Ethiopia's deadly protests; Nigeria's border closure; African-Americans granted citizenship in Ghana

Issue No. 1: December 2019

Hi there,

Welcome to the first edition of the Masayet Newsletter! I’m really excited to have you here.

For those of you who don’t speak Amharic, Masayet means “to show” or “to tell” in my native language. It’s a phrase I adopted when speaking with a friend (Hi Tiff!) about what I would like to do with Journalism, which is to show and to tell people stories which leaves an impact on how they think, believe, and process the world around them.

Since I’m a political nerd, most of the content for Masayet will center around politics. As a Journalist, I’m also passionate about covering my home continent.

But Africa is a pretty huge place. So, Masayet will focus on two regions: East and West Africa. I’m choosing these regions because they’re places experiencing great political, social, and economic change, and I believe they are two regions driving the future of the continent.

If I have a guest interview, that issue of Masayet will focus on one topic.

Without further ado, let’s get to Issue No. 1

- Haleluya

Top headlines:

86 people were killed during protests in Ethiopia.

A disputed confrontation between Ethiopian security forces and Jawar Mohammed, the ethnonationalist founder of Oromo Media Network, a media organization catering to the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, sparked protests which led to the death of 86 people in late October.

Mohammed, an influential figure within Oromo circles, has been increasingly critical of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is also an Oromo, for neglecting to advance what he sees as Oromo causes since Ahmed assumed office in early 2018.

After waves of communal violence erupted throughout the country following Mohammed’s allegation that Ethiopian security forces were trying to assassinate him at his house, he traveled to the U.S., where he’s a citizen, and announced his candidacy to unseat the Prime Minister in next year’s elections. New York Times’ Simon Marks has more about Mohammed’s candidacy and Ahmed’s political challenges here.

The timing of the protests is also particularly striking. In the days leading up to the confrontation, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave a speech to Ethiopia’s parliament and pointed to figures who he believes to be “fomenting unrest” inside the country, saying:

"Using their second nationality and foreign passports as an advantage, these media owners are likely to run away to their safe havens after inciting conflicts and leading the country into chaos..”

While this is all happening, the country’s ruling coalition agreed to form a single party ahead of next year’s elections, leading to dissent from Ethiopia’s Defense Minister and Ahmed’s ally, Lemma Megersa.

But this hasn’t stopped the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate from going full force with “Medemer,” a motto he uses to encourage ethnic unity and a collective national identity. In late November, a video championing togetherness was posted on the Prime Minister’s Twitter account.

Nigeria is meeting with its neighbors over the border closure.

After a meeting with his counterparts from Benin and Niger last week, Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Moahmmed, said each party has yet to reach an agreement on trade and duties on goods in the region.

This meeting took place after Nigeria closed its border without announcement on August 21st to reduce illegal smuggling into and out of the country. Politically, the border closure has been one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s aggressive measures to tamp down on smuggling, increase government revenue, and boost local production of rice in the country. And while the measure has been successful at reducing smuggling, the Financial Times’ Neil Munshi reports food prices in Nigeria have also gone up drastically since the closure.

When I first read Nigeria was closing its borders over illegal smuggling of rice into the country, it seemed like an article out of The Onion. But that’s precisely what happened — As the BBC reports, aside from illegal imports of rice damaging local producers, Nigeria has been struggling to manage illegal car imports and exports of their government subsidized gasoline into other West African countries.

According to the Punch, President Buhari, who was re-elected to a second term earlier this year, has approved an extension of the closure until January 31, 2020. The three West African countries in the meeting have also agreed to set up a joint task force to curb smuggling.

For my Nigerian brothers and sisters, so sorry Jollof Rice is now much more expensive to make!

Ghana gives citizenship to over 100 African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans in the country.

Last month, Ghana awarded 126 African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans national citizenship as part of its “Year of Return” celebration encouraging descendants of African slaves to visit their ancestral homeland. Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu writes from Accra on the colorful ceremony (with great photos) here.

It was only late last year Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo Addo, traveled to Washington, D.C. and officially declared 2019 as the “Year of Return” for people of African heritage living in the diaspora. It’s an important year since it marks the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of a ship carrying enslaved Africans to the U.S., and President Akufo-Addo has aggressively promoted the tourism initiative as a pan-African celebration.

The measure has largely been embraced by those in the diaspora. And it’s not hard to see why.

Pan-Africanism has been in Ghana’s DNA since the days of Kwame Nkrumah, when the revolutionary leader advocated for African unity, and eventually led the country to become the first colonized state in Africa to gain independence from a colonial power. Even the focus on Ghana as a place of return for descendants of African slaves is something that has been around for decades. Prominent African-Americans, including the activist W.E.B Du Bois and the poet Maya Angelou have called the country home during different moments of their lives.

The “Year of Return” became more prominent this summer during a domestic political controversy in the United States. After supporters at a rally for President Donald Trump called for Minnesota Congresswomen Ilhan Omar to be sent “back,” the Somali-American lawmaker traveled to the Gold Coast with U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to slyly troll the President.

American politics aside, isn’t it nice to see such renewed excitement around Pan-Africanism, especially with celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Boris Kodjoe getting in the mix?

Send me a note, and let’s chat: Do you see “Year of Return” as a marketing ploy or as a sincere spirit of pan-Africanism which will continue well after 2019?

Other Political News:

  • Kenya and Somalia have agreed to normalize relations and ensure “peaceful relations” after a dispute over maritime territory in the Indian Ocean caused major rifts between the two East African countries. The dispute over the 100,000 square kilometers has led to a freeze on direct flights between Nairobi and Mogadishu, caused the Kenyan Ambassador to Somalia to be called back home, and has once again invited in the interests of global powers into the region.

  • The politics behind the return of Gambian asylum seekers from Europe back to The Gambia is causing domestic problems for President Adama Barrow’s government.

  • In South Sudan, President Salva Kirr and his rival, Riek Machar, missed the deadline to form a unity government. Both leaders have now agreed to push back the formation of a new South Sudanese administration by a few weeks.

Recommended Reads from last month:

  • In The Art Newspaper, Sarah Belmont profiles Mariane Ibrahim, a Chicago-based art dealer championing the work of African artists throughout the diaspora.

  • For Jacobin Mag, Portia Roelofs interviews writers Roy Doron and Toyin Falola on a 2016 biography chronicling the life, activism, and death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian environmental activist executed by the country’s government after a questionable trial in 1995.

Song of the month ♫ ♫

Soooo, Shakira’s “Waka Waka” has been making the rounds on my apple music recently. I know, it’s basic. But no matter what anyone says, a decade later that song is still a bop.

I’ve also had “Way Maker” on repeat. Thank you to my Nigerian sister Sinach for an amazing song!

That does it for this newsletter. Have a blessed week!

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