Nigeria’s 21-year-old film industry is considered the second largest in the world; a profitable movie-making machine that churns out about 1000 films annually. Nollywood movies enjoy a wide audience outside the continent. This month, seven feature-length films will be screened at the annual NollywoodWeek in Paris. The film festival runs from May 30 to June 2 at L’Arlequin Theatre. Here’s the line-up:
Phone Swap by Kunle Afolayan
Akin and Mary bump into each other at an airport and mistakenly swap phones, which results in a hilarious travel mix-up. Akin ends up at Mary’s destination (a family meeting) and Mary at Akin’s (a business meeting). After they realise the huge mix-up, they agree to help each other with their “new” missions using the data on their phones.
Maami by Tunde Kelani
International football star Kashimayo returns to his home country Nigeria to prepare for the 2010 World Cup. Through dreams and flashbacks, he relives his childhood: being raised by his brave but poverty-stricken single mother whom he shared an unbreakable bond with until he tries to reconnect with his father, a man with a terrible secret. Described as “a masterpiece of popular cinema” this film pulls at heartstrings and explores themes of love, melodrama, corruption and witchcraft.
Inalé by Jeta Amata & Keke Bongos
This musical tells the story of the Princess of Otukpo, Inale, and Ode who are deeply in love. Tradition dictates he must compete against other ‘suitors’ to win her hand in marriage. Ode wins these physical contests until a masked stranger arrives, putting the couple’s love to the test and exposing communal tension and conflict.
Tango with Me by Mahmood Ali-Balogun
Lola and Uzo are the perfect married couple but their lives are turned upside down when their happiest days become their darkest. This award-winning film proves love conquers all.
Ijé by Chineze Anyaene
Anya is determined to chase her big dreams in Hollywood Hills but her younger sister Chioma warns her about the dark side of the American Dream. Years later, Anya is charged with killing three men, including her record-producer husband in her Hollywood mansion. Chioma travels to her sister’s side to help her, along with a young and disillusioned attorney, but cultural values collide and the notion of ‘truth’ is constantly questioned.
Man on Ground by Akin Omotoso
When Femi, a young Nigerian man, disappears while living as a refugee in South Africa, his brother Ade, a London broker, comes to Johannesburg to find him. A riot breaks out while he’s in the township and he has to take shelter with Femi’s employer. The film explores the brothers’ estranged and complicated relationship against a backdrop of xenophobic violence.
Last Flight to Abuja by Obi Emelonye
A flight from Lagos to Abuja goes horribly wrong when the plane teeters on the brink of disaster and passengers’ lives flash before their eyes. As the pilot fights to prevent a tragedy, the passengers on board reflect on how they came to be on that fateful flight. Will they survive?
An upcoming action-packed feature film takes a pantheon of ancient West African deities known as Orishas and resurrects them as modern-day superheroes. The lead character in Oya: Rise of the Orisha is a young woman named Adesuwa who has the unique ability to transform into the fearsome warrior goddess, Oya, the Orisha of change. When she does, she gains amazing powers.
The film will be presented in a visually unique style, drawing inspiration from related genres including sci-fi, action and martial arts, and aims to be a truly phenomenal spectacle in the art of film. London-based writer and director Nosa Igbinedionhopes it will do for African folklore and oral tradition what 300 and Thor did: they took Greek and Norse mythology and made it fresh and exciting.
For centuries the doorway between the world of the Orishas and our world has remained closed, until now. Our hero, Ade, is one of the few people with a connection to one of the gods, Oya. She has been tasked with the job of protecting the innocent and that means keeping the door to the gods shut. If the doorway to the gods is opened, they will wreak chaos upon us as retribution for our abandonment of them.
To keep the door shut, she must find ‘the key’, a young girl with the potential to open the doorway, and keep her safe. The adventure unfolds with a host of memorable characters and a string of unexpected twists, Ade, goes in search of the key, battling against those who wish to open portal and unleashing a horde of forgotten gods and goddesses into the world, with powers and skills beyond our comprehensive and supernatural gifts which will change the course of history for mankind, forever.
According to the Yoruba religion, which developed in Nigeria and Benin, Orishas are a collective of charismatic deities with specialised supernatural gifts, powers and responsibilities. They are comparable to the gods of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and Roman civilisation. Tradition has it that these supernatural beings once walked the earth with humanity. The reverence and worship that was shown to them by the ordinary Yoruba people elevated their status and increased their power.
Orishas are followed in various religions by an estimated 100-million people worldwide (5-million in the US). The fact that they have been left out of popular media is a travesty. Igbinedion’s filmis a retelling of black cultural experience that has not been attempted on this scale before, and it’s being done independently.
He and his team plan to shoot a short taster film this April, using money raised through crowd funding. The short film will serve as a visual appetiser to attract more traditional film investors for the feature film. Follow their progress on Twitter and help support this incredible project.
Other African folklore projects include Akosua Adoma Owusu’s short film Kwaku Ananse and Central City Tower’s Spider Stories. These are influenced by the West African fable of Anansi, a trickster who appears as both spider and man.
As a teenager Noé Diakubama made a sketch map of Mbandaka, on the Congo river, so as not to get lost in the forest while picking a vegetable called fumbwa. “I remember never having seen a map of the city,” he says.
Thirty years later, maps of the city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are still in short supply. So Diakubama decided to create the first one of his home city. He spent hours at his computer in Brussels, where he now lives, using Google Map Maker software and entering the streets he could recall. He hired an assistant to tour Mbandaka by bike and name the streets on a map scanned in pdf format and printed out.
Diakubama’s efforts have been replicated across Africa by scores of amateur mapmakers who have collectively pinpointed hundreds of thousands of roads, cities and buildings in remote areas ignored by colonial cartographers. This is just one example of how the digital revolution has not only caught up in Africa, but is in some respects moving faster and differently from the west.
“New technologies are in the process of transforming the lives of people,” Diakubama said. “Mobile telephony has equipped our lives by allowing communication between cities and villages without having to move; to announce a death in the family, for example.
“Mobile telephony is a true revolution in a country where the landline was restricted to a few families.”
In Africa, necessity is the mother of invention. Instead of sharing photos on Instagram or hobbies on Pinterest, you are more likely to find a service to send money to a rural relative, or to monitor cows’ gestation cycle, or for farmers to find out where they can get the best price for their goods. Technology in Africa is foremost about solving problems rather than sharing social trivia, about survival rather than entertainment – although these are flourishing too.
South Africa hosts the third annual Tech4Africa conference, in Johannesburg on Wednesday, attracting innovators and entrepreneurs from a dozen countries. Among the speakers are Sim Shagaya, a Nigerian-born Harvard graduate planning to create the “Amazon of Africa, selling Lagos’s increasingly affluent consumer class everything from refrigerators to perfume to cupcakes”. His previous venture, DealDey, which offers Groupon-style deals, is now the top-grossing e-commerce site in Nigeria with 350 000 subscribers.
The forum will also be addressed by Mbwana Alliy, the Tanzanian founder of an Africa-focused technology venture capital fund, and Verone Mankou of Congo-Brazzaville, who designed a tablet computer that sells for a third of the price of the iPad. Mankou, 26, has also launched an African smartphone, the Elikia, which means “hope” in the Lingala language.
Tech4Africa is the brainchild of Gareth Knight, a 35-year-old South African based in London. “If you remember in Britain in 2002-4, you would see the vans for ISPs (internet service providers) installing broadband,” he said. “Everyone was getting online even if they still had to use an internet cafe.
“What happened in the UK and US at the turn of the century is now happening in Africa on the mobile platform. It’s being driven by social and commercial utility needs – for example, when people want to send money. The market is much bigger than the original one in the UK and US. More and more people are going to get online in the next couple of years and they’ll want all the same things.”
In the world’s poorest continent, only one in three people has access to electricity – but far more than that have a mobile phone. Africa is the fastest growing region for mobiles in the world, and the biggest after Asia, according to the GSM Association. There are now an estimated 700m sim cards in Africa.
Mobiles overcome some of the endemic problems that have stifled progress on the continent: poor infrastructure (both in transport and power transmission), sparsely populated rural areas and widespread poverty.
The basic feature phones that are still the most popular are vital for this environment. With small non-touchscreens, they have long battery life, though people find innovative ways to recharge, for example from car batteries.
Most have an FM radio, still the greatest communications medium in the developing world. And many have a small torch.
In east Africa, mobile money is used as frequently as paper money; the region accounts for four-fifths of the world’s transactions. With text messages it is possible to send money to another mobile that can be cashed out of the system using tens of thousands of participating agents. It is estimated that half of Kenya’s GDP moves through mobile money, mostly using the pioneering service M-Pesa, which has some 14m users.
Mobiles have fostered communication like no other technology ever before, linking villages in a split second that would previously have taken days to reach on foot or by road. Information services via text message allow farmers to learn more about best practices, market prices and weather conditions. The unemployed can subscribe to text alerts about job vacancies instead of having to travel.
Alan Knott-Craig, a 35-year-old South African tech entrepreneur, said: “It’s lighting up the dark continent. People are talking with each other. In the old days, you couldn’t talk to your family if you were a migrant worker; now you can. The next level is money. When you light it up with money, you’re giving people social freedom as well as economic freedom.”
Local entrepreneurs in hubs such as Accra, Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi have the advantage of knowing Africa’s particular needs when competing with the Silicon Valley giants. Numerous social networks specifically for mobiles have sprung up, offering cheap or free communication for their users. Mxit and 2go from South Africa have 44m and 20m users respectively, the latter mostly in Nigeria. Others like Motribe and FrontlineSMS offer mobile communities.
According to Internet World Stats, Africa still has the world’s lowest internet penetration rate at 15.6%. Desktop PCs and tablets such as the iPad are relatively few and far between and have been leapfrogged by the more appropriate technology offered by the mobile. In conflict-riven Somalia, for example, fierce unregulated competition has made mobiles affordable and prevalent, whereas internet penetration stands at 1.14% of the population.
Among Africa’s broadband-linked minority, Facebook and Twitter, blogs and online magazines, music and video sharing sites, are thriving. That includes the political realm: atrocities that might once have been hidden by an authoritarian regime can be quickly exposed to a global audience, while the follies of leaders are held to scrutiny and mockery as never before. Shrewd politicians such as Rwandan president Paul Kagame have created their own accounts to remain connected and avoid the kind of mass mobilisation seen in the Arab spring.
“The mobile is going to bring in a huge amount of transparency and information sharing that Africa has never had before,” said Knight. “Socially and politically, that levels the playing field. People are not going to be able to say things that aren’t true; propaganda won’t work any more.
“I strongly believe this is the time when technology can make the most difference in people’s lives. There are five- to nine-year-olds today who, by the time they are 20, will have technology so embedded that the old Africa won’t exist for them.”
Despite an abundance of national and international newsmakers, Addis Ababa has relatively little in the way of newspapers – no dailies of note or even newsstands to offer news consumers. But don’t be fooled. This is a city of voracious readers where even the poor are indulged.
In fact, some corners of Addis are reserved for newspaper passions, Arat Kilo being one legendary neighbourhood. And by persisting, there you may stumble upon the city’s secret: consumers too poor to buy a copy of a newspaper but able to rent a read.
Arat Kilo is not only the home of the country’s Parliament building but also of flat-broke citizens with rich news-reading addictions.
“Paper landlords” offer “news seats” to readers who gather on the edge of a road, in a nearby alleyway, even inside a traffic circle. And for years, these “paper tenants” have happily hunkered down, reading a copy of a newspaper quickly and then returning it to watchful owners nearby. And even today’s deteriorating economy and “press-phobic” government has not significantly slowed
this frenzied exchange.
In a country without a substantive daily Saturday is distribution day for the country’s weeklies. That also makes it the toughest day to find an empty news seat in Arat Kilo, or anywhere on the streets of Addis.
Luckily, Birhanina Selam, the nation’s oldest and largest publishing house, where 99% of newspapers get published, is in Arat Kilo. So readers there can get news hot off the press while the rest of the city gets the paper later that day.
Major cities elsewhere in the country receive newspapers a day or two later and for readers there the cliché of journalism as the first rough draft of history seems senseless. The story is already history by the time it reaches their streets.
Unlike newspaper readers in the countryside, the poor of Arat Kilo must deal with noise. Cars blow horns hysterically. Street children shout for money in the name of God. Lottery vendors call out for customers. Taxi conductors shriek names of destinations. Yet the “renters” tune out the city’s hustle as they run up against rental deadlines. Paper landlords vigilantly act as timekeepers.
Readers dare not hold copies for more than a half hour or they will be charged more birr. One copy of a newspaper may quickly pass through a hundred readers before, late in the day, it is finally recycled as toilet tissue or bread wrap.
Now, as a rising number of unemployed people hunt for jobs through newspapers and a growing population of pensioners distract themselves with news, news seats are popular pastimes.
And this is true despite prices for newspapers doubling as a result of the rising costs of newsprint and the country’s latest round of inflation and devaluation.
Addis — dubbed the political capital of Africa because it hosts the headquarters of the African Union – is not as safe a haven for journalists as it is for journalism readers. Some international patron saints of media call the current government one of the world’s most journalist unfriendly regimes.
As more and more local journalists face threats, the number of newspapers dwindles as diminutive media houses close. Over the past few years, some two dozen journalists have fled to neighbouring countries. They’ve left behind a country hurtling towards a “no free press” zone, with few media houses willing to publish private political newspapers.
In 2010, two journalists in Ethiopia collected two prestigious awards — the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and the Pen American Centre’s Freedom to Write Award — for their fortitude and courage working in Ethiopia as political journalists. These honours witness the way the country handles the free press.
At present only a handful of local newspapers and two handsful of local magazines circulate in Ethiopia, with a total weekly circulation that barely equals that of one day of Kenya’s Daily Nation’s 50 000 print run.
By comparison, Fortune, reportedly the leading English weekly in Ethiopia, publishes 7 000 copies a week at most. So, unfortunately, the poor – and everyone else – in Addis have fewer copies and less variety. And a nation with the second-largest population in Africa – some 80-million potential readers – registers among the fewest number of newspapers on the continent.
Ironically, in Addis you do not often see readers riding in taxis, waiting at bus stops or sitting in cafés for hours. Few Ethiopians read newspapers, magazines or books alone in public but they do banter in groups. Only a few cafés allow their verandahs to be news seats to attract more customers. On the contrary, many street-side cafés post No Reading signs next to No Smoking signs. The Jolly Bar, friendly to newspaper renters for more than a decade, now forbids customers to read newspapers inside or outside.
In Arat Kilo, however, no one expects, or can afford, to read their papers in a comfortable seat or on a café verandah. “Here citizens may stand for a while on a zebra crossing and read the headline and pass,” says Boche Bochera, a prominent “paper lord” in the neighbourhood, exaggerating how his place is overrun by newspaper tenants.
Here, stones are aids to reading as are lampposts and pedestrian right-of-ways. And readers lean against notice boards or idle taxis, transforming themselves into “newspaper warms”. The streets of Addis, like Arat Kilo, get warmer with newspapers and newspaper readers lying on them.
Nowadays, traditional newspaper vendors and peddlers find themselves challenged by newspaper lords such as Boche. From a flat stone in Arat Kilo, Boche earns bread for his family of six by renting newspapers and magazines from sunrise to sunset.
Wearing worn overalls, he spreads the day’s newspapers around him and passes copies to paper brokers, mostly kids; his “paper constituencies” may reach 300 people a day. His attachment to this task is legendary.
“I have a beautiful daughter called Kalkidan,” he says. “I named her after a magazine I lease weekly.”
And he seldom bribes community police to let him sit comfortably. “That is how I survived for the last 15 years,” he says.
When papers start to wear out with over-use, Boche splices them with Scotch tape. Then he affixes his signature so everyone knows which copies belong to him. This, he reasons, is his protection. But, he says: “Some disloyal paper tenants steal my copy and sell it somewhere else to quench their hunger.”
As the hub of street newspaper reading, Arat Kilo entertains more than a thousand people a day. Other spots are rising to the challenge.
Merkato, dubbed the largest open market in Africa, now has a place for newspaper addicts around the Mearab Hotel. When daylight wanes, newspapers rented there will be collected and resold in kiosks nearby to wrap chat, a local leafy stimulant.
Other Addis neighbourhoods, like Piassa, Legehar, Megenagna and Kazanchis have also created newspaper circles for paper tenants.
Yohannes Tekle (29) has been a regular reader of street papers for seven years. These days, especially, when a newspaper costs up to six birr (75 US cents), he rents one for 25 Ethiopian cents (which is less than one US cent).
For Tekle, a day without newspapers is unthinkable. “It is like an addiction,” he says. “Sometimes, I regret it after renting a paper when it is full of mumbojumbo news. I could have used that cent for buying a loaf of bread.”
Still, he’s reluctant to set aside the habit. “If I miss a day without renting, however, I feel like I missed some signify cant news about my county – like a coup in progress.”
Mohammed Selman, a lecturer in journalism, is a freelance writer. He lives in Ethiopia. In 2009 he won the Excellence in Journalism award for print from the Foreign Press Association in Addis Ababa. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper.