Ashif Malamba, Corrupt Church, mixed media on Canvas 20" x 20" and Ali Shabab, mixed media on Canvas
40" x 40"
Afropolitanism is a contested term, but the widely accepted definition is quite straight forward. It stems from the word Africa and the Greek root polis, which means city. Afropolitanism is thus referring to the African city and the creative high culture that comes with it. Any city with African people or people with African roots falls under this category. So think Kigali, Nairobi, Lagos, Accra, Gaborone, Luanda, Kampala, Dakar..the list goes on. There are pockets of Afropolitanism everywhere you look. For Africa, this is even more pronounced because Africa's urbanity is like no other - there has been rapid urbanization in Africa in the last five decades even in years when economic development seemed elusive. People have flocked to the African city - the slums, concrete high rises and the green leafy suburbs. Most of Africa will be living in cities in the next two decades, a phenomenon that has already taken place in most of the world today.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing UC Berkeley's rockstar development economist, Ted Miguel, about Africa and his newest book: Africa's Turn?. Ted was quite optimistic with the recent trends on the continent and he was unequivocal in his statement that Africa is the future. He asserted, "look at the numbers, they don't lie, most of the world population will be African in the next couple of decades and they will be living in cities." The cities Ted is talking about are currently melting pots of ideas and cultures, helping the continent stay ahead not just in innovative mobile technologies (like MPESA), but also leading to policy innovations in health, education, agriculture, and government accountability.
We were in agreement that the source of Afropolitanism is the African art renaissance happening right now. African contemporary art is here and is coming from the vibrant streets of Lagos, Nairobi, Kigali, Accra, Kampala, Gaborone, Luanda and other afro-cities. It's engaging Africans at home and all over the world from an African worldview.
Ashif Malamba, working in a style of street art, is one of the genius artists of our Afropolitan age. He hails from the largest slum in Africa, Kibera. Ashif enagages not just his community in Kibera, but he catches the imagination of Africa and the world. His work (seen above), Corrupt Church, gives new meaning to Marx's opium of the poor and his poignant piece, Ali Shabab, reminds us that fundamentalism is alive and well (such as this recent sad story on activities of Al Shabaab). Ashif shows us that in Africa, the creativity, the inventiveness, the theatre, and much of life happens on the streets.
Richie Spice, "Youths Dem Cold"