ASSOCIATES (vol. 10, no. 2, November 2003) -

*Africa in the 21st Century [video series]*
3 x 49 min. Closed-captioned
Programs: Somalia : the neglected civil war--Mali & Senegal : the power
of Islam--Zimbabwe & South Africa : still far from coexistence.

An NHK [Japanese Broadcasting Corporation] documentary, 2002.
U.S. distributor: Filmakers Library, New York. US$295/title; $795/series; rental $75.
Canadian distributor: McNabb & Connolly, Port Credit, Ontario. CDN$450/title; $1225/series.

Video Review


Sylvia Skene
Library Technician
Advanced Education Media Acquisitions Centre
Langara College
Vancouver, BC, Canada

In an effort to understand the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, a number of videos have come out trying to show the complexity of each country's issues, internal and external, present and past. However, other countries' conflicts have not stopped just because international attention is focused elsewhere.

Africa is one of the most war-torn and problem-plagued continents on Earth. In this series, three crews from the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK have investigated some of the conflicts and conditions in just five of the countries struggling to survive: Somalia, Mali, Senegal, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

The first program is devoted solely to the vicious civil war in Somalia that goes on, and on. There is no government; most people are under the thumb of guerrillas and local warlords. Islamic fundamentalist groups such as al Qaeda take advantage of the chaos to infiltrate various paramilitary organizations and find recruits. Suspected of financing al Qaeda, Barakaat Bank, the country's main bank, has had its assets frozen. Workers abroad can now no longer send funds home to help their families survive and support what little economy is left.

This program has a lot of footage you don't often see elsewhere about conditions in the capital, Mogadishu. It also gives viewers an appreciation of the clan and personal power struggles that continue to fuel this fire.

The second program focuses on Senegal, which has a GNP that is 80% debt. The program takes a look at the Mouride Brotherhood, a sect of Islam, which is considered the informal power in this country. Cheikh Amadou Bamba created the brotherhood in 1887, and one of its precepts is equating labour to being closer to God, which means that those who follow his teachings often work long hours for little pay. It creates two-thirds of the economy; its people are considered a "state within a state." The crew goes to the brotherhood's "capital" Touba, and also looks at peanut production and religious schools for boys, also controlled by the brotherhood. The program observes the close connection between the Senegalese government and the brotherhood, despite a constitution that separates church and state. The program also visits Goree Island, where slaves were kept for trade and export overseas to America and elsewhere.

This is a very good look at how a religion can influence a government, for good or ill, often for both. Although I seem to recall there also being a little on Mali, its economic conditions and the rise of Islam there, I was disappointed there wasn't more on this country, or on the female's viewpoint.

The third program investigates Zimbabwe and South Africa, and how they are interconnected. It covers current conditions in these countries, including the AIDS epidemic, and the long-term effects of colonialism and the slave trade. It takes a look at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, August 2001. The crew then visit a farming family in Rustenberg, South Africa, where white farmers are being killed, and also talk with the wife of one of the suspects in a killing.

The segment on Zimbabwe investigates why many thousands try to make their way across the Limpopo River to South Africa to find work, however poorly paid. Two-thirds of the fertile land belong to four thousand farmers, mostly colonists. President Robert Mugabe has promised this land to former resistance army soldiers, and so the government tacitly agrees to their violent tactics, which have driven away a thousand farmers, and killed more than a few people, including farmers and paid farmhands. Sympathetic toward the farmers, this program also shows how the farmhands, although Zimbabwean natives, are caught between possible death or starvation after a farm is taken over by the soldiers, and death or injury trying to cross to South Africa in search of work.

Although this series is not flawless--there is a segment in one of the programs about opening a new shopping mall that seems like nothing more than a Japanese business tie-in, and there are also a number of gaps--it is nevertheless a very good attempt at trying to encompass some of the major problems these countries are facing. In addition, the perspective is different. The filmmakers seem to come with few assumptions and a lot of questions, so people seem to be more open about discussing what is going on in their country.

Finally, in a country where war has, after many years, finally "come home," I believe it is important for libraries to develop a collection that looks past the fifteen second sound bite solution to develop understanding of why peace and well-being for many nations is so hard to achieve, and so necessary.

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