1. Remember that little video campaign called #Kony2012? Yeah, we wish we could forget too. Few videos have reached the magnitude of pestilence that the non-profit Invisible Children’s video achieved this year. By transforming a complex regional crisis involving the Lord’s Resistance Army into a simple, manufactured (and in some ways factually false) narrative about the forces of good and evil, Jason Russell and his team at Invisible Children mobilized overeager teenagers like never before. Sharing the Kony 2012 video on Facebook and Twitter became akin to saving vulnerable African children from certain abduction. Activism had never been so easy. Amidst the cauldron of outrage, shock and disappointment stirred by the Kony 2012 video, Glenna Gordon released the photo above that further damaged the efforts of Russell and Co. to appear serious and altruistic. Invisible Children tried to embrace the image, calling it a joke, but the damage was done. The furor caused by the video mutated into deeper scrutiny and critical backlash, exposing IC’s ties to evangelical Christian organizations and leading the heroic Russell to have his infamous breakdown.
2. In 2012, the Summer Olympics came to London. And while the Americans and the Chinese raced to the top of the medal tables, the British hosts struggled to win major events on their home turf. Enter Mo Farah, a Brit of Somali heritage, who represented Great Britain’s greatest hope to take gold in the high profile track races. With magical endurance and speed to match, Farah walked the walk and delivered gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races to a roaring home audience. For this moment, the British people rejoiced in the victory they shared with Farah.
Yet this revelry ignored the questioning of identities that African immigrants routinely endure in British society. Following the events, renowned Somali author Nuruddin Farah was quoted as saying, “I wish [Mo Farah] were wholly ours; that we, Somalis had invested in him and given him all that which have made him a winner.” Does Mo’s victory mean the British are ready to embrace Mo Farah along with immigrants and their descendants as wholly British? What of those who cannot run so fast? (Photo by Olivier Morin.)
3. In April, Swedish artist Makode Linde decided to bake a cake for an exhibition commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Swedish Artists’ National Organization. Linde, however, neglected to mention to the exhibition’s organizers that his gollywog-style cake, crafted in the shape of a black body would be alive (with Linde himself inside it). As soon as the exhibition’s guest of honor, Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, cut into the cake it began to wail loudly. Finding humor in the cake’s pained cries, the Culture Minister proceeded to feed the cake to itself, leading to this image by Marianne Lindberg De Geer.
Few if any of the event’s guests seemed to be troubled by the writhing, shrieking cake and on the contrary many reveled in cutting slices for themselves. The Minister was soon accused of racial insensitivity by the National Afro-Swedish Association, which called for her resignation. An interview with Makode Linde later revealed that the cake was intended to be part of his“Afromantics” series on black identity and cultural representation in Sweden and not a trap intended solely for the Minister. Whatever the artist’s intention was, Lindberg De Geer’s image bears testimony to that fact that sometimes an artwork can acquire greater social resonance than its creator ever intended.
4. On January 1st 2012, the Nigerian government wished its citizens a happy new year by eliminating a subsidy on fuel prices dubbed “unsustainable” by the Governor of the Nigerian Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The subsidy’s removal, favored by Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, caused fuel prices to jump by 120% practically overnight and led to increases in the cost of other essential goods. Fed up with the high cost of fuel in Africa’s largest oil producer and disillusioned with fiscal policy favoring elites, Nigerian citizens staged massive protests and strikes across the country. Angry protesters demanded a reinstatement of the subsidy and an end to corruption and financial mismanagement on the part of the Nigerian government. After two weeks of widespread protest, which became known as Occupy Nigeria, the Nigerian Government realized its maladroit political manoeuvring and reinstated the subsidy.
As a postscript — In April 2012 American Jim Kim beat out Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in the contest for the World Bank presidency. Some Nigerians were dismayed not by Kim’s victory, but because Okonjo-Iweala’s defeat meant she would continue to be in a position to implement fiscal policy that could be damaging to the lives of Nigerian citizens. (Photo by Akintunde Akinleye.)
5. The illustrious life of South African President Jacob Zuma has been so inspiring to his citizens, that in 2012 Zuma was the muse for a provocative painting by artist Brett Murray. The piece in question, titled “The Spear”, depicted Zuma in a pose that mimicked propaganda images ofLenin in the Soviet Union, though with Zuma’s penis exposed. “The Spear,” along with other works in Murray’s exhibition (called Hail to the Thief II), represented a pessimistic commentary on governance under the African National Congress while portraying Zuma’s controversial lifestyle rooted in Zulu cultural tradition as misogynistic.
As the South African public debated the freedom of expression, two men entered that exhibition’s gallery and defaced the painting (the unequal treatment of the two defacers, one black, one white, by gallery security is another issue entirely). To the dismay of the Zuma camp, this act only further elevated the portrait’s notoriety in the annals of South African art history.(Photo by Jerome Delay.)
Part of an article published by Africa is a country!