The Noise of Life: Adam Shatz on Okwui Enwezor

In December, Okwui Enwezor wrote to me from Munich. He had leukemia. ‘What I miss most,’ he said, ‘is the noise of life humming out there. It’s much too quiet here.’ He died last Friday, aged 55. Since then it’s felt very quiet, both for those who knew him personally, and for the many people who admired his work as a curator and writer. Okwui had a deep, booming voice, and a purposeful one. When he spoke, you listened. It’s hard to imagine not hearing it.

I first met Okwui in 2002 in Kassel, where he was curating Documenta. He grew up in Calabar, a port city in southeastern Nigeria, and was the first non-European to curate the exhibition. He wasn’t grateful for the chance. He knew he’d earned it, which isn’t to say he wasn’t aware of those in the art world who considered him a beneficiary of affirmative action or post-colonial guilt. Tall and dandyish – he loved pointy shoes and ascots – Okwui looked like An Important Man, and was sometimes mistaken for an ambassador in that provincial German city.

In a sense, he was. Okwui was born in 1963, three years after Nigeria won its independence. His formative experience of being an ‘other’, he said, took place not in the West but in Nigeria, when his family, members of the Igbo minority, had to flee their home during the Biafran war. A nostalgic vision of African unity wasn’t an option. Still, Okwui had the old-fashioned aura of the African statesman in the West, and the bearing of an aristocrat. He styled himself as a spokesman for formerly colonised peoples whose images had been distorted or erased from the museums and galleries of the rich world. In his remarkable 2001 exhibition at the Villa Stuck in Munich, The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-94, Okwui proposed to ‘view the history of the 20th century from the vantage point of the struggle of subject peoples to regain their independence and liberty’.

For Okwui, the museum was a territory to be liberated from the colonial gaze. His first exhibition, In/Sight, a survey of African photographers at the Guggenheim in SoHo in 1996, turned Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé, among others, into international art celebrities. It encompassed North Africa as well as countries south of the Sahara, and included white, Arab and Asian artists. In his later group shows, notably Documenta, the 2012 Paris Triennale and the 2015 Venice Biennale, he showed up the provincialism of his Western colleagues by foregrounding the work of artists from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the diasporas of the Black Atlantic.

Okwui’s art world looked more like the world itself. But this was no occasion for self-congratulation, much less for exercises in the sterile American rhetoric of ‘inclusion’, which he disdained. His project was to decolonise the art world: not to make it more ‘diverse’ but to redistribute power inside it.

Art, he believed, like other human activities, took place in a field of argument and struggle over limited resources. He did not shy away from conflict, or from jousting with other curators, such as Robert Storr, with whom he engaged in furious argument over contemporary African art in the pages of Artforum. At the Venice Biennale, he staged a marathon reading of Marx’s Capital. For Okwui, decolonising the art world meant more than having more shows for artists from the Global South: it meant reappraising the entire history of Western modernism from a non-Western perspective. His last published essay was on Andy Warhol’s ‘disaster’ series, including his images of the 1963 civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, written for the Warhol retrospective at the Whitney.

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A Review of Major Regional Security Efforts in the Sahel

Increased attacks from militant Islamist groups in the Sahel coupled with cross-border challenges such as trafficking, migration, and displacement have prompted a series of regional and international security responses.


The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was established by UN Security Council Resolution 2100 on April 25, 2013. Its mandate is to provide security in support of the political process to help stabilize Mali following a push by militant Islamist groups to seize territory in the north of the country. Fifty-seven countries contribute with military personnel, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Bangladesh, Senegal, Egypt, Togo, Niger, Guinea, Germany, and China.

Military personnel are deployed to 13 sites covering 3 sectors, with headquarters in the capital Bamako:

  • Northern Sector (Kidal, Tessalit, Aguelhoc)
  • Eastern Sector (Gao, Ménaka, Ansongo)
  • Western Sector (Timbuktu, Diabaly, Douentza, Goundam, Gossi, Mopti, Sévaré)

Since 2013, there have been 191 fatalities among MINUSMA forces, including 118 from hostile forces, making this the deadliest peacekeeping mission in the world today.

G5 Sahel Joint Force

The G5 Sahel is a subregional organization established in 2014 as an intergovernmental partnership between Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to foster economic cooperation and security in the Sahel and to respond to humanitarian and security challenges, including that of militant of Islamist groups. In 2017, the G5 launched a Joint Force (Force conjointe du G5 Sahel, FC-G5S).

The G5 Sahel Joint Force concept of operations has four pillars:

  • Combat terrorism, drug trafficking, and human trafficking
  • Contribute to the restoration of state authority and the return of displaced persons and refugees
  • Facilitate humanitarian operations and the delivery of aid to affected populations
  • Contribute to the implementation of development strategies in the G5 Sahel region

Comprising 5 million square kilometers—roughly half the land area between the European Atlantic coast and Moscow—the G5 countries have deployed troops across 3 sectors (West, Central, and East), with each sector composed of 2 to 3 battalions. Each battalion will consist of 650 troops, for a total of 5,000 troops.

In addition to the member countries, the Force is supported by a coalition of 26 countries and the European Union.

Operation Barkhane

In January 2013, France launched Operation Serval in Mali to counter a militant Islamist insurgency that threatened to topple the government in Bamako. In August 2014, Serval was transformed into Operation Barkhane, which has about 4,500 soldiers throughout the G5 Sahel countries and a budget of about $797 million per year. It has three major bases: in N’Djamena (Chad), where the headquarters and joint staff are located, as well as command posts in Gao (Mali) and Niamey (Niger).

In October 2018, Barkhane expanded its area of operations to Burkina Faso at the request of the Burkinabe government, which is facing a rise in militant Islamist group attacks.

EU Missions in Mali and Niger

  • EUTM Mali provides military training to members of the Malian Armed Forces. Its goal is to strengthen the capabilities of the Malian Armed Forces, with the ultimate result being self-sustaining armed forces capable of contributing to the defense of their population and territory.
  • EUCAP Sahel Mali provides training and advice to the national police, gendarmerie, and National Guard toward the implementation of security reforms set out by the government. Its objectives include improving operational efficiency, strengthening command and control, and reinforcing the role of judicial and administrative authorities while facilitating their redeployment to the north of the country.
  • EUCAP Sahel Niger aims to strengthen the rule of law through training, assistance, and advice to Niger’s security forces (national police, gendarmerie, and National Guard) with a view to encouraging regional and international coordination in the Sahel against terrorism and organized crime.

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