CS Afua Hirsh African Renaissance Ethiopia

African Renaissance 

BBC Arts

When Arts meets Power

Afua Hirsch explores the history of Ethiopia, Senegal and Kenya through their extraordinary art, music and culture. Exploring spectacular locations and dynamic art scenes, Afua traces how struggles for liberation in the past have shaped these countries into 21st century cultural powerhouses. Bringing together historical insight, cultural heroes and rich art, music and dance, in African Renaissance Afua Hirsch shows us Africa on its own terms, a radically new vision of the continent and its culture. Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and the youngest continent, where six in every ten people are under 25. With hundreds of different ethnicities, and some 2000 languages, Africa is the most culturally diverse place on Earth. 


In Ethiopia, Afua Hirsch traces a proud three thousand year history as significant as any civilization in the West.  A beacon for the black diaspora, Ethiopia’s story is one of defiant independence, of kings and communists, of a country which has survived catastrophe but bounced back, underpinned by a culture inspired by an ancient faith and devotion. At the heart of recent Ethiopian history is the complex reign of Emperor Haile Selassie.  One of the most influential world figures of the 20th Century, he was midwife to African liberation and generator of a global culture in Rastafarianism. Yet ultimately Haile Selassie was a tragic figure.  With renowned artist Eshetu Tiruneh, Afua explores the impact of the 1974 famine that led to the Emperor’s downfall and she talks to photographer Aida Muluneh about her return from exile to the dynamic new Ethiopia of the 21st Century responding to the dark days.


In Senegal, a French-speaking country of 15 million people in the far west of Africa, Afua Hirsch discovers a country with a cultural influence far beyond its size, with a dynamic film, fashion and hip hop scene that has fed off historic power struggles and culture clashes – between ancient empires and against French colonisers.  She traces the story of Leopold Senghor, the poet who became the father of Senegalese independence and redefined what Africa is.  She explores a country of exuberant murals and street culture responding to the past and she meets internationally acclaimed choreographer Germaine Acogny, griot musician Diabel Cissokho and hip-hop legend DJ Awadi.


In Kenya, a state created barely a century ago, Afua explores how the British spun an idealised stereotype while carving out a brutal empire. Afua reveals the extremes of life today, the urban sprawl and untouched outback, and a young population still pushing away the lingering darkness of the British imperial past.  In an epic narrative that takes in railway building, Karen Blixen, President Jomo Kenyatta and the brutal British suppression of the 1950s Mau Mau Uprising, she charts how artists have responded to history happening around them.  She meets acclaimed Kenyan painters Dennis Muraguri and Michael Soi and discusses the after-effects of the British colonial period and China’s growing influence as a new power in East Africa.

Written & Presented by: Afua Hirsch
Directors: Alex Brisland & Russell Barnes
DoPs: Pete Allibone & Sam Jackson
Production Team: Abigail Hodgson Lorente, Holly Henry-Long
Consultants: Elsbeth Court & Helene Neveu Kringelbach

Production Manager: Clare Burns
Editor: Greg Pittard
Executive Producer: Russell Barnes