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DW's African history series gets reboot

Philipp Sandner | Silja Fröhlich
February 24, 2020

The latest season of DW's hit radio and social media series "African Roots" is now available. The history project featuring African heroes and heroines was launched at Social Media Week in Nigeria.

African Roots, Key Visual 2020, Picture Teaser English

The second season of DW's project "African Roots" premiered at Social Media Week in Lagos on February 24.

Kicking off the journey into some of the cornerstones of African history at the week-long conference was a panel discussion entitled "My history — My African roots." It included a discussion among young social media influencers, a historian, and a graphic artist about the importance of projects like "African Roots" in spreading historical knowledge among the youth in the digital world.

The radio and social media project aims to bring African history to a younger audience through a collaboration between historians, cultural scientists, writers, journalists and cartoonists.

As DW's Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl explained, the inspiration for the project came from concerns raised by DW's audience that "African history is often dominated by Western narratives and that young Africans don't have easy access to historical documentation."

"African Roots is an exciting project that hopes to help close this gap," Pohl said. 

Picture of Queen Amina of Zazzau charging into the foreground, an army following on her heels
"African Roots" brings the story of the Nigerian Queen Amina of Zazzau to life

25 new African heroes and heroines

Funded by Germany's Gerda Henkel Foundation, the series is distributed across Africa in six languages and includes two-minute animated videos, radio stories and online FAQs. They feature, among others, Angolan King Afonso I, Morocco's matron of education, 9th-century Fatima al-Fihri, Ethiopian Empress Taytu Betul, Mozambique's graduated freedom fighter, Eduardo Mondlane, and Nigeria's legendary Hausa queen, Amina of Zazzau.

Michael Hanssler, chairman of the board at the Gerda Henkel Foundation, explains that "the promotion of various research projects in Africa is aimed at safeguarding and preserving both written and oral historic accounts" are at the heart of the foundation's work.

"The foundation wants to support the core idea of 'African Roots' – to communicate the history of the continent to a young audience using African voices," he added.

Using Africa's rich history to understand its many identities

The webcomics are created by DW in collaboration with the Nigerian producers of Comic Republic. The graphics were refined for the new installment.

"It's fresh, it's untapped, it's new and most importantly, there is so much to pull from," says Comic Republic's CEO Jide Martin.

"Almost every tribe in Africa has rich stories to tell about their heritage. Through our comics, we bring things alive every single day. That's a blessing."

According to Martin, the collection of stories supports the development of both knowledge and identity.

"You can't fix the future if you don't know the past, you need to understand how we got to where we are now. A lot of Africans have not documented their history. It's also about Identity, to know what people of your skin and race did, what they were good and bad at, where you belong, who you belong to. It makes you stronger."

DW African Roots | William Tubman
Characters like Liberia's William Tubman will come to life through the art of Nigerian startup Comic Republic

'African Roots' reaches 63 million users

A pan-African scientific council has been put in place to verify for verification. One of the council members is Nigerian historian Christopher Ogbogbo.

"Deutsche Welle should be commended for the 'African Roots' program," said Ogbogbo. "With its series of portraits of African heroes and heroines, it will set the African child thinking: 'Who is this person? Can I know more? As the child grows older, he or she can dig deeper to get more information."

"African Roots" started in 2018 with 25 portraits of personalities that shaped African history, followed by 25 more in this year's second season. Previous "African Roots" publications reached up to 200,000 views on the platform and stirred lively debates among users.

Claus Stäcker, who heads DW's Africa Program, says it is not unheard of for a yound African to attended a top school but end up knowing more about World War II and Napoleon Bonaparte than their own heroes. "So I thought, why do we not explore this and give it a platform as a facilitator. It is not for DW to explain African history, but we can provide the platform."

DW's editor-in-chief, Ines Pohl, hopes that the project will raise international awareness of an Africa where 77% of the population is under 35.

"Governments and the civil society around the world slowly understand the importance of the African continent," she said. "They slowly see the power, beauty and the possible future which can be shaped by these many young, talented and energized people."

DW - Silja Fröhlich
Silja Fröhlich is a German journalist and radio host.