewer coronavirus cases in Africa is not an indication that the disease does not affect certain races of people, stating: “From the evidence so far, the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather. Regardless of climate, adopt protective measures if you live in, or travel to an area reporting COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.“
Nigerian-Canadian residing in Toronto Emelike Ukpabi adds that “this is the time for everyone to be more vigilant of scammers in every sphere of life and this includes people who spread rumours that have no basis in empirical data and no basis in science. Only a fool will think a virus will spare them because of the colour of their skin”, he explains, stressing: “Black people should take precautions and not fall for this blandishment that would ruin their lives and those of their loved ones”.
Imam Abukar Mohammad of the Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque in Etobicoke, says he has warned his mostly Somali-born congregation in the GTA to take extra precaution at this time “especially in the face of these rumours concerning Black people and their immunity to the virus.
“We are not specially immune to it. There’s no reason anyone should fall for this unproven claim. There’s no science to it and it doesn't even make sense, he said. We closed the mosque to prayers and gatherings until further notice because we definitely don’t have immunity to this sickness.
Somalia has recorded only three known infected cases at press time compared to countries outside of Africa with thousands of cases. “It is not because people in Africa are immune to Covid-19. It is probably because there are no test kits readily available in a poor country like Somalia,” Muhammad said. Concurs Kalu. “The few numbers in Africa could be the result of a combination of factors including the fact that test kits are not readily available or accessible by a large majority of people in Africa,” he said.
In a scathing indictment, Kalu opined that “most governments on the continent just do no have what it takes to readily test and identify cases”, noting that governments that cannot provide basic infrastructure for its citizens cannot be proactive in a pandemic like this. The hospitals are in a sorry state and most of the leaders do not even depend on the decrepit hospitals for their own health needs. They prefer to fly abroad for treatments and medical check-ups. I just hope there will be a new order at the end of this pandemic”.
Are Canada’s Big Media Finally Tackling Equity Issues Head-on?
Canada’s major media outlets have good intentions, but they don’t yet have anything to show for their efforts at creating more diverse newsrooms.
Canada’s big media outlets declare they are tackling the underrepresentation of racialized minorities within their ranks and top echelons, but with no consistent statistical data on newsroom diversity, progress will be hard to measure.
The admission comes on the heels of an ongoing survey by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) to investigate what it calls a “widespread consensus around the need for Canadian media to reflect the society it serves.” The survey, requiring journalists and media outlets across Canada to fill out questionnaires, providing information about their actions in relation to racial and gender compositions of their workforce, will be conducted through the first week of April 2021.
“You can’t look at a city like Toronto boasting 53 per cent of visible minorities and not think that it’s imperative to reflect that population in the newsroom and upper management,” says Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s director of engagement and inclusion Nick Davis. “You have to know your audience.”
Davis said that an ongoing program, which began four years ago, is helping to boost minority representation across every platform of the CBC network. Called the Developing Emerging Leaders Program (or DEL), the project aims to harness the talents of racialized personnel and targets them for higher-up positions within the CBC.
“About half of all Star editorial hires in the past two years have been talented journalists of colour,” notes director of communications at Torstar, the publisher of Toronto Star, Bob Hepburn. “That’s a small step, and we commit to advancing that growth in the future.” He said Torstar realizes there needs to be more representation of people of all backgrounds “especially as our society’s demographics is continually changing.”
Phyllise Gelfand, vice president of communications for the Postmedia Network, concurs. Speaking on behalf of her organization, she said the Postmedia Network (publisher of several titles including National Post and the Ottawa Citizen), “like many companies, is revisiting our work on diversity and inclusion across the organization including re-reviewing our hiring practices.”
“We embrace diversity because we know it makes us stronger as an organization…and we want to ensure that we are doing our best to hire from diverse backgrounds,” Gelfand added.
Current status: unknown
Asked about their current breakdown of employees along ethnic and gender lines, none of the spokespeople except Davis of CBC provided a meaningful response: “17 per cent of racialized minorities make up the entire CBC organization. The French Service is worse with only 5.3 per cent making up its entire staff, according to our own figures.” He added that though he doesn’t have numbers for each CBC market in the country, he postulates that the Toronto headquarters likely shows figures “slightly higher than the national average”. (The Crown corporation still does not have a Black person on its board of directors.)
Other media organizations said they either do not collect such data or do not disclose it. The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s biggest national newspapers, failed to respond to repeated email requests for comment.
Torstar’s Hepburn said the publisher “does not collect any formal statistics or breakdown about the racial, ethnic, religious or other diverse makeup of our newsrooms. In fact, the company is not allowed by law to ask employees or prospective candidates to identify themselves as such, although staff can self-identify in voluntary, informal surveys.”
Gelfand replied via email (and maintained the same response after pressing the question several times) that “we do not disclose the makeup of our employees by ethnicity, gender, etc”.
A diverse city?
“It’s not true that there’s any law that prevents them from giving you the information you’re seeking,” says John Miller, emeritus professor of journalism at Toronto’s Ryerson University.
In 2004 Miller did a survey called “Who tells the news?” that was endorsed by the Canadian Association of Newspaper Editors to look into diversity and equity issues in Canada’s big media, and to find out if they reflect the population in which they exist.
But Miller soon fell out of love with the association because “they didn’t like the report I brought back to them. They were uncomfortable with it. They saw me as a prophet of doom, and they cut me loose,” he says.
Over a 10-year period, between 1994 and 2004, the study found “Non-whites constitute 3.4 per cent of the newsgathering staffs of 37 papers that returned questionnaires, compared to 2.6 per cent of staff at papers which responded to a similar survey in 1994.” The gap in representation had grown over this period, he discovered.
In another “DiverseCity” study co-authored with Ryerson’s Dr. Wendy Cukier, Miller looked at media representation in the city of Toronto and in the GTA. In a region where racialized minorities and new immigrants make up more than half of the population, there were only 6.1 per cent minority members on the leading newspaper and broadcast media (see chart below) boards of directors.
“Talk is cheap”
The figures cited by Miller caught the attention of Christina Gonzales, opinions editor at Maclean’s Magazine, who noted in 2019 that “the stats on newsroom diversity are grossly outdated and uncomfortable to examine.”
Another concern raised by Gonzales is the absence of consistent data on the issue of diversity in Canada’s big media outlets. “The fact that there’s been no concerted effort to publish current statistics on diversity trends in media signals an even greater concern—while newsroom diversity is abysmal, we’re idle, and simply too embarrassed to address it,” she said.
In that regard, the responses from some of the nation’s big media organizations about their equity status are a case in point.
Ratna Omidvar, federal independent Senator from Ontario, says “it’s a lame excuse that these media organizations cannot even speak to diversity issues head-on.”
With a long history of speaking to diversity issues, Omidvar said she’s not surprised that Canada’s big media have been bedevilled by inclusion problems for a very long time. “Talk is cheap,” she said, adding, “the media has to be more explicit than simply aspirational.”