In this Africa in Fact edition dedicated to culture, Fred Khumalo paraphrases our mutual friend Mondli Makhanya who, in the midst of a debate with a right-of-centre interlocutor, asserted that, “I am a South African and that’s where it ends”. Much as this position is apt within a national discourse on identity politics, if we zoom out to the continent, Africanness has to be our departure point; for in one simple sense, culture is the outwardly radiating manifestation of our being in the world.
To elaborate, Max, a cab driver in DC who hails from Ghana, shares the following insight, “African culture teaches us from the earliest days to have respect for other people; you would think that with money and technology we would be happy and content but we have lost that culture. There is no respect for other people.” Culture often portrays more than a colourful aesthetic or funky tone, instead promoting a value base to what we represent, what we do, and who we are in the world. Hence the lament when culture loses its charge.
As our readers will appreciate from our zesty cover, however, the manifestation of culture on the African continent, as we have presented it, is all-embracing and flies effortlessly across the spectrum from food to fashion, soccer to the sounds of Afrobeat, religion to the Congolese rumba and beyond. Challenges may abound, but it’s an exciting time to be African.
Recent work events confirm the current fuss over all things African. At the Africa Transformation Forum in Accra, dazzling shades of Kente cloth were proudly worn by overseas delegates, while a more recent event at Ikoyi in St James, London, verified the hype associated with this West African inspired menu of plantains, jollof rice, efo, suya and other culinary treats, with cuisine fit for a lady and a lord; literally. South African wines are increasingly fêted in North America, as confirmed by Cape Classic wines recently wining a prestigious award in the US.
In short, there is increasing traction for Africa’s cultural sharing and export. With this comes the tension of protecting local intellectual property rights and balancing this with an expanding global market of incremental consumers. Nicky B highlights this in a poignant piece on African music, with respect to songs such as Wimoweh and Soul Makossa. Charmain Naidoo picks up on the issue of cultural contestation in her presentation on African fashion, while Anna Trapido suggests that on the foodie savoir-faire front, pitted against the EU’s 837 Geographical Indicator (GI) protected goods, Africa has only four. These inequalities are palpable.
Yet, as Andrew Panton recognises, in Africa the beat goes on, at least in the DRC where music sustains society. And it is not only melodies, food and fashion that take to the stage; African film is a niche market in the industry that holds much potential for development. Verónica Pamoukaghlián tells us that Nigeria and South Africa contribute $1 billion to the continent’s annual GDP. Whereas the former’s production dwarfs the latter’s, in box office revenue the southerners pull in 7.5 times as much, at $90 million.
Analytically, the very notion of culture, which John Kakonge engages in detail in his piece, needs to be retraced back to its beginnings and this necessitates some attention to history. This, coupled to the mantra that “Africa is not a country”, leads Luke Mulunda to suggest that we refer to “cultures of Africa” instead of “African culture” to promote an appreciation of the diversity and magnitude of the phenomena at hand.
Taking history at its broadest reach, we present an article by Delme Cupido on the plight of Africa’s “first peoples” with notable challenges and significant advances to recognise their human dignity before focusing more specifically on the San in Zimbabwe in a provocative piece by Owen Gagare that exposes their difficulties. Keeping with the theme of migrant peoples, Ini Ekott dives into the lives of Fulani pastoralists who since time immemorial have been nomadic and who now face major adaptive pressure in an existential threat to their culture.
In terms of concomitant diversity, we see Khumalo’s “Afropolitan” squaring off with so-called “white” Africans, who are, according to Kevin Bloom, still in the process of negotiating the identity of their Africanness. Meanwhile, Terence Corrigan and Vaughan Dutton find no evidence of a consistent religion-governance nexus, which flies somewhat in the face of intuition given the significance of faith-based traditions proselytised onto the continent and their cultural richness.
Ronak Gopaldas unpacks the “reverse flow” migration of sporting Africans onto the terroir of old colonial masters, with reference to France’s recent victory in the FIFA World Cup, using this as an exemplification of the outflux of some of Africa’s best and brightest human and cultural capital. Tom Osanjo provides the flipside of this coin, discussing the success of ex-pat sports stars back in their home countries, such as footballer Dennis Oliech from Kenya.
After all, our African identity is only the beginning, the rest is what we choose to retain, create, inspire. In January, the world lost one of its most talented sons, the late, great, Hugh Ramapolo Masekela. I still remember him turning to me during a live performance of The Boy’s Doin’ It in England, pointing and belting out “and this Durban boy’s doing it here in Cambridge”. I felt proud of being African and proud of the funky Africa Bra’ Hugh was representing on the global stage. In the face of adversity, racism and inequality, those warm, colourful, cultural strains of Africa streamed out sweetly through his lyrical trumpet on that cold, frosty, northern night. “Africa’s century is only just beginning,” I thought to myself, as I smiled infectiously.
If African filmmakers believed more in their own stories, and had more funding, cinema on the continent could be on the brink of a golden age
Africa’s film industry is set to play a key role in creating new jobs in Africa as the continent prepares for massive demographic waves. This is according to a recently released report, Framing the Shot – Key Trends in African Film 2018 by Dayo Ogunyemi’s Lagos-based production house 234 Media, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut and with support from the German Federal Foreign Office. Within a generation, the report says, Africa will have the world’s largest workforce, while it will have more than a third of the world’s population by 2100.
According to the analysis, the two largest film industries in Africa currently contribute a total of $1 billion to the continent’s annual GDP. Nigerian film generates close to one million jobs, while the South African industry generates over 21,600. Box-office revenues reached $12 million for Nigeria last year, with a third of the total going to local films. South Africa boasted a significantly larger revenue at $89.6 million for the same period, but with only 3.8% going to South African productions.
A scene from Necktie Youth, the award-winning 2015 directorial debut of 28-year-old South African filmmaker Sibs Shongwe-La Mer.
“Exhibition infrastructure, as evidenced by cinema screen penetration ratios, is low in every country in Africa,” write the authors of the report. “This places a ceiling on what film releases can earn in domestic cinemas… If Africa were to follow China’s example and invest extensively in cinema infrastructure… annual box-office revenues across Africa could rise to $1.5 – $2 billion; with Nigeria and South Africa accounting for as much as $500 million.”
But investments are still falling short, and African filmmakers face numerous challenges in financing and distributing their productions. For producer Steven Markovitz – whose film A Kasha was selected for the 2018 Venice International Film Festival (August 28 – September 9), one of the main challenges for African producers is getting funders from established industries such as South Africa’s to co-produce films from other countries. “It’s so important that we support each other on the continent,” he commented.
For Markovitz, the film industry has greatly evolved in Africa over the past few years: “We are making better films and there is more interest in African films internationally. We need to be making more films!” The producer also believes support for great African projects is not always at hand. “There needs to be more support for African films,” he told Africa in Fact. “There is a new generation of filmmakers who are starting to get noticed. With the right support, I am feeling optimistic.”
A Kasha is a brave example of a film made in spite of countless obstacles. A truly independent production, it was shot in a war zone, in Sudan. Funding – from the Doha Film Institute, then Arab Fund For Arts and Culture, and the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund – was obtained just before the shoot began. “(Director) Hajooj Kuka’s tenacity against many very difficult obstacles is what pulled the film over the line,” said Markovitz. “The film was made with very supportive partners and we now hope, after Venice, it will travel far and wide.”
In certain African countries with smaller film industries, where production receives meagre government support, it takes incredibly resilient teams to make a movie, let alone a blockbuster. This is the case of the mega-hit, Supa Modo, directed by Kenya’s Likarion Wainaina. One of the few African films selected for the 2018 Berlin Film Festival in February, Supa Modo went on to open the Nairobi Film Festival. Wainaina worked odd jobs in the film industry for years and funded Supa Modo by saving every penny from his pay cheque. The son of a single mother, who raised him in Kenya after breaking up with his father in Russia, Wainaina now plans to direct African sci-fi films, a genre known as “African futurism”.
For Spanish newspaper El Pais, Supa Modo is testimony that Africa is more than “corruption and poverty”. The film tells the story of Jo, “a witty nine-year-old terminally ill girl (who) is taken back to her rural village to live out the rest of her short life”. Jo wants to be a superhero, and her whole village helps to make her dream come true. Supa Modo was an unprecedented box office success in Kenya and won numerous international awards.
Another country where filmmakers face huge barriers at the time of developing their projects is Togo. Producers who have been able to thrive in this hostile environment are now hopeful after the government’s recent launch of a local film week, which included a screenwriting residency. This nod from the authorities was underlined by a statement from Togo’s Minister of Culture, Guy Madje Lorenzo: “Our wish is that the film industry be in Togo, as in other places, an activity of collective creativity at its best, a particularly promising sector of activity, providing innovative jobs with decent pay.”
Second only to India’s Bollywood in terms of number of films produced per year, Nigeria’s Nollywood has struggled to make its films more attractive to international audiences. A satirical comedy, Green White Green, recently acquired by Netflix, attempts to bridge that gap. While its plot and style do not thoroughly escape the “cheesiness” Nollywood audiences know and love, it is a film with higher artistic aims, both in its concept and its execution. While Nollywood’s trademark acting styles and stories will continue to have a large audience in Nigeria, the emergence of films like this, which can also reach a broader international audience, is certainly good news for the local film industry.
Scene from The Wound Photo: Urucu Media
At the Durban Film Mart this year, feature and documentary projects from all over Africa – including several from under-represented film industries – received awards from top European funds and markets. The awards, including several in cash, went to projects from Mozambique, Niger, Cape Verde, Zimbabwe, Benin and South Africa. Cash awards are useful, but the media exposure and connections producers can secure at Durban are often more valuable. Meanwhile, in early September, Venice was set to host African and Arab world filmmakers at the Final Cut workshop, which offers training and awards for films in the post-production stage. The work-in-progress projects selected for this year’s edition include, among others, a fiction film co-produced by Lesotho and Germany, Mother, I am suffocating, This is My Last Film About You, and a documentary co-produced by France, Chad, and Germany, The Waiting Bench.
A Kasha, is a Final Cut alumnus. The film won two awards, the Biennale prize and a subtitling services award, at the 2017 edition. “Final Cut was great for the film to get feedback on the rough cut and raise its profile with the international film community,” Markovitz told Africa in Fact. The film, which portrays a love story against the backdrop of Sudan’s civil war, will now compete for the festival’s coveted Critics’ Week audience award.
The Venice Film Festival could provide participating African producers with useful opportunities to reach much-needed European financing and distribution. Other films that received Final Cut awards last year included Egyptian documentary Dream Away, Tangier-set Joint Possession/Indivision, and South Africa´s The Harvesters. A South African film, The Wound – a production of Urucu Media, one of the most active and successful film companies in the region – was an acclaimed participant at a previous edition.
African film continues to face a number of problems, according to Elias Ribeiro, who heads up Urucu Media. “I find that South Africans, and Africans in general, sometimes do not have faith in their own stories,” he told me when I had the opportunity to interview him in Rio de Janeiro in 2015. “Many of them are trying to replicate foreign film models, such as Hollywood’s. Even the government funds look for traditional Hollywood-style screenwriting… The people who run (the top international film) funds often comment that they get very few projects from Africa and they want more.”
Ribeiro’s job as a producer was to “bridge that gap between the people who have these incredible stories about these unique cultures and communities and the people who have the power to make films a reality,” he told me then. Since then, Ribeiro, arguably the most active film producer on the continent, has created a vibrant African screenwriting residency called Realness, which is now in its third edition.
With 130 applicants for its 2018 edition, Realness selected only a handful to participate in six intensive weeks of training and mentoring. After the residency, the projects are presented at the prestigious Durban Film Mart. Markets and festivals that collaborate with Realness include EAVE Producers Workshop, France’s La Fabrique Cinéma, Torino Film Lab, and Toronto Talent Lab. While African filmmakers generally have to go to European festivals and markets to receive top-quality training and exposure, Realness has brought that to African soil.
The participating filmmakers heralded “an important and exciting new wave of African storytelling by Africans for Africans and the world,” said UK literary agent David Kayser, a member of the Realness 2018 selection panel. “The strength of the projects, and the talent driving them, will benefit hugely from the expertise, exposure and incubation that Realness offers and I look forward to seeing how they mature.”
Realness has helped to fully develop a number of projects for the international financing market, Ribeiro says. But the African film industry lacks “creative producers who understand development and international financing and distribution, and can advance the projects forward.”
Ribeiro’s company picks one project from every Realness batch per year to develop inhouse. “Fifteen projects from 12 countries have participated in Realness. The residency has a strong focus on women filmmakers, and 50% of the participants have been women of colour,” he comments.
But, he added, projects that were not picked up by Urucu didn’t progress. To address the problem, Ribeiro and his partners aim to create a producers’ training programme to be run in cooperation with EAVE, which already runs two such programmes in Latin America and Asia. Ribeiro, a Brazilian transplant to South Africa, has a vision for African film that many local producers probably lack, perhaps in part because his country of origin has one of the world’s most solid systems for funding national films.
“African film is still problematic because there are very few financial instruments to develop content, let alone finance a production,” Ribeiro told Africa in Fact. He decried the fact that producers still have to rely on seeking European co-producers and funds that support projects from developing nations.
Ribeiro was recently appointed director of the Cape Town Film Market, one of Africa’s most established venues for making film-production deals. The 2018 edition, which takes place in October, will be the first under Ribeiro’s direction. “I would like the Cape Town Film Market to become a space where policymakers gather to look at best practices in different territories, to analyse what is working and how it was implemented. With a coordinated effort, new financing instruments for the global south could emerge,” he told Africa in Fact.
In his vision, producers in Africa and Latin America could partner to create “something similar to the European Union’s Media Programme”, which supports film production across European borders. Meanwhile, BRICS countries could develop their own version of the European Council’s Eurimages, which provides funding for co-productions and fosters cooperation among film professionals from different member nations. As Ribeiro sees it, if African filmmakers believe their own stories more, and more funders understand their economic potential, African filmmaking could be on the brink of a golden age.
A priest shows his 900 year old bible still used for mass at Asheton Monastery in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
Religion is a deeply rooted aspect of Africa’s cultural life and there is nothing to suggest that this will change in the foreseeable future
There is no disputing the importance of religion to African life. In 2010, the Pew Forum on Religion and Life reported that Africa led the world in religious adherence. Religion played a deep, viscerally important role in people’s day to day lives and in their world view. It was not uncommon for as many as 90% of respondents to report that religion was important to them. Around half of Christians looked forward to the return of the Messiah in their lifetime, and nearly a third of Muslims believed that they would see the Islamic caliphate come into existence in theirs.
Religion in Africa is about more than transcendental beliefs. And arguably more than anywhere else, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is a defining presence in people’s lives. For many, religion provides a means of structuring the world’s uncertainties and a source of social services that poorly capacitated states struggle to provide. But for others, it is a bloodied fault line that drives people to contest for dominance over one another, and a retardant of social progress.
But what does the evidence say about the contribution of religion to Africa’s politics and social development? Such “evidence’” is hard to identify, gather and interpret; the frontiers of religious impact extend beyond the readily quantifiable, the superficially observed, the easily validated. An investigation of this kind is constrained by the unquantifiable nature of much that makes religion valuable, while on the other hand any qualitative investigation is limited by the sheer size of the continent. We have, therefore, focused on investigating the relationship between numbers of religious adherents and political and social development in Africa. These variables are easily obtained and relatively objective, valid, and reliable. We operationalised “religion” as percentage of affiliates to various religions by country1; we also included a measure of religious plurality.2 Political and social development was operationalised by variables measuring a range of civil liberties, conflict, health, wellbeing, and basic demographics.3
Our initial hypothesis was that increased religious affiliation would be related to an increase in social and political development (as represented by our set of variables). To test this hypothesis, and after checking the suitability of the data4, we calculated simple correlations between religious and the various political and social variables.5 The nature of the data meant that we could run Pearson correlations in the vast majority of cases.
The resultant correlations are shown as a correlation plot, below:6
Percentage religiosity of total sub-region population, by faith.
The most prominent result was that, overall, the impact of religion on political and developmental outcomes was largely subdued and arbitrary. In view of the high level of religious adherence on the continent, this is perhaps surprising. What in Christian theology is termed the “Great Commission” – the spreading of beliefs and their infusion into life – is not evidenced in the outcome of our analysis. We suspected that this finding might be an artefact of the data, i.e. that Africa’s uniformly very high proportion of religious adherents does not offer much variability in the religion proxy variable. Put simply, we could not compare “religion” to “no religion”; all countries had a similarly high proportion of adherents. Our analysis was limited to comparing high to very high; comparing differing faiths; and different degrees of religious plurality. The model was, therefore, somewhat artificial.
Some interesting results were, however, to be found in examining the patterns in countries according to their predominant religious traditions, which included Christian, Muslim and ethnoreligious (the latter encompassing traditional and some syncretic beliefs).
Christian societies tend to do better in material and developmental terms. They score, as a group, particularly well on adult literacy. GDP per capita and GNI per capita tend to be on the higher side – by African standards. That said, they fare poorly on HIV prevalence. There also appears to be a fairly firm correlation with conflict fatalities and violence against civilians.
Muslim countries appear to evince a lesser degree of developmental wellbeing. There are particularly strong correlations here with the prevalence of malaria and with adult illiteracy. Indicators of GDP per capita, GNI per capita and literacy are weak. Interestingly, the prevalence of HIV infection was far lower than in predominantly Christian societies.
Those countries with a greater ethnoreligious orientation show developmental deficits that are not unlike their Muslim peers. The prevalence of malaria is notable, while negative correlations are to be found with Internet access and adult literacy. Interestingly, there are also strongly negative correlations with indices of violence.
What does this tell us?
Given the (perceived) importance of religion to shaping moral virtues, it is notable that a correlation between religious adherence and clean governance (or rather, perceptions of corruption) was lacking. Likewise, correlations with signifiers of violence and conflict were uneven and contradictory.
This carries a suggestion, paradoxically, that religion may not – in the socio-political sense – be decisive for the subcontinent. Paradoxical, too, because religion – Christianity in particular – has long been associated with a striving for democracy and “justice”. As theologian Professor John de Gruchy has put it: “In much of sub-Saharan Africa, the principles of unity, democracy and self-government were developed in the church long before they were even dreamed of in the state.” Given sub-Saharan Africa’s severe socio-economic and political difficulties, the failure to transfer these principles more absolutely in the public sphere may rightly be regarded as a significant shortcoming of its religious experience.
Corrplot of religious diversity and major religious affiliations by social and political variables.
It must be borne in mind that religion is but one element of a larger matrix of social identities, and determining its specific contribution to social dynamics is complicated by this. This is particularly the case in evaluating “religious” conflicts. This has attracted considerable global attention in recent years, not least because of the high-profile insurgencies mounted by such groups as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon and Al-Shabaab in East Africa, or by civil conflicts, such as in Sudan and in the Central African Republic (CAR).
However, a large body of research questions whether these conflicts do in fact have origins rooted primarily in religion. Professor Matthias Basedau of the German Institute of Global and Area Studies helps put this into perspective. In research published in 2017, he analysed 13 ongoing conflicts in Africa (as well as two others that were “less active”) at the time; of these, 10 could be said to have a religious dimension. These might be defined as theological, where conflict references religious ideas, as with the so-called Ntsilou¬lous rebels in Congo-Brazzaville, or intercommunal, as in Ethiopia and Kenya, where Islamic anti-government forces are in conflict with predominantly Christian states. In several conflicts – for example, South Sudan and Mozambique – there is no discernible religious dimension.
So religion can be a flashpoint. But it is important, Basedau remarks, to recognise the multiplicity of causes of conflict and the multi-layered nature of individual and communal identities. “Religion is only one aspect of these conflicts – they can also be ethnic conflicts, or conflicts over power or resources. There is no conflict based purely on religion,” he notes.
Crucially, faced with challenges to their stability, African states too often lack the capacity to intervene constructively to defuse them. Thus, Basedau continues: “Mundane factors such as weak states, insufficient government and international responses make states vulnerable to rebellion and insurgency, identity-based grievances of religious groups, and religious ideologies. Sometimes, outside support from religious extremists can add fuel to the fire and facilitate mobilisation, radicalisation, and gruesome violence.”
But the weakness of states also calls attention to a crucial role that religion plays in sub-Saharan Africa. Scholars, among them University of Pretoria’s Professor Johannes Hofmeyr, have documented how religious bodies were among the few institutions to retain some coherence as sub-Saharan Africa underwent its debilitating crises in the 1970s and 1980s. Often the most durable institutions – and, given the importance of religion to the subcontinent, in many ways the most respected – they were able to intervene on policy and governance questions with a rare authority, if not always perfect effectiveness.
South Africa is a particularly illustrative case. Despite its willingness to act harshly against dissent, the apartheid government needed to tread carefully in dealing with church protests. It claimed, after all, to be a “Christian” government. And so, the churches became an important site of political protest. In the post-apartheid era, they became vocal in protesting corruption and other governance pathologies. Also not to be underestimated is the role that a shared Christian faith – even if often nominal – played in the transition to democracy, by providing the protagonists with the rudiments of a common moral framework.
Elsewhere, religious leaders have taken prominent roles in decrying human rights abuses – as did Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda during the rule of strongman Idi Amin. Murdered by the government in 1977, his life is celebrated in his country with an annual public holiday.
Religious institutions and leaders have long been involved in opposing governance pathologies such as corruption and the abuse of office. In Zambia, a coalition of church groups – Catholic, Protestant and evangelical – were instrumental in stopping plans by then President Frederick Chiluba to rewrite the constitution to grant himself a third term. Continental bodies such as the All Africa Conference of Churches, along with the various national structures, have tried to participate in governance reform initiatives, such as the African Peer Review Mechanism.
Perhaps no field of activity has seen a more important contribution from religious organisations than peace-building: a striving for peace resonates with all Africa’s religious traditions. Thus, despite the profound ambivalence with which Mozambique’s then quasi-Marxist government had regarded the Catholic church, it was the latter institution that took a leading role in mediating an end to the civil war in the 1990s. In some diverse societies – such as Mauritius and Benin – religious organisations have taken the initiative of setting up consultative structures to facilitate inter-faith dialogue and forestall conflict. In sub-Saharan Africa, with some high-profile exceptions, religious diversity is managed well. Inter-communal tolerance, rather than intolerance, is the rule.
Dr Paula Roque, an expert in security issues with an emphasis on Angola and South Sudan, described the efforts of church structures in peace-building to Africa in Fact: “The South Sudan Council of Churches have always been at the heart of conflict resolution; at local level community disputes, and even lately as the main mediators of the IGAD peace process. In Angola, they played an important role calling for peace in the 1990s and at the end of the war were trying to mediate a direct process to end the war, but (opposition leader Jonas) Savimbi was killed and the military negotiated the peace process … In the DRC, the bishops were key last year in pushing for elections and demanding that Kabila step down.”
Maintaining probably the most comprehensive network across the continent, through its congregations and numerous church-linked charities, service and advocacy organisations, the Catholic church plays an important role here. “Overall, religion is a strong force for peace,” Mike Pothier of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in Cape Town told Africa in Fact. “Religious leaders often mediate and they seem to enjoy wide respect; sometimes even the politicians listen to them! Church institutions also play a part, from the high profile like St Egidio (which played a key role in mediating the end of the Mozambican civil war) to the everyday justice and peace structures that are found in most countries.”
Naturally, the intervention of religious structures in governance is often resented, and steps are sometimes taken to stop it. Roque noted that during times of peace, efforts were made to sideline their influence and reduce their capacity to mobilise. It should also be noted that the growth of “securitised” governance has implications for the work of religious groups on these issues. This is perhaps best illustrated in Ethiopia, where legal restrictions on the involvement of civil society in political work affect the ability of religious groups to do so. In Rwanda, government has ordered the closure of numerous small religious congregations, sparking concerns that the government is trying to assert control over the religious sector. There are disturbing signs that this brand of policy is spreading, creating a set of challenges for the region’s religious communities.
All of this shows a complex texture of the role of religion in sub-Saharan Africa and its “Great Commission”. Religion is a deeply-rooted aspect of Africa’s cultural life. There is nothing to suggest that this will change in the foreseeable future. Indeed, as the eminent historian Professor Philip Jenkins has argued, the life experience of millions of Africans that steers them towards an approach to religion is deep, fervent and at once personal and social.
Having considered these various discussion points, and having acknowledged the often nuanced and complex way in which religion interacts with the African socio-political reality, we come full circle to a point at which we again question quantitative data’s ability to capture this complexity. More creative methodologies may be required, based on innovative data. These might include measures such as altruism, forgiveness, community, and hope, for example. In so doing, the intangible quality of religious benefit might be glimpsed. In this way, the objectivity afforded by quantitative methods might be brought into alignment with what we know to be a vitally important aspect of the African cultural landscape.
1. Our data for religious affiliation was obtained from the World Religion Database. Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds., World Religion Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed August 2018).
2. Religious plurality was proxied by the World Religion Database’s religious diversity index, which is calculated using the Herfindahl Index, a measure used by many economists to indicate how market competition is spread among businesses in an industry.
3. Our data for social wellbeing was obtained from the World Bank Group, the World Religions Database, the Freedom in the World project, and Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)
4. “Suitability” required checking that variables were sufficiently linear, and to conduct transformations where necessary.
5. We checked assumptions for all variables i.e. that they were not overly skewed; that outliers were removed; and that they were sufficiently linear.
6. Correlation plots were created using package CorrPlot. Taiyun Wei and Viliam Simko (2017). R package “corrplot”: Visualization of a Correlation Matrix (Version 0.84). Available from https://github.com/taiyun/corrplot
Exploited and marginalised by the communities around them, Zimbabwe’s San fight an uphill battle for survival
In May 2013, Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, caused controversy when he said the country’s San community, commonly known as Bushmen, had “a culture which (wa)s very resistant to change”. The Bushmen, he claimed, just wanted “look after cattle and be in the bush”.
Mugabe was speaking at the memorial service of former vice president John Nkomo, whose rural home, Tsholotsho, is in Matabeleland North, where a significant number of the San reside. Adding fuel to the fire, he said the San were “resisting education and efforts to make them more civilised”.
His comments were criticised by Zimbabweans, who maintain that the San community there is marginalised, disempowered and vulnerable. A visit to the San community’s Mgodimasili village, a settlement where about 200 people live, reveals that the community’s living conditions still lag behind those of other Zimbabwean communities and ethnic groups.
Villages exist on what they can get doing menial domestic jobs. Photo: Owen Gagare
The bulk of the San community in the village live in dilapidated thatch mud huts. They survive mostly on menial domestic jobs such as herding cattle, for which they are often paid very little, or only “in kind” with food. Most members of the community also do not have any identification papers. Yet only a few kilometres away the neighbouring village of Tjitatjawa – dominated by Ndebele speaking people – boasts neat houses with corrugated iron roofs. The unequal living conditions of the two communities could not be more stark, despite their close proximity.
In an age when most Zimbabweans are hooked on e-technologies, many members of the San community still cannot read or write. Some, especially the young, don’t know their own language, Tshwao, having been forced to adopt the languages of neighbouring communities. For thousands of years the San survived by hunting and gathering, but in the 1920s their lifestyle was disrupted when they were forced to move from their original territory in Hwange to make way for the Hwange National Park.
Their chances of survival have been limited by lack of education. Formal education is a new phenomenon among the Zimbabwe San. At present, some 248 San children attend Early Childhood Development classes up to Grade 2. This was not the San’s choice, villagers say, but due to government neglect. Siwatshi Moyo, a member of the San community, says that most community members are unemployed, and cannot afford to send their children to school.
“Most of us have no means to earn money,” he told Africa in Fact. “We cannot afford to pay fees, and that is why our kids spend the whole day roaming around doing nothing. The desire to send children to school is there but we do not have the ability.” He added that without education, most members of the community were caught in a cycle of poverty.
Madlela Maphosa, the village headman, said he wanted the government to build a school specifically for the San community in Tsholothso and ensure that enrolment was free. Many people from the community would be keen to take up such an opportunity. “The government can also provide us with jobs like building bridges and dams so that we can have money to pay fees.”
Mbuso Fuzwayo, a programme coordinator with Ibhetshu LikaZulu, a Bulawayo-based civic group, also believes that the government should offer the San free education. “The government should have a deliberate focus of trying to modernise the San; one way is to offer them free education,” Fuzwayo said. She added that the deficit in their socio-economic status was due to the San being “a smaller group of people in a bigger group of people (in) Matabeleland who have been marginalised”.
This year, the government opened a new primary school in Mgodimasili to cater for the San community. Previously, San schoolchildren had to travel more than 10 km to get to the only primary schools in the area, Butababili and Skente. But though there is now a school closer by, for many the problem of fees remains.
In February this year, Matabeleland North acting Provincial Education Director Jabulani Mpofu told public media that getting the community to pay fees was a challenge. Given the widespread reluctance to pay school fees, the government would have to consider an “advocacy” programme, he said. Many residents thought it “unnecessary” to pay fees, he told the media. “We need more stakeholders to assist us in such an advocacy programme.”
Mpofu was referring to stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations. Plan International Zimbabwe, an international NGO with regional and country offices, including Zimbabwe, helped to fund the construction of the school.
Davy Ndlovu, project manager with Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust, an independent organisation that conducts research on San culture, said the new school was “a vital step” in educating and empowering the San community in Tsholotsho. But, he added, other ways of funding schooling for the community would be necessary.
Mgodimasili village headman Madlela Maphosa Photo: Owen Gagare
“Most of the (community) are indeed vulnerable and cannot afford to pay fees,” he told Africa in Fact, “but at the same time, the school needs money to run effectively.” A statistical study conducted by the trust in 2013 revealed that a total of 96 San children were in school in the district. About 90% were in grades between 0 and 3, while about 10% of them proceeded as far as Grade 5. No San child had reached Grade 7, all of them having dropped out between Grades 3 and 5. According to the study, their reasons for dropping out of school included an inability to pay fees, a lack of food at home (which forced them to join their parents in hunting for food), lack of proper clothing, bullying and intimidation.
“The San in Zimbabwe have been neglected for a very long time,” Ndlovu said. “In Zimbabwe we have just two San community members who have completed their advanced levels. In other countries in the region, such as Botswana and Namibia, you find some members of the San community with masters degrees or doctorates, while here just five have managed to complete their ordinary levels.”
Most dropped out of school at primary school level, and most members of the San community say they have never attended school. Nkosiphakade Sibanda, a young San woman who I encountered carrying kindling, had only gone as far as Grade 2.
Members of the San community believe their neighbours are taking advantage of their abject poverty and hunger to exploit them. In many cases, San cattle herders are paid less than 100 South African rand per month.
“Those people (from neighbouring villages) cheat us. They treat us as slaves. It’s sometimes better to beg for food,” Artwell Moyo, a villager said. According to Maphosa, the village head, many of the San people’s problems are due to the fact that they have no one to represent them and protect their interests. “We are orphans,” he said.
Ndlovu agreed that communities neighbouring the San often took advantage of their softness to exploit them. “There are cases where members of the community have herded cattle for up to five years without being paid, on the understanding that they will be given a cow at the end of the period. But when the time arrives, the person chooses to disregard the agreement,” Ndlovu told Africa in Fact. “In most cases the San just walk away because they are not quarrelsome people.”
The 2013 Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust report, My Culture, My Pride: Reclaiming the Tjwa Cultural Identity, reveals that many San youths in Tsholotsho district also feel that they must hide their identity and gain acceptance as Ndebele or Kalanga (like the Ndebele, a group originally from South Africa). “This self-denial is a culmination of identity loss and is due to discrimination by their Ndebele and Kalanga neighbours, who also dominate local community leadership positions,” the report reads in part.
Most present-day San members speak Kalanga and Ndebele. A few older San still remember the Tshwao language but do not use it in their day-to-day interactions. Schools use Ndebele as the vernacular language of instruction and examination. Ndebele is the dominant vernacular in the district.
Although the new school in Tsholotsho is a step towards the San community’s empowerment, one gets the feeling they have a long way to go before they are truly empowered. Without education, the community’s cycle of poverty is likely to persist. At the same time, their language, Tshwao, is threatened with extinction. NGOs such as Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust are compiling records and writing books in an attempt to preserve the language. But the community will likely need government support for its language, too.
Perceptions that ethnic African cultures are primitive as measured against a western way of life are not supported by modern anthropology
Recently in Kenya, in a remote village deep in the western part of this East African nation, a young man aged 23 was discovered to have secretly married his teenage cousin.
In the Luhya community, where cousin is synonymous with sister, alarm bells went off immediately and the “couple” was subjected to a bizarre cleansing ritual that involved, among other things, stripping naked in public, sitting in a sheep’s punctured intestines and having a tortoise walk on their backs as they mocked a sexual act. The event received a lot of media attention; the ritual was the community’s cultural way of punishing and cleansing incestuous members.
According to Gregory Shaku, a village elder and custodian of culture among the Kabras people, a sub-clan of the larger Luhya tribe, incest – or sex between close relatives – is taboo. “If they are not cleansed through the tortoise ritual,” he said in a phone interview, “they will carry a generational curse and their lineage will not survive it. Their children will be dying or will turn out abnormal.”
The ritual, according to traditionalists, is part of this community’s norms and values, and would generally be referred to as a characteristic of African culture. But different communities across the continent have their own ways of dealing with incest and other vices.
Opinion is divided over whether indeed there is an African culture. As some argue, Africa is a collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of communities with their own unique cultures. So a more politically correct phrase, “cultures of Africa”, has emerged.
The diverse African cultures vary from one country to another, and also within countries. For instance, you could say that there is a Kenyan or a Nigerian culture or a South African culture. But within the various communities/tribes in each of these countries, you have the Maasai (Kenya), the Ibo (Nigeria) and the Zulu (South Africa), each living according to their culture. The culture of each ethnic group centres on its social setting and is depicted through a number of identities such as food, marriage, dress, art, music and oral literature.
Talk about African culture needs qualification, says Tom Odhiambo, a literature lecturer at the University of Nairobi. Basically, this means you have to specify the “Africanism” in it. “It’s pretty much the same way you would talk about the Kenyan culture to mean the Kenyan way of doing things. Yet Kenya has 42 tribes and 85 speech communities, each with their respective unique cultures,” Odhiambo told Africa in Fact. “African culture”, in his view, is a generic term representing the various landscapes of African experience.
Throughout Africa, people speak a variety of languages, practise numerous religions, dress differently, have unique cuisine and live in various types of dwellings. The unique customs of African ethnic groups are woven into their cultures in a tapestry that’s every bit as colourful and diverse as the people themselves. It is this conglomeration that many call African culture.
Africa is inhabited by various ethnic nationalities with different languages, modes of dressing, eating, dancing and even greeting habits, agrees Gabriel E. Idang of the department of philosophy at the University of Uyo in Nigeria. “But in spite of their various cultures, Africans do share some dominant traits in their belief systems and have similar values that mark them out from other peoples of the world,” he wrote in a 2015 paper on African cultures, African Culture and Values. “A Nigerian culture, for instance, would be closer to, say, a Ghanaian culture on certain cultural parameters than it would be to the oriental culture of the eastern world, or the western culture of Europe.”
These dominant traits could be said to form a continental culture, or as Odhiambo says, an “Africanist” culture. Anthropologists also say the different cultures found among people living on the continent have some Africanness about them that qualifies them together and separately as African culture. The trick is turning this diversity into a strength, says Godfrey Kipsisei, an authoritative voice on Kenyan culture, who teaches at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Anthropology and African studies.
He points out that perceptions that ethnic African cultures are primitive as measured against a western way of life are not supported by modern anthropology. But Africa’s rich tapestry of cultures is being eroded by the influence of the West, which kills local languages and destroys political systems. This annihilation is based on the belief perpetuated by western powers that African cultures are primitive and thus need civilisation.
“Primitive on which basis? Africans have been served by their cultures effectively for centuries.” In Uganda, for instance, Kipsisei says, traditional doctors were performing surgeries way before so-called modern European medicine arrived there through Egypt.
But scholars and traditionalists can also agree that change is as inevitable as it is in the natural world. As Idang also wrote in African Culture and Values: “Many cultures around the continent are now taking on a more western feel. Indeed, culture needs to change; (that) which wants to remain static and resistant to change would not be a living culture.” All cultures, he says, are carried by people, and people do change their social patterns and institutions, beliefs and values and even skills and tools of work. “A culture cannot but be an adaptive system,” he concludes.
Globalisation and the rise of Internet technology and mobile communication are forcing African cultures to adopt new lifestyles, even when it hasn’t been easy to do. “The flag follows the cross,” says Kipsisei. “Cultures with stronger political and economic muscle have obviously heavily influenced African cultures since colonial times, while Africa has influenced them in a very small way.”
Over the centuries, African cultural systems have encountered different cultures from around the world. Arabs crossed into North Africa from the Middle East during the 7th century AD, bringing with them the religion of Islam. Europeans began settling in the southern portion of the continent in the mid-17th century. So did South Asians at a somewhat later date; they settled mainly in the areas of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
Nevertheless, despite these arrivals – or incursions, depending on how you see them – African cultures and traditional African customs remain mostly intact around the continent. In Africa, cultures have been closely tied to their languages, but even this is changing. “The Suba in western Kenya speak Dholuo language after being assimilated by the Luos, but they still identify themselves as Suba,” says Kipsisei. “Even Africans who speak only foreign languages will retain their ancestral identities.”
Modernity is seen to be more influential in Africa’s urban centres, while people in rural areas still hold on to their cultures, though with some losses and gains. In outline, the pattern here is that they adopt certain values and norms from other societies while dropping parts of their own cultures that have outlived their usefulness. Female circumcision as practised by a number of tribes in Kenya has “dropped off naturally”, for instance, Kipsisei says. Other aspects of culture that are being abandoned include child marriage, nomadism and the inheritance of a wife from a dead male relative.
The persistence of Africa’s many local or ethnic cultures can contribute both to their internal cohesion and to their capacity to integrate with the wider world. “These different cultures tend to create a balance in social, economic and even political spheres,” says Kipsisei. The existence of a range of ethnic groups in African countries “encourages negotiation and building of coalitions or alliances,” he argues. “Countries with fewer tribes always have issues. In Rwanda, where there are two dominant groups – Hutu and Tutsi – the divide was so huge that it led to the genocide. The Somali speak more or less the same language, yet they have been fighting for years.”
All said, the positive dimensions of Africa’s cultures – from unity and nature conservation to arts, dance and activities that inspire happiness – show that they can be innovative and instrumentally beneficial by stimulating development in society.