Telling stories about Africa

Next #AIACTalk is on storytelling, its mediums and its politics. Watch it live on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. Subscribe to our Patreon for the archive.

Image credit Todd Webb.

On the 16th of January 2020, Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared incumbent Yoweri Museveni the winner of the presidential election, held two days prior. Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, ensured an unfree and unfair election, marred by violence, intimidation, and the harassment of the political opposition, specifically targeting the musician-turned politician, Bobi Wine.

Wine (whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu), has emerged as a fierce challenger to Museveni’s stranglehold on power. Amassing 35% of the vote in what was a credibly stolen election is a serious feat, and Wine—at the helm of the People Power Movement,  now transformed into the National Unity Platform—is widely recognized as the man most likely to topple Museveni’s government if the opportunity arises. As a representative of Uganda’s urban youth, Wine gives expression to their anger at the increasing joblessness and inequality presided over by a corrupt political class with Museveni as its figurehead.

But who exactly is Bobi Wine? Setting aside the system he rejects, what does he stand for? A new podcast series hosted by the Sudanese-American rapper Bas, and produced by Spotify, Dreamville Studios and Awfully Nice aims to probe exactly these questions. The Messenger follows Bobi Wine’s rise from his upbringing and his artistic career all the way to his political prominence. This week on AIAC Talk we’re joined by two of its producers, Dana Ballout and Adam Sjöberg.  Dana is a Lebanese-American documentary producer, podcaster and journalist, while Adam is a documentary filmmaker and commercial director based in LA too. We want to ask them what they’re uncovering about Wine, his life story, political influences and worldview. We’d also like to hear about the podcast—who’s behind it, how it came together, and why podcasting was the chosen medium to tell this ongoing story. And why this story?

And then, from unpacking one medium, we move to another. Next, we’re talking to Aimée Bessire and Erin Hyde Nolan. Aimée is an affiliated scholar who teaches African art history and cultural studies at Bates College, and Erin is a visiting assistant professor at Maine College of Art, where she teaches the history of photography, and visual culture, and Islamic art. Both of them, are the authors of Todd Webb in Africa ( Thames & Hudson, 2021),  a collection of photographs taken in Africa by the renowned photographer Todd Webb. While his shots of everyday life in big, Western cities like Paris and New York are well-known, less so are the ones from his travels in Africa, taken in 1958 across Togo, Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, and what we now know as Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. That some of these countries were once known by different names, summarizes the period of tremendous change and upheaval that the photographs capture, located at the “interstices of colonialism and independence” as the authors write in the book’s introduction. We want to talk about the photographs, the people and places portrayed in them, but we also want to talk about the politics of photography itself—whose gaze reflects them, what narrative are they trying to push? For example, what are we to make of the fact that Webb’s project was commissioned by the United Nations?

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Last week, we spoke to Yotam Gidron and Matshidiso Motsoeneng about Israel’s relationship to Africa, what it is its history, and how the apartheid-state is making renewed efforts to court the continent for international legitimacy. Clips from that episode are available on our YouTube channel, but best check out the whole thing on our Patreon along with all the episodes from our archive.

Further Reading