Sometime last year the BBC aired a series of documentaries entitled ‘History of Africa’. Narrated by BBC correspondent Zeinab Badawi, originally from the Sudan, the series was promoted as ‘divulging into Africa’s long and complex history, which has been largely distorted by the mostly Western historians’. It was supposed to have been based on the General History of Africa, a project by UNESCO started in 1964 as an effort to let Africans tell their own history.
This was a series worth watching, I thought to myself, and programmed my decoder to record all the episodes. I thought finally our history will be told by the word’s top professional filmmakers and, maybe if I was lucky even the history of our own Kintu, and the truth about the Bachwezi would be told. Or so I hoped.
Sadly, it was not to be. Badawi was touted as having travelled to all corners of Africa interviewing historians, archaeologists, and plain citizens while giving us the untold story of a people that build ancient civilisations that our history books usually ignore. But apart from a passing visit to Zimbabwe, and a rather unflattering inclusion of the ‘pygmies’, the series were all about North Africa.
The series History of Africa is really mostly about how northern Africa met Europe, and although we learn some intriguing facts about how Africa impacted the western world, it is not Africans telling Africa’s history.
A great part of the second half of the series is about how the three major religions of the world, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity impacted on Africa. The indigenous religions are largely treated as so much mumbo-jumbo.
Ms Badawi might be of African origin, but she definitely was not telling Africa’s history the way Africans would like to tell it. To say it was a huge disappointment is probably not enough, the BBC should have done much better than that.
To dig further into this, I think I will get myself that 8-volume General History of Africa publication by UNESCO.