November 02, 2010

Campus-Wide Talks on Nov 3rd

The following events will be held at Columbia University this Wednesday and they are hosted by the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University:

"Reflections on Native Nostalgia and Contemporary Thoughts on the Future of South Africa" by Jacob Dlamini

Date: Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Time: 6:30pm to 8:30pm
Location: 754 Schermerhorn Extension, Columbia University
This event is co-sponsored by the University Seminar on Studies in Contemporary Africa and The Department of Anthropology. Dlamini is the author of the book "Native Nostalgia," a columnist for Business Day where he was formerly the Political Editor, and currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Yale University

IFRIQIYYA Colloquium in association with IAS and the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies presents:

Date: Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Time: 12:00 – 2:00pm
Location: Knox Hall, Room 207
A lecture by Professor Abdul Sheriff

April 21, 2010

Upcoming events


Tapped: The Movie
New York, NY
Columbia University, Cowin Center at Teacher's College (between 120/121 st and Broadway)
Bottle Exchange: 4 PM - Trade in a plastic water bottle for a Klean Kanteen for the first 100 people there!
Screening: 5 PM

Is access to clean drinking water a basic human right, or a commodity that should be
bought and sold like any other article of commerce? Stephanie Soechtig's debut feature is an unflinching examination of the big business of bottled water.

From the producers of Who Killed the Electric Car and I.O.U.S.A., this timely
documentary is a behind-the-scenes look into the unregulated and unseen world of an
industry that aims to privatize and sell back the one resource that ought never to become a commodity: our water.

From the plastic production to the ocean in which so many of these bottles end up, this
inspiring documentary trails the path of the bottled water industry and the communities
which were the unwitting chips on the table. A powerful portrait of the lives affected by
the bottled water industry, this revelatory film features those caught at the intersection of big business and the public's right to water.

Tapped is a story of how one person really can make a difference. Each section of the
film tells the story of a David and Goliath battle in which a regular person, like you or
me, goes up against a big corporation in order to initiate change in the world, and
people should walk away from this film knowing that they can make a difference.

Tapped: The Movie
New York, NY
Columbia University, Cowin Center at Teacher's College (between 120/121 st and Broadway)
Bottle Exchange: 4 PM - Trade in a plastic water bottle for a Klean Kanteen for the first 100 people there!
Screening: 5 PM

To learn more, visit


The Center for African Education and the African Studies Working Group are excited to stage a 3-part event, co-sponsored by the Teachers College Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs.

Student Writing Workshop
Friday, April 23rd, 12-2:30pm
Private Dining Room
Grace Dodge Hall

Representations of Africa
Panel discussion & reception
Thursday, April 29th, 7:00-9:30pm
Grace Dodge Hall 179

The goal of this event is to explore how Africa is represented in a number of
different spheres including fiction, academic writing, journalism, and. the
impact of these representations on public opinion of the continent.

This initiative endeavors to promote new knowledge, tolerance, and respect for
the diversity of linguistic, racial and ethnic differences that exist in Africa and
diasporic communities around the world and invites participants to critically
engage with representations of Africa.
For further information, please consult the Center website



April 23rd, 2010

10:00 am to 5pm
The New School
Wolff Conference Room
6 E. 16th Street
Rooms. 906/913

For more information please visit:

Free and open to the public. But please come early - seating will be limited.

The New School for Social Research Anthropology Department is pleased to announce our annual graduate student conference 'Committing Anthropology.' We have assembled an exceptional collection of speakers and participants to discuss the field of contemporary anthropology. Panelists include:

Stephen J. Collier, The New School

Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study

Allen Feldman, NYU

Nicolas Langlitz, The New School

Neni Panourgia, Columbia University

Elizabeth Povinelli, Columbia University

Rayna Rapp, NYU

Sharika Thiranagama, The New School

Miriam Ticktin, The New School

Moderating these panels will be faculty members from The New School's Department of Anthropology. Our moderators include:
Hugh Raffles
Vyjayanthi Rao
Janet Roitman
Ann L. Stoler


Rethinking Racial Capitalism Conference


Building an African Presence Conference
Committee on Global Thought

April 18, 2010

Of Combs and Coiffures – The Photography of J.D. Okhai Ojeikere

As an African woman I am very well aware that although appearances aren’t quite everything, they are nonetheless very important – especially when it comes to one’s hair. From an early age the salon (or, as we pronounce it in my dear country, the saloon) becomes an integral part of our lives. I remember countless afternoons spent sitting on a small wooden stool getting my hair cornrowed for school, held firmly between the hairdresser’s thighs as she skilfully wove my obstinate hair into intricate patterns snaking along my scalp. It always made me laugh when I would talk to my British friends and they would tell me that the salon was where they went to be pampered: as a child, I was convinced that only mysterious army soldiers in darkened rooms could carry out more intense torture than a Surulere hair stylist. But all the pain and tears would be forgotten as soon as the hairdresser released me from her iron grip and I could scamper to the mirror and admire my new ‘do: from two-step to patewo, I loved seeing how my look would transform from one week to the next.

I was never particularly inventive with my hairstyles Рprobably because of a fear of the side-eye my mother would deliver if I did anything too unconventional Рbut one detail about my salon experiences that sticks out in my mind is the posters on the wall, interspersed between adverts for relaxer cr̬mes, that customers could use as inspiration. Pattern upon pattern with names like FESTAC (a residential area of Lagos) and Skyscraper covered the paper, and I would stare at them, mesmerised by their gravity-defying power and a little sad at the relative simplicity of my hairstyle. Glamorous they were, but unfortunately a little too grown up for a girl still in primary school.

Years later, my nostalgia for those years and those posters was awoken by a feature on on the work of photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere. Along with his sons Iria and Amaize, Ojeikere has greatly influenced the direction of photography and documentation in Nigerian society, most famously through his 1960s series on urban hairdressers and the creativity with which they carved inspiring styles for women. His work provides a snapshot of a Nigeria that I never saw: a country recently freed of the burden of colonialism and full of hope and excitement for the future. Even though our history has forced some hard lessons on us, the remarkable spirit and beauty of his photographs reflect the resilience of Nigerians and the depth of our imaginations. And, as a Nigerian woman, they’re a wonderful reminder that my joy at the sight of a perfectly-coiffured head is shared by millions of my fellow citizens. Ojeikere’s photographs are stunning at first glance, but it is the careful thought and the countless stories behind them that make them so incredibly evocative and appealing.

April 16, 2010

Review of the Rageh Omaar Report: ZIMBABWE - STATE OF DENIAL

I have just finished watching a forty-five minute report on Zimbabwe titled "Zimbabwe - State of Denial." The report by Aljazeera's star correspondent and the host of its WITNESS show, the British-Somali Rageh Omaar drew a grim picture of the situation in the country. It was a scathing criticism of Robert Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF. The president and his party are accused of single-handedly destroying Zimbabwe's economy and precipitating incredible levels of inflation. The country previously known as the food basket of the entire continent has, as a result of these policies, become dependent on international food aid. But that was not enough: Omaar also criss-crossed the country in order to interview members of the Zimbabwean opposition as well as white farmers. The story behind the land reforms which drew Western wrath at Zimbabwe is told from a different perspective. Yes, the land had been concentrated in the hands of whites (who make up two per cent of the Zimbabwean population), but Mugabe had only moved to take over their farms after he realized that he was losing the support of the people. According to the report, Mugabe never had a problem with white ownership of the land. He had, in fact, upon independence, gone to great lengths to comfort the white minority in the new Zimbabwe.

One will not come out supporting President Robert Mugabe after watching this film. It is decidedly unsympathetic to ZANU-PF. Omaar’s report is dismissive of the Western role in the economic collapse and does not give sufficient hearing to the plight of the landless millions of Zimbabweans. Yes, Mugabe is corrupt and manipulative. And yes, the land reforms have been marred by wide scale irregularities but still; their justness should not be questioned.

April 14, 2010

Lecture Report: Marriage in 1930s Ghana

On March 31st 2010 I was fortunate enough to attend a discussion held on Marriage in 1930s Ghana that was sponsored by the Committee on Global Thought and the Institute of African Studies. While the paper that the discussion was based upon is still awaiting publication, it will be a very fascinating read for its use of rare newspaper archives of women's pages from the Gold Coast Independent as the core of the work's historical base. The final paper will instrumental for anyone interested Britain's use of the marriage ordinance as a means to establish indirect rule in the Gold Coast.

The paper is also intriguing for its documentation of the controversies surrounding the sex of the main columnist advocating ordinal marriage in the Gold Coast, the coverage of the tension between the traditional elite and the educated elite, the alienation of the elite from the common people, the power struggle between colonial and customary courts for legal supremacy in the Gold Coast, and the reorganization of the domestic and social life of Ghanaians as a result of this legislation.

The paper also makes a strong argument that the marriage ordinance was an important part of the construction of the citizenship for Ghanaians during the initial phases of indirect colonial rule where the negotiation of British versus Gold Coast identity was still taking place. Most importantly, after reading this paper one will have a firm understanding of the powerful, yet often overlooked perspective on how the British were able to consolidate power over their colonies.

April 11, 2010

Democracy in Dakar Film Screening & Panel Discussion with Director

This event will take place in 702 Hamilton Hall from 4pm-6pm Monday 12th of April 2010.

Democracy in Dakar panelist bios:

Benjamin Herson, director and producer of "Democracy in Dakar," is the founder and director of Nomadic Wax, a global hip-hop record label and production company dedicated to recording, documenting and presenting hip-hop and underground music from around the world. Herson has a B.A. in African Studies and Anthropology from Hampshire College and studied Wolof at Columbia University. He is also an internationally celebrated producer and musician.

Timothy Mangin is a Ph.D. candidate in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. His dissertation is entitled "Senegalese Urban Popular Music: Jazz, Mbalax, and Rap." Mangin holds a B.A, in music from Bowdoin College and a Certificate in African Studies from the Institute of African Studies at Columbia. He was also a pre-doctoral fellow in the Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar on Globalizing City Cultures at the Center for Comparative Literature and Society.

Baay Bia is an award-winning musician and MC from Dakar, Senegal. He began performing in 1991, and in 1993 he formed the group Black Face Productions. His first album, Nation, a collaboration with Bill Diakhou, won the Senegalese Hip Hop Awards in 2002. He released his first solo album, Le Messager, in 2004, and his second, Lilaay Wommat, in 2006. In 2009, Baay Bia and Nomadic Wax released the music video for "Liy Am Amna," directed by Nomadic Wax filmmaker and co-director of "Democracy in Dakar" Magee McIlvaine.

April 09, 2010

Mars vs. Venus: "The Ultimate Face-off"

The Vagina Monologues has travelled across the Atlantic - check out this great review of a collaborative project by two Nigerian playwrights addressing the myriad issues that affect men and women in contemporary African societies including sex, marriage and religion:

March 30, 2010

Lecture on Marriage in 1930s Ghana


Wednesday,March 31st, 2010, 6:30-8:30pm, at The Faculty House, 2nd floor (Room 2), Columbia University The speaker will be Dr. Jinny Prais, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Committee on Global Thought and the Institute of African Studies, Columbia University. If you have not done so already, please RSVP by 12noon on Wednesday, March 31st: or 212-854-8045 Seminar participants who wish to join the speaker and co-chairs for an after-session dinner at a nearby restaurant, please contact Yuusuf at

March 25, 2010

Movin' On Up

Progression is an inherent aspect of life. Moving up and onward. Growth. Building. Making Strides.

All of the above is what Ethiopian-American musician, Kenna Zemedkun, sought out to do in his quest to raise awareness about the global clean water crisis. He will be leading a team of his friends, including Lupe Fiasco, Jessica Biel, and Elizabeth Gore, on a climb up Mouth Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain peak on the continent of Africa). The documentary of "Summit on the Summit" was covered by MTV on March 14th this month (check out MTV for a repeat!) and in doing so, Kenna is hoping to raise money for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), The Children's Safe Drinking Water Program, and the PlayPumps International.

And how did this all begin? While Kenna himself was born in Ethiopia, he was raised in the American context where the threat of water concerns had not been one of the primary issues that his family had to deal with. His father, on the other hand, knew a plethora of friends and family members from back in their country who had died on account of waterborne illnesses. This is what inspired Kenna to begin his mission, and this is also what is propelling him to continue it.

Please feel free to chime in your thoughts on this subject matter!

Alongside doing so, please feel free to check out where you can follow the crews adventures. In addition, take a look at the video below for what Kenna has to say about his project....and a quick taste of his musical talents!

Achebe's "Hopes and Impediments" - A Review

Chinua Achebe, arguably the grandfather of modern African literature, recently published The Education of a British-Protected Child, a collection of predominantly autobiographical essays. As an avid reader (and proud Nigerian) I was excited to leap into this new book, but my ardour was somewhat dampened by a less-than enthusiastic review on that criticised the outdated subjects addressed in the volume. A good friend (and fellow contributor to this blog) suggested that I read Hopes and Impediments instead, an earlier anthology of Achebe’s work. This is far from the first excellent piece of advice said friend has given me, as this book showcases a side of Achebe’s brilliance as a writer that I had not seen before: not only does he write beautiful fiction, but he is also an incisive, witty and compelling literary critic with plenty to say on issues that are highly pertinent to our contemporary situation.

I am certain almost everyone reading this has heard of the novel Things Fall Apart. The story of Okonkwo and the village of Umuofia is fundamental to the post-colonial literary canon, particularly as a work that “writes back” to empire and engages colonialist discourse head-on. In Hopes and Impediments, which consists of essays written between 1965 and 1987, Achebe moves out of the world of the imaginary in order to address issues ranging from the underlying racism of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the role a writer plays within their community. What I most admire about Achebe’s writing is his utter fearlessness: he was working at a time where African writers and intellectuals had to deal with condescending Western critics who claimed to promote the concept of the “universal” while simultaneously denying others equal ownership to it. The post-colonial writer was painted as “unredeemed and unregenerated” because of their “in-between” status: their immersion in Western culture had separated them from their “own people” (that is, the “real” Africans), but their “abortive effort at education” had not pushed them quite far enough into the world of the white man. Achebe turns this twisted logic on its head and asserts that the African writer’s stance between these two worlds places them in an ideal position to respond to and critique them far better than any Westerner, a job that he does admirably well. His tone is, at times, stirringly pugnacious: in the essay “Colonial Criticism” he refers to colonial rhetoric as “complete and utter nonsense” and Western reviewers as “obtuse” – a refreshing burst of frankness in a world that is often overly politically correct. Despite his academic standing, Achebe’s non-fiction remains incredibly accessible for the lay reader while continuously challenging received notions of black/white relations, depictions of Africa and the nature of culture, amongst other topics.

One essay I found particularly touching (as well as a surprising departure from the others) was “Don’t Let Him Die,” a brief yet painfully exquisite eulogy for Achebe’s close friend and fellow writer Christopher Okigbo who was killed during the Biafran war. It vividly evokes the spirit of Okigbo while putting his death in the tragic context of Nigeria at the time, caught in a state of horrific civil strife just a few short years after independence. This piece captures the grief of losing a comrade without sinking into despair: Achebe ends the piece by focusing on how Okigbo would live on through his stunning poetry, grounding his tribute in the overarching theme of the importance of literature as a voice for nations emerging from the shadow of colonialism.

Although Achebe’s more recent collection supposedly recycles many of the ideas in Hopes and Impediments (according to Ikhide R. Ikheloa he is “lecturing the West in the past tense”), perhaps he continues to revert to themes such as racism, colonialism and African literature because they are still pressingly relevant today. I still plan to read The Education of a British-Protected Child out of bull-headed devotion, but for newcomers to Achebe and African literary criticism, Hopes and Impediments, displaying this legendary writer at his very best, is about the most exquisite introduction you could ask for.