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Will time spare the cocoa plantations of Sao Tome and Principe?4 minutes read

From the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the cocoa and coffee plantations were at their zenith.

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End times: Will time spare the cocoa plantations of Sao Tome and Principe?

“In the old days, you would open the door, and it would be a hive of activity. Now it’s all closed down,” sighs 89-year-old Agida Lucia.

She gazes down a paved road winding through the vegetation, and a smile returns to her lips as the memories flood back.

“Over there was the canteen. Up there, the foreman’s office. There was a terrace and a big house. There were the seamstresses, the hospital, the cinema -it was grand.”

Time has not been kind to Agostinho Neto, where once cocoa was shipped out to the world.

From the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the 30 cocoa and coffee “rocas” (pronounced ro-ssas), or plantations, on Sao Tome and Principe were at their zenith.

Before World War I, the rocky Portuguese-ruled archipelago in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western coast, was the world’s leading cocoa exporter. 

“There were 20,000 inhabitants in the villages and 33,000 living in the rocas, which had immense economic and political power,” said Fernando d’Alva, a historian and professor at the University of Sao Tome and Principe (USTP).

“The rocas were perfectly organised. People lived better inside them than outside, they had electricity, medical care, the railway and luxuries — as well as a well-oiled feudal system.” 

Independence

No Sao Tomeans worked on the plantations themselves but some did hold management positions. 

The rocas’ agricultural workers came from other African nations, as Sao Tome had a steady supply of slaves passing through as the last staging post on the trade route before ships left for the Americas.

After the slave trade was abolished in 1876, the workers became “contract” employees, brought -often by force – from mainland colonies Angola and Mozambique, as well as Gabon and the Congo.

Independence came to Sao Tome and Principe in July 1975, 14 months after a movement among officers in the Portuguese armed forces led to a military coup in Lisbon toppling an authoritarian regime in favour of democracy.  

It is hard to match the state of the plantation today in what is now one of the poorest countries in the world with the glorious recollections conjured up by an elderly former employee.

Whatever is left of the prosperous past has been looted or is rotting away as the forest takes over.

“In the old days, we would work a lot, but we could eat every day,” recalled Lucia, who is of Angolan origin.

“Today, everyone lives their own life, nobody helps each other. We live here like animals -if you have nobody to give you food, you die of starvation.”

While her 19-year-old granddaughter Sheila prepares snails for eating, the old lady fancies that “things could go back to how they were, that the Portuguese return.”

Sheila expresses nostalgia for this past she never knew, saying that she would like to study law and fight for “heritage”.

That heritage would include the hospital, described by another resident with a motorbike-taxi as “one of the best on Sao Tome… The state’s to blame for doing nothing to keep it in shape.”

Abandoned

Former workers now live in what is left of the hospital building. Its roof is crumbling and tiles and whole walls in adjoining buildings have disappeared.

“People come and cart off bits of roof, beams, walls and then they say it is the state’s fault,” says Willy, who escorts visitors around the site in exchange for a few dobras, the local currency.

After Sao Tome gained independence in 1975, its new Socialist regime nationalised the rocas.

The decision -which coincided with rising competition from former British and French colonies on mainland West Africa -was disastrous.

“It didn’t work, the skills were lacking and there were too few technicians who understood the production methods,” said historian D’Alva.

Once multiparty politics was introduced in 1991 and liberal economics followed, the state offered concession agreements to the private sector on plantations. Some found takers, but Agostinho Neto was among those left to rot.

For the 1,300 people still living on the roca, there is a glimmer of hope. In March, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) announced a plan to refurbish the rocas.

Lucia and her granddaughter remain to be convinced.

“They’ve often said that things will change. But we’re still waiting,” said the old lady.

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2Baba releases new album “Warriors”

The album is a key offering in the celebration of 2Baba’s 20 Years A King project.

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Award-winning Afropop icon 2Baba has released his new album titled “Warriors” earlier today, February 28. This album is released as part of his 20 Years a King (#20YearAKing) celebration, commemorating the two decades he has spent in the Nigerian music industry.

This new album contains just 13 tracks including previously released singles like ‘Important’, ‘Oyi’ and the Peruzzi-assisted smash hit, ‘Amaka’. The LP also boasts big-name collaborations like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Olamide, Tiwa Savage and Peruzzi. It also features appearances from AJ Natives, Symeca and his daughter HI Idibia.

The production of the album is handled by a galaxy of PBanks, Spelz, Blaq Jeerzy, Bolji Beatz, Speroach Beatz, Richie, Ploops and his longtime collaborator, Jay Sleek.

Interestingly, this is the first 2Baba album that comes with a title track, which also serves as the opener of the full-length project.

On Tuesday, February 25, the celebrated singer held a well-attended listening party for the album at the Artisan Lounge bar, Lagos.

His seventh studio album, “Warriors” is the long-overdue follow up to “The Ascension” which was met with mixed reviews upon its release in 2014.

Formerly known as 2face Idibia, 2baba is one Africa’s most successful artists, winning local, continental and international awards like BET and MTV Europe Music Awards.

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Exporting African sounds into Italy

Nigerian migrants are introducing Afrobeat to one of Italy’s most popular cities

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Nigerians are slowly stamping their authority in Italy's music space. Photo credit: Quartz Africa

Migrating from Africa to Europe is a particularly tricky business. It is usually very difficult to obtain visas, and consequently, many people opt for the long, tortuous route that runs through the Sahara Desert and extends into the Mediterranean Sea. It is a risky journey in many ways, as desperate migrants get robbed, swindled, enslaved or worse still, meet their end in the hot sands and high seas.

There is also the small matter of reputation when it comes to successful migrants. There are those who believe that men and women who manage to avoid death or slavery, and ultimately cross the borders into Italy and Spain, are either involved in drug peddling, prostitution or unsavoury menial jobs like washing up corpses.

There is a small group of people, however, who are slowly changing the narrative. These ones are not only showing that there is more that African migrants can do in Europe, but they are also exporting Nigerian music in all its exotic nature and rich flavour into one of Italy’s major cities.

Palermo, the capital city of the Sicilian province, is slowly becoming the Southern European capital for the world-conquering Afrobeats scene. Social media has given a platform to musicians who can reach a wide audience without institutional support. There are more than a few cities in Italy that are not exactly kind to migrants, but Palermo has gradually become a haven for a number of young Nigerian musicians to hone their craft and attempt to carve a niche for themselves on European shores.

The influx of these musicians has had a significant effect on the city, too. For instance, Ballaro, a small neighbourhood in Palermo, was once known as one of the most dangerous places in Italy, no thanks to the activities of the Mafia. But with the arrival of African and Asian immigrants, the neighbourhood is now revitalised and less prone to crime.

Artists like RayJeezy, Brenex Baba and Thug Money make a living from performing at night clubs across the city. They hope that their hustle ultimately pays off and that they gain worldwide recognition, but for now, they are contributing to the transformation of a city’s music and culture. Things are looking up for the African migrant population in Palermo, and it’s not hard to tell that there will be more where the music came from.

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Entertainment

Netflix Announces First Original Nigerian Series

This comes just after the U.S-based streaming giant launched Netflix Naija.

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Popular media-services provider Netflix has announced the production of its first original African series to be headlined by Nollywood director, Akin Omotoso.

This would be a six-part series that features an all-star Nollywood cast of Kate Henshaw, Ade Laoye, Richard Mofe Damijo, Joke Silva, Fabian Adeoye Lojede, Kehinde Bankole and many others. 

Directed by a team of Akin Omotosho, Daniel Oriahi and CJ Obasi, the series tells the story of a reincarnated goddess who seeks to avenge her sister’s death.

This announcement comes just after the U.S-based streaming platform unveiled Netflix Naija on Tuesday, February 25, 2020.

In a statement with Premium Times, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos revealed that “movies like King of Boys, Merry Men and The Bling Lagosians have shown how much our members love Nigerian movies. 

“So, we’re incredibly excited to be investing in Made in Nigeria stories – bringing them to audiences all around the world.”

Over the past year, Netflix has featured a number of Nollywood movies on its streaming platform. Among such movies include the culturally and commercially successful King of Boys, October 1, The Figurine, Mokalik, and Merry Men. 

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