Students can learn about a part of Africa that their African studies departments are not likely to share with them in the documentary The Devil’s Footpath.
“Africa could be the best place on earth, but instead our best and brightest minds are leaving the continent in their millions,” says June Arunga, the documentary filmmaker. Arunga is facing this dilemma, “should she stay or should she go?” To answer this question, the young student sets out to explore Africa in the recent documentary.
When attempting to book her travel, Arunga ran into difficulties. The travel agent refused to accommodate her itinerary because he deemed it “unsafe.” His reaction is certainly understandable in light of the places Arunga mapped out for her journey: Egypt, the Sudan, the Congo, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. Her difficulty in arranging the trip is illustrative of a larger problem facing the continent: social unrest makes modern living difficult now and in the future.
The first stop on the young filmmaker’s journey was Cairo, the capital city of Egypt. Here she wandered the streets with the assistance of a government shadow. When denied the opportunity to interview college students at an Egyptian University, Arunga gained permission to interview those at an American school. Here she spoke to a group of students who confessed serious apprehension at speaking their mind. They worried that by doing so their “lives might be in danger.”
Arunga also spoke with a woman who was beaten while protesting the Egyptian Government’s support of the Iraq War. Police physically reprimanded her and threatened, “I’ll make you forget about politics once and for all. I’ll teach you a lesson about this government and you’ll realize that you can’t stand against it.” Such examples certainly encourage young bright minds to flee a potentially harmful situation.
Arunga next traveled to the Sudan. No commercial flights were available to the country and so she was forced to travel with a medical relief team. In a remote village called Nimne, Arunga found a primitive culture devastated by war, and not war caused by rivalry or social differences, but a war over resources. “Oil in this place doesn’t mean money or wealth, but death and war,” found the filmmaker.
An old man shared his thoughts about this war over resources: “If oil is found, the soldiers come. Once, they approached our village and just started shooting indiscriminately at us. Two people were killed; the village was burned to the ground…we’ve lived on that land for many years, it’s the land of our ancestors, if something good is found on it, it belongs to us…we want this oil to be used to develop our country, to lift it up like any other nation in the world.” According to the filmmaker, these grave injustices are perpetrated on these people by their own government.
But there are also glimmers of hope here. Kids in this small remote town are being taught. They read with their teacher under a tree; they all want to be doctors, pilots, or teachers (all professions that help people in their situations). But they have little opportunity. “This is the story we are trying to tell, these are individuals with dreams and ambitions,” says Arunga.
Next the young law student travels to the Congo. Here she cannot even find a ride with any relief team, but is forced to ride in with United Nations peacekeepers. In the city of Bunia, she finds the people affected by a civil war. “Unspeakable atrocities happened here…it makes me really mad to see how people have been reduced to living like animals, with their children running for their lives.” The story in the Congo is much like that of most of Africa, the country is rich in natural resources: uranium, precious metals, gold and diamonds. But the people’s lack of freedom causes the rulers to be greatly benefited while the people continue to suffer.
June Arunga next travels to Angola and then to Namibia. In Angola she finds again a situation where oil benefits only a few. In Namibia evidence of more civil wars further illustrate just how unsafe Africa really is. Governments in this place use torture to crush political dissent. Independence movements fail because they lack the ability to rally support in light of fear instilled by these popular means of control.
Namibia also presents another problem facing the Continent: AIDS. According to recent reports, more than one in five Namibians is infected with the virus. An average of 66 people die every day from AIDS in the country. Namibia’s AIDS woes are just a microcosm of this huge problem facing Africa. Also according to recent studies, of the 40 million people with the virus worldwide, 29 million are in Africa. Over 85 percent of AIDS-related deaths last year occurred in Africa. These numbers are staggering, but they pale in comparison to projections of the future if action is not taken. The disease is spreading so rapidly that it threatens entire villages in many places. The AIDS crisis is perhaps the largest problem facing Africa now and in the foreseeable future. If young Africans stay on the Continent, this is a problem they will have to confront.
Arunga’s last stop on her tour takes her to South Africa. Here she finds a much different scene, one of thriving industry and commerce. South Africa, arguably the most modern and Western of all the African nations, has the highest standard of living. In Johannesburg Arunga interviews Desmond Tutu, the famous civil rights activist in the country. When asked his advice he offered, “go to improve your qualifications, go and become, but come back and make this, your country and continent the success that it has in it to become.”
“If all educated Africans leave, who will be left to develop the continent?” Arunga decided to leave in order to finish her education. But she will not be privy to Africa’s “brain drain.” She will return and make her contribution to a better life for her and for her country and continent.