07.- 11.06.

P 06: Africa Plays: Leisure in Africa



Tom Michael Mboya, Moi University, Eldoret
Florian Stoll, University of Bayreuth


Short abstract:

The panel examines leisure in Africa from multi-disciplinary perspectives. It has for its
foundation the idea that leisure is more than just a footnote to social life, it is a dimension in its own right. The focus is on understanding African practices of meaning-making and
African societies through the ways in which Africans engage in recreation.


Long Abstract

Africans of all walks of life engage in recreation activities. Even the poorest and most
powerless of them do so in the midst of, and virtually in spite of, the challenges they struggle with every day. How do Africans play? What do they play? How are these games related to the social environments in which they are played? Do local ideas of play interact with notions of play from other contexts? If yes, how? Do the games tell us things about African societies? What meanings can be read in this playing? More than just a footnote of larger social changes, leisure is a dimension in its own quality.

With the rise of global entanglements and a multi-polar world order, everyday life and types of consumption in Africa change. Rising incomes, urbanization and digitalization modify the continent. But how are those changes reflected in the lives of Africans? Does the evidence from these lives challenge or confirm the concepts of consumption and recreation from Northern societies?

The panel asks for contributions that will highlight the significance of leisure in African settings. It addresses the challenge how we can study the multi-faceted character of the continent by contrasting different contexts. From drinking to gambling to family routines, it is telling how people spend their free time. The study of leisure shows differences with regards to inequality (economic class, race, gender, space …) and allows to identify specific ways of lives. We propose a panel that will explore leisure in Africa from different disciplinary perspectives, especially those with a strong empirical foundation. In particular, the conveners ask for contributions that are not limited to local case studies but combine field research with a theoretical argument. With regards to the different backgrounds of the convenors (Literary Studies and Sociology), we welcome interdisciplinary work.


01 Daniela Waldburger: Beer, cinema, sports and women – masculinity and leisure in the nostalgic narratives of ex-mine workers in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo

This paper centres gender as an analytical category in a discussion of the significance of leisure in (post)colonial Lubumbashi as it emerges from narratives told by ex-workers of the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga (UMHK) and its successor Gécamines. The paper is a fruit of an empirical research that focuses on the ex-mine workers‘ nostalgia of a glorious past. In the ex-mine workers‘ narratives kazi („work“) refers to a period when employment stood for prosperity that reflected in material things such as housing, food, salary, in provision of health care, education, prestige and, not least, in leisure activities. These ex-mine workers were members of the Collectif des ex-agents de la Gécamines “Départs Volontaire” who all lost their employment in 2003 in a deal with the World Bank to save the run-down company. They were all born between the 1930s and 1950s, started their work careers in the late 1950s to early 1970s and experienced a worker’s life that was characterized by control from birth to death, from the educational path, provided housing, to controlled leisure activities. Leisure activities thus were defined by the colonial state and the company and served primarily as means of surveillance. However, after the experience of a sustained severe economic decline in the Democratic Republic of Congo that started before they lost their jobs and has continued for a long time after, the ex-mine workers tell narratives of this work life, and of the attendant leisure activities, that are characterized by an immense nostalgia of an „object of loss.“ This paper examines the narratives of loss of income and the consequent radical redefinition of leisure – which is also seen as a loss – by paying particular attention to the ways the ex-mine workers link them to notions of masculinity.

Daniela Waldburger is a Senior Lecturer/ Post-Doctoral Researcher in African Studies at the University of Vienna.


02 Tom Michael Mboya: Cosmopolitan music consumption and popular conceptualizations of nationhood in a postcolonial African state – Rhumba Night in Eldoret, Kenya

Based on empirical research and guided by theories that see leisure as an instrument of community imagination and building (Parker, Hemingway), this paper uses music consumption that gestures towards the entanglements of a postcolonial African society with the cultures of other (African and non–African) societies in a discussion of popular conceptualizations of nationhood in the Kenya of early twenty–first century. It takes for a case study the Rhumba Night – a weekly “theme night” musical event in a night club that caters for the middle classes, in which a deejay mostly plays modern Congolese popular music of the 1970s to the present – that is today a staple in the menu of a majority of the night clubs in Eldoret, Kenya. The significance of Rhumba Night is read by situating the phenomenon in the deeply ethnicized political context of its flourishing.

Tom Michael Mboya is Associate Professor of Literary and Popular Culture Studies at Moi University, Eldoret.


03 Evans Mugarizi: The State and Leisure. The Kenya National Drama and Film Festival

This paper examines the Kenya National Drama and Film Festival (KNDFF) as state–supported leisure activity and discusses the Kenyan state’s preferred definition of the functions of leisure. The KNDFF is a vital co-curricular activity that has a long history and has continued to grow and mutate. It started in 1959 during the colonial period. Its main objective at the time was to socialize the children of British settlers, born away from home, into their European culture. What started as an indulgence of just a handful of European schools around Nairobi has since grown into what is arguably the largest theatre extravaganza in Africa. From featuring only published English plays, the festival has morphed into a large pageant of theatre genres that includes plays, dances, narratives, singing games, verses, mimes, stand-up comedy, spoken word, and film. Institutions at all levels of learning participate in the festival, and there is freedom to choose the language of performance. The language choices are: vernacular, Kiswahili, English, French and Kenya Sign Language (KSL). The festival climaxes with a state concert at which the best teams are presented before the head of state. With an interrogation of the KNDFF’s objectives that seek to bring on board all Kenyan school children and college going youth at its core, the paper will also take a special interest in the significance to the state’s understanding of Kenyan national identity of the ever growing diversification of genres of performance – both indigenous and (originally) foreign – and the transposing of what are traditionally live stage performances like cultural dance, poetry, spoken word and narrative to the filmic platform in the KNDFF.

Evans Mugarizi is a Lecturer in Literature, Theatre & Film Studies at Moi University, Eldoret.


04 Robin Frisch: Playing with money: Lotteries and the social meaning of money in Togo

Lotteries are extremely popular in Togo. The national lottery is played regularly by over 80% of the residents of Lomé. Winning numbers are announced daily and serious players spend much of their time studying past winning numbers. Research about gambling in Africa is surprisingly silent about money. How is money used and perceived in gambling? It is promising to question the underlying cultural and social representations of money in these practices to get a more complete understanding of the everyday economy. Drawing on an ethnography of official and underground lotteries in Lomé in 2019, this article formulates a theoretical argument about the social meaning of money in gambling.

If we try to understand the reasons and motivations for the popularity of gambling, we should consider it as a social reality embedded in a specific cultural context. What do cultural symbols like the “trickster” or Mami Water mean for the conception of money in gambling ? What is the link between gambling and other forms of “fast money” like pyramid schemes?

This paper focuses on the symbolic meaning of money and engages with sociological, historical and economic debates about the multiplicity of money. This study shows contesting conceptions of “state money” (fiscal money) or “exchange money” (market money). “Gambling money” gives an illustration of the variety of money, beyond the modern, western idea of rational and "colourless" money. Playing with money means managing hopefulness, unpredictability and different regimes of speculation. How is gambling gendered and what does the male dominance in lotteries imply for the domestic economies? In how far is gambling in Togo a form of “speculative accumulation” and therefore a reaction on the restrictive austerity measures during the structural adjustment?

Robin Frisch is a PhD candidate in History at Bayreuth University.


05 Sam Ndogo: Between Entertainment and Subversion: Performing the everyday life in Kenyan comedy shows

In the last two decades comedy has continued to gain popularity as a form of leisure in Kenya. This can be seen in the number of such comedy shows on Television as well as other online platforms, most notably YouTube. Focusing on performances of Captain Otoyo, a comedian who features in the Churchill Show, this paper considers comedy as a source of leisure as well as a form of subversion of dominant narratives and political power. Churchill Show, the most popular TV show in Kenya is recorded live on Thursdays at Nairobi’s Carnivore Restaurant and other locations in Kenya. The programme is later aired on the Nation Television (NTV) on Sundays between 8pm and 9pm. Otoyo’s shows are remarkable because of the way he employs parody to say things that people may not dare, such as politics, corruption, ethnic tensions, sex and cheating. As such, by poking fun at trite issues these comedies make the audience to reflect upon themselves when it comes to political subordination, prejudice against minorities and the opposite gender. At another level, the comedies become a reflection of the audience’s own desires, values and behaviour when it comes to topics like politics, sex, infidelity and ethnicity. Since form and content are inextricably intertwined, the paper also examines various techniques Otoyo employs to elicit humour, including imitation, ethnic accents, stereotypes, mockery, mimicry, allusion, caricature, clowning, costume, exaggeration, ellipsis, word play and pun. Drawing from the Bakhtinian notion of the carnivalesque, the paper argues that comedy is an aesthetic form providing leisure to the audience as well as critique on contemporary social political issues in Kenya.

Sam Ndogo is Senior Lecturer in Literature, Theatre & Film Studies at Moi University, Eldoret.


06 Helena Funk: Language and Leisure – Speech Interactions in Nairobi

This paper examines spoken language during leisure time in Nairobi and how it contrasts with its use in official settings. The main objective is to show specific arrangements of talk among “middle-class”-Nairobians that cover which language, wording, and style certain groups use in leisure activities. Multilingual places such as Nairobi are characterized by people coming from various backgrounds, countries, and socio-economic strata. The impact of this variety on everyday interactions can be observed in speech performances. While official settings, such as work situations, have un-written laws on how to speak and which language to choose, leisure time activities seem to be less limited but research reveals particular speech patterns. People choose different languages while talking with friends or family members. While English is often used for serious topics, many Nairobians stress that joking is easier in Swahili or Sheng. Other emotions are again related to English, vernacular languages, other languages or combinations of them, which mark the performative character of language choice. There are different standards to be “cool” in certain environments. These standards vary between English, Sheng, and Swahili as the language of preference. In contrast to coolness, the language choice for individual prayers leads to quite homogenous answers. Also, tone and spoken varieties of a language such as British, American or Kenyan English are associated with specific characteristics of a person. Additionally, the presentation shows that the lack of language ability – especially of vernacular languages – leads towards a movement to (re-)study these languages. People stress the individual importance to teach them to coming generations as “there are things you cannot express in another language”.

The data are based on over 60 interviews conducted during a three-month field research stay in Nairobi in 2019. The personal perspectives of middle-class inhabitants will outline their understanding of language use during their leisure time and in official settings. The use and choice of specific languages, wording and other aspects of speech open up an analytic dimension of leisure activities that ethnography has difficulties to grasp. Thereby this study contributes to the academic discussion on leisure. In this presentation, language choice will be understood as a social performance – seeking fusion between the actor, the interlocutor, and the setting. The theoretical framework builds on theories from Cultural Sociology because it offers tools for opening up a space to analyze speech as interactions. Moreover, it helps to distinguish talk during leisure time and in official settings.

The study of language choice contributes towards a better understanding of leisure time and its meaning to people. Thereby, it adds a new dimension to the discourse on leisure in Africa.

Helena Funk is an MA student in Linguistics at Leipzig University.


07 Hanna Lena Reich: Night as a space to play – nocturnal leisure activities in Nairobi

The night is very often depicted as a time or space for leisure activities, especially in the African urban context. Night is the time for many people to feel they can let go of the responsibilities they have during the day, they can forget about work, they can dress differently and behave differently, especially after a few glasses of alcohol or using other substances. Night is when people allow themselves to lose control and “play” differently compared to the day.

A city like Nairobi offers many nocturnal leisure activities, from eating out to club-hopping, game/quiz nights in bars to gambling in the casino, fashion shows to cultural events. Many nocturnal spaces encourage people to play and show off, because the environment is designed in such a manner as to optimize flaunting wealth and confirming social status.

But what does the night offer that allows people to engage more intensely in leisure activities? What kind of play and entertainment do people look for? Who gains access and how?

In my paper I would like to share ethnographic examples from Nairobi, inviting the audience to nocturnal entertainment spots such as bars, nightclubs and casinos where I describe the experiences of people by using the concept of nocturnal atmospheres.
I propose to understand night as an atmosphere, as a "tuned space" that depends on one's own subjective mood (a), the external realities such as the environment b) as well as the sociocultural context (c), in my case Nairobi as an African City as well as the nocturnal spaces my informants interacted in.

By applying the concept of nocturnal atmospheres, I will illustrate how nocturnal leisure activities such as dancing, drinking, flirting and gambling are shaped not only by the personal experiences of the participants, but also through external factors such as the design of spaces, light and darkness, infrastructures, sounds and smells, clothing and habitus of people as well as the sociocultural context these leisure activities are performed in with their specific social rules regarding gender, class and ethnicity.

Hanna Lena Reich is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Anthropology at Bayreuth University.


08 Ndiouga Benga: Mettre en scène le corps La lutte (làmb) à Dakar, Sénégal : perspectives locales et globales (1990-2012)

A ses origines, la lutte est une activité de loisir multiséculaire dans l’espace sénégambien. Après les indépendances, Senghor, premier Président du Sénégal, dans sa théorie de la Négritude choisit la lutte d’une part, comme un moyen de valoriser la culture noire et d’autre part, comme un outil pour affirmer l’authenticité  dans son but de construire l’Etat-Nation. La lutte fut considérée comme le premier sport national. Dans les années 1990, l’arrivée des promoteurs (Daouda Faye, Gaston Mbengue, Fondation Elisabeth Diouf Solidarité-Partage) et des sponsors (Senelec, Lonase, Nestlé, Sips, Orange) ouvre à la lutte de nouvelles voies. La monétarisation de l’activité de lutte qui se déroule timidement dans la période antérieure connaît une intensité. La lutte devient un spectacle qui coûte et peut rapporter gros. La quête de l’argent est au centre des stratégies de consolidation de la lutte. Le mouvement Boul Falé (Don’t worry) met en scène le corps (doole) et crée une activité médiatisée, basée sur l’affairisme,  et parfois avec des liens avec le politique (relations Mohamed Ndao Tyson-Président Abdou Diouf en 2000, école de lutte Balla Gaye-Président Abdoulaye Wade en 2012). Le lutteur tend à devenir le modèle du corps idéal et la figure de la réussite pour une partie de la jeunesse urbaine. De plus, la lutte est porteuse d’une culture d’entreprise qui s’exporte. En témoignent les séances de lutte organisées par la diaspora sénégalaise en Italie ou en Espagne.

Ndiouga Benga is Full Professor in History at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar.

June 7 @ 10:30
10:30 — 14:00 (3h 30')

Zoom Room 4

Florian Stoll, Tom Michael Mboya

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