Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie and Nelson Mandela

Introduction

African Independence, 2013, is a documentary that tracks Africa’s relationship with Europeans through her struggle for independence in modern times.

Largely a standard documentary, the film emphasizes some of the progress that Africa has made since its first contemporary nation, Ghana, wrested freedom from the iron hands of the British Empire.

No understanding of African history can be achieved without a true appreciation for the impact of the two world wars and the cold war on the struggle for African independence. Director Tukufu Zuberi wove this needed insight into the fabric of Africa’s relationship with the world through out the last five centuries.

However, this film fails to underscore any understanding of Africa before the independence movement and how it may inform our understanding of Africa’s relationship with Europeans before slavery, during colonialism and the subsequent struggle for independence.

Interviews with famous leaders on the continent, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania – an intelligent statesman, former president of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, Raila Odinga of Kenya, Samia Nkrumah – daughter of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, and many others spiced up this documentary to some delightful proportions.

Other interviews involving the notorious F.W. De Klerk and P.W. Botha, though provided an allure of a well made and invested documentary, painted a more sympathizing picture of the Apartheid regime in South Africa by insinuating two things:

First, that White South Africa was forced to commit atrocities towards Africans because they were in fear of the spread of communism and like Israel only wanted their own country inside Africa. That is simply a biting unapologetic reading of history.

Second, that White South Africa was the first to fight against colonization by the British from the Cape. That outlandish argument, though I wish it were struck out from the documentary, underscores the mockery to humanity that the self-righteous Apartheid regime in South Africa was. As if the Germans in Trans-Volta Togoland for example could not have made that same argument had they won WWI and WWII.

No reading of African history will change the brutality and the sheer dehumanization that Africans suffered at the hands of those settlers and I wish the documentary, having started that conversation, had completed it in a fashion that painted that brutal regime with the callousness it deserved.

Notwithstanding, key moments in this film will resonate with Africans, Blacks and perhaps others who believe that all men should have the right to their own self-determination.

Paramount is Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah’s narrative – having restored Ghana to the Gold Coast in 1957, and his subsequent dynamism, conviction and strong actions in support of the total liberation of the continent.

Director Tukufu Zuberi was cognizant of W.E.B Dubios, Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko’s qualitative and substantive stance on African freedom. If African’s weren’t free before, how could they ask for freedom?

By including these narratives, Director Tukufu Zuberi’s film shows how African self-determination shook the very foundation of Western ideology.

In addition, the elaboration of the impact of World Wars I and II on the African masses was necessary. The film shows how African soldiers returned from the wars and quickly demanded self-government. But how this happened was not delineated in the documentary.

By the 1940s, when the iron curtains of Western Civilization had been laid bare by the wars, the African soldiers and servicemen who had partaken in its conclusion, having had a first hand experience with its skeletons, had became aware of the true picture of the West.

This consciousness then reverberated across the continent with veteran soldiers and local politicians who had been educated abroad largely leading the fight against colonialism.

With the likes of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah for example, on The Gold Coast, the masses grew increasingly relentless in fighting for self-government.

The film could have simply shown this link and stressed the unique gathering of momentum by the masses, which was vital in the African struggle.

To appreciate this reading of African independence, an understanding of African history comes in handy.

16 COMMENTS

  1. African independence in a film?? The subject itself is a stupendous undertaking but I think I can appreciate Tukufu’s take on it. Definitely interviewing those leaders gave the film a much needed allure of attention – not to say it wasn’t a good film!

    I definitely think that this is subject that needs to be tackled in many more films. I enjoyed watching it and I enjoyed reading this biting critique of it. Hopefully this will be a real beginning for bringing discussions of importance into the domain of the mainstream.

    • I agree, many more films are needed to unearth the whole framework needed to understanding African culture, its struggles and its future.

      • Most definitely sis! Besides, I think Tukufu is about the only academic willing to explore new forms of engaging in fruitful discussions about issues of color. Rebranding himself as a director in order to invite this kind of critique from Ben Abukú is itself a bold step.
        I wish Henry Louis Gates and co. could be this bold enough.

    • Bringing these discussions to the fore, to the mainstream, should be the important part of th task. There’s not bigger plate for serving change than a thorough education of the masses. To do that we also need to make it more fun, like Tukufu has done here. We have to continue.

  2. Thank you for realizing that African independence movements across the continent differed from place to place. I understand a level of generality needs to be formed otherwise why even study it. But I also think with regard to your critique, Tukufu may have done a good job.

    True, this documentary would have benefited from understanding that independence was a mass movement. I think your thesis on understanding Africa according to class is important if any real inferences are to be made on the composition of its independence struggles.

  3. I had a chance to see this documentary at U.of Penn last weekend and I must say I was impressed with some aspects of it. I do agree with you that it definitely should have done more but the limited resources any documentary filmmaker has should be taken into consideration. On the whole it was a good film and I think your analysis is also insightful.

  4. Your thesis on trying to figure a framework for understanding African independence is laudable but do you think it can be achieved in a single film?
    I honestly look forward to the day the framework will be ironed out so that like you said, it can be used as a model for fighting all forms of imperialism on the African continent.

  5. Definitely we need more documentaries and films on the African struggle for independence more than we need academic articles. I think that if we really hope to build a following and interest in this topic we need this kind of multifaceted approach.

    Understanding the African struggle should be a continent wide effort and I agree we need to come to a significantly probable framework so that future African issues, challenges and problems can be confronted with such a model – a struggle of the masses, nothing can be further from that truth!

  6. Every time I watch the film, it feels more and more like a sincere student of African history made the film. So much is missing that I can’t possibly give it the good grade you seem to accord it.

  7. The film lacks perspective. It’s just raw history. Yes we know Ghana gained independence from the British, South Africa suffered from apartheid. But what else?
    Perhaps, Ben, you should have been consulted for this film.

  8. The film is watchable but as an African it fails to give me any new insight into the African struggle. But thanks for the review, very interesting read.

  9. This is more like good History Detectives’ film than a sincere attempt at Documentary filmmaking. We learn that African countries have become independent. But alas, and so?
    We see many pictures of the African landscape, stereotypical ones at that, like the villages, the bush, the poor, etc. nothing really inspiring.
    I think a documentary film aught to make a point, give a perspective – a new one at that. This film offers none so I agree with Koplan that it is in fact a sincere student made film on African independence.

    • Yes! Do you also wonder how not one of those African leaders interviewed offered any fresh perspective on African independence? The thing is, Africans don’t think about their struggle, they barely remember it let alone become able to offer much needed fresher and fresher perspectives about it.
      The lack of appreciation by Africans for their own history is nauseating. Many of them can tell you who the king of England was at 3:41 AM, June 26, in 1724, what clothes he wore on 4th July and even the carpenter who sculptured his armchair. But they can’t tell you when Kwame Nkrumah died or where he died.
      Sad. Indeed.

  10. I think Tukufu did a good job to summarize the struggle for independence on the continent of Africa. I enjoyed the film and the swagger or Dr. Zuberi. I thought some parts of the movie were funny, a needed humor for a film on such a dry subject.

  11. Plainly put, African Independence, 2013, is an academic exercise at story telling. Sometimes this guerrilla approach works, sometimes it does not. But I think on a subject like African Independence, this is still a good effort. I wish it had its own story to tell because if any one would see this in any theater they would like to know what the director’s perspectives are towards the struggle for independence in Africa besides the plain history.

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