Olivier Assoua’s first feature film was shot on a shoestring budget in the small Cameroonian town where he was born. As he tells the BBC, the low cost ensured the movie got made – and this is why his long-held dream is set to be realised when it is released in the coming months.
When Olivier Assoau was 10, his civil-servant father bought a VHS player. His was the only family in the neighbourhood to own one.
“When we did well at school, my father allowed my friends and I to watch a movie as a reward. It motivated me to do well in school because I really wanted to watch movies,” Assoua says.
And thus, a lifelong passion began.
At the age of 15, Assoua left Cameroon for France and in 2006 he moved to the UK.
Years later, he returned to his birth town to embark on a film-making journey. He wrote, directed, shot and edited his first feature-length film, La Vallée des Aigles (“The Eagle’s Nest” is its English title).
“I made the film for £5,000 ($6,400). If I had paid myself market rate for each role, I would never have been able to make it,” Assoua says.
“My film La Vallée des Aigles is about two female friends in a small town where many young people emigrate to bigger cities or Europe in search of a better life.
“In this film, the two main characters stumble upon a large sum of money. One of the friends decides to go to Europe with the money, whilst the other wants to stay in Cameroon and make something of herself.”
The plight of the Africans
Assoua regards migration, economic or forced, as a hugely important subject.
“Many Africans are dying trying to get to Europe,” he says. “There is a belief that going to Europe will make their lives better.”
Assoua believes many of problems in Africa can be traced back to the legacy of colonialism, which forced together different groups into the same country and skewed economic relationships, both internally and internationally.
“It will take time to heal and get out of the mindset of the colonised subject and rebuild [African countries],” Assoua says.
The stories one tells are important, he says.
“Part of that [the rebuilding] is also creating content that matters.”
The Black Girl
The effects of colonialism and the aspiration to go to Europe are long-running themes in African cinema – for example in the acclaimed 1966 Senegalese film Black Girl, directed by Ousmane Sembène.
In the film, a Senegalese girl is hired as a nanny by a middle-class French couple. When the couple move back to France, they take the girl with them. At first, she is happy beyond belief – dreaming of Paris and of wearing stylish clothes and shoes.
Soon, however, the girl’s excitement turns to sorrow, as she realizes her reality in Paris is very different to what she had imaged – that she is mainly confined to the apartment, cooking and cleaning.
The film was a critical success. Critics saw the girl as a symbol for the newly-independent Senegal: a country dreaming of freedom and prosperity but one weighted down by the aftermath of colonialism.
Like the migrants risking their lives to reach the shores of Europe, Assoua suggests black Africans are abandoning “our own storytelling” and instead flocking to Western films. He calls for support for home-grown films on the continent, and says they should draw on each country’s rich history and culture instead.
“Instead of asking for a seat at the table, we need to build our own table,” he says.
In our series of letters from African writers, Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani reflects on the impact that fabricated news stories can have.
Nigeria’s popular ThisDay newspaper recently published a story headlined: “Drama as US Embassy Denies Bishop Oyedepo Visa”.
It described how David Oyedepo, founder of Winners’ Chapel, and one of Nigeria’s revered and influential religious leaders, allegedly threw a tantrum at the US consulate in Lagos after he was refused a visa.
According to the story, the bishop was “obviously flustered”. It quoted an unnamed source as saying that the religious figure had “immediately sent for his bodyguards to get his phones so he could make some calls”.
In a country where religious leaders are celebrities, and their every action or inaction scrutinised, the detailed story quickly went viral.
Comments on, and criticisms of, Bishop Oyedepo’s alleged behaviour poured out.
‘False news alert’
But there was one problem; the ThisDay story turned out to be completely false.
“False news alert,” the US embassy said in a widely published statement, referring to the alleged visa row.
“If you have seen this manufactured item in the media, help defeat this misinformation by communicating to everyone that it is completely false.”
A spokesperson for Winners’ Chapel also released a statement, saying that the bishop had a valid US visa, so there was no need to have visited the consulate.
A few days later, ThisDay published an apology, then suspended the journalists responsible for the story.
“The two deputy editors failed to follow the well-established traditions of carrying out the necessary checks and confirmations expected of personnel of their status in a sensitive story of that nature,” the management said.
After the outrage at the original story came the disgust.
“How could such a sensational story, about such an influential figure, have escaped the attention of gatekeepers at such a high-profile organisation?” people asked.
The received wisdom was that while a certain recklessness is to be expected of stories published on social media, an established newspaper ought to be more responsible.
If only this was a one-off.
Working as a journalist in Nigeria is tough – even getting officials to confirm basic details can be hard. In the face of this, many maintain high standards.
Nevertheless, that is no excuse for malicious fiction to be presented as fact, as is too often the case in some newspapers here.
Writing in his 2013 autobiography, state governor Nasir el-Rufai described an incident that took place years ago, when he was the mayor of the capital city, Abuja.
“I came into my office and saw something that looked like a small tortoise on my seat,” he wrote.
“This was supposed to be some voodoo curse meant to scare me… I just removed it, settled down and started working.”
But this was not the end of the matter.
Mr el-Rufai continued: “The very next day, one Nigeria newspaper, the Daily Times, had a story about how I came into my office, saw a tortoise, and collapsed, and had been flown out abroad in a coma…
“My [head of security] wanted [the reporter] arrested, but I did not see any sense in that.”
While government officials, like Mr el-Rufai, usually have at their disposal state forces they can use to vent their frustrations on offending journalists, the average Nigerian does not.
At various times, people I know have had incredibly dangerous lies published about them, and the best they could do was phone around to all their friends and well-wishers and assure them that the stories were completely false.
Suing for libel would entail expensive litigation and drawn out proceedings.
Thus, Nigerians continue to endure the laziness of journalists willing to publish rumours picked up in bars and beauty parlours.
And the dishonourable nature of those who, in exchange for lucre, plant unsavoury stories calculated to embarrass the payer’s enemies.
There is no suggestion that this happened in the case of Bishop Oyedepo.
In April 2012, the message carried in one of their video releases had been distorted in some local media reports.
In response, the jihadist group took direct action and bombed two newspaper offices, including a branch of ThisDay.
While claiming responsibility for the carnage, a Boko Haram spokesperson said: “Each time we say something, it is either changed or downplayed.”
Journalists should not live in fear for their lives if they get something wrong, but they should be very careful about making mistakes.
Life is hard for reporters here. At least 19 journalists and bloggers were arrested in Nigeria between January and September 2019, according to Amnesty International.
That is troubling, and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari definitely needs to improve its record on freedom of the press.
But at the same time, some people at the helm of journalism need to improve their record on fact-checking.
There should be no place in the newsroom for tall tales.
The minister for Agriculture Hon. Amie Fabureh has assured farmers in rural Gambia that the Ministry of Agriculture under her watch would ensure that their needs are addressed. She said there is already a technical and competent team of directors behind her who are able and willing to support her in this endeavour.
The agriculture minister made this comment while handing over agricultural equipment to women in Kani Kunda, Madina Sancha and Kwinella in the Lower River region on Monday 24 February 2020.
“I am very impressed with the team of directors. Together, we will move this sector ahead,” the minister said. She assured the farmers that before the commencement of the rainy season the government of The Gambia would provide fertilizers for all the farmers in this country. “You as farmers, you are very dear to the heart of President Adama Barrow and that is the reason his government is doing everything possible to support you,” she said.
The minister pointed out that the president is aware of the commitment of farmers in national development and that is the reason he (Barrow) provided the machinery. The minister also reminded the people of Lower River Region that since President Barrow did not forget them, they also should try to fulfill their promise in order to be self- sufficient in food production.
The governor of Lower River Region, Rohey John Manjang said empowering women and farmers’ means empowering the entire nation. She called on the people of the region to unite for development, while appealing to the men to support the women folks in all aspects. The governor said the government of The Gambia is very much concerned about the welfare of the farmers, thus the equipment given would no doubt boost the livelihoods of farmers in her region particularly the women folk.
The director of Agriculture Dr. Seiku Sanyang, advised the people of the region to take good care of the machinery given by the government. He called on the people of the region not to assign the machinery to any mechanic for maintenance, noting that the Ministry has qualified mechanics in all the regions.
Dr. Sanyang revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture has started rehabilitating all the mix farming training centers across the country. He said all these efforts are geared towards improving agriculture in The Gambia.
The director of Central Project Coordinating Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture, AbdoulieTouray, told farmers in Lower River Region that some projects have been approved recently by the lawmakers to improve the livelihood of farmers. He said among the projects approved is a small ruminants project. Touray assured the famers that the project would enhance the rearing of small ruminants in the country.
The minister was accompanied by Musa Humma deputy permanent secretary (Technical) at the Ministry of Agriculture.
His Excellency Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal reaffirmed that Senegal will respect all the protocols on trade and transportation and thus instructed his ministers of Transport and Interior to liaise with their Gambian counterparts to remove all barriers to free movement of persons and goods between Senegal and Gambia. This was in response to the visit by special envoy from The Gambia, Dr. Momodou Tangara, Minister of Foreign Affairs on 20 February, 2020, according to a missive from Gambia Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure.
“Consequently, Hon. Bai Lamin Jobe Minister of Transport, Works and Infrastructure, led a delegation to meet his counterpart Minster of Infrastructure, Land Transportation and Decentralisation of Senegal, Mr El Hadj Oumar Youm, on the 25th February, 2020 in Dakar, Senegal to ensure that all bottlenecks to the operationalisation of the Interstate Transport Cooperation between the two countries are removed. The mission to Senegal therefore was to finalise the technical aspects that are hindering smooth implementation of ISTP.”
“The Interstate Road Transport Agreement was signed between the two countries in March, 2018 and its implementation launched January 6th 2020. However, the Karang Transport Union sector of Senegal continued to block unfettered implementation of the ISTP, and threatened the gains made in integrating the two countries and people as symbolised by the opening of the Sene-Gambia Bridge.”
The Ministers agreed as follows:
Recognise the significance of the road transport agreement signed between the Gambia and Senegal in March, 2018 and related protocols;
Reaffirm the crucial role of Inter State Transport between the two countries in enhancing free movement of people and goods as stipulated in the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of people and goods;
Committed to the operationalisation of ISTP and will take measures to ensure its implementation;
The Senegalese Minister to engage the Karang Unions that do not support the interstate transport to understand the importance of implementing ISTP and to adhere to the principle of the ISTP;
The authorities to engage all unions and border officials to refrain from harassing Transport operators on the transport corridors;
Accordingly, the Senegalese Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Decentralization will engage the mayor of Karang on Tuesday 3rd March 2020 for the Unions in Karang to accept the operationalisation of ISTP.
Both Ministers agreed that Sunday 15th March, 2020, to be the new date for the implementation of ISTP; which henceforth will be celebrated on annual basis as part of the Senegambia calendar of events;
To continue the sensitization of all the stakeholders especially those at the five corridors indicated in the Road Transport Agreement, 2018
The Senegal Minister agreed to come to Gambia on Thursday 5th March, 2020 as part of joint sensitisation and to further discuss the issue.
Mankamang Kunda, URR, The Gambia—In the wake of last Monday’s inferno that ravaged a significant part of the Basse Market, Upper River Region, causing loss of merchandise valued at millions of dalasis, President Adama Barrow on Thursday, presented cash donations to Governor Fanta Bojang Manneh in the amount of two million dalasis ($40,000).
The presidential largesse is for the distraught fire victims most of whom were rendered poor by the inferno that lasted several hours despite the combined efforts of various fire fighters within the Central and Upper River Regions.
In a sombre statement, President Barrow appealed to Gambians, members of the business community and humanitarian organisations to generously come to the rescue of the fire victims most of whom have been ripped off of their lifetime earnings within hours.
President Barrow who lived in Basse during his formation years recalled with great nostalgia, the significant role the town and its people contributed to his personal development. ‘The two million dalasis I donated are from my personal funds, they are neither the government nor my party’s and therefore, it should not be politicised’, Mr. Barrow cautioned.
Mr. Barrow promised that in the near future, his government will construct a modern market equipped with all the fire hydrants and exit routes to replace the burnt and dilapidated structures of the old market.
The president’s D2 million donation has since been deposited into the Basse Fire Disaster Account with AGIB Bank where several donations have since been deposited.
Meanwhile, in the past week, several stories have been bandied around either misrepresenting or underreporting the exact amount of funds donated by President Barrow. For purposes of accuracy and to keep the records straight, there were no pledges nor installments as was falsely reported, Mr. Barrow himself presented the D2 million to Governor Manneh in the full glare of TV and media cameras.