Africa is a 1984 documentary exploring the great civilizations of Africa. In it, late historian Basil Davidson demolishes the myths Europeans concocted about Africa to justify the 400 year slave trade – these myths concerning a continent of subhuman savages persist to the present day. Davidson reviews archeological evidence, ancient African and Europeans artwork and historical records and contemporary tribal traditions that survive from past civilizations.
The documentary is divided into 8 episodes of approximately 25 minutes each.
Episode 1 Different But Equal – studies the depiction of blacks in medieval and renaissance European paintings to show how the concept of race was created in the 16th century to justify the immensely profitable enslavement of human paintings. He starts with an examination of cave paintings that point to a highly advanced Saharan civilization prior to the Sahara’s desertification (around 7,000–8,000 years ago and the prominence of black-skinned the 3,000-year civilization Egypt enjoyed under the pharaohs.
Episode 2 Mastering a Continent – focuses on Kushites and the great Nubian civilization to the south of Egypt. The latter converted to Christianity and persisted until the 11th century when it was destroyed (by Saracens) during the Crusades.
Episode 3 Caravans of Gold – discusses the vast commercial trade network (extending as far as India) centered in Timbuktu (Mali) and the Ashanti civilization (in modern day Ghana). In the 14th century, Mali converted to Islam. Under the guidance of Muslim scholars, Timbuktu became a global center of Islamic scholarship in law, literature and science.
Episode 4 The King and the City Within – describes the civilizations of Huaser, Benin and Ethe in modern day Nigeria.
Episode 5 The Bible and the Gun – covers the arrival of the Europeans and the devastating of slavery on long established African civilizations. Over 400 years, the African continent lost approximately 15 million skilled craftsmen and farmers. As the slave trade declined in the 18th and 19th century, Europeans opened up Africa’s interior in order to exploit its rich natural resources. As in Latin American and Asia, Christian missionaries played a fundamental role in this process.
Episode 6 The Magnificent African Cake – gives an overview of the extensive European military campaigns that flattened African resistance to colonization. By 1914, Liberia and Ethiopia were the only two countries not under European military control.
Episode 7 The Rise of Nationalism – relates how forced conscription in World War I and World War II radically changed Africans’ view of Europeans and fueled demands for independence. The Gold Coast (later renamed Ghana by President Dr Kwame Nkrumah) would launch the first independence struggle in 1945. Davidson contrasts this with the more bloody independence struggles in Kenya, Algeria and other countries with substantial(European) settler populations.
Episode 8 Legacy – explores how the adoption of European-style Parliamentary systems proved disastrous for many African countries. Davidson blames this on the fact that Parliamentary government is based on a well established class divisions. It worked poorly in Africa owing to the continent’s historic tendency towards egalitarianism.
Essential history I should have learned in high school but didn’t. I must have been absent that day. This documentary gives me a new understanding of how European colonial powers totally wrecked the Arab world – a process that continues to the current day.
World War I through Arab Eyes
Al Jazeera (2014)
This is a three part documentary in which Tunisian journalist Malke Triki interviews European, Turkish and Arab journalists and surviving families about the role of Arab forces – on both sides – in World War I.
Part 1 concerns the forcible conscription of Muslim troops by both the Ottoman Empire and the Allies. Two-thirds of the soldiers who defeated England, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli weren’t Turkish, but Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Iraqi and Palestinian. As these countries were still part of the Ottoman Empire, they were subject to a mandatory draft.
I was unaware that England and France, who had occupied large swathes of North Africa since the end of the 19th century, also forcibly conscripted Muslim troops. England forced more than 1.2 million Egyptians to fight for the Allied cause, while France forcibly drafted 100,000 Algerians, 80,000 Tunisians and 45,000 Moroccans.
The French were widely accused of using these colonial forces as cannon fodder to protect French soldiers.
Many colonial troops rebelled against being compelled to kill fellow Muslims. This, as well as their abominable treatment by Europeans, was the spark that inflamed the North African independence movements that arose after World War I.
Part 2 tells the story of the decline of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century and the Ottoman-German relationship which led to their Treaty of Alliance in August 1914.
In 1830 the Ottoman Empire stretched from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) to the Red Sea and encompassed most of North Africa and the Balkans. It was under continual attack by European colonial powers. In the late 1800s, the British military seized Egypt and the French military Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In 1912, Italy seized Libya. In the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, the Empire lost its European territories.
This episode also describes the Ottoman leadership’s brutal suppression of Arab nationalism in the Middle East, particularly in Syria/Lebanon. In 1915, one third of the Lebanese population died of starvation and another third were permanently displaced when their villages were decimated.
It also provides important background on the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman leadership in 1915-17.
Part 3 covers the secret Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France and the way the two imperial powers carved up the former Ottoman Empire between them, regardless of promises made to nationalist movements across the Arab world.
Despite the Egyptian Revolution and the Iraq Uprising, Arab subservience to Ottoman rule was replaced by a series of mandates across the region in which Britain and France seized control of the areas they prized most – to satisfy their own ambitions, interests and ultimately to gain access to region’s valuable oil resources.
World War I gave birth to the Turkish nationalist movement, which led to the founding of the modern Turkish state; and to Zionism, aided greatly by the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Despite its length, this documentary should be compulsory viewing. Everyone with an IQ over 90 should see it at least once before they die. It was only in viewing this film that I fully grasped the insane, oil-inspired military aggression in the third world and the US fascination with despotic dictators.
The video below is actually an 8-part series shown over successive nights on Al Jazeera-English. I’ve summarized the highlights of each of the eight parts so you can fast forward to specific segments that interest you.
0.00 – 23.26
Part 1takes viewers from the founding of the secret Seven Sisters oil cartel in 1928 to the creation of the competing Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960. The latter is made up of oil producing countries that have nationalized their oil industries.*
The film begins by describing the secret (illegal) cartel formed in 1928 by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which became British Petroleum), Standard Oil (which became Exxon) and Royal Dutch Shell. The goal was to end the cutthroat competition that was eating into profits. At a secret meeting in Scotland the three companies agreed to an orderly division of global production zones, as well as a process for fixing oil prices.
Later Mobil, Gulf, Texico and Chevron would join these three oil giants. The existence of the cartel remained secret until the 1950s, when it became known as the Seven Sisters.
This segment describes the totalitarian control BP exercised over Iran until 1951. A strike for higher wages led to a national uprising that overthrew the Shah and resulted in the democratic election of Mohammad Mosadegh as president. When the latter threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, the British government requested CIA assistance to overthrow Mosadegh and restore the Shah to the throne. In return, the US government won the right for American oil companies to join BP in exploiting Iran’s oil resources.
In July 1956 after Egyptian president Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal (the main route for transporting Middle East oil to Europe), Britain, France and Israel declared war on Egypt. Nasser responded to an aerial bombing campaign by using concrete bunkers to blockade all Suez traffic. For once, the US and USSR collaborated to pressure the three aggressors to withdraw their forces and restore the transit of oil tankers through the canal.
23.26 – 46.00
Part 2 traces how the rise of OPEC worked to gradually erode the dominance of the Seven sisters – with violent repercussions.
In 1972 Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil industry, with technical and military support from the Soviets and the French.
By October 1973, when Israel’s Arab neighbors launched the Yum Kippur War, OPEC members controlled 60% of the global oil supply. This enabled them to launch an oil embargo against the US in retaliation for their support of Israel in the 1973 conflict.
In 1978 Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, living in exile in Paris, called for a workers strike in the Iranian oil industry that caused a total shutdown of oil production. This, in turn, led the US to abandon their longtime support of the Shah and his secret police. The result was a national uprising, the forced exile of the Shah, the return of Ayatollah and the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry.
Determined to regain American corporate control of Iran’s oil industry, the US government backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq in 1980. The sudden onset of peace in 1988 led to a period of “overproduction” and a dangerous drop in oil prices. In response, George Bush senior, whose Zapata oil company had made a fortune via offshore drilling in Kuwait, openly encouraged Saddam Hussein (through ambassador April Glaspie) to invade Kuwait. This would create a pretext for the first US invasion of Iraq in 1991.
In May 2001 (20 months before the US invasion), a secret energy task force headed by former oil executives Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, drew up a plan whereby Exxon, Shell and BP would divide up US occupied Iraq into eight oil extraction zones.
48.00 – 61.00
Part 3describes the decision by the Seven Sisters to open up Africa to increasing oil exploitation due to their gradual loss of control over Middle East oil.
In 1970, Colonel Omar Gaddafi led a coup against a corrupt Libyan monarchy that was allowing the Seven Sisters to pay 12 cents a barrel in royalties to extract high quality Libyan oil. Gaddafi immediately nationalized the oil industry, raised oil prices 33% and used the funds to finance generous public services for the Libyan world and to fund freedom fighters all over the world (including the Palestinians).
This section also traces the history of the French oil companies ELF and Total in Nigeria. After Algeria won independence from France in 1971, they nationalized their oil industry, and ELF began exploiting oil resources in Nigeria, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, and Angola, where they financed guerrillas and despotic regimes and participated in bribery and embezzlement schemes that massively increased the international indebtedness of these countries. In 2003 the CEO of ELF was sentenced to prison and the company was bought out by Total.
61.00 – 95.00
Part 4 covers the role of the Seven Sisters in stoking Sudan’s civil war (most of Sudan’s oil comes from South Sudan) and the role of Shell Oil Company in Nigeria’s trial and execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
95.00 – 118.00
Part 5 traces the longstanding battle between Russia and the US oil industry over control of the Baku oilfields on the Caspian Sea. It begins with Lenin’s capture of the oilfields in 1920. Hitler’s primary reason for attacking the USSR in 1941 was to gain control over Baku.
This section also details how a US-Saudi conspiracy to flood the market with oil in the late eighties (dropping the global oil price to $13) ultimately led to the Soviet collapse in 1989. At the time revenue from oil sales was the Soviet’s sole source of foreign currency.
118.00 – 142.00
Part 6 concerns the role of the color revolutions in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in keeping Caspian Sea oil out of Russian hands and under the control of US oil companies.
It briefly discusses the US role in Boris Yeltsin’s coup against the Russian parliament and his privatization of the Russian oil industry on behalf of the Seven sisters and a handful of Russian oligarchs (Putin has subsequently re-nationalized Russia’s oil industry).
Part 7discusses the concept of Peak Oil and the current dispute between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government over the control of the Bakr oil terminal near Bazra. At present it’s illegal for the Kurds to export their own oil. Eighty-five percent of Iraqi oil is processed at the Bakr oil terminal and Iraqi Kurdistan on receives 17% of this revenue.
165.00 – 190.00
Part 8 is about the Seven Sisters exploitation of Mexican and Venezuelan oil prior to the election of Hugo Chavez as president. It also summarizes that status of the countries (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil, and Malaysia) that have nationalized their oil industry. At present these countries control one-third of oil and gas production, and more than one-third of oil reserves. Despite their role in instigating western military aggression, the influence of the Seven Sisters continues to declines.
At present they control 10% of oil production and only 3% of oil reserves. Their monopoly on exploration, drilling and refining technology gives them disproportionate control over the industry.
*Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela