________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Has God Forsaken Africa?

Musa Dieng Kala (Writer & Director). Colette Loumède & Christian Medawar (Producers). Yves Bisaillon & Colette Loumède (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
52 min., DVD, $99.95. (Includes animated short Hungu.)
Order Number: 153CE 9908 298.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

** /4

The idea of risking my life to cross a treacherous ocean in search of work in a country that really has no use for me is so foreign to me that I should be very grateful. However, between 2005 and 2006, more than 10,000 men entered Europe from Africa. This number does not take into account the numbers of failed attempts or those who died trying.

     Has God Forsaken Africa? looks at this situation by focusing on young men from Senegal. The film opens with documentary clips of people running across the Spanish border, of one man sobbing how unfair it is that he is being sent back to Africa, and of bodies floating in the water. The voice-over states that the focal point of the film is a bench that is used by the young men. Twenty years ago, people sat on that bench and planned for the future of their country. Now, those who sit there complain about their lot in life and plan for an escape to Europe.

     All the men featured are in their early 20s. Each of them insists that he is not lazy: a few have jobs; some try to find work, but there is nothing lasting for them. They admit that at this stage in their lives they should be employed and not dependent on their parents; however, wanting is not the same as having. They are angry with the government for its lack of concern and feel that the only solution is to somehow get to Europe.

     The stories of other attempts are interwoven in the film. Some are disastrous like the 14 and 15-year-old boys who were found frozen to death in the undercarriage of a plane. Others are successful, and a family is shown waiting to hear from a son who has attempted to enter Spain. He calls home with news of his success, and they are all jubilant.

     The young men are filmed as they try to locate a sea captain who will carry them across. They think they have something arranged, but they find out that they have been duped and what little money they had is now gone. There are many who prey on the desire to leave.

     A woman friend, who is a hairdresser, chastises them for just sitting around all day. They take offence at this but continue to sit and plan for a better future. There is no happy ending to this film as things do not really change.

     Has God Forsaken Africa? shows the despair in Senegal, and, while it gives some history of the country, it falls short of explaining exactly what the problem is. Fish stocks have been depleted, factories have been closed for decades, and earning $2 a day is seen as a good day's wage. Clearly the country has seen better days. However, if the government is to blame for the country's woes, that is not clearly explained - although corruption and instability seem to be a contributing factor. True there is great inequity between this part of Africa and Europe, but their own leaders seem concerned only with their own well-being as they send their children abroad for education. But how is this "God's fault"? Clearly the international community is to blame for not caring. No solutions are presented, and no one outside seems to care. One is left with the feeling that this is a horrible situation, and there seems to be little hope.

     Parts of the film would be applicable for any course dealing with World Issues, Ethics, Economics, African History. The film is long and subtitled and would not work in a classroom. Some viewers could take offense at the graphic depiction of the failed crossing attempts. The men sitting on the bench are charming, but not sympathetic. Their friend seems to be correct. Just sitting, blaming the government and planning to escape to Europe will do nothing to improve their lives or their country.

Recommended with reservations.

Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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