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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.

Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

Cameroon Holds Vigil to Remember Children Killed in School Attack

Residents in Kumba paid their respects to the seven lives lost, and those injured during the attack over the weekend.

In the latest tragedy to come from Cameroon's historically violent clash between Anglo and Francophone citizens, seven children were murdered after attackers stormed a school with guns and machetes over the weekend.

In what has been deemed as the "darkest and saddest day," by Bishop Agapitus Nfon of Kumba, armed attackers stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, targeting students aged 9 to 12. The tragic event saw dozens of children injured, some critically.

The attack has shocked the nation, with both local and international agencies condemning the horrible offense. On Monday, Cameroonian President Paul Biya denounced the "horrific murder" of the school children, and alluded to the "appropriate measures" being taken in order to bring justice to the families of the victims. Prime Minister Dion Ngute Joseph shared his condolences via a tweet saying, "I bow before the memory of these innocent kids."

The Cameroonian presidency and governing body have blamed Anglophone 'separatists' for the attack, though the group claims no part in the attack.

Human rights groups, however, have blamed both opposing parties, as the conflict has led to the death of over 3,000 deaths and resulted in more than 700,000 Cameroonians fleeing their homes and the country.
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Interview: Meet Velemseni, Eswatini’s Queen of Soul

Soul artist Velemseni's music reflects Eswatini culture and aesthetics. "The Kingdom of Eswatini is a magical and mysterious place, and my music aims to interpret and document that mystique, drawing from genres like Swazi gospel, soul, African soul, cinematic and traditional music," says the artist.

From being a backing vocalist for some of Eswatini's household names like Bholoja, Siyinqaba and Nomalungelo Dladla, Velemseni has gone on to soar to greater heights.

The Eswatini guitarist and soul singer's debut album, We are People (2014), showcased soothing vocals and strong musicality. The project was received well, getting airplay in the country's major radio stations (EBIS1 and 2).

The 11-track project was produced by David F from France, Martin Berauer from Austria and Eswatini's Bholoja. It led to Velemseni embarking on a US mini-tour in 2014.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview: 'Carpe Diem' Is Olamide's New Way of Life

Olamide communicates his current mood of living on his own terms, gives us his thoughts on #EndSARS, and tells us about fulfilling his singing desires while introducing the current sound brewing underground in Nigeria.

The death of Dagrin, who through hip-hop championed a course for the underground slums of western Nigeria, was a blow. While Nigeria inadvertently sought a progeny, an underground rapper silently picked up steam through bluetooth shares and word of mouth. By the end of 2010, Olamide broke into mainstream consciousness after releasing "Eni Duro," a street freestyle that caught the attention of ID Cabasa who then signed him to Coded Tunes where he released his debut album, Rapsodi in 2011.

In 2012, Olamide teamed up with a handful of relatively unknown producers, rappers for his sophomore album YBNL, which he also christened his own record label, marking his exit from Coded Tunes. YBNL has now become one of Nigeria's leading record labels having produced talents like Lil Kesh, Adekunle Gold, Fireboy DML, and more. It comes with no surprise that the recording artist born Olamide Adedeji, revered as the "voice of the street" has become one of Nigeria's most successful rappers ever. He's now known for his multilingual tracks which showcase his ability to rap and sing in English, Yoruba, Pidgin. His knack for lacing wordplay into his music stems from experiences of his formative years in Bariga, a rural part of Lagos.

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Watch Burna Boy & Chris Martin's Electric Performance at the BET Hip Hop Awards 2020

The Nigerian star performed "Monsters You Made" in front of a backdrop of #EndSARS protest footage as Coldplay's Chris Martin lent his voice virtually.