Botswanan Sakhile Reiling (left) became Air Botswana’s first female pilot
African women are world leaders when it comes to taking top jobs in the aviation industry
In December 2017, a Boeing 777 made African history when it flew five hours from Addis Ababa to Lagos, Nigeria with an all-female crew. Captain Amsale Gualu piloted the plane, with the help of women cabin crew, check-in attendants, flight dispatchers and ground staff. Captain Gualu told the world media on landing: “This flight shows us that if women get equal opportunities and work hard, I’m sure they can achieve whatever they want in all fields, including the aviation industry.”
Two years earlier, Air Zimbabwe flew an all-female domestic flight, making pilots Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Petros the first female pilots to fly internally on Air Zimbabwe. The women took to social media: “History has been made! First all female flight deck crew on the Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737!”and “Two CAPTAINS!! #FLYBABES. #PaintingTheSkyPink!”.
These women-only flights were no accident; both airlines were making a point, pushing an agenda to encourage African women to think about the career possibilities available to them within the heavily male-dominated aviation industry. Women in aviation around the world make up at least 50% of personnel – mostly as cabin and ground crew. This figure dips dramatically as positions become more senior.
Figures recorded by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show that less than 5% of airline CEOs are women. The figure for female pilots falls to between 3-5% worldwide. Women are less represented in aviation than in any other industry. But, not in Africa. An IATA meeting in Sydney in June this year announced that African airlines, and the aviation industry on the African continent, are bucking this trend.
Air Namibia’s acting managing director, Mandi Samson, told the conference that her airline had four top management positions filled by women. “For once, Africa is leading in something,” she said.
Samson is correct. In South Africa, for example, women hold significant positions. Poppy Khoza leads the critically important SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) as its CEO, while Zuks Ramasia is general manager of operations at South African Airways (SAA). And it is now 20 years since Asnath Mahapa made history in 1988 by becoming South Africa’s first female African pilot.
But success has not come easily for the women at the top. For Mahapa, flight school came with challenges, and she remembers being “the only woman in my class and I had to work ten times harder than the men”. Since then, while the global average of women captaining aircraft stands at around 5%, the actual number of female pilots in South Africa is in the double digits. And the number of black female pilots is steadily growing across Africa, much more quickly than in the rest of the world.
The number of women in senior positions in the aviation industry in Africa has impressed the airline industry sufficiently to ensure that they are constantly called on to give motivational speeches or talk to aviation conferences.
Siza Mzimela is the recently appointed interim CEO of South African airline SA Express. She also has the distinction of being the first black woman in South Africa to start and own an airline, Fly Blue Crane. (The airline is no longer operating. It was suspended by IATA in September 2017 and bankruptcy proceedings are under way).
However, Mzimela’s list of accolades includes being the first black executive vice president of SAA as well as the first woman to make it onto the IATA board. Mzimela is not surprised that Africa ranks as having the largest number of women within the global aviation industry. But she points out that the numbers are coming off a ridiculously low base.
“There might be more women engaged in aviation on the African continent, including here in South Africa,” she told Africa in Fact, “but make no mistake; it’s the toughest environment for women and we have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts to prove ourselves. It is still challenging for women, and there is vast room for improvement. We need more women pilots and technicians and women in key organisational positions.”
Mzimela believes that the reason South African women in aviation have had more success than their global sisters is due to race rather than gender bias.
“When men have to promote someone, they choose one of their own,” she said. “Fortunately, and unfortunately, black men did not automatically come through as pilots. It was the preserve of white men for a long time and black men and black women were equally disadvantaged. We, therefore, are on a fairly equal footing regarding entry into the aviation field, and therefore we have a better chance of getting into the industry.”
Mzimela points out, however, that while 50% of South Africans are women, the number of CEOs and captains of industry does not reflect that split. “We need an aviation policy to correct the imbalances of the past. In this industry, there is a low turnover of pilots – nobody leaves until they retire. That has meant that transformation will take longer because it will take longer for pilots to work their way up the chain of seniority.”
Khoza notes that an “overdue dialogue” to improve the numbers of women in the African aviation industry has begun. “This assertion was corroborated by women from various corners of the world during discussions at the first-ever Global Aviation Gender Summit hosted by SACAA,” she told Africa in Fact.
“Close to 500 top-ranking represen- tatives of the aviation industry – including airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airports, as well as governments from across the world – gathered in Cape Town in August  to chart a new path that will bring about meaningful gender transformation and equality in aviation.”
“From our discussions,” Khoza said, “we heard that the challenges of a female aviator in Chile are the same as those faced by a female aviator in China. It was encouraging to note that everyone at the summit agreed that the status quo cannot continue unchallenged. In South Africa, in particular, we are witnessing some improvement, even though women still constitute less than 10% of aviation technical personnel.’’
More young women, Khoza insists, have to join the ranks of other pioneers who “trounced gender and racial stereotypes to make it in the aviation industry. We do have success stories and each one of them deserves recognition and acknowledgement.”
Refilwe Ledwaba is one of those success stories. She is a pilot, a flight instructor, and the first black woman in South Africa to fly helicopters. In 2009, she also started a non-profit organisation for young women in the SADC countries, Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace Industry (SAWIA). “I wanted to ensure that the aviation industry provided a platform for women to grow, to find mentorship and guidance and to fund the opportunities for young women who wish to join the sector in the future.”
Ledwaba introduced the Girl Fly Programme in Africa, aimed specifically at high school girls. The non-profit organisation, endorsed by the SACAA, has an informal database of about 1,000 members from all over the Southern African Development Community (SADC). “I’m passionate about the development of women, which is why I saw the need for such an organisation,” Ledwaba told Africa in Fact.
It all started when, on a flight to Cape Town, she heard the woman piloting the plane, Captain Margaret Viljoen, say: “This is your captain speaking”. “Until then, I had not even considered that a woman could fly a plane!” she said.
Botswanan Sakhile Reiling, who became Air Botswana’s first female pilot back in 1988, now describes herself as “an aviation consultant (with Saxon Wings Aviation Consultants) as well as an aviation safety auditor currently involved with a number of significant clients around the world. I travel to where the work is.” Reiling’s career includes two years spent as CEO at Botswana Air and five years in senior management positions at Comair. She also spent time as the GM of Air Safety Operations at SACAA and spent five years in senior managerial posts at SA Express Airways.
“Africa has made significant progress in ensuring that women are not overlooked for aviation-related jobs,” she told Africa in Fact. “However, more still needs to be done to dismantle legacy practices that continue to hamper growth. For example, support is required at policy level to mandate current industry players to play greater roles in accepting women within their various organisations.”
Reiling agrees with other female aviation executives that young women must be exposed from an earlier age to the possibilities of an aviation career. “Many do not realise that they too could enter the aviation industry and contribute in an important way,” she said.
Zuks Ramasia, GM of operations at SAA, believes it is up to women to help women in aviation.
“In aviation, most opportunities for women in meaningful management echelons are still determined mainly by men since there are few women in senior roles to influence and motivate women in junior positions across the value chain,” she told Africa in Fact. She blames the high attrition rate on the promotion limitations placed on women with potential.
“We, the women in influential positions, need to mentor and coach women, challenge the status quo and not be deterred by the men in office who often pretend we do not exist.”
“As women in the industry we need to stand together to promote awareness, to develop, to nurture, to celebrate and to empower women in our industry, starting by shaping young minds at school.”
Khoza points out her success rate at helping achieve parity. “In the organisation that I lead, when I took over, the executive management committee was male dominated. Five years later, 50% of the executive is female and black. It starts at grassroots level.”
SACAA funds the training of young South Africans, especially female students from economically deprived households, who want to become aviators.
“Transformation is not a responsibility of government and regulators such as the SACAA only,” Khoza said, “but a collective responsibility of all, including the business sector. Transformation is a moral obligation and a human rights issue that should not be limited to race only but extended to gender and business opportunities.”
Stereotyping, she said, is the hardest challenge that women face in aviation, “coupled with unconscious bias”.
“The picture that people imagine of a pilot is not likely to be that of a Captain Boitumelo or Fatima in the cockpit. Our young girls cannot picture themselves following in the footsteps of women pioneers in the aviation sector primarily because aviation is still seen as a preserve for men.
“What then becomes important is the socialisation of young girls, to instill a belief that they can be anything they want to be. We need to move away from creating a mindset of categorising industries based based on gender.
Young girls can be aeronautical engineers, they can be air-traffic controllers, they can successfully pilot any aircraft of their choice. However, the limiting mindset, which we instill in them at a young age, only perpetuates the stereotypes, which we must demystify.”
In 2017, 26-year-old Second Lieutenant Thokozile Muwamba broke another glass ceiling when she became Zambia’s first female fighter pilot. She told the BBC her ambition was to become the first female Zambian air force commander. “Wow, to be in the air… it feels… it’s wonderful,” she told the broadcaster then. “You feel like you don’t want to come back onto the ground.”
Muwamba joined the military in 2012 and was chosen to be part of a Zambian airforce programme specifically designed to shift the gender bias towards men.
She told the Times of Zambia: “Women should begin to participate and realise their abilities. Because I understand this, I am ready to undertake this task ahead of me.”
And she is not the only woman who’s taken to the skies as part of her country’s airforce. Lieutenant Ouma Laouali, 31, became Niger’s first female pilot in 2015. As a member of the Nigerien airforce, she was trained by the United States to help in the fight against the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
The women who are important in Africa’s aviation industry are clearly united in what they see as the way forward: expose young women to the world of flying and work tirelessly to reverse the stereotyping that has discouraged young women from taking flight, accompanied by policies to facilitate transformation.
African food entrepreneurs need government support to protect the value of their heritage products
When it comes to international food fashion, Africa is the new Asia. So, say über-influential, absurdly chic London food design studio Bompas & Parr. Their 2018 report, The Imminent Future of Food, predicts that internationally the “obsession with food from Asian countries will dwindle in favour of African cuisine because (Africa) is arguably the main remaining world food culture left to be adopted, adapted and commercialised.
“Bompas & Parr has already worked on African-focused projects for European commercial clients which reveal starkly different flavours, consumer expectations and notions of hospitality,” the report continues. “At our bar, Alcoholic Architecture, we also hosted sell-out special events incorporating Ghanaian bitters in cocktails, revealing a profound curiosity on the part of consumers for new tastes and flavours. This is just the start.”
Traditional Ethiopian dish consisting of a meat, vegetables, grains, rice and served with pancake-like injera.
The continent is also suddenly super-food central, with the worldwide wellness blogger brigade ditching last year’s chia seeds and turmeric in favour of African indigenous ingredients such as baobab and marula. Confusingly, the American actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who runs lifestyle brand and website Goop, has recently referred to both sorghum and fonio as “the new quinoa”. Since both are gluten-free, low GI, African ancient grains it is all much of a muchness as regards nutritional value – though both taste significantly better than South American quinoa.
The hipster health nuts and the foodie fashionistas aren’t wrong to recognise value in African cuisines. They offer a plethora of fine flavours, from the aromatic cumin and cinnamon infused lamb tagines of Morocco to the generous peanut and ginger joys of Ghanaian hkatenkwan chicken and on into the comforting floral flavours of a Congolese cassava kwanga bread. Interesting ingredients abound, including the rich, soured splendours of South African amasi curds and the berbere-spiced grace of an Ethiopian wot pot.
What is unsavoury is the implication that the continent’s deliciously diverse time-honoured epicurean expressions of identity exist to be “adopted, adapted and commercialised” as transient novelties in northern cosmopoles. Try adopting, adapting and commercialising a regional French food without so much as a by your leave! You’ll quickly find yourself slapped with a geographical denomination suit.
Tangible and intangible benefits can and should accrue to all sectors of African society by way of the continent’s “new Asia” status. But it is also possible that the trend will become yet another round of cultural appropriation, bio-prospecting and/or piracy. To prevent such a situation, African food entrepreneurs are attempting to take the lead in curating the commercialisation of their continent’s cuisine at home and abroad.
Turning food culture into economic value for Africans is especially important given that the Food and Agricultural Organisation reported that in 2017 there were 224 million under-nourished people in sub-Saharan Africa. On this score alone it would be morally repugnant if the fashion for African food further exploited and impoverished the continent’s culinary cultures.
Currently, the global fine-dining world is focusing on heritage flavours reimagined to delight modern palates. This trend is as true in the New Nordic cuisine of René Redzepi, chef-patron of two-Michelin star Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, as it is in the work of Pierre Thiam, executive chef of the contemporary African restaurant Nok by Alara in Lagos, Nigeria.
Nok, located within a bespoke building designed by Ghanaian-British architectural superstar David Adjaye, serves a signature starter of ofada rice balls sauced with egusi (wild gourd seed pesto) and ndole (bitter, leaf salsa). At Epicure – Johannesburg’s culinary kingdom of Afro-optimistic elegance – Burundian-born chef/patron Coco Reinarhz engages in an exquisite ancient-to-modern culinary dialogue that includes a plate of fried plantain aloko topped with a swirl of tuile biscuit and a quenelle of ruby bissap rouge (hibiscus) sorbet.
This style of cooking often requires relatively rare traditional ingredients and indigenous knowledge. Chefs often have to seek out and commission such crops from relatively isolated, traditional subsistence farming and foraging communities, many of whom exist on the fringe of the cash economy. In so doing, they create and maintain profitable markets for otherwise endangered heritage foods, and go some way to promoting biodiversity and supporting indigenous agricultural and culinary knowledge.
This is as true for Brazilian Chef Alex Atala, who uses Amazonian ingredients at DOM, his Sāo Paulo restaurant; Atala won the Chef’s Choice award at the 2014 S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2014. It’s also true of Paternoster, where South African chef Kobus Van der Merwe creates perfect plates, such as maasbanker bokkom and pear salad with ice plant, dune spinach and sea lettuce tossed in pickled ginger, celery and almonds.
Executive Chef Pierre Thiam. Photo: supplied
Ivorian entrepreneur Swaady Martin, CEO of Yswara fine African tea, describes her business model as “luxe ubuntu”. A recent winner of a Brand Africa award, she processes and blends African heritage ingredients sourced from fair-trade growers, using equipment commissioned and manufactured in Africa. She says, “luxe ubuntu describes the concept of an inclusive luxury business model in which all the members of a supply chain are beneficiaries of the economic value generated. We are committed to reversing the commodity trap by keeping the value add in Africa.”
Martin, who opened her flagship store at the Cosmopolitan Building in Maboneng, Johannesburg in September 2017, has concluded deals with Selfridges in the UK and Galeries Lafayette in France. Such international links not only provide tangible benefits of export earnings and profit repatriation, but also play a role in distancing Africa from hitherto commonplace negative stereotypes by encouraging desirable associations with elegant, world-class wonderful artisan offerings.
Some government interest and assistance could further promote such image improvements. In Peru, government promotion of regionally specific, high-end heritage cuisine, and the restaurants that serve it, brought significant economic benefits. Until recently, for instance, tourists commonly considered Lima to be a kidnap risk and begrudged the stopover on the way to Machu Picchu. It is now a “must-visit” food experience destination, with five restaurants in the top 50 of the S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list. Similarly, the Mexican government has promoted the country as a culinary destination and inscribed Aztec food culture in the UNESCO-administered list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
How is it that the government of Mozambique has not applied for piri piri to be classified as such? This classic southern African sauce/seasoning is increasingly popular worldwide with an appreciative audience – most of whom have no notion that their favourite flavour originates in the Afro-Lusitanian fusion food culture of Maputo. Meanwhile, the “peri peri” (sic) potato chips sold all over the US are an inferior interpretation that undermines the value of authentic piri piri and may limit the long-term potential for Mozambican food entrepreneurs to create a food tourism industry around their fiery birthright.
Burundian-born Coco Reinarhz, chef/patron of Epicure in Johannesburg. Photo: Clinton Nortje
Real Mozambican piri piri is made from an African Landrace chilli, according to a regionally specific recipe. It would, therefore, be an ideal candidate for an international Geographical Indicator (GI), which would protect the value that resides within such heritage. Currently, the European Union (EU) has registered more than 837 GI-recognised products, including Cheddar cheese, Parma ham and Rioja wine. Following World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute resolution proceedings, the EU was forced to amend its GI legislation to recognise third-country GIs.
It is now possible for producers from non-European countries to register GIs under EU Regulation 510/2006, provided the GI is protected in its country of origin. Colombian coffee was the first product from a developing country to be granted such GI by the EU. With Europe being a major export market for many developing world products, this law affords producers a valuable opportunity to protect their GIs throughout the EU member countries by submitting a single application.
GI applications under the EU system require detailed documentation on the product’s specificity and link with the territory. To date, the only African products registered with the EU GI are Rooibos, Honey bush, Karoo lamb and Essourian argan oil. Yet African governments neglect to protect foodstuffs in their own jurisdictions, while they hamper food entrepreneurs’ ability to put a premium value on their intangible cultural heritage at export.
The world is waking up to the beauty of African cuisines. Recognition is all well and good. A share in the tangible and intangible value of such food cultures for the people from whence they come would be better. A culinary coalition is required to make this a reality.
African restaurateurs and other food producers are increasingly creating partnerships, upstream with suppliers and downstream with end users. What they lack is sufficient governmental support and respect. A trend is transient. African epicurean entrepreneurs must campaign for a permanent seat at the table of great world food cultures. As we saw earlier, this would be just the start.
Many in the music industry believe African music to be the source of most of the music we hear today
African music is as diverse and broad as the continent itself, with thousands of musical styles ranging from North African, with its strong Arab and Islamic influences, to that of the west, central and sub-Saharan regions of Africa. Along with indigenous instruments and traditional forms, there are modern variations, countless interpretations and a multitude of crossovers; and it’s clear that African music is not simply confined to the continent.
Actually, many in the industry consider African music to be the source of most, if not all of the music we hear today. While this is difficult to prove, it’s clear that African music has had a massive impact on contemporary music and that many significant styles of the past two centuries are rooted in the Motherland.
Balaphonics combines West African rhythms with western brass sections Photo: supplied.
Solomon Linda’s Mbube, also known as Wimoweh and The Lion Sleeps Tonight, for instance, is one of the most covered songs of all time. Composed by Linda, a Zulu migrant worker, and first recorded in 1939, this song has traversed oceans and been reinterpreted by an unexpected array of artists. Interestingly, it’s because of Henri Salvador’s 1962 version, Le Lion est Mort ce Soir, that many people in France today are still under the misconception that this South African classic is authentically French.
In the 1960’s, South African artists like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela made their mark in Europe and the US, bringing African music to western audiences. Makeba was among the first African musicians to receive worldwide recognition, and Masekela made an indelible print on the evolution of American jazz.
In 1972, Paris-based Cameroonian artist Manu Dibango recorded Soul Makossa and a year later, after being picked up by some New York DJs, it became a worldwide dance-floor hit, and the first disco song ever to make the Billboard Top 40. Decades later, the song’s catchy rhythmic chant, Mama-ko, mama-sa, maka-mako-sa was appropriated by two major pop artists – first appearing in Michael Jackson’s 1993 hit Wanna be Starting Something and later Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music.
Decades on, Linda’s estate is also finally the beneficiary of royalty payments after a campaign by veteran South African journalist Rian Malan. And following a lawsuit, Dibango is also one of the few artists of African origin to ever reach such a settlement.
Soul Makossa may have sparked the disco movement, but ultimately its groove is pure funk. This is confirmed by the bassist Idris Badarou, a seasoned session musician who’s played with the best – working with funk masters like Fred Wesley and touring the world and recording with contemporary African stars like Nigeria’s Femi Kuti and currently Algerian superstar Rachid Taha.
Born of Beninese parents, Badarou spent his formative years in what was then Dahomey, but has lived most of his life in France. He describes himself “as a true Parisian, but I’m also an African”.
“We’re all influenced by music from other continents,” he told me in an interview in Paris. Working with many of the giants of African music, he insists, is first of all about making music. “We’re just making music. If it comes to the African music then it’s African music, but at first we’re just making music!”
Funk, Badarou says, is essentially African music. “That’s how I got hooked on funk, because when I first heard the funk groove, that’s when I heard African music.” He credits James Brown for launching funk in 1971 with Sex Machine. Later in his life, after he met Bootsy Collins, who became his mentor, he learned that these typically funky basslines emerged when Bootsy had come back from a tour to Nigeria with James Brown.
Right: Tony Allen, 78, creator of Afrobeat drumming, found international fame with Fela Kuti in the 1970s. Today he is still playing and is honoured as one of the great innovators in 20th century rhythm. Photo: Bernard Benant
Bootsy had spent time at Fela Kuti’s legendary venue, The Shrine, in Lagos, Nigeria, which is where, according to Badarou, he learned the style he, Badarou, describes as “stretching out in the rubber band”. “Bootsy’s baselines were really African – because of the groove. For me, funk was African music.”
The 1970s also saw groups such as the Senegalese family band Touré Kunda settle in Paris. Singing in different languages to reflect the multicultural mix of the people of their region, Casamance, they released their debut album in 1979, which was the first of many that went gold. “When we arrived, we started listening to different music – French music, South African music inspired by Miriam Makeba,” says one of the Touré Kunda brothers, Sixu Tidiane Touré. “So we thought we could use our folk music and we started to work on our repertoire from Casamance, to play our own music.
“It was the first time that African people living in France had seen African people play in their own language in the country of Victor Hugo,” says Touré. Credited with transforming the perception of African music in Europe, they were soon noticed and invited to collaborate by the likes of Talking Heads and Carlos Santana – who, incidentally joined them again recently, on a salsa remake of their hit Emma as featured on their new 2018 album, Lambi Golo.
The 1980s also saw the rise of artists such as Senegalese superstar Youssou N’dour, Salif Keita (the “golden voice of Mali”), and “world music” initiatives such as Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio and label. In 1987, the Guinean singer Mory Kanté released Yeke Yeke as a single from his third studio album, Akwaba Beach. The song was an instant hit, reaching number one on the European charts in 1988, and becoming the first African album to sell over a million copies internationally.
African music had always flourished on its own ground, but with increasing globalisation it began to expand beyond its previously regionalised presence. In the late 1980s, the term “world music” was established as an industry category. While many differ as to the source of this ridiculously broad global genre, some saw it as a derogatory way of subjugating all music from non-western cultures. Yet ironically, its strength and longevity lies in its vagueness.
Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal is one such critical voice. He has been widely quoted as saying, “I think that African music must get more respect than to be put in a ghetto like that. We have something to give to others. When you look to how African music is built, when you understand this kind of music, you can understand that a lot of modern music that you are hearing in the world has similarities to African music. It’s the origin of a lot of kinds of music.”
With a large immigrant community and the world-music boom of the 90s, Paris became the international centre of African music. And although the digital era is affecting the way we consume music, this city remains the global epicentre of African music. As we have seen, African artists have had huge commercial success in recent years – but it is usually through their collaborations with big names from the US or Europe.
With over 35 million albums sold worldwide, Senegalese-American Akon, sits solidly at number one on the Forbes Africa’s 2017 list of the top 10 most bankable artists on the continent. Some critics question whether the music from artists like him is really African. What does that mean? For me, and beyond the hype, distinctively African music has an underlying pulse that sustains and remains, even when times are tough. Only a handful can ever become superstars.
The sounds of African music have inspired maestros and music makers across the globe. Consider Afrobeat, the musical genre that originated in the 1960s as a blend of Ghanaian highlife, Nigerian Fuji music, with American funk and jazz influences.
Percussion-driven, with complex polyrhythms and vocal chants, the style was made famous by Nigeria’s outspoken musical activist, the saxophonist Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Fela Kuti, who saw himself as a messenger who used music as a means of advocating for social change, was undoubtedly Afrobeat’s frontman. But it was the inimitable drummer Tony Allen who put the distinctive beat in the Afrobeat sound. Fela Kuti died in 1997, but Paris-based Allen is as prolific and energetic as ever. He continues to influence contemporary musicians and performs with a mastery that satisfies jazz purists and a dynamism that captivates youthful audiences. Recently, in June this year, he played to a packed house as part of the Paris New York Heritage Festival. With two distinct sets – the first a jazz tribute to Art Blakey and the second a solid Afrobeat excursion – he proved that at the age of 78 one can still be progressive and relevant.
More than half a century later, the Afrobeat sound, deemed “underground” for so long, lives on stronger than ever. Fela Kuti’s legacy has been immortalised on Broadway in Fela!, a musical about his controversial life, a creative contribution that celebrates his pioneering blend of jazz, funk and traditional African rhythms. Today Afrobeat is bigger than ever, with groups on every continent and artists from even the most unexpected countries.
Along with all this, recent years have seen the integration of Ethiopian music into the cultural landscape of Paris. Two groups worth mentioning in this regard are Akalé Wubé and Arat Kilo; both groups began, independently, about 10 years ago. Initiated by young French musicians, they found inspiration in the “golden age of Ethio-groove”, with its big-band sound, horn sections and vocal arrangements. Akalé Wubé started by covering music from the Éthiopiques series – an archival collection of compilations initiated in 1997 and released by the Paris-based record label Buda Musiqualso – but also drew from the pop idiom of the 1960s and 1970s. Immersed in Ethiopian music, the band increasingly explored collaborations with musicians and dancers from the rest of Africa and Europe, performing over 200 concerts in Europe, Asia and Africa over the past decade.
Significantly, the band collaborated with Girma Bèyènè in the latest release of this series with the 2017 album Girma Bèyènè & Akalé Wubé – Éthiopiques 30: Mistakes On Purpose. An Ethiopian legend but almost forgotten, Bèyènè hadn’t performed for over 25 years, and the collaboration began when the group invited him to perform a song at their monthly residency, L’Hermitage. Founding member of Akalé Wubé Etienne de la Sayette told me that it was “a very emotional experience”, which sparked more performances.
With the help of Francis Falceto, the producer of the Éthiopiques series, they collected all of Bèyènè’s songs, some of them live recordings, which Akalé Wubé adapted for this album. The living legend had never released as a solo artist. “I was born again because of you,” he told the band. The collaborating musicians have had successful shows in Ethiopia as well. “We are proud to play this music, but what’s important isn’t to do it like others, but to do it your [own] way,” De la Sayette told me. “We are French, we do it our way.”
Fabien Girard and Samuel Hirsch, of the group Arat Kilo, originally connected through their common love of Ethiopian music. They drew inspiration from the “swinging Addis seventies”, referenced “the grandfather of Ethio-jazz”, the veteran multi-instrumentalist Mulatu Astatke, and explored the specific structure of Ethiopian music scales. Over the years, they’ve increasingly integrated West African, Afrobeat, funk and hip hop elements into their blend of Ethiopian groove. For their latest album, Visions of Selam, they’ve join forces with Boston hip hop artist Mike Ladd and Malian songstress Mamani Keita.
While they focus on touring with Arat Kilo, both founding members also have other projects rooted in African music. For Girard, it’s playing balafon (a traditional wooden xylophone) with Balaphonics – an outfit that combines West African rhythms with western brass sections. Hirsch, meanwhile, is a member of the Bim Bam Orchestra, a 15-piece collective that combines Fela’s Afrobeat with jazz, hip hop, ragga and Caribbean rhythms. “There is a whole big family in Paris,” says Hirsch, “musicians that play African music, mixing it with music from around the world.”
Other groups such as Abdul and the Gang borrow from the east, combining Morocco’s Maghreb and Chaabi melodies in a blend of Afrobeat groove, which they call Gnawa funk. Likewise, the Lyon-based group Super Gombo infuse their Afrobeat sound with jazz, Senegalese mbalax and other West African elements.
Such cross-cultural integration is nothing new in Europe, but some say that the approach fell short in the past, with not enough appreciation of the authenticity of sources. But in my view, the current wave of cross-cultural work does aim at an inherent understanding of the African music from which it gains inspiration. This authenticity can be attributed to the African presence in France, and as Hirsch explains: “We live alongside people coming from Africa everyday, everywhere in Paris and we love it.”
He points to a Parisian tradition of mixing music from Africa. “Radio Nova has been doing it for about 30 years now, so there’s a tradition. We have it in our blood. We’ve been listening to African music since we were little, so it comes to us naturally.” Indeed, Hirsch insists that his band makes typically Parisian music, “a new kind of folk music, mixing African music with other music”.
Aside from Afrobeat, Paris’s electro scene is also growing, with DJs and producers more informed and better equipped to authentically interpret the ancient future. Styles such as Afro house, tribal house and ancestral, previously underground, are now reaching new generations across the globe. Moreover, Africa was the focus of this year’s biggest international music conference, Midem, in Cannes, in June. That affirmed the influence of African music on the international scene today. As Hugh Masekela is reputed to have said: “I’ve got to where I am in life not because of something I brought to the world but through something I found – the wealth of African culture.”
Recent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers are prompting some African countries such as Nigeria to seek to curtail the Fulani’s ancient itinerant culture
As a boy growing up in rural Taraba state in north-east Nigeria, Mohammed Bello recalls roaming the bushes with his father in search of fodder for the family’s herd of cattle. Each day, Bello and his brothers started the morning by checking the animals for ticks, before trekking distances to feed them.
For centuries, people of the Fulani have befriended and sometimes even settled into the communities through which they herd their livestock. In communities they visited, locals allowed their animals to feed on leftover millet husks in harvested farmlands; meanwhile, the herders kept off farms that had crops. The system benefited both groups as the farmers used the animals’ dung as manure.
“To an average person, the cow is meat; but to a Fulani man, the cow is his culture, the cow is his history and the cow is his identity,” Bello, a former secretary-general of the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organisations in Africa, told Africa in Fact.
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, had 270 cattle on his farm when he came to power in 2015.
Across Africa, that culture is increasingly being rejected. The camaraderie between migrant herders and indigenous communities has largely faded. Instead, conflict over resources such as land and water has fuelled deadly clashes between both groups. In the first half of 2018, at least 1,300 people were killed in Nigeria in violence linked to armed herders, the International Crisis Group said in July. Similar killings have occurred in other West African countries like Ghana, Mali and Ivory Coast.
With violence growing and environments changing, some African countries such as Nigeria are seeking to curtail nomadic cattle husbandry and in doing so reshape one of the continent’s oldest cultures. Nigeria’s federal government has proposed ranching to allow pastoralists to feed their livestock without having to migrate. In some states – such as north-central Benue, worst hit by the violence – laws banning open grazing and herd migration have been enacted. In Ghana, open grazing is banned countrywide, and the government has shown willingness to enforce the ban.
Some critical voices have denounced such bans as an attack on an ancient culture that brought a range of ethnic groups into regular contact. “These laws are oppressive and negative and are fundamentally against our culture as Fulani pastoralists,” Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper quoted the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, an influential group promoting the welfare of Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria, as saying in June.
The Fulani’s nomadic pastoralist lifestyle goes back more than a thousand years, says Sadiq Radda, a professor of sociology at Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria. The culture has always been centred on raising livestock – mostly cattle, sheep and goats. Originally located in the Sahel, the Fulani migrated southwards over several centuries leading up to 1900 in search of pastures for their herds and settlements for their families. As they wandered, they and their culture spread to various parts of west and central Africa.
According to the Combating Terrorism Center, an academic institution at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, about 75% of the estimated 25 million Fulani continue to follow the traditional semi-nomadic, cattle-rearing lifestyle. With populations growing and available land declining, their lifestyle is bringing them into conflict with settled farmers. In Nigeria in particular, the seasonal migratory pastoralism flourished for decades and brought groups of variant cultures together. The Fulani learnt crop farming from their hosts, while local communities adopted aspects of pastoralism, with the exchanges enhancing communal peace.
“The Fulani nomadic culture has been tremendously affected by cultures (it has) met. (It) ha(s) also affected other cultures,” Tukur Muhammad-Baba, an expert in the culture and professor of sociology at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria, told Africa in Fact. According to Muhammad-Baba, who has extensively studied the Fulani nomadic culture, that relationship created a “cultural infusion” in Nigeria’s north and middle belt.
In rural Taraba, where Bello grew up, his father and other herders would first send out scouts to neighbouring and distant communities to search for grasses for the cows – and, importantly, to check that they would be welcome. Where they had positive feedback, relationships with local communities were explored, and with that often came friendship. For the Fulani, the driving force was the welfare of their livestock. “The Fulani man does not want the land, he only wants the grass for his cattle,” says Bello, who now works at Nigeria’s Federal Character office in Abuja.
Fulani cattle herded through the streets of Abuja, Nigeria. Photo: Ini Ekott
When he was still a boy, a Fulani male was regarded as wealthy only if he owned at least 100 cows, Bello said; when his father died, he left at least 500 cattle. Despite the greater availability of education since then, a Fulani man’s wealth is still measured by the number of cows he owns. (When President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, came to power in 2015, his office said his farm had 270 cattle. Under public pressure, he released some details concerning his assets when he took office, but has refused to provide further information since.) “People think it is a backward culture, but to the average Fulani the size of his herd determines his status in the community,” Bello said. “If you don’t (own) a cow, nobody knows you.”
In recent years, climate change, urbanisation, and population growth have created a toxic blend that has turned herders and farmers against each other. Confrontations over damaged crops or stolen cows are typically followed by violence and reprisal attacks. In its July report, the International Crisis Group said violence linked to armed herders in Nigeria was six times deadlier than attacks by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
The government says it is serious about ending the incessant conflicts and reforming the nomadic culture. It’s a problem that has defied multiple administrations since the end of military rule in 1999. Buhari’s government, which initially argued in favour of nomadic grazing, is now planning towards a future that will see pastoralists confine their activities to ranches, and has identified swathes of land of various sizes across 94 locations in the 10 states as part of a pilot project to encourage the change. “This is the only way out of the conflict,” Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh told the Daily Post newspaper in February this year. “We either ranch, or banish cattle from Nigeria.”
The plan has not gone without challenge. Some states have donated land for the project while others have deplored it, arguing that it would use public land and financial resources for private businesses. Some have said that the policy does not take into account the fact that cattle breeds common in Nigeria are unsuitable for ranching due to their low growth and high consumption rates, which make the animals too expensive to raise. Still, others have questioned the practicality of the ranching approach for a centuries-old culture. “The Fulani way of life is not something you can transform overnight,” says Radda, himself a Fulani. He added that for many years, different administrations had allowed the Fulani lifestyle to continue without addressing the problem.
Clearly, the demand for sudden change will compound “a major mistake” with another one. But Radda also accepts that the Fulani themselves will need to consider changes to their culture for the sake of peace. “If a culture does not address your requirements, then there is no need to retain it,” Radda says. “Culture is meant to serve man, rather than man serving culture.”
Previous attempts at ranching were unsuccessful. Experts say they failed largely because of the huge capital investment required in the infrastructure and services necessary for a more sedentary lifestyle. Those unsuccessful attempts were made in the 1970s by the states of Kaduna and the now defunct Gongola, and the fact that the move was not executed by the central government partly explains the funding difficulty the programme faced. This time, the federal government is driving policy and has detailed an ambitious plan to develop ranches at the cost of 179 billion naira ($497 million) over 10 years. The federal and participating state governments are to spend 70 billion naira in the first three years.
Muhammad-Baba agrees that government support is an important first step in getting the policy right. But he urges that it will be important to inform herders about the impending change to their ancient way of life and to provide them with the kind of education they will need for a different, more settled lifestyle.
Like every culture, the Fulani’s nomadic lifestyle is facing changes to its environment, both human and natural. The government says Nigeria loses about 400,000 hectares of land every year to encroaching desert in the north. Yet, while the country’s land mass has become smaller, its human population has grown from 52 million in 1963 to nearly 200 million, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said in May at a town hall meeting, where he defended the government’s response to the herders-farmers crisis.
Mohammed also said that Lake Chad, which waters parts of north-east Nigeria alongside neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, has now shrunk from 25,000 to 2,500 square kilometres. “At its peak, it was supporting 35 million people from many countries in Africa,” he was quoted by the Leadership newspaper as saying. “Today, most of those people have moved south in search of greener pastures, further exacerbating the contestation for increasingly scarce natural resources – and the resultant friction.”
As Muhammad-Baba sees it, the Fulani will have to adapt to their changing circumstances. “Nature is beginning to withdraw some of the conditions that supported them,” he says. “You cannot preserve a culture; culture is a living organism.”
- Government should guarantee the right to vote by providing for it under Chapter IV of the constitution while also making it a civic duty for citizen to vote.
- Nigeria’s political and social stakeholders must work together more concertedly to enable the judiciary’s independence, better to actualise enhanced voting right in a revised constitution.
- Nigeria’s in-coming parliament must expedite legislation to enhance the use of technology in the electoral process, which should facilitate the process for voter registration, the collation of a comprehensive voters register, and make voting more transparent and less onerous.
- Government must explore creative avenues such as partnering with telecommunication companies in order to leverage the information of registered customers, which can be supplemented with the data of citizens without mobile phone access.
The conduct of regular elections and the guarantee of the fundamental rights of citizens lie at the fulcrum of democracy. One of the major problems with Nigeria’s democracy is the absence of a cast-iron protection of the right to vote. The right to vote, though an inextricable part of democracy, is not enshrined in chapter IV of the Nigerian 1999 constitution, alongside the other fundamental rights. In practical terms, this makes the legal enforcement of citizens’ voting right cumbersome.
From the beginning of Nigeria’s 4th republic in 1999, different election cycles have witnessed serious obstacles in the way of the citizens’ right to choose at the polls.
A functioning democratic system of governance must provide an avenue for the larger part of society to take part in choosing political leaders. Arguably, one of the most important role of government is to establish a transparent, well-functioning and participatory electoral system that ensures the universal involvement of citizens of voting age in the electoral process.
The right to vote has its roots embedded in the social contract theory, and it can be argued that this is probably the most important right of all. This is because government is legitimately formed only after citizens have gone to the ballot to choose. The social contract theory prescribes that once members of a society agree to give up some of their rights and freedom to an authority duly chosen by citizens, such chosen authority must in turn protect the rights and freedom of citizens from encroachment.
The right to vote is the foundation upon which this participatory right rests. To be truly part of a given society, members must have an inalienable right to participate in the good governance of that society. Chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution guarantees a list of fundamental rights which are enforceable in the courts. Where a provision of chapter IV is contravened or a fundamental right is trampled upon, section 46 of that chapter allows for citizens to approach the high court for enforcement proceedings.
However, the omission of the right to vote under chapter IV renders this right unenforceable in a strict legal sense. Such an important right that allows citizens to participate in the periodic change of their leaders should be in chapter IV alongside the fundamental rights of all Nigerian citizens.
Although some provisions in law such as section 7(2) of the constitution and section 12 of the Electoral Act may be deemed to have touched on voting, these sections in no way provide a fundamental protection or guarantee of the voting right.
The absence of a guarantee for the right to vote allows for the abuse of this right by the state. Fundamental rights under chapter IV of the constitution enjoy guarantees that protect them from interference by the state and other citizens. Having no form of protection in the constitution for the right to vote therefore leaves room for the government to remain lackadaisical in its duty at actualizing the citizens’ right to vote.
These governmental duties in respect of effective actualisation of citizens’ votes include the efficient registration of voters; providing adequate logistics for voting; instilling the sense of duty to vote in citizens; and such other measures that can make voting possible, meaningful and reflective of the popular will.
Safeguarding the vote
One of the attributes of rights under chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution is that they are open to legal redress, allowing individuals whose fundamental rights have been encroached upon to seek their legal enforcement. With no provisions for the right to vote under the chapter IV of the constitution, there exist no form of legal redress for citizens. Successive administrations since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 have done little to address this.
Also, there has been no concrete plan to solve the recurring problems encountered during the registration of eligible voters and collection of voters’ cards. The time usually allocated for the registration exercise is wholly inadequate and the process is cumbersome.
Moreover, electoral malpractices and willful disregard for the provisions of the electoral act have become notable features of the political climate in Nigeria. These are among the most serious obstacles to the efficient conduct of elections.
Election season in Nigeria are often marred by acts of disorder and lawlessness, which act as barriers to citizens’ participation. Most citizens generally view election days as public holidays and stay in the safety of their homes away from voting centres. With the myriad electoral malpractices including voter intimidation, ballot box snatching and vote buying, the feeling among many citizens is that their vote is inconsequential. This widens the gap between the majority of citizens and the governance process.
As a result, turnout during elections is on the decrease. About 43% of registered voters participated in the 2015 general election compared to 57% in the 2007 elections. This constitutional reality of voting as less than a fundamental right contributes to government’s ineptitude, manifested for example in the inadequate logistical provisions for voter registration. In Lagos state alone, the electoral commission reports that about 1.38million permanent voters’ cards are yet to be collected by prospective voters. As a consequence, millions of eligible voters continue to be disenfranchised.
Without any clear avenue for redress, citizens have no way to hold the government accountable for failing to perform its duty with regards to enabling citizens to vote. Assimilating the right to vote into chapter IV of the constitution would open up the avenue to seek legal redress as necessary and also encourage more citizens to see voting as a civic duty that is both incumbent and relatively easy to perform.
The challenge of youth participation
With the youth making up more than half of the Nigeria’s 182 million population, they play a vital role in the electoral process. Before the 2015 election, the youths comprised about 63% of the eligible voting population. However, the influence of the youth in governance before, during and after elections remains marginal. This exclusion of youth from governance, coupled with the high unemployment rate in the country, has resulted in high levels of frustration which may inevitably turn young people to civil disobedience and violence.
With youth unemployment standing at 33.10% as at 2017, most Nigerian youths are caught up in the daily struggle for survival and view political participation as secondary. The system operated by most political parties in Nigeria fails to provide much needed opportunity for youth participation in politics. Although the passing of the “Not too Young to Run” act reduced the age for contesting for various political offices, most political parties are yet to willingly concede their platforms to young people.
Moreover, one of the ways that political parties continue to stifle youth participation is through the high cost of nomination forms for political office. Issues such as this require urgent redress to enhance popular participation in the governance process.
As the 2019 general elections approaches, the general tendency for government is to focus on winning at the polls. However, one duty that remains sacrosanct is for the government to ensure successful conduct of the polls in a free and fair manner. In the bid to achieve this, the right of every citizen of voting age to vote should be protected and guaranteed by the state, preferably in the chapter IV of the constitution alongside the other fundamental rights. Effective participation by citizens during elections, and their involvement in decision-making even beyond the elections, remain fundamental to foster good governance.
The right to vote is recognized under Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR). Article 21(3) which states that: “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. This will be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.
Taking steps to enshrine the right to vote in the chapter IV of Nigeria’s constitution will open up avenues for citizens to mount effective pressure for the actualization of voting right and the establishment of a more transparent and accountable system of government.