Be an Agent of Change by Asking the Right Questions

by Seck Barry, intern

Why do we ask questions?  Is there power to asking questions, and what happens when we ask the right ones?  We dedicate time and energy to seek answers to questions we ask of others or even ourselves.  We are human beings capable of reasoning. Thus, asking questions is part of our nature; however, it takes confidence to pose the right questions. In the documentary film, African Independence, Tukufu Zuberi asks many complex questions and some that are controversial.  One of my favorite questions he asks in the documentary film is: Is the United States of Africa possible?

African history is complex. Thus, if we do not ask questions that capture the complexity of Africa, then this is doing injustice to those who live on the continent.  In addition, failure to capture its complex history will create misinformation about Africa for future generations.  So how can we pose questions that address the complex history of Africa and its people?

We must begin by asking the right questions, and these questions must attempt to capture the perspective of the Africans themselves in explaining their history and current events.   Most content about African history has come from the perspective of the outside observers.  However, little is known about Africans perspectives on the history of the continent. This is what makes the documentary film, African independence, unique.  Tukufu poses questions that invite African leaders and activists to tell their side of the story about African struggle for independence.  As an outside observer, Tukufu gives Africans their agency by asking questions that bring their side of story to life.  Questions that give agency to individuals who are affected by the issue at hand are the right questions in my view. Who will you give agency to with the questions you ask?

Is Social Media Giving a Voice to the Voiceless?

By Seck Barry, Intern

In December 2010, a jobless college graduate took his own life, setting himself on fire as a way of protesting against the government in Tunisia.   The act, publicized on Twitter, provoked young people in Tunisia to charge their political regime and demand change. What followed was a shockwave of rebellion that permeated throughout the Middle East. From Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, young people used social media to mobilize and protest, reminding those living outside of the continent that, if Africa is on fire, the world will not be in peace. 

Africa is the largest, and yet the least known, continent in the world.  The perception most people have of of Africa is that it is poor, corrupt, and politically unstable.  However, these are largely misconceptions, portraying only one perspective fueled by western media. The way Africa’s current issues and people are portrayed to the West is inconsistent with the reality of what is really happening there socially, politically and economically. However, the development of social media is making it possible for ordinary Africans and scholars, like Tukufu Zuberi, to share their thoughts about what is happening on the continent, and how it contributes to the rest of the world.

Is this approach revolutionary? If so, what does it mean for Africa and its people? Will it encourage people in the western world to pay more attention to the continent and the progress it is making every day? These are questions to which I, a native of Guinea and an intern for Professor Zuberi, seek answers.

I enjoy being part a team that is working hard everyday to help promote Tukufu’s groundbreaking documentary film, entitled, African Independence.  Most importantly, I love the collaborative effort of Professors, filmmakers, reporters, researcher assistants, and students like myself to help engage the public about both Africa’s contribution to the world, as well as what needs be done to address the major challenges facing Africa today. Just like the young people who made the Arab Spring possible through the use of social media in Africa, we, too, are using Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube to connect with the public from the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

African Independence Wins Best Director and Documentary at San Diego Black Film Festival

By Marcus T. Wright

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After 7 years of production, African Independence, a film written, produced and directed by PBS History Detectives host Tukufu Zuberi, made its premiere with a bang at the San Diego Black Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 31st.

The feature-length film, which highlights the birth, realization, and problems confronted by the movement to win independence in Africa, won Best Documentary at the festival, and Zuberi won Best Director.  Zuberi’s vision of telling the story by channeling the voices of freedom fighters and leaders who achieved independence, liberty and justice for African people resonated with the audience and judges, propelling him to these top honors and a nomination for Best Film.

Stay tuned for more coverage of this landmark achievement for the History Detective.


African Independence Premieres this Thursday; A Calling Fulfilled

By Marcus T. Wright, Coordinator to Dr. Tukufu Zuberi

Charles K.B Tachie-Menson WW II vet West Africa companyThis week, African Independence will premiere at the San Diego Black Film Festival.  It has been a long journey for Dr. Tukufu Zuberi and everyone who has helped with this film.  I have had a chance to preview the film for the festival and it looks amazing.

Documentary film-making is not for the faint of heart.  From what I have seen, it begins with a calling.  Something has to be so important to the filmmaker that he has to tell someone about it.  In this case, Dr. Zuberi has repeatedly shown his passion about what’s going on in Africa, and the history of Africa.  Even further, Dr. Zuberi’s passion is for other people to know about Africa.  We often only hear the story of Africa through the funnel of media outlets.  We don’t hear enough from people who live on the continent itself.  African Independence does this, as it contains a variety of interviews of key individuals whom have lived through the shaping of the continent.

Furthermore, creating a documentary – or any film for that matter – takes a lot of persistence.  When you begin to figure out how to tell the story or message that is burning inside of you, you know it will be a long, hard journey.  It will not be an overnight endeavor.  Somehow, through the long and grueling process of film-making, Dr. Zuberi has not lost focus of the calling.  The end result is African Independence, the fruits of the labor, which will be unveiled this Thursday in San Diego.

We do hope that you continue to follow as African Independence spreads the message of how the world has shaped Africa, and in turn, how Africa has shaped the world.


Is the ancient city Timbuktu in peril?

Timbuktu is a remote ancient city located in Mali, West Africa. It’s considered the birthplace of one the earliest African civilizations. The city’s 700,000 ancient manuscripts preserved in 60 libraries provide a window into the complex lifestyle of these early Africans who were more than just scholars. They were innovators, merchants and aristocrats. A recent BBC article discusses how Timbuktu’s historical artifacts are under attack by radical Islamists. How would the destruction of Timbuktu impact the world?