The Reel story of Africa

Film | By Elton Mjanana, Writer | 05 April 2013
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

African cinema, through its highs and lows has existed from as far back as I can remember. I have had my fair share of films by Djibril Mambety, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Souleymane Cisse and Ousman Sembene and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Most of them are highly regarded throughout the continent and have won numerous awards locally and abroad. However, the ultimate African classic still eludes their efforts so far, especially since their stories advance a certain stereotype of Africans. A theme which has played right into the hands of neoliberal Westerners with imperialistic agendas.

The four documentaries I watched so far from DRC, depict the dull and dark side of a country with so much potential, but with nothing to show for it. Most of these have been taunted as co-productions between Congolese and Belgian or French, British, American and any other Western power that has the budget to exploit the rot in the Congo. Yet, more positive stories abound. Notably those of mega rich Rhumba music stars Koffi Olominde, Papa Wemba and the runaway success of  Lubumbashi football giants - TP Mazembe who have won the African Champions League Cup and were finalists at the World Club Football Championships.  Instead, war, famine, brutality, disorder and lawlessness are what have been depicted and sold as the bona fide story of the Congo. However, I dare ask: ‘What is the REEL story of the DRC?’

The same motif perseveres in films from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Malawi and believe it or not South Africa and even Zimbabwe. True, just like any other place, we have our fair share of problems in the Motherland, but the wanton focus on these alone … is that warranted? Take South Africa for example, with its fine vineyards in the Cape, the breath taking Drakensburg Mountains, vast Game Parks and exhilarating modern urban infrastructure. It would be refreshing to view a film on any of these subjects and if need be for a film on its high crime rate and unemployment and HIV and AIDS rate – viewers should be shown the other side depicting the status quo. More often than not, the deluge of so many negative stories about Africa emanates from the colossal budgets ascribed to such enterprises by Western benefactors. The feeble defence of the Western sponsored storytellers?...that is the situation in Africa and the world needs to know! Of course their argument – valid – is that they have not created the stories, but are simply documenting them, as they are!

Back home, Western media pundits made cannon fodder of another headline grabbing theme- politics! In their narrative, Zimbabwe’s highly literate citizenry and enchanting environs are pale in significance compared to the newly found Western fixation with Zimbabwean politics which has made life in the country rather untenable. Africans constantly hear about their plight below the poverty datum line – PDL (a euphemism for Western type living standards). Bottom line is, I Iong for a story that won’t remind me that Ethiopia is one of the World’s poorest countries. It is high time African Cinema should wake up from its deep slumber and show the world the reel story of Africa!