Colombia Finally Recognizes Its First and Only Black President, Juan José Nieto Gil

Juan José Nieto Gil's presidency was erased from history on account of his race, but his legacy is finally being recognized.

This August, OkayAfrica shines a light on the connections between Africa and the Latin-American world. Whether it's the music, politics or intellectual traditions, Africans have long been at the forefront of Latino culture, but they haven't always gotten the recognition. We explore the history of Afro-Latino identity and its connection to the motherland.

Afro-Colombians account for around 5 million of Colombia's population. Still, black people in the nation are widely marginalized and underrepresented in political life. It's been this way throughout history, and nothing makes this reality more clear than the story of Colombia's first black president, Juan José Nieto Gil who, despite the odds, went on to lead the country during one of it's most divided periods in history and fight for the abolishment of slavery. He's gone largely unheralded until now.

After centuries of being unrecognized for his contributions, the Colombian government has unveiled a portrait of the country's first and only black president in the presidential palace, following an extensive investigation carried out by veteran Colombian journalist, Gonzalo Guillén.

Guillén made a promise to his late friend, the Father of Colombian Sociology, Orlando Fals Borda, that he would see to it that the country's black president, be given his rightful place in the Nariño Presidential Palace, reports Colombian publication The City Paper Bogota. According to the outlet, Guillén first brought the matter to the public's attention when he published an article entitled "Obama was not the first black president of the Americas. The title rightfully belongs to Juan José Nieto Gil," after Barack Obama won his presidency in the United States in 2008.

Prior to the efforts of Guillén and Borda, Nieto Gil's legacy as the first Afro-Colombian to hold political office had been virtually erased from Colombian history, in fact when an original portrait of him from the 19th century was first discovered in a basement, in 1866 it was whitewashed and his skin was made to appear white. "No one wanted the original painting. It was found in a basement, piled up with junk and rotting," Guillén tells The City Paper Bogota. The portrait was rediscovered by Borda in the 1970s and the true color of Nieto Gil's skin resurfaced. Even then, some still attempted to deny his African ancestry.

In 2008, an investigation led by Guillén confirmed Nieto Gil's status as Colombia's—then known as the United Provinces of New Granada—42nd president. Nieto Gil served as the country's leader from January 25 to July 18, 1861. He ruled during a politically divisive periods and worked as a novelist and geographer, who advocated for the abolishment of slavery.

The Colombian government held their own investigation into Nieto Gil, following a 2014 petition from Guillén.

On August 2, Colombia's former president Juan Manuel Santos unveiled a replica of the original portrait in the presidential palace with leaders from the Afro-Colombian community in attendance. After centuries of intentional erasure, the country's first and only black leader finally received his rightful recognition. While it's a major step in the right direction, the act doesn't erase Colombia's negative history with its large black population.

The prolonged recognition of Nieto Gil's contribution to Colombian history, highlights the ongoing struggle for Afro-Latino rights and representation in Colombia and beyond.

During the month of August, OkayAfrica is exploring Afro-Latino identity and highlighting the stories and experiences of Afro-Latinos throughout the diaspora, keep up with more of out stories here.

MFE Pays Tribute to PRO on The Second Anniversary of The South African Hip-Hop Legend’s Passing

Artists signed to PRO's label MFE commemorate him in new tribute song 'MAWE: VITA24' on the second anniversary of the South African hip-hop pioneer's passing.

One aspect of PRO(Kid)'s legacy that rarely gets mentioned is his label. As head of Money First Entertainment, the label he founded, PRO played roles in the trajectories and craft of artists such as Red Button, Captian_fs, sFs 5 Star and TeePee among others. The former three were official members of MFE with Red Button, PRO's protégé, being the first artist to be signed to the label.

PRO who passed away exactly two years ago today gets a tribute from his label's roster. "MAWE: VITA24" is a remix of an sFs 5 Star song titled "Mawe" that the artist released in February.

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Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

The 10 Best PRO(Kid) Songs Ranked

SPeeka ranks his favourite PRO songs of all time on the second anniversary of the kasi rap legend's death.

Editor's note: Today (August 8) marks the second year since the passing of PRO (who was known as Pro Kid earlier in his career). The legendary South African lyricist is credited with being the father of kasi rap—a subgenre of South African hip-hop characterised by a heavy use of punchlines and storytelling in mostly IsiZulu and tsotsitaal (Gauteng township slang).

Pro inspired a generation of kasi rappers and his impact and influence are still felt to this day. The prolific rapper's catalog consists of two classics namely Heads & Tales and Dankie San which sit comfortably alongside other notable releases.

We reached out to the South African hip-hop producer and kasi rap aficionado SPeeka to rank PRO's best 10 songs from good to great.

"Linda PRO Mkhize left a permanent mark in our hearts," says SPeeka. "I for one will continue to appreciate his artistry and celebrate his legacy by simply pressing play on the countless gems he contributed to the culture we all love. Dankie san!"

Below is the list compiled and broken down by SPeeka himself.

10. “Pressa, Pusha, Phanda”

Producer: Luddha

Album: Snakes & Ladders (2009)

"Ngiya understand mawuz'shay' isfuba, i-pride uyigwine wrong."

One of PRO's greatest strengths was his ability to use his gift to uplift listeners. It's widely known he was lethal lyrically. He was a product of an unforgiving underground rap scene that helped shape his skills as an MC. This track, which is from his fourth studio album Snakes & Ladders (2009), is just another shining example of how he was able to use those same raw skills to deliver a message of hope and encouragement over a beautifully crafted instrumental. It resonated with all of us and will forever remain a go-to joint for young adults from the hood who tend to feel like the hustle of trying to get your life together is too much.

9. “Sekele”

Producer: Dome

Album: Snakes & Ladders (2009)

"Ngiku PSL, ukuMvela and i-bench usal'freyifa/ Ngiya pensela, I touch lines njalo mang'skryf-a."
Being the Soccer crazy country that South Africa is, it was only natural that everyone became overly excited at the realisation that in 2010 SA would be hosting the FIFA World Cup. Just a year prior to the football legends coming over to the country for what became one of the best FIFA World Cup events ever, the Number 1 Soweto boy released the first single from his fourth studio album (Snakes & Ladders) titled "Sekele". The Dome-produced banger had a football theme, with clever wordplay and punchlines that fans had grown to appreciate PRO for. One could argue that the excitement for the tournament grew when PRO dropped this gem – the kasi rap fraternity would probably agree with me.

8. “Umfutho” (featuring Brickz)

Producer: Spikiri

Album: Continua (2012)

"Nom'ungas'bheka wena, angek'usenze lutho!"
PRO's love for kwaito music was evident in his brand of hip-hop music. He wore that love on his sleeve proudly. One can only imagine the excitement he must have felt when he was in the studio with the legendary kwaito pioneer Spikiri cooking up this joint. A rapper jumping on a straight-up kwaito beat was unheard of in the early 2000s. This collaboration was clear proof that the feud between the two genres was absolutely ridiculous. It ended up opening the floodgates for South African rappers finally fully embracing their kwaito roots, which resulted in what I believe to be the peak of South African hip-hop that immediately followed. This joint is South African to the core, and it left me day dreaming of an entirely Spikiri-produced PRO album.

7. “The General”

Producer: by I.V. League

Album: Dankie San ( 2007)

"Uphush' ub'celeb and siyabazi, ungazos'chomela/ Mawulele thina siya ndlula nje nge truck ye nzomela…"
Vintage PRO. The General is a more-than-fitting title for both the joint and the man himself. We are treated to an epic display of flow-flexing, which at first listen sounds as though may have been easy to write until you realise that PRO only made it seem that way. I.V. League came through with a fresh production that had a hint of that dancehall flavour.

6. “Ungaphel’ Umoya”

Producer: Beat Maker

Album: Heads & Tales (2005)

"...Cut the flossin'/ or else uzohlangana namahlany'aphum'estoksini/ abo thathazonke nalez'ez'fak'ipilis' e-socksini."
I know what you're thinking: "This track should be higher on this list". Another joint that perfectly embodies the artistry of Linda PRO Mkhize. He managed to take what is essentially a dark production and used it to convey a message of hope. He did this while also managing to point out the darkness and acknowledged that it's where he's from, but since he was able to escape and so can you.

5. “Fede Fokol”

Producer: Omen

Album: Heads & Tales (2005)

"Easy, son/ Mamel' iikhokho z'gibel' i-beat, son…"
Omen was completely in his bag when he made the beat for this joint. A neck snapping boom bap gem that PRO took and molded into a hood banger. He effortlessly switches between English and tsotsitaal, while keeping it kasi to the core. He strikes a perfect balance between appealing to "hip-hop purists" and the ordinary guy in the hood hustling in street corners. I can't remember a time this joint was played at a hip-hop session and I didn't lose my mind.

4. “Soweto”


Album: Heads & Tales (2005)

"Ghetto like kids on the corner playing Ludo/ with little pieces of stones and bottles wherever you go…"

If you don't consider this track as the official anthem of the South Western Townships, then you're playing. PRO had people from outside Soweto proudly chanting "SOWETOOOO!!!" Enough said.

3. “Wild West”

Producer: Dome

Album: DNA (2006)

"You saw the poster, vele angihleki mang'bhala/ Tight grips on the pen and angiyeki mang'bhala!"
Dome and PRO did something so special on this one. They took the theme song to the classic western film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) composed by Ennio Morricone, and brought it straight to Soweto. It's one of my all-time favourite sample flips. As usual, PRO kept the lyricism flawless while continuing to unapologetically display his trademark hood pride.

2. “Wozobona”

Producer: Omen

Album: Heads & Tales (2005)

"Never ngiyekele le-rap mina sbali, no ways/ Ngihlala ngikhiph' i-number number mawungaqgcwali, always/ Ngeke ngihlukane ne kasi noma ngingaya e-Fourways…"

During the early days of the legendary Slaghuis movement, PRO's name was an urban legend. Unfortunately for my 15-year-old self, I never got the opportunity to watch him perform at the session because he always came on later in the evening and I had a curfew. By then, the only PRO song I knew was "Soweto". One Friday evening, the music video for "Wozobona" debuted on the SABC 1 music show One. This was my introduction to PRO rapping in vernac. I was completely blown away. Even though I was already a fan of "Soweto", I believe hearing "Wozobona" for the first time officially turned me into a PRO fan.

1. “Bhampa”

Producer: I.V. League

Album: Dankie San (2007)

"To all the crooks abaz' shaya ngama Pro Ink boots/ Sengisho na laba abakhule nge beer ne loose/ Ngoba i-culture yase loxion is part of your roots/ Bathi thina senza kakhulu, kanti abazi sisa toets-a…"
To keep it 100, choosing between "Bhampa" and "Wozobona" as my all-time PRO joint is one of the toughest choices I've ever had to make. Both tracks represent everything I love about the late great artist. After years of long debates with fellow PRO stans about which joint is better, I finally came to the conclusion that it was "Bhampa" by a nose. The production, the catchy hook, the unparalleled penmanship, the kwaito flair... everything. I also felt that it had slightly more commercial appeal therefore was able to reach more people. The fact that PRO was able to have such a great impact commercially without feeling the need to dumb down his lyricism is just one of the reasons why he will forever be the greatest to ever do it.

Honourable mention: “Living The Way I Should” (featuring Nothende)

Producer: Amu

Album: Heads & Tale (2005)


The 7 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Beyoncé x Shatta Wale, Major League DJz, Alsarah, Skales, Burna Boy and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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