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Culture in France

Africa not just doom and gloom

Audio 05:29
Zeenat Hansrod

Africa is more than civil wars and violence, and a weeklong event held recently  in Vincennes near Paris brought this to light by showcasing the best of art and culture from the continent.

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In its second year, L’Afrique en marche (Africa moves forward) embraced all aspects of culture, with movies, documentaries, a sold-out Salif Keita concert, economic and literary debates, paintings and photographs of African artists.

Jean Gaeremynck, the event’s organiser, says that the idea is to present the vibrant side of the continent, often absent in news broadcasts.

“We are geographically so close, that our country will definitely have a role to play in the development of the African continent and its position in the world,” he says.

“That’s why we want to reach out to the youth, ensuring that they get accurate information on Africa. Young people in France are interested in Africa and it’s in our interest to ensure that… civil society can pressure politicians to increase and better target aid towards Africa.”

If any country in the world could generate pessimism, top of the list would be Somalia: it has not had a functioning central government in the last twenty years, heavily-armed warlords reign over large parts of the country, and the population is caught in a bloody tug of war between extremist groups and a transitional government that exists only through the will of foreign countries.

The world-renowned Somali writer, Nuruddin Farah, one of the guests at L’Afrique en marche, feels it is his duty to keep Somalia alive by writing about it and bringing the power of speech to the voiceless.

While Farah acknowledges the many problems African states, and Somalia, face, he believes Afro-pessimism is the legacy of bad management on the part of colonists.

“The colonialists did not do their job as they claimed they did. In a country like Somalia, ruled by Italy for something like a hundred years, when the Italians left, there was one secondary school in the entire country,” he says.

“So, when Africans became independent you can imagine the amount of work and finances that have gone into the creation of the basics. The Europeans based their claims on lies. Europe exploited Africa leaving behind nothing”

Farah argues that today’s problems in Africa are a result of an arrested development caused by colonialism.

“When Africans were about to come into conflict with each other over democracy, over social justice, the Europeans arrived,” he says.

People started fighting colonialism, and stopped paying attention to internal problems. For Farah, civil wars are a necessary step towards co-existence between people who have never really known each, even as they were forced to live together by European colonists in artificially-created states.

“Civil wars are not absurd, they are a necessity,” he says. “The only thing is, it depends on how long it takes. Somalis needed a civil war because we never had a civil war… The Americans had it, the British had it, the Indians had it. Everybody had it. It’s a form of growing up.”

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