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In her round-up of the African blogosphere this week, Sokari Ekine explores the unifying theme of challenging the 'single story' of Africa through discussing the AfroMusing, SACSIS, That African Girl, Gukira, Black Looks and Book Southern Africa blogs.

I started this week by thinking there was no single theme but now I see that this week's review is about challenging the 'single story' story of Africa. Starting with a technology post, first from AfroMusing – who discusses the future of tech on the continent – people write books on this so I think this post does well to point out some of the main issues. It is an old post but a discussion which is ongoing and which I should have picked up at the time. Juliana makes five points: the growth of mobile phones and the services provided such as MPESA; technology for social change, with mobile phones, especially SMS, again playing a prominent role; the many tech innovations being developed on the continent so the 'knowledge economy is no longer an enclave of the West'; social networking/participation through blogs, Facebook and Twitter as well as local country-specific social networks; and enabling a much closer relationship between the diaspora and the continent, again through blogs, etc.

'This cultural mashup sees an exciting time revealing itself through the retelling of old stories with technology, breathing a fresh perspective into African identity and self expression online. We already see this with the emergence of African Digital Arts, Animations made in Kenya (Just A Band) Senegal (Tree Lion), and the incredible creativity seen as part of the brand tourism around World Cup 2010 in South Africa. The old memes are almost dead or as Fergie of black eyed peas would say, its so 2000 late. The new meme of Africa is unfolding in front of us. Technologically and culturally the future of Africa is absolutely refreshing.'

SACSIS (South African Civil Society Information Service) – I am relieved the World Cup is finally over. Probably the least exciting and politically charged WC in a long time. How were we in Africa supposed to choose between Spain – a country where racist slogans are an acceptable part of football culture or Netherlands and its Afrikaner connection. Meanwhile after hosting people from across the continent and world immigrants living in South Africa are bracing themselves for another xenophobic onslaught – one minute you are been cheered the next spat on. I picked this post from SACSIS because the post highlights this 'split personality' as well as the 'crude reminders of our [SA"> racial and economic inequity'. Fazila Farouk writes from the 'Grahamstown National Arts Festival [NAF">':

'It’s a significant question to ponder. South Africa does, after all, feel like a country suffering from a split personality. April’s racially charged and intensely polarised national identity debate dissipated very abruptly to make way for June’s generous national unity, which, we are told, is giving way to July’s angry xenophobia. What on Earth will we be on about in September one wonders?'

Although the majority of the audience were white and middle-class – and seeking entertainment – black issues were not absent from the festival.

'In both fringe and main events, white audiences flocked to traditional Western performances. Whether it was the tedious tap dancing grannies in Just Tap or the sloppy performance of Carmenby the Cape Town Ballet Company, these shows played to packed houses. It was abundantly clear that conventional expressions of art that support an imperialist culture will continue to thrive in South Africa because they attract a moneyed Western audience… But black issues were not absent from the festival programme. Issues of black identity, the ongoing struggle for recognition, the clash between Western and traditional African culture, the problem of blacks perpetually being trapped in survivalist mode, the extraordinary social challenges heightened by alienation and poverty – these issues were all very common in the programme line up. And, they clearly reflected the marginalised existence of the black life. But white audiences – in Grahamstown for the winter holidays – were in pursuit of amusement and distraction. They were uncommon if non-existent at emotive black performances. '

That African Girl returns to the 'single story' story of Africa. This time it is yet another photo story from the National Geographic's 'Faces of Africa'. Apparently this is the 'real Africa', not the urban spaces and rural communities of farmers and fishermen and women we are all familiar with.'After clicking through a few more pictures, I became frustrated and had to come back later to read the interview with authors and photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher. After seeing the pictures, it was no longer surprising for me to have encountered people, who upon seeing pictures of skyscrapers, beaches and cars in Africa, ask to see the "real Africa". Or college students who reduce the breadth of African music to "talking drums". It’s true that pictures are just pictures; they are the representations of one person’s perspectives, but pictures tell a story, they are said to be "worth a thousand words". In all the pictures on the website, the only modern element was a "Kalashnikov" rifle in one of the pictures. There weren’t any Malick Sidibe-esque photographs in the bunch.'

Gukira comments on the rumour that Egypt will propose an amendment to the human rights agenda item 'Promotion of cooperation, dialogue and respect for diversity in the field of human rights'. Gukira raises two important points. Firstly, he makes the connection between this proposal and the US states which have banned queer marriage.

'Put otherwise, Egypt wants to follow in the footsteps of the US states that have banned queer marriage and re-instituted discrimination, and in the footsteps of the UN committee that refused to grant IGLHRC "consultative status".'

And secondly, he discusses the relationship between queer rights and human rights.

'Egypt’s actions demonstrate fully and dangerously that the struggle over queer rights is fundamentally a struggle about human rights. And that claims for cultural diversity, so often used by many African nations, are claims that challenge the very idea of human rights by asserting the privilege of culture or national sovereignty over the idea of the human.'

Staying with the 'single story' theme, I have been following DMKW (Wambui Mwangi) and Gukira’s (Keguro Macharia) ongoing Koroga conversation. DMKW describes Koroga as 'another African story' – note the difference between the African story as told by the West and the African story as told by Africans.

'An invitation and a provocation … Koroga is another African story, a story of what we see and how we see, of meetings and transformations, of looking and seeing, of seeing and writing, of speaking into being the worlds we know, and those we are always imagining. Koroga is photographs inflaming poetry, poetry inciting photographs. Koroga is what happens when we see the world on our own terms, in our own languages, in their accents and dances, their hidden smiles and come hither seducations, seducations because we teach the world our pleasures.

'Koroga is what happens when we look at photos of ourselves, read poems about us, get stirred up, and decide to stir around.'

Black Looks publishes a review by Fikile Mazambani of Zanele Muholi’s new book, 'Faces and Phases', a photo documentary of black lesbians lives.'Muholi’s work is still very cutting edge in Africa and in the world as she continues to bring her matter-of-fact work. In her first publication Zanele Muholi: Only Half The Picture, she commanded our attention by invoking us to think about blackness, the female form and its intertwined sexualities. This time she is bringing the faces of these black female forms, almost as if to say we have faces and we go through phases in life just like anyone else, albeit in a burdensome manner. She is not asking for lofty dreams but is stating that black queers need to live in a homophobic/xenophobic free world where their visibility must be acknowledged. As evidenced by varied subjects in her book, Muholi has covered three continents and found a common bond amongst the black queers. They still face queerphobia and xenophobia, be they in Cape Town or Toronto. My one suggestion to the author would be that, a bit more of a narrative with each image would go a long way. It would afford us the opportunity to reimagine the LGBTI community. It would be interesting to know what these beings have encountered during the different phases of their lives. I know she does not want to exploit them but it may add a certain richness to the book. Other than that, this should be essential reading/viewing for most of us because we are all comfortable with what we do not know or choose not to know. What will we as Africans do? Shall we continue to deny the existence of these members of our society? If we claim to be human rights upholders then we should observe everyone’s right to be who they are.'

Finally, returning to football (soccer), Book Southern Africa publishes an excerpt from 'Amen', a photo essay on grassroots soccer in Africa by Jessica Hilltout. I am slightly cringing at the introduction, but the photos captured bring back the beauty to the game.

'Jessica Hilltout, a nomadic, Belgian-born photographer, loaded sacks of deflated soccer balls onto the roof of a battered yellow Volkswagen Beetle last year and began a seven-month road trip across Africa to document the continent’s love of the game. She found it in villages where children played with joyous abandon on dusty patches of ground, sandy beaches and lush fields, far from the stadiums where Africa’s first World Cup would be held.'


* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.