A visit to Niger on the path of colonial crimes was an eye-opener for a younger British-Nigerian poet.
On the finish of the nineteenth century, European powers got here collectively to carve up the good African cake. One of many items of land allotted to the French was an space branching into the Sahara Desert in what was to turn out to be Niger. My movie African Apocalypse (displaying on the Docville Pageant in Leuven 10,16,19 June) follows the street created by the French invasion of 1898-99 wherein a French colonial officer, Captain Paul Voulet, established the Southern border of the nation.
The movie brings the previous updated. It’s a private journey that opened my eyes to the truth that the horrors of colonialism should not a factor of the previous, however one thing that persons are nonetheless combating to beat right now. As I journey the street, I uncover a brutal historical past of colonial violence recounted so harrowingly by the direct descendants of its victims.
African Apocalypse is the results of an opportunity encounter with director Rob Lemkin, who launched me to the story of Voulet. We travelled to Niger collectively, each desirous to doc this forgotten historical past and to inform a narrative about its resonance within the fashionable world.
The extra I discovered about Voulet, the extra I observed fascinating parallels with Kurtz, the largely absent however ever-present central antagonist of Joseph Conrad’s Coronary heart of Darkness — a e-book written at the exact same time that Voulet was committing his crimes.
Rob and I went to Niger within the hope of telling the story of Voulet as a part of a wider narrative concerning the ghost of colonialism. This can be a European ghost, however like all ghosts, it’s clear, elusive and nearly invisible. Like all ghosts, it’s born from dying, and lingers on the Earth affecting the residing.
African Apocalypse exhibits that this ghost remains to be shaping lives right now, each in Europe and in Africa. Voulet turned my antagonist, a sordid illustration of colonial extra and violence; only one instance of an archetype of repression, brutality and theft. In monitoring him down, I used to be monitoring down Kurtz, and all different colonial officers who enacted such atrocities.
I couldn’t have foreseen such a uncooked encounter with historical past.
I’ve twin citizenship; a Nigerian and a British passport, however I’ve grown up within the west. A number of the troopers I met in Niger advised me I could as nicely be white — one other Marlowe, coming from afar to inform their tales for them. Earlier than I visited, I knew I used to be going to search out one thing very totally different from my very own expertise as a younger British Nigerian — however I couldn’t have foreseen such a uncooked and pressing encounter with historical past.
Initially I felt overwhelmed, nonetheless because the journey went on I discovered I linked an increasing number of with the folks of Niger, to the purpose the place I used to be singing with conventional griots on the palace of the Sultan of Birnin Konni, the place Voulet murdered between six and fifteen thousand folks.
There have been many moments like this, the place I used to be struck by the enjoyment of assembly and studying concerning the tradition, language and customs of my folks, however equally by the unhappiness of how a lot was taken from them.
I learnt a lot about West African spirituality, and was formally launched to an ‘Iskoki’ spirit, mentioned to reside within the timber and to be the reason for the quite a few automotive accidents blighting the street, as vengeance for the deforestation that constructed it. Teshi, who launched me, advised me of the occasions Nigerians have been made by pressured labour to construct the street, alongside the precise route alongside which Voulet had dedicated his massacres.
Malam, a Hausa Bori priest, took me to the highest of a holy mountain the place, after presenting an providing of milk, he recounted how the spirit that lives there thwarted Voulet by making a village invisible. When two outdated males from Matankori confirmed me the killing fields the place their folks had died, I requested them why the spirit didn’t defeat Voulet. They responded by asking me how a spirit can defeat somebody with bullets. The folks of Birnin Konni, armed with bows, arrows and spears, first thought the bullets of the French have been haricot beans.
Shedding mild on these issues is crucial, and when the testimony comes straight from the mouths of the grandchildren and nice grandchildren of the victims, it turns into tougher to disregard and rewrite. Nigerians, Kenyans, Algerians, Herero Namibians and all different victims of colonial atrocities deserve the dignity of worldwide recognition of the crimes that have been dedicated towards them.
If the residents of the nations that did the colonising, like France and the UK, should not confronted with these murkier elements of their historical past, they may haven’t any foundation for understanding their place on the planet right now. This colonial amnesia; this superb potential to rewrite the previous, ends in misplaced delight, irrational defensiveness and infrequently outright racism.
At one of the crucial poignant moments within the movie, a younger schoolgirl states that revenge and defence is unimaginable as, even right now, the French have higher weapons. One among her classmates wonders whether or not leaving the French with their consciences is a kind of vengeance in itself. The query stays nonetheless, as as to whether France – and all of the outdated imperial powers, all the time so fast to disclaim their colonial pasts – have a conscience. One scholar brings up the subject of reparations, the concept nations like France and Britain that benefited from colonialism and slavery ought to recognise and repay among the debt. Her trainer asks her how France would ever be capable to repay the lack of life itself.
Some of the stunning revelations of the movie is that colonialism in some ways by no means actually ended. Despite the fact that Niger is formally impartial, France nonetheless wields important management over its forex and its sources. I got here face-to-face with miners who had developed life-threatening sicknesses working for a corporation which offers France with uranium from Niger to generate a lot of its electrical energy.
Their lives are decided by the invisible hand of Europe.
In every single place in Niger, which lies on the backside of the UN human improvement index, folks advised me they ardently believed their present state of poverty was inextricably linked to this colonial previous. They nonetheless really feel as if their lives are decided by an exterior drive; the invisible hand of Europe. Niger is among the nations that constitutes the so-called ‘FranceAfrique’ group, a set of 14 African nations wherein France nonetheless has an affect.
It’s laborious to inform the long run. Niger is a serious danger zone for local weather change and rising temperatures current new challenges, nonetheless it is among the world’s sunniest nations and a photo voltaic vitality infrastructure might be transformational, offering electrical energy to many who didn’t have it earlier than. As might be seen within the movie, Niger’s inhabitants is vibrant and younger. Kids are all over the place within the nation, which has the bottom common age of any on the planet, at 15 years.
These youngsters are the way forward for Niger, however solely change and true independence will guarantee them a way forward for their very own. Throughout the continent of Africa and the colonised world, folks’s lives are nonetheless deprived on account of the invasion and conquest of their nations. It is just by recognising and rectifying the errors of the previous that we will start to maneuver collectively in direction of a greater imaginative and prescient for the long run.
What occurred in Niger, in Congo and in so many different locations constitutes crimes towards humanity, and I hope this movie helps to disclose that. We have to be courageous in confronting yesterday if we’re to maneuver to a brighter tomorrow.
Watch the trailer right here.