Rappers and Politicians: Burkina Faso Edition

At times, hip hop and politics have gone hand in glove. In certain ways, American rappers in the 1980s and 1990s (and to a lesser extent the 2000s and the 2010s) were (literally and symbolically) heirs to black political leaders of the 1960s. Tupac Shakur was the son of Black Panthers and he caused almost as much political controversy in his time as they did in theirs. The album cover for KRS-ONE’s 1988 By All Means Necessary recreates a famous photograph of Malcolm X. Many rappers, especially in the early 1990s, were influenced by the Five Percent Nation, founded in 1964 by a one-time student of Malcolm X. The list of linkages between the political activism of the 1960s and the musical florescence of the 1980s and 1990s goes on and on.

What of African hip hop? An interesting case presents itself in Ismael Sankara, who may (French) or may not (French) be the son of Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. The elder Sankara, who took power in a 1983 coup, ruled until his death in a 1987 coup by his one-time companion (and current Burkinabe President) Blaise Compaore. Captain Sankara is famous for his outspoken Marxism and the dramatic changes he introduced in Burkina Faso (which he renamed from Upper Volta). These changes included refusing foreign aid, nationalizing key resources, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing rapid development through expansion of infrastructure and other programs.

Ismael, if one accepts that he is Capt. Sankara’s son (some members of the extended Sankara family reject the claim), was born in 1987, six months before his father’s death. He grew up with his mother mostly in Miami, where he became involved in music. As captured in a short documentary about him entitled “The Rhythm of My Life,” on a 2010 trip to Gabon he made contacts who helped him record an album that is due to appear shortly. Several videos from the album have already circulated, including a song entitled “Real Africans,” embedded below.

How does Ismael deal with his father’s legacy? In “The Rhythm of My Life,” he states that his father “knew that this vision wouldn’t last long,” but frequently said that “music is the future.”

Ismael has not, from what I can tell, specifically addressed or criticized the existing political situation in Burkina Faso. At one point (either 2008 or 2010, according to different sources), Ismael performed in Burkina Faso with Sean Paul, and accepted an invitation to dine with President Compaore. There seems to be no open enmity between the two men.

The video for “Real Africans” is worth contemplating for what it says about more subtle forms of the elder Sankara’s legacy, as well as for its depiction of Africa. The video makes no reference to Capt. Sankara, except perhaps for Ismael’s invocation of his “royal bloodline,” but the video is reminiscent of Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock”: in both cases, the viewer sees the musician totally at home, a leader, in his and his father’s land, a man of and yet adored by the people. In Ismael’s case this is underscored by the chorus’ repeated line, “I never left but they sayin that I’m back again.” The video was not, however, filmed in Burkina Faso, but rather in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; to have filmed the video in a city like Ouagadougou would have, I believe, seemed like an overt act of political dissent against Compaore.

Lyrically, “Real Africans” portrays Africa in mostly grim terms. Violence, political repression, corruption, conflict, and poverty are recurring themes, as Ismael speaks of “child rebels with automatics and dark minds.” The visual tone of the video is somewhat less grim: amid a montage of scenes from dirt streets, the people often look happy. There are, of course, other ways to present Africa, so it is interesting that Ismael has chosen this mixture. How he defines the “real” is also significant given that he is a rapper from the diaspora making an overt claim to belonging.

Africa has produced dozens of excellent rappers, both on the continent and in the diaspora. Many of them address political themes and some have been active in politics, notably in Senegal. But Ismael Sankara, if his lineage is genuine, presents a special connection between music and politics. It will be interesting, when the full album comes out, to see whether it sheds more light on how he deals with his father’s legacy and with Africa’s present.


Africa Blog Roundup: Cote d’Ivoire Conflict, Libya and Africa, Polling from Nigeria, and More

Several authors cover the situation in Cote d’Ivoire: Andrew Harding reports on goods shortages and political confusion in Abidjan. Elizabeth Dickinson speculates on how violence in Cote d’Ivoire might affect the rest of West Africa, especially Liberia. And Baobab says that prolonged crisis might cost Alassane Ouattara some support:

In one of Côte d’Ivoire’s independent newspapers yesterday, Vincent Tohbi Irié, a respected former Ivorian ambassador to Paris and a self-professed supporter of Mr Ouattara, warned the internationally accepted winner of November’s presidential elections, that his backers’ patience was “not limitless”. Many Ivorians had decided to support, Mr Irié said—sometimes at the cost of their own lives—to champion the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and democracy. But the country was still in crisis. “If you are not the solution,” Mr Irié warned the new, but impotent, president, “you could become the problem for us…If you don’t get Gbagbo to go soon, it’s you who must go. You must liberate us from yourself, or we shall do so.”

The sudden upsurge in violence last weekend in Abidjan, the commercial capital, has died down again. No one knows why. No one knows who the perpetrators are. They carry no uniform and bear no insignia. But the tension is palpable. Everyone is afraid. A motorbike backfires and everyone jumps. A meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security is took place in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital and the regional organisation’s headquarters yesterday. They reaffirmed Mr Ouattara as the legitimate president but far from ending the crisis, this is expected to ratchet it up a further notch or two.

Internally Displaced, writing in honor of International Women’s Day, looks at how Sudanese media represent women.

Howard French has an article out titled “How Qaddafi Reshaped Africa.” Here’s an excerpt that details French’s personal experience with Qadhafi’s activism:

In 1983, I scrambled from Ivory Coast to Chad to witness the breakout of war between French and Libyan forces there. Qaddafi had recently spoken of fully “integrating” his country with its southern neighbor.

I quickly found my way to the eastern front, where I watched the conflict from a desert foxhole with French soldiers as they spotted screaming, low-flying Jaguar fighter bombers pounding Libyan positions nearby. That same year, I traveled to Burkina Faso, where Qaddafi had flown to celebrate the seizure of power by a charismatic young army captain, Thomas Sankara, who he clearly saw as a promising understudy.

They met at a military base near the border with Ghana. From there, Sankara’s comrade, Blaise Compaoré had recently rallied paratroopers to free Sankara from detention and install him as president.

When I showed up, Qaddafi, surrounded by his famous all female bodyguard corps, angrily objected to my presence and demanded that Sankara not allow an American to ride with the motorcade for their triumphal, flag-waving trip to the capital, Ouagadougou. Sankara, who already knew me well, insisted on my presence. Four years later, he would be dead, murdered by Compaoré, it is widely believed, with Qaddafi’s encouragement.

On a related note, Rosebell Kagumire discusses how closely Liberians are following news out of Libya. The past is present.

John Campbell discusses the content and potential political uses of recent polling data out of Nigeria.

Matthew Tostevin writes on investment banking in Africa.

And finally, I recommend taking a look at The University of Texas at Austin’s Social Conflict in Africa Database (h/t Ibn Siqilli).

Any new blogs out there that I should know about?

Saturday Links: Carter on Sudan Elections, Burkina Faso Votes in November, Somalia Conflict

Former President Jimmy Carter believes Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will face tough competition in April’s elections, possibly leading to a run-off vote in a second round.

Mr. Carter warned the election may lead to increased violence in Sudan, but said he hoped it would be kept at a local level.

“This will be an intensely competitive election with a lot at stake, and I don’t think there is any doubt that there will be some altercations in the remote areas and I hope they don’t expand,” said the former president.

Edward Thomas, an expert on Sudan from the London-based research group Chatham House, says there will be a large number of candidates in the election and this could serve as a boost to al-Bashir.

But he says the election may be tight.

“I think one of the reasons why it’s an important election is that it is quite close to call. All of the big names participating in the election are quite worried about winning and in a way that’s a good sign — it’s not quite the same as being free and fair but it means that there is a contest to be had,” he said.

Mauritania jails a police commissioner and several others on charges related to cocaine trafficking.

Burkina Faso will hold presidential elections this November.

President Blaise Compaore…came to power in a 1987 coup in which his predecessor Thomas Sankara was killed.

Compaore, 59, was then elected to the office in 1991, winning further mandates in 1998 and 2005.

Under the terms of the constitution, which was revised in 2002, the president should be elected once every five years and can serve two terms.

Some Compaore supporters have recently called for this limit to be scrapped.

“Limiting the presidential mandate is anti-democratic,” the head of Compaore’s Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party said on Saturday.

Compaore has not yet indicated whether he will seek re-election.

In Nigeria, IRIN looks at the aftermath of the Jos crisis, and Reuters reports that MEND “will wait to be invited by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to resume peace talks and [that] its ceasefire in the oil-producing Niger Delta remains suspended.” The US embassy in Nigeria has praised the transfer of power from Yar’Adua to Jonathan.

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government said yesterday that “they had completely prepared their forces to attack some regions in southern Somalia.”

Feel free to treat this as an open thread for Africa news links, especially if major fighting kicks off in Mogadishu today.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Darfur Casualties, Thomas Sankara, Algerian Islamists

Alex de Waal discusses September casualties in Darfur:

The UNAMID monitoring data for violent fatalities in Darfur recorded a sharp increase in September […]

The total number of violent deaths recorded was 102. In contrast to the three previous months, armed conflict rather than crime was the major cause of violent deaths in the month. The largest number of fatalities (69) were in South Darfur, mainly due to two deadly inter-tribal clashes, namely Rizeigat versus Maaliya (17 September) and Fellata versus Habbaniya (22 September), which between them caused 38 deaths. Both these fights were caused by cattle theft. In addition, a fight between Rizeigat and Saada reportedly led to as many as one hundred injuries. This was sparked by the deaths of four police officers in a dispute. These incidents represent the most serious intra-Arab fighting since March, when approximately thirty people were killed.

Twenty-four fatalities were reported in North Darfur. Of these, 22 arose from the attack by the Sudan Government and related militia on SLA positions in Korma. The majority of those killed were SLA fighters.

On the same general topic, Rob Crilly weighs reports of LRA incursions into Darfur.

The East African Philosopher commemorates the 22nd anniversary of Thomas Sankara‘s assassination.

Kal discusses the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Algeria at a level of detail and sophistication that makes the piece hard to sum up. Definitely worth a read.

Steve Bloomfield writes that economic sanctions by the AU against coup leaders in Africa “have had little effect” and asks, “How serious can the organisation’s commitment be to democracy” if “many of the most influential leaders on the continent came to power via bullets not ballots[?]”

And finally, Michael Bear voices some “heretical thoughts” on aid to Africa.

Sunday Links: Sahel/Horn Blog Roundup

Kal provides an update on the situation in Mauritania:

It is a woebegone Ramadhan in Mauritania. Scandals, power outages, flood and neglect abound. While the freshly elected president, General Mohamed Abdel Aziz, sits air conditioned and on vacation in Spain (after reveling round Qadhafi’s bonfire), while Nouakchott is without power, the national radio broadcaster does not service the country’s vast interior, Mauritania’s third city, Rosso, is submerged by flooding along with large parts of the shanties around the capital, Nouakchott. One person has died in Rosso. Residents of the capital complain of the putrid smell of rotting food, standing and dirty water filling streets without sewers. Internet access is limited. PM Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdaf made a surprise visit to the power station at Arafat, where the troubles related to the Nouakchott outages originated, as traders reported major losses. Ahmed Ould Daddah, a prominent opposition leader, has also used the opportunity to show his solidarity with flood victims. As a result of the horrendous floods, the government announced that it plans to “embark on a plan to study providing Mauritanian cities with a sanitation network to prevent urban flooding from rain water.” A miserable Mauritanian described her city as having returned to the Stone Age.

Via Alle, a piece on class dynamics and ideology among Sudanese political movements at Making Sense of Darfur.

At UN Dispatch, Alanna Sheikh discusses the failure of One Laptop Per Child:

It’s not going to change the world, or even affect it all that much. One Laptop per Child got everyone thinking about the education in the developing world. It spawned the commercial laptops that are now out competing it. But that’s all. The dream is over.

William Easterly says “Africa desperately needs trade links.”

Here are three commentaries on the Lubna Hussein case in Sudan: Reuters Africa Blog, Shashank Bengali, and Bec Hamilton.

And finally, via Shashank Bengali, a documentary on Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso: