- Editor’s Introduction
This issue of Africa Today presents five scholarly pieces that call our attention to ways individuals and communities think about and act on their civic identities. These essays invite us to think beyond the conventional dichotomies of the local and the global, tradition and modernity, and individuality and community, in order to better understand current topics in fields as different as education, healthcare, law, religion, and leisure. The five essays also urge us to recognize the major role of (not rarely unreliable) official accounts and outsiders’ gazes in shaping conversations about these topics.
In “‘Silent Exclusion’: Transnational Approaches to Education and School Participation in Ghana,” Sampson Addo Yeboah and Marguerite Daniel discuss the “uneven progress” that characterizes access to formal schooling in Ghana. Yeboah and Daniel highlight the existence of a dual system in which formal education and traditional education (i.e., children’s participation in family production) coexist and describe it as the main cause of “silent exclusion” of children from formal education, which manifests itself in the form of poor attendance, as well as high attrition and dropout rates. The authors invite us to face the compelling reasons behind parents’ apparent lack of interest in formal education by calling attention to the disconnection between foreigners’ generalizing claim that formal education equals increased income and Ghanaians’ daily reality. A similar problematization of an international, or outsider, interpretation of national problems is found in Amy S. Patterson’s article, “‘To Save the Community’: Carework as Citizenship during Liberia’s Ebola Outbreak and Zambia’s AIDS Crisis.” Patterson examines the private actions of careworkers as acts of citizenship and explores the way they engaged in protests and lobbied governments and private donors to defend the rights of the individuals under their care.
Three of the scholarly pieces that comprise this issue center on the artistic representation of, and engagement with, relevant social issues. In “Story of a South African Farm Attack,” Adriaan Steyn discusses white rights activism and violent crimes through an analysis of Darrell Roodt’s feature film Treurgrond (Soil of mourning, 2015). The cinematic treatment of farm attacks, Steyn claims, reproduces the Afrikaners’ fear that their traditional, rural way of life, as well as their language and culture, are no longer valued and welcome in South Africa.
The clash between tradition and modernity is also central to “Local Renditions: Variegations of Cosmopolitanism in Taarab Music of Lamu, [End Page ix] Kenya.” In this article, Caleb Edwin Owen argues that Lamu taarab provides a compelling articulation of what anthropologists have termed “vernacular cosmopolitanism,” serving as a space where tradition and cosmopolitanism meet. Taarab, for instance, provides the space to talk about romantic love in a largely Muslim society and somehow embraces consumerism by allowing tourists to fill the role of patricians when it comes to patronage of musical groups.
“Allegories of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Three African Novels,” by Lori Hartman, closes the scholarly section of this issue of Africa Today with a comparative study of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), Sahle Sellassie’s The Afersata (1968), and Ousmane Sembène’s God’s Bits of Wood (1962), three novels in which criminal activity and trials figure prominently. Hartman argues that, in these works, crime is understood as a rupture in a relationship; for this reason, punishment cannot be fully understood if confined to just an individual or a community. Hartman’s comparative analysis challenges our dichotomous thinking of individual and community, as well as of modernity and tradition, and helps us better understand the outcomes (and perceived shortcomings) of judicial processes that take place on African soil, under international, watchful eyes.
In his 1964 novel, Arrow of God, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe reminds us, “The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.” We invite you to delve into this issue of Africa Today and fathom a few more facets of this rich and complex continent. [End Page x]