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a film that put the World Bank and the IMF on trial

Bamako: Danny Glover Produces and Stars in New Film Putting the World Bank and IMF on Trial in Africa

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Actor and activist Danny Glover joins us to talk about his new film "Bamako." Set in Mali, the plot revolves around a trial that pits the people of Bamako against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We're also joined by Bamako's co-executive producer, Joslyn Barnes. [includes rush transcript - partial]


On Thursday's Democracy Now! we looked at how so-called vulture investors are preying upon African debtor nations. Investigative reporter Greg Palast revealed how several of President Bush's top campaign contributors have profited off this practice.

Well, there have been two developments in the past day. In London, a decision has come down in the court case between the African nation Zambia and the investment company Donegal International. A British high court judge ruled yesterday that Zambia must repay millions to the so-called vulture fund. Meanwhile in Washington, Congressman John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, met with President Bush yesterday and personally asked him to help end vulture funds.

We are joined by the actor and activist Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes. They are the executive producers of the new movie "Bamako." It is a fictional film set in Mali. The plot revolves around a trial that pits the people of Bamako against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


  • Danny Glover. Actor and activist who is the executive producer of "Bamako." He is a co-founder of Louverture Films and serves as chair of the board of TransAfrica Forum. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Amnesty International. He recently returned from Kenya where he attended the World Social Forum.
  • Joslyn Barnes. Co-executive Producer of "Bamako."
  • "Bamako" excerpts.

AMY GOODMAN: We look at the issue of debt in Africa. On Thursday’s Democracy Now!, we looked at how so-called vulture investors are preying upon African debtor nations. Investigative reporter Greg Palast revealed how several of President Bush’s top campaign contributors, particularly Paul Singer, have profited off this practice.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, there have been two developments in the past day. In London, a decision has come down in the court case between the African nation Zambia and the investment company Donegal International. A British high court judge ruled yesterday that Zambia must repay millions to the so-called vulture fund. Meanwhile, in Washington, Congressman John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, met with President Bush yesterday and personally asked him to help end vulture funds.

AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by the actor and activist Danny Glover, as well as Joslyn Barnes. They’re the executive producers of the new movie, Bamako. It’s a fictional film set in Mali. The plot revolves around a trial that pits the people of Bamako against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

DANNY GLOVER: Thank you very much, Amy and Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the making of this film.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, we -- just fascinating how you have an opportunity to work with an extraordinary director like Abderrahmane Sissako. And he approached both Joslyn and I with an idea about making a film that put the World Bank and the IMF on trial, and using the metaphor of the courtyard he grew up in -- in fact, the title of the film was first called “The Court,” the courtyard that he grew up in. He began --

AMY GOODMAN: Bamako is the capital of Mali.

DANNY GLOVER: And Bamako is the capital of Mali -- that he began to weave this story where we have men and women who are traumatized and who are dismissed by globalization. They're the ones who give testimony. So it’s their story. It's them -- they’re saying, in a most brilliant way, how globalization has impacted their life, how the IMF and the World Bank and structural adjustments and conditionalities have impacted their life, and the structural violence that it’s caused in their life. This courtyard has people who are unemployed, women who dye fabrics, which is a dying art in Africa, anyway. Most of the fabrics are now dyed somewhere else, particularly in China. And so, this is just -- then they unfolded this story, and then, not only that story, that within the story the court happening, you see the life, the teeming life, the life of the people as they go through the day-to-day aspects of survival.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And getting a film like this financed and made must have been a job in itself, not only on Africa, but on tackling such a huge issue as the impact of these international financial groups on the average person.

JOSLYN BARNES: Yeah. It was an effort among several countries to try to raise the monies for this film. And we wanted to ensure that our contribution to this film, our investment in this film, went through the African partner so that to ensure that the capacity is built in Africa. It's what we try to do with every film, so that when African filmmakers go to make their next film, that they don't have to look for financing from the US and Europe, which is always a problem when financing often drives content. In this case, we were fortunate to find partners that really were in solidarity with exactly what the director wanted to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the photographer in the film, the videographer?

JOSLYN BARNES: The videographer. I think, I mean, that was a device that the director wanted to use. It’s kind of self-referential. The whole film is so self-referential, in the sense that he really wanted to announce that we Africans know what is being done to us, and we are witnessing, giving witness, but also -- giving witness in the sense of testifying, but also observing exactly what's happening. It's also part of the reason why there's no verdict that’s actually given at the end. You’re allowed to sort of come to that, arrive at that yourself. But it’s also a way for the director to say, the point here is that decisions are being made about, on behalf of billons of people, without any input from them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Danny, I wanted to ask you, in a lot of my reporting in different third world countries, one of the things that’s always amazed me is the level of consciousness in some of the poorest countries about the enormous impact of these international financial organizations, compared to the total obliviousness of people in this country of the power and the role of these organizations.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, the propaganda machine works so well, you know. I mean, certainly network news doesn't inform you about what really happens, about decisions that even affect their own lives. Imagine if we even look at our own lives here, in reference to what is happening in areas in this country where people are in slums and in inner cities. We don't know what's really happening in those areas themselves. But it's always the case that when people in these countries, because they’re mobilized, because they have history, there's some sort of context in looking at themselves. They have their own culture. And so, what runs through their culture is a sense of who they really are. And there are political movements that are happening, you know. And I think the objective of the empire at this particular point in time is to have a small relief, and that small relief dictates, so basically puts the pressure on those people, the many people that are under it.

AMY GOODMAN: Joslyn, we're going to go to break, and when we come back, we'll be joined by Congressmember John Conyers with both of you. But I’d like you to set up this break, because the music is sung by a man from Mali in Bamako, who actually uses this to testify about his experience. It's not translated. Talk about who he is.

JOSLYN BARNES: Zegue Bamba is someone who comes into the courtyard to testify, and he actually sang a lament. And the lament, the take was actually twelve minutes long. For the purpose of the film, it was cut down to, I think it’s about two, three minutes, but --

AMY GOODMAN: Was it scripted for him?

JOSLYN BARNES: It was not scripted. In fact, when he came in and he sang, it's a dialect from southern Mali, and most of the people in the courtyard itself could not understand the language it was being sung in. But I think that the director felt, in watching it in the editing room, that there was no reason to translate it, that it was such a powerful moment in the film and that emotionally it really hits you when you hear that lament, that that is a lament for all that's transpired in this man’s life. So he didn't feel it was necessary or even appropriate at that point in the film to translate it.

AMY GOODMAN: This is from Bamako.


JUAN GONZALEZ: The House of Representatives is expected to pass a non-binding resolution today opposing President Bush's decision to send more than 20,000 additional combat troops to Iraq. The House has been debating the resolution since Tuesday. As many as two dozen Republicans are expected to vote with the Democrats in opposing the troop increase. If the resolution passes, it will mark the first time Congress has voted against President Bush’s Iraq war policy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also indicated she would back Congressman John Murtha's attempt to rewrite the President's spending request to limit Bush's options in prosecuting the war.

This is Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota. He’s the first Muslim to be elected to Congress.

    REP. KEITH ELLISON: For six years now, while the deception has deepened, we were told to shut up, bite your tongues, you're not as patriotic as me, you don't love America as much as I do. None of that is true. We have to stop this polarizing language and really focus on the best way out of this. Even people who support the escalation can't claim that we're going to be in America forever. What is your plan for eventually getting out of this thing? We say let's start the withdrawal now. Let's start the diplomatic solution now. Let's start the political solution now. I want to say, on behalf of those who really thirst for peace, who believe that peace really is the answer, that we need to look at the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he spoke out against the Vietnam War. He said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” And so it is.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Keith Ellison on the floor of the House. Meanwhile, many Republicans criticize the Democrats for introducing the resolution. This is Congressmember Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

    REP. JEB HENSARLING: Clearly, many, if not most, of the Democrats call for withdrawal from Iraq, as do several of my very respected Republican colleagues. And I respect their views, when they are heartfelt. But, Mr. Speaker, since Democrats now control both houses of Congress, why are we not voting on a withdrawal resolution? And that's one of the reasons this is such a sad day. I mean, think about it, Mr. Speaker. How do you look a soldier in the eye and say, “You know, I don't believe you can succeed in Iraq. I don't believe in your mission. I don't believe you can win this war. And I have the power to bring you home, but I refuse to do it. I refuse to do it”? Where's the courage in that resolution? Where's the conviction in that resolution? If you truly believe in your heart of hearts that our soldiers are needlessly risking their lives, don't you have a moral obligation to bring them home?

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now from Capitol Hill is the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers of Michigan. On Wednesday, he and more than two dozen other members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with President Bush. It was the President's first meeting with the caucus in over two years. Joining us still in studio is Joslyn Barnes and Danny Glover. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Conyers.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Always a pleasure, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how your meeting went with the President yesterday?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, we talked essentially about Iraq, Katrina and the domestic breakdown that's going on right now. But it was my job, I felt, to raise the whole question of this bond speculation that goes on at the expense of poor debtor countries, in which their debt is bought up and then they're sued for the full amount. It’s bought up at pennies on the dollar, and then they're sued. And I wanted to thank you for revealing this to us, because it allowed me to ask President Bush two questions: one, about Paul Singer and Michael Sheehan; and two, whether he would be willing to stop this incredible misuse of our government’s charity toward funding aid to our poorer nations.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the President's response to your questions?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: His response was, “I didn't know anything about this.” And he assigned a staffer to get on it right away. And so, it's our position that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Comity Doctrine brought from our Constitution allows the President to require the courts defer in individual suits against foreign nations. And so, we're conducting a couple of things. First of all, we want to know where these practices are going on at the present time, and, two, how we can get this information to President Bush so that he can, as he indicated to us, stop it immediately.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Congressman, there was also the announcement of some debt relief for Liberia, as well. Why Liberia, particularly, and what's happening with the rest of debt relief, in general, in terms of Africa, that the Bush administration has been promising?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, I think it's moving very slowly. There was an announcement made by the President about debt relief to Liberia. Liberia, of course, with its first woman president, who's made quite a splash here in Washington, has and enjoys, I think, a relatively favored status. But we want an investigation into this bond speculation, as it applies to anyone in our universe that's helping exploit these very poor nations, in terms of the inability to repay international aid loans.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Glover.

DANNY GLOVER: John, how are you doing this morning?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Danny, I’m so glad to hear you.

DANNY GLOVER: It’s good to hear you.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: You've been planning these -- you've been planning these movies for twenty years.

DANNY GLOVER: Oh, yeah, many of them for twenty years. And thank you for your steadfast support in the works that, you know, all of us who have tried to do work as artists. We really thank you for that. One of the things, certainly, we were concerned about, and you know because you have some history with the idea of trade around the AGOA Act, African Growth and Opportunity Act, which Clinton signed into law in 1998. You were one of the ones -- one of the members of the Black Caucus in Congress who really tried to question the motives of the act, also its benefits, etc., etc. One of the questions we were concerned about is, has the Congress taken up trade, the idea -- the question around trade, fair trade and free trade? They call it “free trade.” We mean fair trade.


DANNY GLOVER: Has the Congress taken up that? I know they did that to some extent over the AGOA Act, but you look at how Latin America has defeated the Free Trade of the Americas, and as resounding as a defeat as that, called into question that. How has Congress looked at free trade? How have they looked at the debt itself? We have an opportunity now with a Democratic congress to really call committees forward to look at this idea around the debt and free trade.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: There's no question that we've got to turn free trade into fair trade. And I come from Detroit, and, as you know, our manufacturing base of automobiles is suffering greatly. It's far easier to bring in a foreign car to this country than it is for us to bring an American product to anywhere else in the world. So that's what we have to get to. The 110th Congress is two months old. We are working to repair so many things that have gone wrong, it's not even funny. Our agendas in most of the committees -- I know with Charlie Rangel -- are overloaded and overtaxed, but we've got to, first of all, relieve these poor nations of debt. You, Harry Belafonte, Nelson Mandela, the Congressional Black Caucus, progressives throughout the country have been talking about getting rid of this debt and then promoting trade. And nothing, Danny, is more disturbing to me than last week's announcement that the US was building a huge military base in Africa. Question: what for?



REP. JOHN CONYERS: We've got to investigate all of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Congressmember Conyers, where is that military base being built, and what kind of oversight do you have of this as a congressman and as head, a chair of a committee?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, I’m not sure which country it was, but it was announced that the agreement had been reached. But I want to go there. This should be a number of our progressive members’ first CODEL, is to investigate why we're increasing and maintaining a base anywhere on the African continent. And remember, we're still trying to make sure that we're not building permanent military bases in Iraq. That is a question that has come up repeatedly and has not been, to me, honestly revolved. Barbara Lee of California brought it up at our meeting with President Bush yesterday.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman, speaking about that meeting, it's the first one the caucus has had with President Bush in two years. The relationship has not always been a good one. What was your sense of the willingness of the President to address other major issues of concern to the Congressional Black Caucus?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, look, I have been a critic of President Bush's, and for me to tell you that when thirty members get together and have a friendly meeting with President Bush in the White House, that I have some confidence that he is going to change in any of his policies, I would be either disingenuous or naive. I’m neither of those. So, this was a meeting that I felt I could not afford not to go to. And that's why I attended, and I was happy to bring up this question of this incredible vulture funds bond speculation that's ripping off the poorest of the poor nations in Africa and Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Conyers, after the Democrats gained control of both houses in the November elections, you wrote the following in a letter to supporters, quote, "As many of you also know, I have agreed with Speaker-to-be Pelosi that impeachment is off the table. Instead, we agree that oversight, accountability and checks and balances, which have been sorely lacking for the past six years, must occur. I have nothing but respect for those who might disagree, but that’s where I come out.” That’s what you wrote, but on January 27, you addressed that mass demonstration against war on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and had this to say regarding President Bush.

    REP. JOHN CONYERS: George Bush has the habit of firing military leaders who tells him the Iraq war is failing. But let me tell you something. He can't fire you. He can't fire us. But we can fire him! We can fire him!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Conyers in Washington, D.C. Are you calling for President Bush's impeachment, Congressmember Conyers?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: The reason I am not, notwithstanding my fiery rhetoric at the rally, which I thought was quite appropriate, by the way, and I don't retract, we're firing -- on November 7, we fired all the Republicans we could find that are supporting President Bush. Next year in November, we're going to get hired to do the job of leading this country with a Democratic president and with a stronger House and Senate majority. You know, a one-senate majority lead is not much of a majority. Fifteen-vote change in the House would erase the advantage that we have. And quite frankly, any impeachment proceeding that would go forward without taking out the Vice President and the President, to me, would be a waste of time. We don't have the luxury to impeach this president and this vice president. We have the responsibility to stop the war in Iraq, and I think it's proceeding along sound lines, and then we will be able to deal with Katrina, the domestic under-funding of everything from healthcare to housing to job creation, to re-entry of former felons. All the things that need to be done have to be taken care of. A $2 trillion debt is what we are paying to stay in Iraq. We've got to stop that financial hemorrhaging as a first responsibility in the Congress.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Congressman, speaking about that hemorrhaging and the war, obviously, there is expected to be a vote today in the House on a non-binding resolution, but everyone knows that that's not going to have a major impact on the current policy. What do you say about the issue of those who urge cutting off funding for the war are not supporting the troops, and why are the Democrats settling at this point for a non-binding resolution?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, I’m sure that the President laughs at non-binding resolutions, as do most people, including myself. I want to stop the war. I don't want to just stop the surge or the escalation. We've got to end the war. And this is the way that we start. I think it's very sound. Now, we've got the Nadler plan, we've got the Kucinich plan, we've got the Barbara Lee-Maxine Waters plan, we've got the Murtha plan. Ted Kennedy has a theory of stopping it. We have plenty of opportunity to deal with the subject of ending the war in Iraq, but, of course, we've got to win, and I predict that we will, with Republican support, too. We've got to make this first statement against the President 's war strategy as it exists at this present time.

AMY GOODMAN: One more question on the issue of impeachment: wasn't it you, Congressmember Conyers, who in the early ’80s co-sponsored a resolution to impeach President Reagan over the invasion of Grenada?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: I introduced the first resolution to impeach Richard Milhous Nixon. I don't think I was in on that resolution, unless you've got an impeachment resolution on Reagan before you right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I thought you had, but I’ll double check that.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: No. But impeachments come to the Judiciary Committee. And, believe me, to tie up this government just as we're trying to stop the war and the clock is running on both the President and Vice President, I think would be a mistaken strategy. We've got to win the next election, which is next year.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to go to break, but we'll come back to you, Congressmember Conyers, as well as our guests in our firehouse studio, Joslyn Barnes and Danny Glover. We're going to go to break with another segment excerpt of Bamako.

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