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.