“It holds a mirror up to society” comedian Mo Hersi on his mockumentary The Last African in Europe
I met inspirational comedian Mo Hersi in a buzzing little café in the heart of Almere, a city recently awarded the title ‘loveliest city centre in the Netherlands’. Greeted with a bear hug, Mo sat me down across from him, wasting no time to engage in conversation. He tells me about his journey in becoming a filmmaker, deciding that as a comedian, he could best produce a mockumentary in which he addresses critical issues by taking them out of their usual context. 'The Last African in Europe' paints a bleak picture of Europe where uprisings mark the entire continent and most of the Netherlands is flooded; people are desperate to leave. But where can they go when Africa’s borders are shut? Portraying himself to be the last African remaining in Europe, Hersi does a great job at taking a stand on refugee issues with the help of dark humour and ironic situations.
What inspired you to make The Last African in Europe?
Mo: "The mockumentary was inspired by an idea coming from Alphonse Muambi, who is a great thinker and philosopher. In his vision, borders should be closed between Africa and Europe, on both sides. This is a different narrative from most right-wing politicians, who would only talk of closing borders on the European side. So what will happen if we close borders on both sides, knowing that Africa holds about 30 % of the world’s resources? A huge European economic crisis would ensue."
Mo continues to predict that Europe’s reliance on Africa will, in fact, only increase with time: "With the rapid pace in which our climate is changing, even Europeans will have to flee to evade the climate crisis in the future, and their nearest refuge will be Africa". With The Last African in Europe, the comedian wanted to paint this picture, an alternative picture to our current state of affairs, to showcase what it would be like if things were the other way around.
In asking how he personally relates to the story he is telling, Mo explains that he is originally from Ethiopia and describes himself as a refugee. He points out, however, that whilst living in the Netherlands for the past 33 years, he never truly considered himself a refugee until 5 years ago, when the refugee crisis became hot topic of a topic debate: “That’s when I started thinking ‘wait, why are you talking about my people?’”. The mockumentary contributes to these discussions by bringing the many nuances that are at play to light:
"The mockumentary holds up a mirror for everyone. It’s for the audience to see that being a refugee isn’t about skin colour, it can be anybody needing refuge. It’s for them to see how structural racism has so many layers. Racism isn’t only reserved for the right-wing. We know so little about refugees because no one really asks them how they are. We’d rather ask; ‘how did you get here, how were your travels, what traumatic experiences did you go through?’ But would you go up to any woman and ask her if she’s ever experienced trauma? Ask her at a birthday party whether she’s ever been sexually assaulted? Because that’s how refugees are constantly asked to tell their story, wherever and whenever, even at birthday parties."
'The Last African in Europe' premieres on the 28th of February in Almere, after which it will also be shown at the 2020 Afrikadag. When asking him why he thinks it is important to include the mockumentary in the programme, Mo replies by saying that the Afrikadag is about transformation. Not only has the event itself transformed in the past years, ‘starting as a ‘taste of Africa’ tourist adventure to now living up to its potential of being a platform for conversations around economics, climate change, and so on’, but the hope is also that it facilitates change. Change in perspectives, change in how we talk about current issues and how we talk about them in relation to Africa. The mockumentary embodies all this, giving us a different perspective on both the refugee and climate crisis. To build on this, Afrikadag visitors will be given the space to engage in conversation with Mo as well as each other after seeing the mockumentary.
What would you like to discuss with our visitors?
Mo: "The future, our future, not just that of the refugee but of us, as a people. We can’t be mad at refugees for whatever change is happening in Europe, but we also have to look at ourselves, and be mad at ourselves, because all of us contribute to what’s happening over ‘there’, outside of Europe. I want to ask the tough questions like ‘what was our role in somebody in the world having to flee?’. We need to ensure that equality is a global phenomenon, but are we willing to pay more for stuff that we like? Are we willing to pay the cost of losing privilege? With Brexit, and with Dutch elections coming up, there will also be ample opportunity to discuss the very premise on which the mockumentary is built: the closing of borders". ////
In this way, 'The Last African in Europe' is more relevant than ever. Not only because of its take on the topical refugee crisis but also because it plays into this year’s Afrikadag theme ‘Climate Justice’. Mo asserts: "The mockumentary paints a picture that is very relevant; we have just had two storms, we are living in the warmest time of the globe’s existence. There is no stopping it. We will have to move".
When it comes to the climate crisis, the mockumentary may then very well be portraying a situation that is not an alternate universe but a possible future reality. Do you want to come talk about our future and that of our climate? Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see the screening of 'The Last African in Europe' by inspirational comedian Mo Hersi, and let’s have those conversations, together.