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Niger’s ‘African Apocalypse’: ‘This is deep history that still hasn’t been acknowledged’

By Anne-Marie Bissada
Posted on Friday, 5 March 2021 19:16

Elements of African history can be pieced together from the different European conquests, the local responses to them and the scars left behind.

Nearly every border drawn on the continent is a result of power struggles between the main colonisers of the time: England, Portugal, Spain and France.

In their race to claim the best resources, the colonisers terrorised the local populations and often enslaved them to line their pockets.

The experience of Belgium’s King Leopold inspired the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad in 1899. It tells the tale of Kurtz, a fictional Belgian ivory trader and commander of a trading post who took on the self-proclaimed position of a demigod amongst the locals. That afforded him – in his mind – permission to do as he pleased with the native population deep in the Congo jungle.

The book went on to inspire the 1979 Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now.

And today, Kurtz’ exploits are what sparked Femi Nylander to search out “the real Kurtz” in this full-feature documentary African Apocalypse.

The search takes him and director Rob Lemkin to Niger and to the border with Nigeria, which witnessed some of the cruelest events in 1898 by French Captain Paul Voulet.

Femi at Dankori village (photo still, African Apocalypse)

France wanted to beat England to conquer the Chad Basin area and unite all of its French territories in West Africa. The expedition, now known as the Voulet-Chanoine mission, was one of pure horror and terror. It is rarely spoken about.

More than 120 years later, the scars are still visible. The stories dating back from that time – from those who survived – are still in circulation and elicit strong emotions.

Villagers gather to show Femi certain landmarks (photo still, African Apocalypse)

Lemkin and Nylander follow the path of that expedition to meet the Nigeriens who share their side of the stories.

You can hear about their journey in this week’s Talking Africa podcast with Anne-Marie Bissada.

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