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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 39, Issue 2, 2016

General Edition

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Market Alleyway in Rabat, Morocco.

Essays Part I

Ambivalent Relation with the Divine in Wole Soyinka's The Road

This essay proposes a long overdue reading of Wole Soyinka’s play, The Road. For his eccentric demeanor, Professor, the central figure of The Road, has greatly preoccupied scholars, but the attention accorded to the character has also subjected him to a significant amount of negative criticism. For scholars, Professor is an agile opportunist who manipulates the gods and his companions for self-aggrandizing objectives. In this paper, I nuance this reading and demonstrate that Professor is, in fact, not the only character in The Road who uses the divine for personal motives and that characters such as Samson and Say Tokyo also have an ambivalent relationship with the spirit world. Professor, one of the central characters of Soyinka’s The Road, has not only occupied a central place in scholastic discussions of the play but has also been the subject of many criticisms. The judgments that critics cast on the character usually start with a portrayal of the hero as a megalomaniac and abusive persona and end with a description of his spiritual quest as no more than a deceptive strategy of control conducted under the guise of religion. However, the main criticism usually is that Professor is a dishonest and demented figure whose personal concerns and goals involve a lifestyle that constantly aborts his discovery of—and perhaps “nirvanic” fusion with—the Word that he incessantly seeks. In this article, I put forth that Professor does not stand alone in his ambivalent relation with the divine. I argue that the elements behind Professor’s defective spirituality also affect the lives of other characters, precisely Samson and Say Tokyo. As a result, the sacrilegious manifests itself not only through the main protagonist, but also through Samson and Say Tokyo. The basis for this claim will become more pronounced as I successively engage with the criticisms held against Professor, his oddities, the characters’ acceptance of the divine, and the modern concepts leading them to continually fail the gods and goddesses.

A Life Lived Between Autobiography, Fiction, and History: Maryse Conde

This article explores early criticism of Maryse Condé’s first novel, Heremakhonon (1976), which characterized the text as a veiled yet accurate depiction of the author’s time in West Africa. This paper makes the argument that the historical value of the text is lost when viewed as an autobiography. On the contrary, the power of Heremakhonon’s narrative is best understood when the differences between Maryse Condé’s life and the central character of Veronica are recognized. Only then can the reader glean historical value in Condé’s work of fiction inspired by her experiences in post-colonial West Africa.

Essays Part II

Beyond the Saharan Cloak: Uncovering Jewish Identity from Southern Morocco and throughout the Sahara

From the end of the medieval period into the early modern era, regional anti-Semitic violence in Northwest Africa forced Jews to convert and/or flee into other lands. A legacy of imposed invisibility, through illegality of Judaism and fear of expressing a Jewish faith identity, was a consequence of intolerance towards Jews. For their own safety, Jewish persons had to conceal their faith identity. In doing so, what appears to be a lack of Jewish presence may simply be a strategic concealment of one’s interior faith conviction. This paper explores how Western institutional oversight, by organizations and scholars, continually perpetuates the impression of Jewish absence from these spaces. Further, the paper seeks to challenge a visible lack of Jewish presence in West Africa by analyzing the complexity of conversion and investigating seemingly “invisible” identities. Lastly, the paper examines how the efforts of Jewish persons to become undetectable have contributed to the historical elisions of Jewish presence in West Africa.

Seeking Biomedical and Traditional Treatment is a Spiritual Lapse Among Zionists: A Case Study of the Zion Church in Malawi

The Enabling Universal and Equitable Access to Healthcare for Vulnerable People in Resource Poor Settings in Africa (Equitable) Project was conducted in Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and the Sudan between 2009 and 2012. It was aimed at determining the challenges which vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, experience when accessing health care. It also aimed at identifying non-users of health services at the community level and reasons why they were not accessing these services. The study found that members of the Zion Church do not seek treatment from public or private health facilities, or from traditional healers. Not much has been written about how members of the Zion Church in Malawi seek health care. This paper explores how members of the Zion Church seek health care during illness episodes. The study was conducted in four districts in Malawi. A total of twenty-five members and non-members of this church were interviewed to determine how they sought health care. The study found that members of the Zion Church do not use Western medicine: the church does not allow them to seek treatment either from Western health facilities or traditional healers, otherwise they risk excommunication. Senior members of the church pray for the sick, and patients also seek treatment from the Zion Church clinic, where prayers, blessed water, and amulets are used in the treatment of diseases. Non-members who seek treatment from the Zion Church Clinic are advised to first seek treatment from traditional healers and health facilities. The Zion Church clinic should be the last resort for these non-member patients, most of whom have been sick for a long time. After being cured, some of the non-members have been converted and joined the church. Our conclusion is that while medical pluralism exists in Malawian communities, members of the Zion Church only access treatment from their church elders and church clinics. They do not use Western medicine.

Benin Video-film: A Case for the Documentary Genre

Although Onions Edionwe’s films, such as Echoes of a Kingdom, Arousa N’ohuan-ren, and Aisiokuoba, are notable documentaries, they represent an “insignificant” component of the total number of movies that have been made in the Benin or Edo language film section of the Nigerian film culture (Nollywood). A critical review of the Benin video culture indicates that a majority of the Benin film content creators tend to ignore the documentary genre. This article explores the reasons Benin filmmakers do not produce documentaries. Perhaps, what evidences the tendency is the observable preference of Benin filmmakers to make historical, musical, comic, or social movies because they fear that the audience might find documentary films uninteresting and distasteful. This is an unpleasant trend in spite of documentary film’s potency as a narrative medium and its potentialities for developing the human-mind and society. It is against this background that I used a complementarity of the emic and etic approaches to canvass the need for Benin cineastes to increasingly turn their creative radars towards the documentary genre, which can be a powerful developer and re-enforcer of Benin socio-cultural practices in the age of globalisation. Towards this end, Benin filmmakers should be provided with requisite grants and/or production funds by relevant governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and organised private groups from within and outside the Benin locality to make films in the documentary format.

“The Black Man in the White Man’s Court”: Mandela at Wits University, South Africa, 1943-1949

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was 24 years old when he enrolled for his Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa at the beginning of 1943. Mandela was the only African in the Law Faculty at Wits and suffered racism from both the white student body and faculty during the years he spent in pursuit of this degree. On July 20, 2015, Professor Bruce Murray of Wits presented a paper entitled “Nelson Mandela and Wits University”3 that the Sunday Times, South Africa printed with the title “No Easy Walk to LLB for Madiba,” that tersely suggested that it took Mandela 46 years to earn his LLB degree, instead of the normal stipulation of three or four years that is a requirement for a student to complete an LLB degree.4 After enjoying service at Hope Restoration Church, I read this newspaper article about the former President Mandela, who sacrificed so much for South Africa, feeling the injustice in the prejudicial manner in which both Murray’s Wits paper and the Sunday Times article were written. I thought of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, respectively, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” and, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”5 Immediately, I replied to the Sunday Times article with a two-page piece entitled, “Between Mandela and his LLB Degree was Racism and Apartheid at Wits University.” Sunday Times (August 2 2015) printed just five paragraphs of my article and titled it “Racism at Wits cost Madiba his LLB.”6 As I was writing this article for Ufahamu, The Thinker (a pan-African quarterly for thought leaders) published my two-page article with my own title, “Between Mandela and his LLB Degree was Racism and Apartheid,” that the Sunday Times had opted not to publish.7 The humiliations that Mandela suffered at Wits, rooted in racism, prejudice, and discrimination continue at South African universities today. This paper is an attempt to put in the public domain these humiliations that speak to the rationales why it would take, according to the Sunday Times article, Mandela 46 years to earn an LLB degree.

Extraneous Considerations to the Personality Variables in Foreign Policy Decision-Making: Evidence from Nigeria

The more general approach to assessing personality variables in foreign policy decision-making is to ascribe the motivation of decision makers to their personality traits. By so-doing, certain variables external to the human elements but which act as boosters through which the personality elements influence foreign policy decision-making, are often ignored. Through a historical analysis of idiosyncratic effects on Nigerian leaders’ foreign policies, this article establishes that even though personality elements perform well as explanatory variables in foreign policy analysis, they do not solely explain the variance in decision outcomes. They require other factors to activate their expression as foreign policy determinants.

Book Reviews