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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 42, Issue 2, 2021

Issue cover
Cover Caption: François-Xavier Gbré, Cité Espérance #2, Route de Bingerville, 2013, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Dakar, Paris).

Part I—Essays

Customary Law in Anglophone Cameroon and the Repugnancy Doctrine: An Insufficient Complement to Human Rights

This paper examines the application of the repugnancy doctrine in the administration of customary law in Anglophone Cameroon and unravels the relationship it fosters with human rights. The paper adopts a qualitative methodology grounded in doctrinal research and argues that state courts of Anglophone Cameroon have shown an exaggerated reliance on the doctrine and have readily invoked it as an alternative measure to incorporate human rights norms in their jurisprudence. The inference to be drawn from this development is that state courts are employing the repugnancy doctrine as a medium to engage with human rights in the enforcement of customary law. This is an unfortunate development given that, in the absence of clear standards of application, the repugnancy doctrine provides wide discretionary latitude to judges who, as case law reveals, may deflect interest in the enforcement of human rights. Consequently, the doctrine has been relied upon to justify standards that are contrary to those professed by human rights principles. The paper asserts forcefully that, irrespective of its nexus with human rights, the doctrine remains an unreliable alternative to human rights. It advocates for the repeal of the doctrine and equally encourages state courts to engage more with human rights, as enshrined in Cameroon’s 1996 constitution, which, unlike the repugnancy doctrine, provides precise and unambiguous standards.

Film Censorship and Identity in Kenya

The postcolonial government in Kenya has embarked on a sustained war against identity by banning locally and internationally produced motion pictures that depict LGBTQ themes in the ongoing national discourse on gender identity. In 2014 and 2018, the government effectively banned two films by local directors (The Stories of Our Lives and Rafiki) for including the LGBTQ community in this discourse. Within the same period, officials banned The Wolf of Wall Street and Fifty Shades of Grey, both by international directors, for their explicit sexual content. The bans attracted public attention and triggered a debate over the country’s censorship laws in particular and gender identity in general. However, while paying specific attention to postcolonial censorship laws that aimed to retain the status quo, the debaters failed to ground their arguments in their proper historical context. To better understand censorship in Kenya, we must first understand its history during the colonial period (1895-1963), a period that saw the colonizer attempt to construct for the colonized a morally acceptable identity. This construction saw the British colonial government shield African cinema audiences from films that they thought would teach them undesirable behaviors. To achieve this goal, censorship officials censored films with “questionable” scenes. This study connects the present and the past, broadens present censorship and gender debates by deepening our collective imagination of real and imagined laws, and incentivizes the debaters to think broadly about continuity without change in Kenya. It vacates rigid chronologies and does not purport to provide a definitive history of censorship and identity during the two historical periods, even if such a history were possible to produce. Broadly, the study situates censorship within a long history of framing and re-framing identities and, consequently, contributes to a more complex understanding of the chaotic interplay among power, art, and identity.

Dignity for Black Laborers: Bernard Magubane, Anthony Ngubo, and the African Student Challenge to Segregation and Racial Liberal Ideology in Southern California

This essay examines the activism and scholarship of two South African sociologists and African Studies professors, Bernard Magubane and Anthony Ngubo during their time as graduate students at UCLA in the 1960s. Focusing on Magubane and Ngubo, I argue that migrant students from Southern Africa used research and protest politics to contest the postwar racial liberal ideology that dominated African studies and sectors of the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements from Southern California to Southern Africa. Ngubo, Magubane, and their colleagues united with the struggles of the Black working class in Los Angeles. They used their research and activism to challenge Cold War liberal ideas of life in California and the United States by likening the struggles of African Americans to the plight of Blacks in Southern Africa.

When the Zombie Becomes Critic: Misinterpreting Fela’s “Zombie” and the Need to Reexamine His Prevailing Motifs

Although Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s musical career began in the 1950s, it was in the 1970s that he emerged as a formidable force on the scene. This was not just because of the multifaceted Afrobeat genre that he generated, or his versatility as an instrumentalist, but because he used his music, incomparably, to expose corruption, confront the excesses of government and slam the acquiescence of the larger populace. Sadly, however, his greatest hit, “Zombie” (1976), has been widely misconstrued as an attack on Nigeria’s military, particularly the army. While the zombie theme may, in part, scoff at military regimented traditions, it disseminates a much wider message that condemns complicity and docility in the face of subjugation. This is despite the display of army personnel on the jacket of the original album, and recurring cynical commands that have been erroneously restricted to military parade protocol. To describe “Zombie” as an attack on the military is to relegate Fela’s message to a narrow social context. Ironically, the denunciation of robotic compliance, which is the focal point of “Zombie,” is a theme that Fela also captures in another song on the Zombie album, “Mr. Follow” (1976). The motif is repeated in other songs by Fela, including but not limited to “Shuffering & Shmiling” (1978) and, in part, “Sorrow, Tears & Blood” (1977). It was not Fela’s style to shroud his message in telling images, as he was known to audaciously call the proverbial spade a spade. When he decided to castigate the army, he did so unashamedly in songs like “Army Arrangement” (1984) and “Unknown Soldier” (1979). To analyze Fela’s “Zombie” effectively, therefore, it is necessary to do so in relation to other songs he released and within the context of his wider vision as a musician.

Archaeological Research in Akwa Ibom State: A Call for Attention

In discussing the cultural and historical development of a place, it is important to note that in a company of written records and oral traditions, the archaeological record plays a critical part in illuminating the past. Archaeological research in Nigeria dates back to the precolonial period, and over time, several discoveries have been made in different locations reflecting the history and culture of ancient Nigeria. However, when examining the archaeological discoveries and sites within the country, we observe the nonexistence of significant examples of archaeological evidence peculiar to Akwa Ibom State. This shows that the place of archaeology has been neglected over time, and an obvious void does exist. Why is this so in Akwa Ibom State? What factors led to the neglect or deficiency and how can these be tackled? This article brings this dearth to the fore and calls the attention of designated authorities, relevant institutions, stakeholders within the state, and archaeologists within the country to this all-important issue that lies unexplored. A response to this call will significantly improve the cultural and historical development and, in the long run, give global recognition to the state and country at large.

Part III—Arts

Diaspora, Identity, and Representation in Non- Figurative African Photography

African photography has long been closely linked to portraiture, initially in the way that it was used as an ethnographic tool during the colonial period and eventually as a means of visual identity-building and self-fashioning in studio photography when Africans appropriated the form and decided to use it for themselves. It can be argued that portraiture, in its ability for representation, perhaps lends itself to photography that is linked to identity politics. However, by looking at the works of three artists, Edson Chagas, Francois-Xavier Gbré, and Mame-Diarra Niang, this essay looks at the ways in which these African photographers approach issues of identity and diaspora without using the portrait, but rather by interrogating the form of photography itself, and its relation to the photographer’s subjectivity. These three artists all photograph various African cities, specifically Luanda, Abidjan, and Dakar, from their own distinct diasporic viewpoints, whether as returnees or as visitors to their parents’ hometowns. By doing this, they propose a new direction for diasporic African photography, one in which the fragmented form of the images can speak to the hybridity of their identities. Thus, this essay aims to interrogate the idea that portraiture is the only way in which the African experience can be accurately represented. By looking at the work of three contemporary photographers, I will examine the way they bring their own experiences and subjectivities to the non-figurative and imbue it with a renewed sense of identity.