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Spotlight on Africa - Searching for answers, 15 years after Ghanaians murdered in Gambia

In Accra, a new documentary out this January sheds light on the 2005 murders of 56 West Africans in The Gambia – most of them Ghanaians. In I cannot Bury My Father, director Nana-Jo Ndow explores the lack of closure – and the lack of information – the families of the victims were given. RFI speaks to Ndow and Isaac Mensah, one of the sons of the victims, who are looking for the remains of their parents – and looking for answers.

Spotlight on Africa - UN General Assembly president calls for respect for diversity while promoting shared values

The Paris Peace Forum is now underway with around 30 heads of state and leaders of civil society meeting to promote global peace. French President Emmanuel Macron opened the forum on Tuesday by saying that the global political system was in "unprecedented crisis", and called for new kinds of alliances to help solve problems.

United Nations General Assembly President Tijani Muhammad-Bande spoke to RFI on the sidelines of the forum in Paris, and he expressed similiar sentiments, calling for respect of diversity while promoting shared universal values.

Spotlight on Africa - France's Africa Ambition

The time to invest in Africa is now. That was the message hammered home at last week’s France-Africa business summit, which saw the French government position itself as a new investment hub for the continent. Yet, many French companies still shy away from African markets and bilateral trade has fallen. Can France make up for lost time with China and reclaim its status as Africa’s main European trading partner? And if so, on what terms? RFI’s Christina Okello reports.

To listen to this report, just click the 'Play' button below or above.

To get the full story, click on the article version here:
SMEs are key to reviving French business ties to Africa

Spotlight on Africa - Can France’s minorities learn from US slavery struggle?

In August, America marked 400 years since the arrival of the first Africans in 1619, which started the institution of slavery. In France, observers are questioning whether there are lessons to be learned for France’s African community.

In a brightly lit room of the American library in Paris, members of the public pour in for a conference exploring the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to the British colony of Virginia. The guest speaker, a civil rights expert and playwright, is yet to arrive.

When she does, Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, apologises profusely, blaming her lateness on her taxi driver who got lost and then wanted to overcharge her.

Her humour dispels the mood of the topic she’s come to discuss. But from the get go, she insists upon celebration and not defeat.

“I want to thank my ancestors. Without their perseverance, I wouldn’t be here,” she tells the audience.

Ongoing struggle

In August of 1619, some 20 indentured Africans arrived in the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, after being kidnapped from their villages in present-day Angola.

“They arrive and they learn the economy, the language, culture, and they actually progress, and then once the law takes effect and they’re enslaved, from there we have this fight, this ongoing fight for 400 years, so there’s a lot to commemorate.”

Browne-Marshall, a professor of constitutional law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, had just returned from a trip to Angola.

“I went back to Angola. I wanted to know more about these first Africans, and I discovered Queen Nzinga. Not only did she rule but she went to battle and stood up to Portuguese slave traders,” she comments.

Choose to fight

By highlighting the brave achievements of the Angolan warrior queen and others like her, Browne-Marshall attempts to reclaim some of the dignity lost during the slavery era, which she has documented on extensively.

“We all have choices. Are we going to go on with the programme even if it is oppressive to others, or are we going to stand our ground and fight? Queen Nzinga did, and that really inspired me.”

Her research has also focused on recent battles for equal rights, including that of Mum Bett, the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts.

“Just as Mum Bett became Elizabeth Freeman by pushing against those that would oppress her, we have to continue pushing forward. We can’t sit down and believe that ...

Spotlight on Africa - Black model art show challenges France's colour blindness

A recent Paris exhibition honouring forgotten black models of modern art has shone a spotlight on black identity in a society where race remains a controversial subject.

France has been multicultural "since the 19th and 20th century", says Denise Murrell, co-curator of Le Modèle Noir or Black Models.

The landmark exhibition on modern art’s forgotten black models ran from March to July at Paris’ Orsay museum. On Friday 13 September, it was due to premiere at Pointe à Pitre in Guadeloupe.

The lavish show, portraying people of colour in French art from the country’s final abolition of slavery in 1848 until the 1950s, “shows without question that there was a black presence in the heart of cultural activity in the 19th century,” mirroring “today’s diverse, contemporary society”, Murrell told RFI.

Yet these figures were left out of history. The four-month long exhibition sought to give them back their identity, by renaming leading paintings in the models’ names. Portrait of a Negress thus became Portrait of Madeleine and Edouard Manet’s Olympia, showing a reclining nude prostitute, has been renamed Laure, in honour of the black maid in the background.

Being ignored

“Madeleine, the black woman in the painting, has been subject to a silencing or obliteration of her identity by a generic title…so being able to rename her was important,” continues Murrell.

Similarly, Laure, who inspired one of Manet’s most important works, is barely noticed, and extensive scholarship on the work has focused more on the cat than the servant stooping down to offer flowers to the white woman.

“Laure was emblematic of the condition of the diaspora, being invisible even though one is in plain view. I wanted to do something about it,” comments Murrell.

Revealing the maid’s identity became the foundation of the curator’s doctoral dissertation, Seeing Laure, Race and Modernity from Manet’s Olympia to Matisse, Bearden and Beyond, and an earlier exhibition of Le Modèle Noir in New York that Murrell curated called, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.

Black studies

Over 400,000 visitors flocked to the Orsay museum to see Laure and many of the other Black figures in French art such as Haitian model Joseph, who was the central figure of Gericault’s famous painting the Raft of the Medusa.

Joseph was portrayed as the hero in the artwork – the one who called for rescue for the other stricken crewmembers. In an era where slavery was still rampant, such a favourable portrayal was a clear call for abolition.

For Murrell, the success of Le Modèle Noir is a clear sign of the "hunger" in ...

Spotlight on Africa - What's behind Macron's courting of the African diaspora?

France has recently made overtures to the African diaspora, inviting them to be the bridge between France and their countries of origin. Critics say it's move to regain a foothold in the former colonies. But France's African community could leverage its influence to ask for recognition at home.

In France, there are no statistics on "race" or ethnicity. Racial categories that are commonplace in the US and UK such as white, black or Asian don’t exist.

The logic is simple: to avoid racism, avoid categorising people by race and instead treat everyone equally. This is the Republican egalitarian ethos. It is held up in France as a powerful rebuke of the racist ideology propagated by the Nazi regime.

In World War Two, the former collaborationist regime enabled the roundup of thousands of Jews, based on their race and ethnicity.

However, the experience of discrimination felt by some in France's African community has led to growing calls for more visibility of ethnic minorities.

Today, the French government is reaching out to Africans in the diaspora to help it foster greater connections with the African continent.

Paris has lost ground to countries like China in a scramble for influence in this new Eldorado.

President Emmanuel Macron has said that if Africa fails then all of Europe will fail, and wants the diaspora to serve as a buffer. If they handle the attention well, France's african community could leverage their influence to ask for real recognition at home. 

So who are they? What are their aspirations? And what effect can the diaspora have on French society? In the coming weeks, RFI's Christina Okello will take you on a journey to explore the rich diversity in France, starting with its African diaspora.

Subscribe to the series on iTunes or Google podcasts.

And to listen to this first episode, just hit the Play button above

Spotlight on Africa - Teenage flight of fancy from Cape Town to Cairo

A group of 20 teenagers are set to make aviation history when they fly a light aircraft from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo in Egypt on 15 June.

Together they will fly the length of the continent, covering over 10,000 kilometres in a plane they assembled themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Megan Werner was behind the initiative, and founded U-Dream Global, an aviation outreach initiative that fosters “visionary thinking” to inspire young people to pursue their dreams.

Speaking from Johannesburg, Megan explains more about this project to RFI.

Spotlight on Africa - Rwanda's challenging road to reconciliation

In the 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, the country has emerged to become one of Africa’s success stories. Its remarkable recovery has stemmed from efforts towards nation-building. But some critics argue this bid for ethnic reconciliation is far from complete. In this week’s Spotlight on Africa, RFI's Christina Okello travels to Kigali to explore how Rwanda has dealt with the trauma of its past.

Tucked away in a courtyard away from the main commercial area in Kigali, is a small memorial site dominated by an imposing building of red bricks and white panels. The building is the Sainte Famille church, the largest Catholic Church in Rwanda. It is also where more than 2,000 people were massacred during the 1994 genocide.

“We still remember those people who was killed, who are called Abatutsi [or Tutsi] people,” recounts 19-year-old Nadine Ouwiduhaye, pointing to the names of the victims engraved on a black marble wall.

When violence broke out on 7 April following the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana, many residents from troubled districts of Kigali fled to Sainte Famille church to seek refuge, only to be handed over to Hutu militias by the priest in charge there.

“I’m just looking at these people; they’re too many. This is something like inhumanity. How can people take something like a knife and put to the neck of others, how they can kill their people, kill their child, how people can kill his mother? Just too many questions,” Ouwiduhaye told RFI.

Is God listening?

Up to one million Tutsis and Hutus were killed in a brutal one-hundred-day massacre that has led some to question whether God exists. In his commemoration speech to mark the 25th anniversary since the killings, President Paul Kagame reiterated the poem of a young girl who once said: “Where was God on those dark nights of genocide?”

“People say he was absent, no he wasn’t,” responds Ouwiduhaye.

“Something bad happened, it doesn’t mean God forgot us. He is trying to teach us how we can treat each other, how we can be together. Before, they didn’t have a unit, they just had something like Tutsi, Hutu, Twa. But right now, we are just Rwandan, all of us we are just Rwandan,” she said.


Today, ethnic labels in Rwanda have been erased, and most children like Ouwiduhaye have grown up with the idea of “Rwandaness,” inculcated into them in education camps, known as ingando that try to minimize ...

9 episodes