The “Bangwa Queen,” a visually-arresting statue taken by German explorer more than 100 years from a religious shrine in the Grassfields region of Cameroon, is a centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new “Heroic Africans” exhibition. The “Bangwa Queen” normally resides in Paris, in Musee Dapper, which holds perhaps the world’s finest single collection of African art. The return of the statue to American soil is a cause for celebration. The statue, once owned by the cosmetic tycoon Helena Rubenstein, was purchased by a Los Angeles businessman and then, after his death, sold at auction. Only later did the piece turn up in Paris as part of the Dapper. The “Bangwa Queen” is believed to be the single most valuable work of traditional African art and has long been an object of fascination among avante-garde artists as well as enthusiasts of tribal art.
Sep 19 2011
What’s the clearest sign yet that fears about rising disorder in Nigeria are creating near-hysterical conditions in the minds of many people living in this benighted country?
The answer to this question is itself another question: can mobile-phone calls kill … instantly?
Some Nigerians think they can.
The BBC, an endless source of edification on all things African, has reported that panicked Nigerians now believe a mobile phone call can kill. Not any phone call but a call from the number 09141.
Alas, the BBC’s own intrepid reporters were unable to complete a call to this number — and they haven’t received either — casting doubt on the veracity of this “urban legend” sweeping the country.
The fears over the number have escalated to the point where the venerable Nigerian Communications Commission has said that killer phone calls are “unimaginable” and that “unscrupulous persons” are spreading fear.
The specter of the killer phone call seems, to an untrained and distant eye, a rather pointed case of displacement. Instead of fearing for the collapse of their own society, Nigerians are displaying their fear into the irrational. In a dismaying example of political escapism, Nigerians are resorting to magical thinking to cope with the very grim daily reality experienced by many in Nigeria.
In the politics of running and hiding — a politics not unique to Nigeria but carefully cultivated in the country — killer phone calls provide a kind of curious comfort to ordinary people must somehow sustain themselves in the face of an everyday irrationality that undermines hope.
Sep 07 2011
Mistreatment of African migrants to Libya from the sub-Saharan bring shame onto the the country’s new governing coalition. Targeting such migrants because of their skin color — they are black — is deeply troubling.
Libyan rebels have happily received decisive support from an international community — led by France and the U.S. — who subscribe to race-blind principles. Having been empowered by aid based on these principles, the rebels should not abandon basic human decency in their treatment of migrants from “black Africa,” whom they are unfairly labeling as mercenaries hired by the former regime.
In truth, Ghaddafi cynically manipulated Libya’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa, opening his country to economic migrants, especially from West Africa, and to human smugglers who helped these migrants find ways into Europe. In his brittle attempt at finding international allies, Ghaddafi promoted a pan-Africanism that sought, again cynically, to unite North Africa with the sub-Saharan. That Ghaddafi had no interest in actually buildng bridges beween these two regions fatally undermined his pan-African project. Moreoever, by permitting large numbers of black migrants into Libya, Ghaddafi sowed the seeds of resentment against them by his own resentful and alienated population.
Now that Ghaddafi is gone, rebellious Libyans want the Africans migrants out as well. The views of the Libyan people should be respected but there also should be no violent and immediate expulsion of black Africans either. These migrants in Libya don’t deserve punishment. Rather they should be helped out of the country in an orderly process supervised by the International Organization for Migration or individual governments, perhaps France.
The anti-black attitudes of Libyans are neither unique to Libya or to North Africa. Nor are they new to Libya either. And black migrants face bias even in Europe and in Asia. When a new government forms legally and legitimately in Libya — and a new constitution is written and approved as well — Libyans may decide to halt all new migration into their country. But for now Libyans ought to be patient with the migrants in their midst, and recognize that their presence is only one more legacy of their longtime dictator. Just as all the institutions of Libya will take years to reform or rebuild, so too will its migration rules and regime. For now black migrants ought to be treated fairly and generously. Such an approach by Libyans is justified on its own merits but also would represent a downpayment on what Libyan reformers owe the West — and the rest.
Sep 04 2011
Princeton Lyman, the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan for the Obama administration, provides a trenchant back-story to the birth of South Sudan in an essay in the inaugural issue of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs. Lyman, better known as an Africa expert for the Council on Foreign Relations and an editor of an excellent volume on US-Africa relations, writes with special passion and pith about the improbable end to the Sudanese north-south civil war and the birth this summer of the new nation of South Sudan. Among his more significant insights: the looming problem of Sudan’s Abyei region, which was left out of the partition deal between north and south. “The people of Abyei understandably feel angry and abandoned,” Lyman writes. Yet Lyman suggests that grievance may not be enough to force Abyei onto an already-crowded pan-Sudanese political agenda. “Abyei is not a large region and, contrary to media descriptions of it being “oil rich,” its oil output is relatively insignificant,” Lyman insists. A political solution, he says, proved impossible in the run-up to South Sudan’s birth and stability in Abyei remains elusive – a potential flash-point worth understanding better.