Cinema and Development in West Africa

Cinema and Development in West Africa

Cinema and Development in West Africa

Cinema and Development in West Africa

Synopsis

Cinema and Development in West Africa shows how the film industry in Francophone West African countries played an important role in executing strategies of nation building during the transition from French rule to the early postcolonial period. James E. Genova sees the construction of African identities and economic development as the major themes in the political literature and cultural production of the time. Focusing on film both as industry and aesthetic genre, he demonstrates its unique place in economic development and provides a comprehensive history of filmmaking in the region during the transition from colonies to sovereign states.

Excerpt

I RETURNED TO DAKAR, Senegal, in the summer of 2011 to complete research for this project and took my usual path walking along Avenue Hassan II (ex-Albert Sarraut) through the Place de l’indépendance toward the administrative building in the basement of which is housed the National Archives of Senegal. For years a movie theater stood at the southwest corner of the central plaza, although it was clearly run down and did not offer many showings. Now, though, the building was gone, replaced with a pile of rubble. Barely concealing the rubble was a fence that seemed to offer more perils than protection from the debris. No evidence remained that this location once offered audiences celluloid entertainment. Instead, the ruins blended into the generally decaying architecture that characterizes this once majestic space. In fact, much of downtown Dakar resembles the plaza—a mixture of crumbled buildings, others in better repair, frozen in 1970s architectural style, and some in a perpetual process of construction. Downtown Dakar was at that moment bustling with new construction projects promoted by then-president Abdoulaye Wade and financed by international lending agencies, China, and Morocco, among other outside sources. Much of the money appeared destined to develop a tourist infrastructure—hotels and a cultural park, financed entirely by China, which would contain “the Seven Wonders of Dakar,” one of which was to be a new site for the archives near the location of the historic train station, scene of the 1947–48 railway strike. This strike was one of the heroic moments in the saga of the anticolonial struggle, immortalized in Ousmane Sembène’s 1960 novel God’s Bits of Wood.

Weaving unceasingly through this urban landscape were multitudes of people headed to work, shopping, or school or going out in search of a job; still others wandered, hustled, or sat on the sidewalks in no apparent hurry to be anywhere else. In fact, there were far too many of the last groups, although they had been made less visible in the city center with President Wade’s construction boom. It’s been more than fifty years since Senegal and the other countries of French West Africa achieved independence (celebrated in the plaza that bears its namesake), but the scenes of contemporary Dakar, marked by coterminous signs of renewal and decline, belie the heritage of that half century. It is a composite of hope for a self-directed future leading to economic development and cultural regeneration and of frustration as those aspirations have been blunted by a neocolonial system that has trapped Senegal and . . .

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