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Will The Current Unrest In Mali (And Elsewhere In Africa) Need To Get The Big-Screen Treatment Before You Take Notice?

by Emmanuel Akitobi
May 22, 2012 2:02 PM
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Civil and political unrest in Africa is not a new phenomenon.  For decades now, following centuries of colonial rule, many nations throughout the mother continent have struggled with self-governing, self-sustainability, and just plain old "getting along".  For many of us who are far removed from Africa, with little or no connection to her, a lot of our knowledge about her tends to come from the movies, and other areas of popular culture.

Don't get me wrong-- I know there are plenty of readers out there who stay abreast of the issues of the day.  But there are also some, like myself, who try to, but don't always succeed.

Let's rewind to almost exactly 18 years ago . . .

When the genocide in Rwanda occurred in 1994, I was a freshman in high school.  At that time, I was more apt to have my nose buried in the latest edition of The Source or Rap Pages, than I would Time or Newsweek.  I knew what was going on in my own little world, but had no idea what was really going on the world.  An estimated 800,000 of our people were murdered in just 100 days, and I-- even at mere 15 years-old-- should have known about it.

Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)

It would take another ten years before an American screenwriter and Irish director--Keir Pearson and Terry George, respectively-- would bring the story of Paul Rusesabagina and his experience during the 1994 genocide to the forefront of the consciousness of many people around the world who, not unlike myself, had little or no knowledge of what had occurred.  Their film, Hotel Rwanda, took in just $142,386 in ticket sales on its opening weekend, eventually going on to gross close to $34 million worldwide, as word-of-mouth and critical acclaim grew.  Here was a story that should never have been, capturing the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world.

Imagine what kind of ending this story could have had if the millions of us who saw Hotel Rwanda were aware of the situation as it occurred, and were prepared to try to do something about it.

Sometimes In April (2005)
Sometimes In April (2005)

It has almost been another decade since Hotel Rwanda was released.  And in that time, we've seen numerous projects related to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, like the 2005 Raoul Peck-directed Sometimes In April, and Alrick Brown's 2011 film Kinyarwanda.  These films, and the support behind them, are testaments to the fact that despite how far removed from Africa many of us are, the stories that come from the continent still resonate with us.  We do care about their issues.

Now, let's fast forward to the present day . . .

Aïssa Maïga
Aïssa Maïga

A few weeks ago, I noticed a Tweet from Senegal-born French actress Aïssa Maïga, which referenced the nation of Mali.  The Tweet was written in French (a language I do not read), but I got a sense of the urgency in her Tweet by her use of multiple exclamation points.  "What in the world is going on in Mali?" I thought to myself.  Once again, I found myself so engrossed in popular culture that I was totally unaware of what was going on in Mali at that time.  This time, however, Twitter, a popular culture tool, exposed me to a story, instead of distracting me from it.

So, I Googled Mali . . .

To shorten a very long story . . . On March 22, 2012, Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré was displaced after mutinous soldiers, angered by the government's handling of a rebellion by Tuaregs in the vast desert, staged a coup.  Since Touré's forced flight to neighboring Senegal, reports, Mali has seen a "grisly spate of human-rights abuses, humanitarian suffering and war crimes", and has become a place of "terror, hunger, and rape" (although Time notes that some of the stories they were told were not able to be verified).

Time cited a published report by researchers from Human Rights Watch which states: “Separatist Tuareg rebels, Islamist armed groups, and Arab militias who seized control of northern Mali in April 2012 have committed numerous war crimes, including rape, use of child soldiers, and pillaging of hospitals, schools, aid agencies, and government buildings.”

Mali has essentially been split in half, with "Tuareg separatists, Islamic militants, Arab militias and a hodgepodge of terrorist groups . . . vying for control" in the north.

Just this past weekend, the head of the military junta that orchestrated the coup in March, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, named Dioncounda Traore interim president until elections can be held.

Presidential Palace, Mali
Presidential Palace, Mali

Yesterday, however, mobs of protesters opposed to the interim government, but loyal to the junta, broke into the presidential palace, tearing the president's clothes off and beating him unconscious.

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

So now the story of unrest in Mali intensifies, and that nation's tribulations seem increasingly like fodder for a Hollywood hit.  All of the ingredients are there; you have war, tales of brutalization, and chaos that needs sorting.  The only question left is if a story like Mali's is told from the perspective of an insider or an outsider.

The story of what's going on in Mali (and elsewhere in Africa) is not hidden; one needs only to know where to look.  The likelihood that there is little we as outsiders can do to change the situation there should not preclude us from wanting to stay abreast of it.  And I think we all should do our part to make sure the word spreads.  If you think a friend, or loved one, doesn't really know what's going on in Africa today, tell them.  Because even while I speculate that current events regarding the continent could possibly end up as theatrical fare, I'm fully aware there's no guarantee that they actually will.  Personally, knowing that I basically slept through those horrific 100 days in 1994 is enough to keep me awake and fixated on what's happening in Mali today.

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  • African journalism student | May 23, 2012 8:55 AMReply

    I am situated in Uganda now after years in the West and would love to write for SnA, with regards to what's happening on the ground filmwise, here in East Africa.

    Contact me:

  • Jeremy | May 22, 2012 7:02 PMReply

    I really had no clue.

  • Ava | May 22, 2012 7:01 PMReply

    Some family members have teased me about how I have the United Nations of friendships but I am thankful that I have friends from different parts of the world because I've learned a great deal about the nature of culture and conflict from them. I must admit though that if it weren't for PBS Newshour/BBC, I wouldn't have heard the slightest bit of news about this and since those brief reports, I haven't heard anything since. As painful as it is to do so, I must be more diligent about informing myself on the latest details about Mali.

  • Akimbo | May 22, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    So sad and crazy how the same thing happens over and over again, worldwide.

  • From Tokyo | May 24, 2012 3:58 AM

    Agreed. Being in Asia, I'm usually more focused on what happens in this area of the world, but I feel bad that I was not aware of this. So many times online I'll read posts by people who have a so-what attitude about things if those things aren't happening to them, but they don't realize that at least caring what is happening is the first step to solving the problems/helping people in need. So sad. It's almost sadder than the things that happen for the fact that if enough people cared, were there a natural disaster - which is out of our hands - there could be greater response/help, or if there was enough concern/support, if something like what's happening in Mali happens, people could step in to stop it A.S.A.P. I'm saying it simply but it's much bigger in my mind.

  • other song | May 22, 2012 2:44 PMReply

    just sad all around

  • Jug | May 22, 2012 3:19 PM

    Indeed. It may take another 10 years. Thank You Emmanuel.

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