Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Côte d’Ivoire Issue


Abidjan skyline.

Today I want to write something about Côte d’Ivoire. Why is this relevant on an Afro-European blog? Because the current situation in Côte d’Ivoire is about conflicting interest between Africa and Europe. Because the Ivoirian community of France is clearly expressing its frustration in the way France (and generally the West) is involved in local issues in Africa (see video's below). In this post I will try to clarify what is exactly going on as I think this story is relevant for most ex-colonies in relation to their past and Europe, this story is relevant for all Europeans of ex-colonial origin.

Rich but poor

Côte d’Ivoire is on the brink of a civil war. Again. People disappear, others are threatened. Côte d’Ivoire has long been considered an example of how it should be. But while being the greatest cocoa exporter in the world, while being a economically prosper country, Côte d’Ivoire still has its majority population living in utter poverty. Many countries in Africa have the poorest populations in the world while they often are very rich countries. The reason for this is complex. There is the colonial heritage, there are Western financial interests, there are disloyal and corrupt leaders, demographic explosion, … Côte d’Ivoire is today another victim of all these elements. Big boys with different interests are using the African people to gain their advantage, whether black or white, Ivoirian or French.
Côte d’Ivoire has long been a prosperous country. It is the world’s lead cocoa exporter and Africa’s biggest palm oil producer (palm oil is an important raw material in the manufacture of soaps, washing powder and other hygiene and personal care products, besides biodiesel).

Even before independence Côte d’Ivoire was economically the most important region of French West Africa (which was administered as one colonial entity, only divided by France during the independence struggle). Many people from all over French West Africa migrated there for work. After independence this trend didn’t stop. These migrations have been going on for decades now, and many people who are born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire have foreign roots in other formerly French West African countries. Many live in the north and urban areas, with a concentration in the economical center of the country: Abidjan (the capital being Yamoussoukro).

Not only Africans moved to Côte d’Ivoire for work. In contrast to many African nations, the presence of French people more than doubled after independence while many other Europeans also came to work in Côte d’Ivoire. Today the white elite is fleeing the country.

Côte d’Ivoire is not just another African republic. Western nations, France first, have many financial and economical interests there. This is why they are getting involved so much. Below I will go deeper into Côte d’Ivoire’s history and the meaning of last elections for the international community.


Félix Houphouët-Boigny

Félix Houphouët-Boigny was Côte d’Ivoire’s first president and he stayed in power until his death in 1993. Although having spend large amounts of public money for megalomaniac projects, he was and still is a very much respected and loved figure for the Ivoirian people. Félix Houphouët-Boigny has been instrumental in keeping the Ivoirian nation united, avoiding ethnic tensions and accepting Ivoirians of foreign origin as fellow nationals and Ivoirians.

Félix Houphouët-Boigny is a giant of the African emancipation. He is a name stated next to Senghor and Césaire. He left a stable and relatively prosper country behind him. Things would start to change dramatically after that.

Ivoirité

Bédié followed him up. He succeeded to divide his rivals and held on to power. To do that he emphasized the concept of ‘Ivoirité’, or Ivoirian identity, excluding his main political rival Allassane Ouattara, Houphouët-Boigny’s last prime minister. Although Ouattara was born in Côte d’Ivoire from parents who were also born in Côte d’Ivoire, he has roots from Burkina Faso, which made him in Bédié’s concept of Ivoirité a foreigner.

This excluded Ouattara from presenting himself for the presidential elections of 2000, but also excluded a great many people in Côte d’Ivoire from the Ivoirian nationality. Consequently the relationship between various ethnic groups became strained and a fire was sparked which is still burning today.

Bédié also tried to exclude potential opponents from the army. This led to a military coup in 1999 and the organization of new elections in 2000. That’s when Gbagbo got elected. Still, the concept of Ivoirité persisted in post-Bédié Côte d’Ivoire. Excluding Ouattara from the 2000 presidential election led to the civil unrest during the elections and eventually to a civil war in 2002.

Rebellion in 2002

The rebels controlled much of northern Côte d’Ivoire, where many Ivoirians lived who were excluded from Ivoirian nationality due to the Ivoirité policy. The rebels threatened to seize Abidjan, the economical center, but then France came into the picture. Under the official stance that French soldiers were sent to protect French citizens living there, many consider they were there to protect their financial and economical position. For many Ivoirians today the French actions worsened the situation in the long term. France didn’t learn from what happened then.

Alassane Ouattara took refuge in the French embassy, his home in Abidjan burned down. President Gbagbo stated, in a television address, that some of the rebels were hiding in the shanty towns of Abidjan where ‘foreign migrant workers’ lived. The police forces bulldozed and burned homes by the thousands, attacking the residents.

Transition under Gbagbo

Eventually a few months later in 2003, Gbagbo and some rebel leaders signed accords creating a government of national unity. But that government prooved unstable. UN peacekeepers and French troops still controlled areas of the country and violent clashes occurred often. When the time for presidential elections came in 2005, it was deemed impossible to hold an election due to the lack of disarmament.

The 2005 elections were postponed until last month, november 2010. This time Ouattara was not excluded because of his so called Burkinabe origins.

The preliminary results announced by the Electoral Commission showed a loss for Gbagbo in favour of Alassane Ouattara who won with 54% of the vote (having received most votes from the Northern departments and the city of Abidjan). Gbagbo’s ruling FPI contested the results before the Constitutional Council, charging massive fraud in the northern departments. These charges were contradicted by international observers.

The Constitutional Council, which consists of Gbagbo supporters, declared the results of seven northern departments unlawful and that Gbagbo had won the elections with 51% of the vote. After the inauguration of Gbagbo, Ouattara, recognized as the winner by most countries and the United Nations, organized an alternative inauguration. These events raised fears of a resurgence of the civil war.

When I heard this news I was tempted to compare Gbagbo’s succes with the re-election of George W. Bush. But I couldn’t remember any official foreign reaction or support for Al Gore at the time.

I am not a Gbagbo fan. Since he came to power he has always used the ethnic card to gain popularity. Besides that he has questioned the French presence and economical interests in his sovereign country. This has led to ethnic tensions and to a worsening of the economical situation.

The first who suffer are the poorest, not the political elite. But Gbagbo blames the ‘foreign immigrants’ and the French. Ouattara represents both at the same time. Considering the election’s official results (51% for Gbagbo) I would think that Gbagbo’s discourse is not that convincing for the Ivoirian masses. Still, considering all this I wonder if it is a good idea to try to oust him from power right now. Certainly, I don’t think that it is the West’s role to do so. Sadam Hussein may have been a ruthless dictator, ousting him from power hasn’t improved the lifes of Iraqi’s. More on the contrary.

Ouattara

Ouattara is considered by Gbagbo as a representative of foreign and Western interests. And he actually is. Ouattara was educated in the US and earned a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He worked for the IMF and the BCEAO (central bank for the east African states) in Paris which makes him an advocate of the Franc CFA.

The Franc CFA is the common currency of most former French colonies. It is pegged to the Euro and according to many critics the cause of many economical problems and the economic dependency of these African states towards Europe. The Franc CFA is controlled and managed from Paris. Ouattara worked for the BCEAO in Paris until becoming its governor in 1988.

During the last years of Houphouët-Boigny’s rule from 1990, he was Côte d’Ivoire’s prime minister and actual leader once Félix Houphouët-Boigny got too ill. Ouattara was the one who announced Félix Houphouët-Boigny’s death to the nation.

After a brief power struggle bewteen Bédié en Outtara, Bédié became president en Ouattara resigned as prime minster. He went back working for the IMF as Deputy Managing Director and stayed there until 1999. After that he re-entered the political arena in Côte d’Ivoire leading up to the elections of last month.

Because of his career and marriage to a French woman (Dominique he often is considered by his critics as a representative of French and Western interests, and considered due to his northern roots and white wife, as not a real Ivoirian.

All these are false arguments of course. While understanding the critique against Western economical interests in Africa I don’t think that confrontation is the best tactic to improve the live of the Africans. It might get you elected, but then?

French Ivoirians and the Ivorian issue

Ivoirians in Paris supporting Gbagbo and protesting against French involvement (nr1):


One of the interviewees says: “Gbagbo is contested because he annoys the Western world, because he wants the wealth of Africa to be for the Africans … He is the man who can raise up Africa.”

Ivoirians in Paris supporting Gbagbo and protesting against French involvement (nr2):


Ivoirians in Paris protesting against Gbagbo in favor of Outtara(nr1):


Ivoirians in Paris protesting against Gbagbo in favor of Outtara(nr2):


Considering the reactions of Ivoirians in France it is clear that even if Gbagbo stole the elections it is not the role of foreign nations to intervene in local matters. According to Ivoirians this can only worsen the situation and divide the nation even more. The Ivoirians have to solve their own problems.

As you can see in the video’s above the Ivoirians are divided, but they areready to talk. Most voices of whatever side are against war and violence and have a peaceful message.

According to me Ouattara should accept his unfair defeat and go into opposition. From there he should teach Gbagbo what is democracy and from there he can either trap him (blame Gbagbo for all problems or show that he doesn’t do what he says) and make himself popular to an even larger electorate.

Gbagbo plays the role of the ‘real African’, fighting against the Western interests and therefore ‘for the African people’. But at the same time he is throwing oil on the ethnic fire that is burning since Bédié’s presidency. Côte d’Ivoire is devided between North and South, between Muslim and Christian, between ‘foreigner’ and ‘autochtones’. But it is a false division that is hiding the deeper laying problems of a rich country with too many poor people, of a rich country where foreigners, big companies and corrupt politician are getting richer, while the masses are living in dire poverty. It sometimes seems to me that Gbagbo is copying French political style, where Frenchness is questioned (refering to Sarlozy’s ‘débat sur l’identité française’) next to the so called ‘immigrant Muslims’.

Today the country has been sealed off from the outside world by Gbagbo. Gbagbo is not considered a lawfull head of state by the UN, EU and US. They only recognize Ouattara as the lawfull president. But a president without power, and the West’s reactions is only worsening the local situation. Everybody is holding their breath.

Guinea

All this happens today in so exemplary Côte d’Ivoire while Guinea-Conakry, the bad boy of former French colonies (who rejected the Franc CFA and has its own currency), a country with difficult diplomatic relations with France, just had its first free and fair elections since independence (without France or the UN getting involved). The transition from dictatorship to military rule and then elections didn’t happen without problems of course. But it was a transition done by and for the Africans themselves. Let’s now wait and see what freshly elected president Alpha Condé will do for his country and its people.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

The break: Blogging Black from the Netherlands and how I became an Afro-European


Ground level Ganzenhoef Amsterdam Bijlmer
I am going to take a break, but of course blogger Sibo wil continue to post his views on Afro-Europe. But before I leave I would like to share some of my toughts and experiences about becoming Afro-European and how I started blogging.

A year ago I received an e-mail from someone who wanted to know more about black people in the Netherlands and how I got there.

Of course I have had these question before. I remember a few white Americans stopped me in the city centre of Amsterdam to ask me if I could translate a few English words for them in Dutch. Suddenly they asked me where I came from. “I was born Amsterdam,” I replied. “No, where do you really come from,” they answered. Great people by the way, so I gave them an elevator pitch about the “African-Americans” of Holland.

This post will not be an elevator pitch.

Growing up ignorant in Amsterdam

I grew up almost colourless. Although I knew I was black there was no racism around me that made more aware of it. I was born in Amsterdam before the big Surinamese migration started in 1975, and I lived in a part of Amsterdam which was almost 90 percent white. But luckily my social circle was cultural diverse. I had Dutch, Surinamese, Bi-racial Surinamese, Jewish and Chinese friends.


Moving to the “black” part of Amsterdam, Amsterdam South East (De Bijlmer)


Moving to a black environment was an experience. The place exploded with anti-racism activists, rastas and black culture advocates. Everything was black, including the junkies of course. But it was a tremendous experience. Walking in the Bijlmer in the summer was like walking on a Caribbean Island, black people everywhere.

From an identity point of view the move was gift from God. But since I was born and raised in the Netherlands I actually had to integrate into the black community. Because I also had an uppity Dutch accent (so to speak) this also complicated the challenge to integrate into a society which was a “deep” black Surinamese Caribbean community back then with a lot of black American influences. I was considered "white” of course. But thanks to shooting hoop all winter I managed to get into the pickup basketball games in the summer. And that’s where my black identity journey began. The character in the book “The white boy shuffle” is me.

Becoming “Black” gradually

I also got new friends of course. They introduced me to the black organisation scene, which meant that I got to meet a lot of black artists and black activists and different black people from across Europe. I remember how I got lost when I had to speak to a French black girl, she could hardly speak English and I hardly could speak French.

What I did learn during that period was the way skin colour was perceived. Most of my black friends dated white girls and I dated black girls. The entire racial dimension when past me like a ship in the night, but I would gradually learn the deeper structure of things. I think it’s a part you miss if don’t grow up in a environment where skin colour is like a military rank.

But although my black identity was developing I felt something was missing. It was like watching CNN, but not understanding the background of things. I was missing a deeper understanding of blackness.

My black experience

I knew that my knowledge of blackness wouldn’t come from playing basketball, eating rice and beans, or hanging out with my friends. The difference with my friends was that I had learned nothing at school about colonialism, slavery or even the history of Suriname. I knew it vaguely, but that was it.

Because Suriname lies in South America one of the first books I read was the “Open viens of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano. I think it’s the book that Venezuelan president Hugo Chaves gave to president Obama. I remember it opened my eyes about the history of Latin American from a left wing point of view. It’s a radical book, but I think a needed a radical view at that time. I read a lot of books about latin American, but later I found out it wasn’t exactly “my” history. Although Suriname lies in South America, it’s in fact a Caribbean country. But I am glad I read it, it’s a classic. Although Galeano could have added some more black history in it.

The book which really took me closer to my roots was “Van Priary tot en met De Kom, the history of resistance in Surinam”, by Sandew Hira. Hira is the Surinamese version of Eduardo Galeano. although he didn’t made me wear a dashiki, he did gave me a deeper understanding of the black struggle in Suriname and of Dutch colonialism.

The book that shaped by black identity was “Black Skin, white Masks” of French writer Franz Fanon. I think James Baldwin would have said, that it takes you to the dungeons of your black soul. I started reading the book, closed it and opened it again three month later. Fanon dropped an issue that I never thought of before, one of his famous lines is, a black person wants to be white. But he made me feel at ease by explaining that it was a logical consequence of slavery and colonialism that I could have these feelings. But after finishing his book he didn’t leave me with the feeling that I wanted to be white, but he did leave me with the question: why should I be proud to be black if being black meant having a twisted black frustrated mind.

Fanon's book really gave me a Teflon layer so to speak, but as African scholar once said: it didn’t cure Fanon. Did it add to my black identity yes, to my Afro-Dutch identity, no.

Becoming Afro-Dutch?

I don’t have an Afro-Dutch identity, I have a Surinamese-Dutch identity. Saying you’re Dutch to a Surinamese person is sometimes even considered an insult. I think the mayor difference between the French and the British is that the Dutch were more preoccupied with trade then with assimilating slaves into Dutch Culture. Not very a long ago in the Netherlands children from foreign countries could get lessons in their own language and culture during school time. Comfy together, or as they say in Dutch “gezellig bij elkaar” with your own people was the Dutch mantra for integration. Foreign films in Holland are not voiced over as in France or Germany, but subtitled. But the perception about integration and minorities has changed now.

Being Surinamese-Dutch feels like belonging to a cult group, and to be honest I am comfortable with it.

I am going to take a giant leap forward in time.

Blogging and becoming Afro-European

Fast forward two years ago. Before I started blogging about Afro-Europe I was focused on the Netherlands. Although I had met black people from different countries in Europe and Africa, I had virtually no deep knowledge of their backgrounds. Even on holidays in Europe I was running to see the buildings, or other tourist places. A market full of black people in London doesn’t differ much from a market in Amsterdam-South East.

Like most holidays I focused on the beach, or on sight seeing. There is hardly time to actually meet black people in their countries. Before you know it, you’re home in the rat race again.

The inspiration for Afro-Europe began after an interview I did with an Afro-German woman. I am not going to say who it is, but if she reads this: thanks for the inspiration and your mind blowing insights. Although I had met French, British and African people it never came to mind that there were actually black people in Germany, although Germany is the neighbouring country of the Netherlands. What also inspired me was the blog Black Women in Europe.

One of the books I read was the book of Noah Sow, "Deutschland Schwarz Weiss - der alltägliche Rassismus" (Germany Black White - the everday racisme"). The thing I got out this book was the subtle racism I had never seen before. It was as if different lights went on on the same stage. I saw objects I had never noticed before. The little black boy on my cornflakes box who was surrounded by African Elephants and zebras, were thinks I hardly noticed before. To me they were just part of yet an another “Africa” contest campaign. But after reading Sow’s book I realized that there is an implicit racist connection when black kids are portrayed with African animals. Her book made me more aware that I was living in a society with hidden and sometimes even subliminal racist images. I somehow felt as ignorant as the day I moved to Amsterdam-South East. It was strange to get this information out of German book. And yes, these images were floating around me in the Netherlands.

Then I got a mail from Belgium. My name is Sibo and I would like to contribute. It was again strange to find out there was a person from another country who wrote about everything I always wanted to write about, but couldn’t. I was again interested to see new a perspective from a black person from Belgium. But he has something I don’t have, a close connection to Africa.

Identity

To me being Afro-European is not the same as being a Dutch black person. I’d like see as an element of it. I’m different from a black British Caribbean or African person. Growing up black in a class structured society is perhaps different from growing up in the egalitarian Netherlands. Growing up black in a French society where showing your black colours was in conflict with the all-people-are-French ideal is very different from my black experience. And being Afro-German is also different because it’s small community in a big white country with an infamous racial history.

But my Afro-European element what I perhaps share with other Afro-Europeans is that I want to have a piece of the country where I was born and raised in. It’s position I don’t even have to defend. Being black and European means that I also have an Afro-European connection on issues like race, black success and other specific black issues. But there is one issue that I consider very important, I don’t only have connection with Afro-Europe, but also with Africa.


How I became African, again

I don’t know if it sounds familiar, but although I read the ‘positive’ books about Africa I still remained biased. I read books about Africa, about the copper masks of the Yorubas and about the monument of great Zimbabwe, but still it looked as if they were compensations for the daily reality I saw on TV. The images of the machetes in Rwanda, the hunger, the child soldiers and the corrupt leaders. If in Europe one person dies it almost seemed similar to 500 deaths in Africa. As if large scale deaths is a natural thing in Africa. That was ignorant me two years ago when if first started blogging.

Thanks to all those wonderful African blogs I know that “Africa” doesn’t exits and that my lack of interest and knowledge made me stereotype a whole continent. It reminds of the silent Nigerian basketball player who trained in my basketball team. I never asked him anything about Nigeria. If you read this Femi, sorry for being so, “basketball minded”? Or the African woman who asked me the direction, and while we were talking I asked her about the “war” in a country in Africa which I had seen on TV. “No that’s not my country, that’s another system,” she replied while shaking her head. If you read this, sorry.

I can honestly say that blogging has changed my perspective on African countries and Africans completely. I have never visited Africa, but the slave fort Elmina where my ancestors left Africa will not be on my visiting list. There is so much more to see then a broken down slave fort, a fort which is just one leave on the tree of Africa.

Has blogging about Afro-Europe changed you?

A lot. I can’t go back blogging on a national level because I have seen, heard and experienced so much of the Afro-European community. I’ve seen people who would outsmart me ten times. I’ve seen successful initiatives that could be copied in other European countries with the same results. And I’ve seen a media landscape which could be a goldmine and powerful network if they would only touch each other.

Two years ago I lived in the dungeon of my own community, today I have new and different perspective. If I was a community consultant I think I would be the one with all the great and successful ideas. I won’t go into personal details, but the blogging has even changed me on a professional level. Blogging Afro-European means reading French, German and Spanish and of course English again, so working on my languages was also a good training.

Is this the end?

No, I think it’s just a break.

Best wishes for 2011!

Erik K.

British rappers criticise Jay-Z


The UK Hip Hop scene is not amused with Jay Z’s visit to the White House. Wasn't Hip Hop about fighting the power? Apparently things have changed according to British rappers Akala and Lowkey. "Is Hip Hop serving power, or is Hip Hop challenging power," that is question. And, "if the US government loves the same rappers as you love, you have to question whose interests are those rappers serving. “

In a conversations three British minds (Akala, Lowkey and Saul Williams) discuss the current state of hip-hop and it's misguided use by the youth of today. They underline the various struggles in making music as an independent artist.

See more interesting stuff at www.bashy.com

Video: Nicole Bus: new neo-soul talent from Holland



Last week singer-songwriter Nicole Bus won the 25th anniversary edition of Holland’s longest running music competition “De Grote Prijs van Nederland” (" The Grand Prize of the Netherlands"). The competition was the launching point for many of Hollands major artists.

According to her Bio Nicole Bus (Dutch/Dutch-Antillean) is a soulful singer-songwriter with a raw and authentic sound. At age eleven Nicole started writing and composing her own songs. Her music is a presentation of her believes and deepest felt emotions.

Video of Nicole Bus's winning performance at “De Grote Prijs van Nederland” ("The Grand Prize of the Netherlands") in Paradiso


In 2006 she performed as opening act for the American gospel singer Canton Jones.

Recently Nicole finished a tailor made training program called ‘Harvest Me’ organized by De Nieuwe Oogst led by Tasha’s World. At the end of this program all the participating artists had the opportunity to present themselves in an unique showcase at the new Dutch music conference Buma Rotterdam Beats to a panel of judges from a varying range of international music institutions (universal music GB, warner/ chappell music NL, badboy records US).All the judges present were awestruck by Nicoles performance and praised her uk/us sound.



Nicole Bus's official website at www.nicolebus.nl

Video: Szjerdene: new soul-jazz talent from London


SoulCulture featured the fresh unsigned talent from London by the name of Szjerdene.
The young up-and-coming soul-jazz singers, Szjerdene presents her demo for free download featuring three songs as a warm up for forthcoming EP, Tailored, which promises to be a “soulful, bluesy fusion of sounds both old and new”.



Collage: The Demo is Szjerdene’s way of thanking “everyone who came down to all the gigs or have supported me in some way shape or form.” She tells us, “To record those three songs was such a pleasure to give back to all the listeners and followers I’ve acquired and also a marker to show how far I’ve grown as a musician when the EP is released.”



See Szjerdene on Myspace at www.myspace.com/szjerdene

Video: Musica Cubana - "Chan Chan"


Since my previous post was about Cuba, some Cuban music now. Musica Cubana, Live in Tokyo. The first successful world tour of the film Musica Cubana. The film tells the story of the young and contemporary music scene of Cuba.


The Cuban point of view about Afro-Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas and the Sakharov Prize

I posted a press release of the European Union regarding the Sakharov Prize which was given to Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas. The 48-year-old doctor of psychology was invited to receive the €50,000 prize in Strasbourg on 15 December.

But as always there are of two sides of a story. I received a comment which sheds some light on the Cuban perspective. Main critique about the press release regarding Cuban Guillermo Fariñas was that is was misinformation in both North America and Europe.

From the Cuban point of view the press release ignored and distorted the truth on purpose to bring up these individuals as advocates of alleged human rights violations, when they are actually paid agents of a foreign power to subvert the Constitution of a sovereign country.

Read more on Dignity Cuba (Spanish) at http://dignidadcuba.blogspot.com

Interesting point of view!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ayo is back! World Premiere On December 21st 2010


World Premiere! On Tuesday December 21st 2010, Ayo invites you to listen exclusively to her new single. Go to www.ayomusic.com

World Fencing Champion Maureen Nisima joins the champion supporters backing Annecy Olympics Bid 2018 (France)

Following on from her first individual world Epée title at the World Championships held in November at the Grand Palais in Paris, French fencer Maureen Nisima has come out behind the French bid to host the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, reports Around the Rings.

This new title adds to Maureen Nisima's already impressive record, with 2 world team titles in 2008 and 2008. The champion, already a figurehead in the fencing world, adds her name to the list of sports champions backing Annecy's bid for 2018.

Video of Nisima giving fencing lessons to a journalist


Maureen Nisima was born in Bondy France (1981) and is of Martinique origin. The French national fencing team has many fencers from the Caribbean and French Guiana.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Emergence of Afro-Europe from an Afro-Flemish Perspective


My interpretation of the Flag for the Flanders Region of Belgium, combined with some African colours, the 'AfroFlemish Flag' so to speak (The original flag is yellow, representing a black lion called 'The Black Lion of Flanders'. This symbol has a strong political meaning in Belgium)

I am currently working on a film about black identity within the Flemish world of Belgium. For those who do not follow the Belgian social and political situation, I live in a bilingual country with a lot of communitarian (or call it ‘ethnic’) tension between the Dutch speaking Flemish population in the northern part of the country and the French speaking south. There are no wars or fights of course (I guess you’d have heard about that) but politicians and media are constantly blaming the other side for all national problems. If white Belgians don’t even know who they are, it is an even more complex issue for those whose parents and grandparents migrated to Belgium.

However, black people of very different origin tend to stand outside this issue. As Flemish identity is currently a hot topic in Belgium I wondered how black Belgians define themselves within this discourse. I decided to start interviewing black Belgians living in the Flanders on these identity issues, using very explicit questions on identity. Generally though, we are not tempted to talk about these issues overtly.

Below I will introduce you to different books recently written on the black experience in Europe. I also featured a 10 min interview with French historian and writer Pap Ndiaye on his very intersting book 'The Black Condition'.


I planned an interview with the most famous black politician in Belgium (Flemish), a city councilor in the Flemish town of Sint-Niklaas. He introduced me to a book written by an African American professor, Allison Blakely (Boston University). The book was entitled ‘Black people in the Dutch world. The Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society’ (1993) and attracted my attention immediately. It was a very interesting interview in which I heard very good arguments about the symbiosis of black identity and European identity (in his case Flemish identity).

A quick search of Allison Blakely online made me discover he is currently working on a new project called ‘The Emergence of Afro-Europe’, i.e. he’s working on a book about us … He also wrote the first chapter of ‘Black Europe and the African Diaspora’ (2009) edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Trica Danielle Keaton and Stephen Small. I ordered it online and will read it and write about it on this blog soon. Although the introduction of ‘Black Europe’ was written by Philomena Essed, a black Dutch scholar, it is worth noting that many African American social scientists feel naturally attracted by the subject and tend to dominate it. Well, of course they have been thinking and working on racial and identity issues way before there even was a substantial presence of blacks in Europe. Allison Blakely also wrote the first chapter of this book.

Today, black people in Europe (of very different origins) tend to start analyzing their situation and identity, finding a lot of inspiration in the American world. This blog is an expression of this new trend. (Although it already started in the 1930’s with the négritude literary movement that was also inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and W.E.B. Du Bois.)

The UK were first in producing substantial work on black identity in Europe. Paul Gilroy’s ground breaking work ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack’ (1991) was followed by the still very influential work on the transnational black experience ‘The Black Atlantic’ (1993). As a bilingual Belgian I am naturally attracted to the French speaking world too where last year I discovered two very interesting works on the subject: ‘La condition noire. Essai sur une minorité française’ (2008) by Pap Ndiaye (only in French)(who also studied in the US, check his interview on France24 in English below) and ‘Noirs de France’ (2007) by politician Rama Yade. The former is a very detailed analyses of the black experience in France while the latter is more a short and personal overview of current racial issues concerning blacks in France. Both books emphasize the fact that black French people are not a community as such but form several communities (Africans from several parts of Africa, Caribbeans, Muslims, Christians, mixed race, …). They share a common experience though, an experience of being culturally French, being perceived as foreign, and being perceived as ‘black’ (which contains several stereotypes they are often confronted with in a predominantly white country). Recently I discovered ‘Portraits de douze noirs de France: ni éboueurs, ni sportifs, ni vigiles, ni musicien’ (2009) (Translation: Portraits of Twelve French Blacks: nor garbage men, nor sports men, nor vigils, neither musicians) by Baba Diawara, a very interesting little book. And I guess there must be tons of new literary productions of the sort all over Europe now, besides video and documentaries.

Literature and video production on blacks in Europe was virtually nonexistent in the 20th century (except for the UK and maybe France, both since the 90’s). Since the start of the new millennium it is literally booming in those countries and I guess this means that in other parts it must be growing too. I discovered interesting Spanish, German and Russian productions on Afro-Europe (all to be find on this blog) and I guess there are people all over Europe creating and working on the subject.

I would like readers of this blog to contribute their knowledge in comments below. Do you know of any important books on the black experience in Europe written in any language, whether existing in an English translation or not. Do you know of documentaries about black people in a European country? Let us know. This blog is an inventory for all this productions and is a platform to spread that knowledge gathered through all these experiences.

On an academic level there is the website afroeurop@s (bilingual English-Spanish) which brings together scholars from all over Europe who focus on the subject.

Pap Ndiaye on France24 (In English) talking about being black in France:

Pap Ndiaye, "The Black condition"
Geüpload door france24. - Nieuwscontent direct van de pers.

Spike Lee talks to black filmmakers and fans in Amsterdam

Spike Lee was in Amsterdam. On Tuesday he also talked in Amsterdam South East (the Bijlmer) with young Dutch black filmmakers and fans.

Spike Lee was at the Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam as a guest of The John Adams Institute and Binger Film Lab on December 14th, to talk about his work, politics, race, identity and inspiration. And to promote his book with photographs and interviews of his success film "Do the right thing".



The newspaper Het Parool and Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported some of the questions, answers and quotes of the meeting in Amsterdam South East with the black filmmakers and fans. You can listen to some audio here.

Question from the audiance: why are there so few black actors in science fiction films. And what can young Antilleans and Surinamese learn from the African-American civil rights struggle.

Spike Lee: "I am a filmmaker, not Obi Wan Kenobi. What I do know is that education is the key to a better future. In America there are more black boys in jail then on high school. I hope things are better here."

When asked if the negative portrayal of African-Americans has come to an end now that Obama is president, Lee replied: "blacks in films are rappers, drug dealers or just idiots. That hasn’t changed, not even after Obama."

Lee continued: "American films influence the way people in the entire world talk, walk and think. But the gatekeepers in Hollywood protect the influence. Will Smith is almost the biggest star of the whole world, but he also has no access to the real power."

Lee tells his audience that it is likely that Obama will not be re-elected. "There are more death threats against Obama than any of the previous presidents of America. And that's of course because he is colored."

One of the fans of Spike Lee's is Irish Verwey. She agrees with Spike Lee that you have use your own talent to make the film you want. "There is talent," says Verwey, "but it is not bundled. This was a great moment of inspiration to achieve something together. Spike Lee does not have to come and help us, we must do it ourselves."

But Spike Lee has promised he will return to Amsterdam to attend a premiere of a Dutch black film.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

SCAWDI wants to meet Black history interest groups in the UK and abroad


SCAWDI (Sparkbrook Caribbean and African Women's Development Initiative) is a community organisation committed to engaging local people with their own heritage.

Based in Birmingham, England we have recently completed a 12 month project researching the Black presence in the West Midlands prior to 1918. This has been done by training volunteers to investigate and narrate historical sources. We have published a short book named after this project, History Detectives, which has details of all of the Black people we have found during our research period to date, fourteen of whom have had their stories told in full.

We are aware that there are many other Black history interest groups, both at home and abroad, who share our passion for uncovering hidden histories such as these, but too much work goes unnoticed.

We would like to form as many contacts as possible with groups and individuals that have similar research and organisational objectives so that all our work can be shared to as wide a network as possible.

If you would like to connect with us please contact me at dav.callaghan@gmail.com or visit our website www.scawdi.co.uk. Our mailing address is Friends Institute, 220 Moseley Road, Birmingham, B12 ODG.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First black deputy in Polish parliament


Poland has its first black politician in parliament. John Godson, 40, is originally from Nigeria but moved to Poland in the early 90’s. He lives in the town of Lodz, is married to a local woman and served for several years in the city council. He is a university lecturer teaching at several universities and institutions in Poland and the president of the African Institute in Poland.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Golliwog doll pulled from Australian store so as not offend Oprah during her tour of Australia

The UK blog Madnews wrote that a doll shop in Australia has withdrawn a female golliwog soft toy from its prominent window display to avoid offending the Oprah Winfrey roadshow Down Under.

The store in Melbourne, Victoria, removed the ‘Mamee’ washer woman dolls following a visit by Oprah’s production company ahead of a personal appearance by the popular 56-year-old U.S. talk show host.

Golliwogs are deeply offensive because of their perceived links to slavery and racism.

But the Dafel Dolls and Bears shop in Block Arcade – where 110 of Oprah’s guests will attend a cocktail party tonight – will continue to display other golliwogs which do not cast a black figure in such an overtly servile image.

The store owner declined to comment because she had signed a confidentiality agreement with Harpo productions, but confirmed a meeting had taken place.

‘Oprah’s people came… and yes it was discussed,’ a source familiar with the agreement told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper. Continue Reading…at Madnews

Since I am not British I would like to know who is buying these dolls and what do they do with them. This is so typical British. It looks like an English boarding school habit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bi-racial children in the Ukraine - "Family Portrait in Black and White"


Spotted on Blackgermans
"Family Portrait in Black and White" is a compelling film of Russian/Canadian Filmmaker Julia Ivanova about a group of bi-racial/black orphans in the former Soviet republic Ukraine.

Forced to constantly defend themselves from racist neighbours and skinheads, these children have to be on guard against the world that surrounds them.

The film is still in production, but will have its World Premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival





Short synopsis: Olga Nenya, from a small Ukrainian town, is raising sixteen black orphans in a country of Slavic blue-eyed blonds. The reality of growing up as a bi-racial child in Eastern Europe, a rare and truly visible minority, is not for the faint of heart. While Olga is on a crusade to save her children from the unjust world, she is also determined to shape their future according to her own, sometimes limited vision.

Long synopsis: Olga Nenya has 27 children. Four of them, now adults, are her biological children; the other 23 are adopted or foster children. Of those 23, 16 are bi-racial. She calls them "my chocolates," and is raising them to be patriotic Ukrainians. Some residents of Sumy, Ukraine, consider Olga a saint, but many believe she is simply crazy.

An inheritance from the Soviet era, a stigma persists here against interracial relationships, and against children born as the result of romantic encounters between Ukrainian girls and exchange students from Africa. For more than a decade, Olga has been picking up the black babies left in Ukrainian orphanages and raising them together so that they may support and protect one another.

The filmmakers interview Neo-Nazis in Ukraine reveals the real dangers for a dark-skinned individual in the street. These white supremacist youth joke about their evening raids and how police seem to let them do it. Prosecutors are not particularly determined to give strict sentences to racially motivated crimes, and young thugs can get away with probation for beating someone nearly to death.

Olga sends her foster children to stay with host families in France and Italy in the summers and over Christmas, where they are cared for by charitable families who have committed to helping disadvantage Ukrainian youth since the Chernobyl disaster. Olga's kids now speak different languages, and the older girls chat in fluent Italian with each other even while cooking a vat of borscht. But Olga doesn't believe in international adoption and has refused to sign adoption papers from host families that wanted to adopt her kids.

"At least when the kids grow up, they'll have a mother to blame for all the failures that will happen in their lives," she says.

See more information about the film and mixed race at www.mixedracestudies.org

See official website of the film at www.familyportraitthefilm.com

And see film synopsis in pdf at www.interfilm.ca

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

25 Years of ISD: Initiative Black People in Germany


The year 2010 is nearly over. Another few weeks and it’s 2011. I didn’t post much lately but thanks to my blog partner and founder of this website Afro-Europe International Blog is still alive and kicking.

Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland (ISD-Initiative Black Germans) celebrated their 25 years of existence this year and made a little video to commemorate this event. Before the end of this festive year I am happy to post their video now so that people all over the world can experience how ISD keeps on moving, producing and organizing for the benefit of the black community in Germany and will keep on doing this in the future.

I want to thank them again for the great welcoming they gave me when visiting their annual meeting last summer.


25. Years ISD with engl. subtitles from BlackMediaGermany on Vimeo.

Also see the post: Sharing the AfroEuropean Experience. My visit to the 25th yearly Bundestreffen in Germany.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Film: "For Colored Girls" - In UK Cinema Dec. 10th + Review


"For Colored Girls" is the new film of Tyler Perry. The film brings to the screen Ntozake Shange's Obie Award-winning play, a poetic exploration of what is to be of color and a female in this world. The film opens in the UK on the 10th of December.

According to the UK webmagazine Catch a Vibe one of the criticisms about the film was that the male characters had no redeeming qualities. Michael O’sullivan’s review in the Washington Post pretty much described For Colored Girls as male-bashing galore ‘It paints a bleak picture of masculinity as the domain of liars and thieves, paranoid alcoholics, unemployed moochers, adulterers, sex addicts and paedophiles.



The magazine expects that For Colored Girls will polarise UK audiences. "You’ll either love it or hate it, there really is no middle ground here. Perry’s latest endeavour isn’t perfect and could benefit from a more experienced director and a well-developed script, but—if given a chance—For Colored Girls might surprise you in a good way or maybe not."

About Tyler Perry the New York Times wrote. "Tyler Perry has been led out to critical slaughter so many times, it might seem a wonder that he continues to make movies. Except that Mr. Perry addresses his movies to black audiences and, until recently, has shown relatively little interest in crossing over. His enormous commercial success with a mainly black audience and the often ferociously hostile reviews from mostly white critics might seem symptomatic of an insurmountable racial divide. Black people love him and white people don’t get him, and that sort of thing, which might be somewhat true but ignores that another important dividing line runs along taste and not color."

But Perry does know how to pick his cast, the film stars Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Michael Ealy, Kimberly Elise, Omari Hardwick, Hill Harper, Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Tessa Thompson, Kerry Washington, Whoopi Goldberg and Macy Gray.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Black Women in Europe - List of most powerfull women in Europe 2010

The blog Black Women in Europe compiled a list of the most powerfull women in Europe. The Power List include seasoned politicians, accomplished performers, and champion athletes as well as social entrepreneurs and rising stars in the business world.

The list does not aim to assess rank but rather to underscore influential women from six categories: business, lifestyle, media, politics, and social entrepeneurs/NGOs. (Photo Diane Abbott MP UK.)



See the list at http://blog.blackwomenineurope.com

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Must See Video: "Influencers" - A webdoc about New York influential creatives

INFLUENCERS is a short documentary that explores what it means to be an influencer and how trends and creativity become contagious today in music, fashion and entertainment.

The film attempts to understand the essence of influence, what makes a person influential without taking a statistical or metric approach.

Written and Directed by Paul Rojanathara and Davis Johnson, the film is a Polaroid snapshot of New York influential creatives (advertising, design, fashion and entertainment) who are shaping today's pop culture.



"Influencers" belongs to the new generation of short films, webdocs, which combine the documentary style and the online experience.

The music in the beginning of the video is from the Robert Glasper Trio.

The Robert Glasper Trio - No Worries


Great Jazz music from Robert Glasper. The track "No Worries" is from his album Double Booked. Glasper was a sideman with Hip-Hop artists such as Mos Def, Q Tip and the Roots.

His music was also used in the webdoc Influencers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Video: Isaias Matiaba - "Tha Perimeno" (Greece)

Isaias Matiaba (Greek: Ησαΐας Ματιάμπα) is a Greek singer-songwriter.

Isaias Matiaba was born in Ioannina, Greece (1983) to a Greek mother and a Zairian father. From an early age he began studying classical piano and took classical singing lessons.

Tip from: NEMESIS N.W.O.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Book: Diana Evans - "The Wonder" - A Notting Hill novel

The plot of Diana Evans’s first novel, 26a, had its roots in her north London childhood and the suicide of her twin sister.

Her second, The Wonder, draws on another aspect of Evans’s experience. Before she turned to writing she was a dancer, and at the heart of The Wonder is The Midnight Ballet, an imaginary black dance company founded by a brilliant, troubled Jamaican dancer, Antoney Matheus, wrote the Telegraph book review.



Diana Evans was born in London and spent part of her childhood in Lagos, Nigeria. She studied Media Studies at the University of Sussex and was a dancer in the Brighton-based troupe Mashango before becoming a journalist and author.

The Wonder is not a new Novel, it is published in September 2009 and since August it is available in paperback.

Vintage books wrote about the novel: It’s carnival time! Diana Evans’s second novel The Wonder takes the reader on a dance through Notting Hill past and present.

We see Antoney Matheus and his mother arriving from Jamaica in 1958 to stay in a dim room on the corner of Portobello and Faraday Road; we watch Antoney take his first steps as a dancer to Baba Brooks, the Mighty Sparrow and James Brown in a house on Tavistock Crescent where the Marshall Brothers, from Trinidad, put on a regular Blues party; we see Antoney’s son Lucas wandering a prettified Portobello Road in the nineties trying to piece together his lost father’s life. Check out the sixties Carnival scene on p. 106: ‘There were all kinds of folks about. Whistle-blowing teenagers, spacy Mediterranean students in stripy tops, big-haired Jamaican girls in mini-dresses, old black men slurping pints outside the pubs, shopkeepers, policemen, open-shirted steel band skivers, a well-known barmaid in her famous leopard-print coat. There were fragments in this district of the Sahara Desert and the Irish Sea, the Panama Canal and the music box of Kingston, and the happy and terrible commotion that had developed from this was that you could find a good party as easily as you could a good fight.’

Official website www.dianaommoevans.com

Charl Landvreugd - An artist-in-residence experience in Amsterdam Bijlmer - 13/12/2010

On Monday 13th of December Dutch artist Charl Landvreugd will present his new work Atlantic Transformerz 2010 and discuss his experience in the BijlmAIR residency, where he stayed for four months (sept-dec 2010) during the production of the work.

BijlmAIR is an artist-in-residence programme run by Centrum Beeldende Kunst Zuidoost (CBK Zuidoost), Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam and Stichting Flat. Door open: 19.30h, start: 20.00h. Language of the evening: Dutch. Free entrance

The making of Atlantic Transformerz 2010 - Inspired by the
gathering of people from the African diaspora in the Bijlmer in Amsterdam, he unites the four continents around the Atlantic in this video


Landvreugd is a Dutch artist, born in Suriname and raised in Rotterdam.
Aesthetically, politically, theoretically as well as practically, black is
the base colour in his practice. The artist has studied at the Goldsmiths
College (London) and Columbia University (NYC), and now continues his
investigations of black and Blackness. He explores the plurality of black
hues and advocates for distinctions in black diversity. Inspired by the
gathering of people from the African diaspora in the Bijlmer, he unites the
four continents around the Atlantic in the video work Atlantic Transformerz
2010.

In his presentation Landvreugd makes connections with the legacy of the
Continental Black European thinkers Frantz fanon and Edgar Cairo. He is
inspired by the concept Ujamaa (extended family), Sun Ra, The Transformers,
Star Wars, the 90’s club-scene, Bruce Weber’s portrayal of the male body,
and the music videos by Hype Williams. These Afro-Futuristic and
postcolonial elements constitute the context of his work.


Artists website at www.charll.com

Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam at www.smba.nl

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Russia won the 2018 World Cup! But ...

Russia has been chosen to host the 2018 World Cup, but the country still has a slight diversity problem. Or better it has some problems with ethic diversity.

On the Dutch 8 O'clock news the reporter in Russia expressed her concern about the safety of African teams and their supporters. She noted the widespread racism in Russia towards people from different ethnic origins.

It appears drunken Russian football fans attack people from the Asian republic Uzbekistan after a football match. Uzbekistan is a former Sovjet republic.

But I am sure Poetin wants so show a Russia that can not only build stadiums for the World Cup, but also a Russia that can handle a World Cup audience.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

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