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4. Making a Living: African Livelihoods

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

Gracia Clark and Katherine Wiley

Impressive tenacity and ingenuity enable Africans to survive and even prosper under extremely challenging circumstances. The widespread stereotype of the passive victim crumbles away in the face of Africans’ incessant efforts to protect their families’ interests and ensure security and progress for the next generation. It is a struggle that some people shirk and that many do not win. Even so, people’s agency must be taken seriously. Continuous experimentation and innovation are among the legacies of African societies in every part of the continent, as people make their living often under severe resource constraints and despite external shocks such as the recent spiraling prices of gasoline and corn.

Analyzing the strategies that people employ for preserving and adapting families and communities to these constraints has led researchers to adopt the term “livelihood” to indicate the paid and unpaid activities that together sustain communities and individuals over the long term. Conventional U.S. economic analysis makes a sharp distinction between work and family, confining the economy to the work side, measured primarily in monetary terms as gross domestic product (GDP), the value of goods and services produced in a country in a given year. Even calculations that try to include the production of goods and services that are not part of the official record, such as farming for direct consumption or using unpaid family labor, often disregard the domestic and cultural work that maintain a family’s well-being over the long run, from cooking and cleaning to the values and social institutions that keep people working together.

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11. African Film

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

Akin Adesokan

It is a truism of African cinema that one cannot productively discuss the films that make up the field without keeping in mind the social and economic conditions under which they are made. Fifty years after the first feature film to be written, produced, and directed by an African, and with this cinematic tradition becoming as globally important an art form as African literature and the Afropop component of world music, economic, political, and cultural factors continue to be central to its full understanding. It is therefore not surprising that, across three generations, issues of political and cultural identity are a main topical preoccupation of African filmmakers. For various reasons younger, often foreign-based filmmakers have sharply reacted in their work against the biases of their predecessors who came from a background of anticolonial activism, thus showing the limitations of earlier practices. However, sociopolitical situations in contemporary African countries, as well as the larger economic order in the world, are so crucial to most forms of cultural production that they cannot be totally ignored. As a result, filmmakers have developed a more complex treatment of sociopolitical issues. Emphasis has shifted in their works from a simple notion of rejection as a way of asserting identity to the understanding that identity usually results from a number of different factors. They have begun to experiment with forms and genres, drawing on music, dance, youth culture, fashion, and sundry expressive forms and reflecting greater awareness of cinematic traditions from different parts of the world.

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13. Development in Africa: Tempered Hope

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

Raymond Muhula and Stephen N. Ndegwa

Sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than eight hundred million people in more than fifty countries, is the least-developed continent in the world. It continues to have relatively low levels of industrialization and urbanization, and instead subsists on narrow economic bases, overly dependent on primary commodities and foreign aid. Livelihoods and life chances on the continent are often among the most challenged in the world, with low life expectancy (especially with the impact of HIV/AIDS), literacy rates, and access to health care and education. Moreover, governance institutions are weak, as evidenced by the fragility of democracies emerging after three decades of authoritarianism, heavily politicized bureaucracies and judiciaries, and weak policy environments that frequently respond more to patronage networks than to competitive ideas and interests. African economies have grown slowly since the early years of independence in the late 1950s and 1960s compared to those of other nations, especially in Asia, that came into independence at the same time. By 1980, real average incomes had regressed to below the levels of the 1960s. Predictably, Africa is the only continent expected not to meet any of the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2000 to combat the most significant development challenges by 2015.

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1. Africa: A Geographic Frame

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

James Delehanty

Africa is a continent, the second-largest after Asia. It contains fifty-four countries, several of them vast. Each of Africa’s biggest countries—Algeria, Congo, and Sudan—is about three times the size of Texas, four times that of France. Africa could hold 14 Greenlands, 20 Alaskas, 71 Californias, or 125 Britains. Newcomers to the study of Africa often are surprised by the simple matter of the continent’s great size. No wonder so much else about Africa is vague to outsiders.

This chapter introduces Africa from the perspective of geography, an integrative discipline rooted in the ancient need to describe the qualities of places near or distant. The chapter begins by examining how the world’s understanding of Africa has developed over time. Throughout history, outsiders have held a greater number of erroneous geographic ideas about Africa than true ones. The misunderstandings generated by these false ideas have been unhelpful and occasionally disastrous. After this survey of geographic ideas, the chapter settles into a general preference for what is true, probing, in turn, Africa’s physical landscapes, its climates, its bioregions, and the way that Africans over time have used and shaped their environments. A final section outlines the difficulties Africa has confronted and the betterment Africans anticipate as they integrate ever more fully and fairly with emerging global systems.

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8. Visual Arts in Africa

Grosz-Ngaté, Maria ePub

Patrick McNaughton and Diane Pelrine

African art has been made for many thousands of years, undergoing numerous major and often dramatic changes through the centuries and right up until today. Its forms and materials, meanings and functions have always been tremendously varied, deeply imaginative, and dynamically part of people’s individual and social lives. Frequently stunning and formally sophisticated, it has been collected by Westerners for at least half a millennium and in fact profoundly influenced the modern history of European art.

The study of African art has changed drastically over time. For centuries Europeans viewed it as the exotic production of strange societies, which did not warrant much explanation. Not until the twentieth century was it seen to reflect aspects of African social, spiritual, and political organization, although contextual information was minimal. As the twentieth century progressed, and especially since the 1960s, art historians and anthropologists have developed increasingly sophisticated approaches to learning about and understanding African art’s subtleties, complexities, and dynamic involvement with society and culture.

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