At International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) this week, filmmaker Shirikiana Aina has called on the Netherlands to acknowledge its colonialist past.
The director points out that one of the dungeons in Ghana spoken about in her film, Footsteps Of Pan Africanism, was called ”Fort Amsterdam.”
“It was the dungeon where Africans were held for months and months and months, sometimes for up to a year, along with other “goods” to be stored there for these ships from the Netherlands to take them off to slavery.”
Aina welcomes IFFR’s Pan-African Cinema Today (PACT) programme. “I think it is also very significant that it is in the middle of Holland which had such a huge and determining impact on the past and future of Africa. Their colonial presence was devastating. I don’t know if Holland has ever taken the time to look at that devastation and be accountable for it. I don’t know of a western country that is able to be that strong.”
“For me to be showing my film here, as its European premiere, is, I think, ironic,” she continued. “Audiences seeing the film are primarily white and Dutch. I hope they use moments like this to reflect on what it means to be where we are now. Why is it that the Netherlands has a very rich economy compared to African economies, for example; why is it that there is still a difference between the so-called Third World and the West. It didn’t happen by accident. It certainly didn’t happen because of genetics. It happened because of slavery, free labour, for centuries.”
Footsteps Of Pan Africanism is described by its director as part of a loose trilogy. As in Through The Door Of No Return (1997) and Sankofa (1993), directed by her husband, Haile Gerima and which she co-produced, she is exploring black experience in the US and beyond.
The new film looks at the heady, idealistic early days of the independence era in Ghana and at the impact it had on political movements within the US and elsewhere “Black people in the US have always seen Africa as an important part in their own liberation,” the American directors says. “It was important for Africa to be strong and free for us to be strong and free.”
When she first visited Ghana, Aina discovered people still there who had come to the country during the immediately post-colonial period when the inspirational Kwame Nkrumah had become President. They still believed in the “Pan African dream” and in the “theory of having a place that is there for the upliftment of black people.”
The project received support in Ghana from the Ministry of Culture.
Aina has studied Nkrumah’s life and writing every closely. “Once I understood that he was a black leader who had a world view that include people everywhere, I think that I was drawn even closer (to him.)”
Nkrumah didn’t just want independence for Ghana but for all the countries in Africa. He was also ready to embrace, listen to and be influenced by the African diaspora. “I don’t think it is that common fro African leaders to be able to see that international relationship,”Aina says of the visionary politician who was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity but whose government was eventually overthrown in a military coup. “Racism and white superiority would rather cut off its own nose…than see blackness be human,” the director suggests.