President Macron visits Fela's The Shrine

The old Afrika Shrine, a music venue in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, was burned down by soldiers in 1977. Its founder, the late Fela Kuti, a musical megastar, had called them “zombies” in a song. The soldiers beat Kuti badly and threw his mother from a first-floor window. But Kuti’s children, Yeni and Femi, rebuilt a nearby venue in 2000. Ever since, the New Afrika Shrine has attracted hip Nigerians and expats, including a young Emmanuel Macron, who once worked as an intern in the French embassy in Abuja.

Mr Macron, now president of France, seems to have developed an attachment. When visiting Nigeria on July 3rd he went out of his way to visit the nightclub, known for its gyrating dancers and counterculture vibe. “What happens in the Shrine remains in the Shrine,” Mr Macron told the unusual crowd. Musicians, artists and stars from the Nollywood film industry drank champagne with government dignitaries, few of whom had ever visited the club. (The day before Mr Macron’s visit, the potholed road to the Shrine was blocked by steam rollers pressing hot new tarmac.)

Fela Kuti is best known in the West as the king of Afrobeat, which mixes African music with jazz, soul and funk. But across Africa many people also remember him as the self-styled “Black President”, an anti-establishment musician who wrote protest songs and was a thorn in the side of Nigerian military regimes until his death in 1997. Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, was head of a military government that threw Kuti in jail in the 1980s. At the time, Amnesty International listed him as a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his release.

For Mr Macron, it may have been astute politics to honour a musician who had slammed former colonial powers with lyrics such as: “Colo-mentality…De ting wey black no good” (roughly: “Colonial mentality says anything black is no good”). A year ago he was criticised for saying that Africa’s problems were “civilisational”.

This visit was not all fun. Whereas France previously focused mainly on relations with French-speaking Africa, Mr Macron is trying to strengthen ties with Anglophone countries. Before visiting the Shrine, he met Mr Buhari and promised to help him fight Boko Haram, a jihadist group that uses children as suicide bombers. France has about 4,500 troops conducting counter-terrorism operations in Africa, mostly in French-speaking countries in the Sahel. Mr Macron warned of growing ties between jihadist groups in the Sahel and Boko Haram. “The challenge for us is to manage the conflicts…and stop them joining together.”

As the dignitaries left in their big cars in the early hours, the Shrine’s young regulars—fat joints in hand and demanding entry after being locked out of the party—forced their way through the turnstiles. Many may well have had some of Kuti’s lyrics on their mind. Of the colonial elites, he sang: “Dem go turn air condition/ And close dem country away” (“They will turn on the air conditioning/ And suck the life out of the country”).

THE old Afrika Shrine, a music venue in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, was burned down by soldiers in 1977. Its founder, the late Fela Kuti, a musical megastar, had called them “zombies” in a song. The soldiers beat Kuti badly and threw his mother from a first-floor window. But Kuti’s children, Yeni and Femi, rebuilt a nearby venue in 2000. Ever since, the New Afrika Shrine has attracted hip Nigerians and expats, including a young Emmanuel Macron, who once worked as an intern in the French embassy in Abuja.

Mr Macron, now president of France, seems to have developed an attachment. When visiting Nigeria on July 3rd he went out of his way to visit the nightclub, known for its gyrating dancers and counterculture vibe. “What happens in the Shrine remains in the Shrine,” Mr Macron told the unusual crowd. Musicians, artists and stars from the Nollywood film industry drank champagne with government dignitaries, few of whom had ever visited the club. (The day before Mr Macron’s visit, the potholed road to the Shrine was blocked by steam rollers pressing hot new tarmac.) Fela Kuti is best known in the West as the king of Afrobeat, which mixes African music with jazz, soul and funk. But across Africa many people also remember him as the self-styled “Black President”, an anti-establishment musician who wrote protest songs and was a thorn in the side of Nigerian military regimes until his death in 1997. Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, was head of a military government that threw Kuti in jail in the 1980s. At the time, Amnesty International listed him as a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his release.

For Mr Macron, it may have been astute politics to honour a musician who had slammed former colonial powers with lyrics such as: “Colo-mentality…De ting wey black no good” (roughly: “Colonial mentality says anything black is no good”). A year ago he was criticised for saying that Africa’s problems were “civilisational”.

This visit was not all fun. Whereas France previously focused mainly on relations with French-speaking Africa, Mr Macron is trying to strengthen ties with Anglophone countries. Before visiting the Shrine, he met Mr Buhari and promised to help him fight Boko Haram, a jihadist group that uses children as suicide bombers. France has about 4,500 troops conducting counter-terrorism operations in Africa, mostly in French-speaking countries in the Sahel. Mr Macron warned of growing ties between jihadist groups in the Sahel and Boko Haram. “The challenge for us is to manage the conflicts…and stop them joining together.”

As the dignitaries left in their big cars in the early hours, the Shrine’s young regulars—fat joints in hand and demanding entry after being locked out of the party—forced their way through the turnstiles. Many may well have had some of Kuti’s lyrics on their mind. Of the colonial elites, he sang: “Dem go turn air condition/ And close dem country away” (“They will turn on the air conditioning/ And suck the life out of the country”).

The Economist, July 7th, 2018

 
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