News Brief
Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP via Getty Images.

Former Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein passes away from the coronavirus.

Former Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein​ Passes Away

Somalia has declared a 3-day mourning period following the death of the 83-year-old politician from the coronavirus.

The former Prime Minister of Somalia, Nur Hassan Hussein, passed away yesterday at the age of 83 according to reports by the Anadolu Agency.

After receiving treatment over the past few weeks at a hospital in London, England, the former politician passed away after having tested positive for the coronavirus. The Somali government has recently declared a nationwide 3-day mourning period following Hussein's death.

Hussein took office in November of 2007 and remained the East African country's Prime Minister until February of 2009. During his term, he was credited with leading peace talks between the Ethiopian government and rebel groups based in Eritrea.

In a statement issued by Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, he said that, "Recognising the efforts made by the deceased for his country and his people, I hereby declare three days of national mourning, lowering of the flag of the Federal Republic of Somalia to half mast, to give Prime Minister Nur Adde the respect he deserves."

Hussein is the latest African public figure to fall victim to the coronavirus. Former President of Congo, Jacques Joaquim Yhombi-Opango, the former president of French football club Marseille, Pape Diouf, Cameroonian jazz legend Manu Dibango as well as Burkina Faso's Vice-President of Parliament, Rose-Marie Compaore, all passed away from the coronavirus in the last month.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases on the African continent is close to 6500 with at least 239 reported deaths, according to BBC's coronavirus in Africa tracker.

There are now 48 African countries that have officially confirmed the presence of coronavirus. The governments of these countries have set in place a number of measures to curb the spread of the outbreak including travel restrictions, national lockdowns and in some cases, the mass testing of citizens. Read our rolling coverage of coronavirus in Africa here.

Photo Credit: Tony Karumba

UN Says Somalia Is Facing Its Worst Famine in Years

According to the United Nations, Somalian children are currently being admitted for medical treatment for malnutrition every minute in the East African country.

The United Nations recently shared that Somalia is facing severe famine. And, as a result, the organization will be setting a new target of over $2 billion in funding needed to tackle the issue. The UN says that Somalia has not experienced a famine of this magnitude in over half a century.

In a conversation with reporters, James Elder, a UNICEF spokesperson, said that the situation is dire and is showing no sign of getting better in the near future.

"Things are bad, and every sign indicates that they are going to get worse. Without greater action and investment, we are facing the death of children on a scale not seen in half a century," Elder said.

Earlier this year, Elder spoke to the media about the growing concerns of Somali children suffering from malnutrition.

Earlier reports noted that about 500,000 Somali children under the age of five were expected to experience extreme levels of malnutrition and face the risk of death. Elder also said that nutritional resources centers across Somalia were already at their maximum capacity and could not accommodate more children.

"We've got more than half a million children facing preventable death. It's a pending nightmare," said Elder at the time, during a Geneva news briefing. "You've got critically ill children who, without treatment, may die in a matter of hours."

Following a string of consecutive failed rainy seasons, crops and livestock have been adversely affected, and this has thrown the country further into the depths of extreme hunger.

Elder saidElder said that although Somalia has faced similar hardships in the past, this is beyond what happened in the past.

"When people speak of the crisis facing Somalia today, it has become common for frightful comparisons to be made with the famine of 2011 when 260,000 people died," Elder said. "However, everything I am hearing on the ground — from nutritionists to pastoralists — is that things today actually look worse. In 2011, after three failed rains, the affected population was half of what it is now, and the overall conditions — rain and harvest — were on the mend. Today, it's been four failed rains, the forecast for the fifth rains is looking pretty grim, and the affected population is twice the size of 2011."

Photo Credit: Ahmed Farah

Ahmed Farah on How His Film 'Ayaanle' Challenges Somali Tropes

With terrorism plaguing countries in the Horn of Africa, Ahmed Farah’s terrorist-themed movie, Ayaanle, takes a critical look beyond the surface, attempting to challenge a stereotype that also implicates Western media.

In Nairobi, a young Somali man with dreams of becoming a famous actor gets caught up in an unfortunate sitaation. He’s asked by a friend to act as a terrorist leader for international reporters. This is the scenario at play on Ayaanle, the feature debut from Somali director Ahmed Farah.The movie comes with a certain self-awareness. The mocking of international media and its troping of Somalis as terrorists is present. Western reporters, in their pursuit for convenient labelling, are scammed by locals impersonating pirates and terrorists.

Farah makes sly observations of this cottage industry. Barkhad Abdirahman, who plays the titular character, joins forces with Farah to shine a light into his own life as an actor. Starring in 2013’s Captain Phillips, where he plays a Somali pirate, he hasn’t been afforded the room to step into other roles of interest.

Coming from making documentaries (The Last Hijack) in 2014, 43-year-old Farah is applying his creative impulses towards feature-length projects. Last month, Ayaanle premiered in the U.S. at the New York African Film Festival. Come October, it will screen at the BFI London Film Festival. Next month, the film is set for a wide release in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, Djibouti and Kenya.

Speaking from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which wrapped up last month, Farah tells OkayAfrica about making Ayaanle despite challenges and his vision as a filmmaker from Somalia.

Actor Barkhad Abdirahman

Barkhad Abdirahman plays the titular character.

Photo Credit: Screenshot Ayaanle

How did the inspiration for Ayaanle come about?

I was with friends who were shooting a documentary about Somali pirates. We have both been following each other’s works and on this set, the man who they found as the pirate was sharing his life story to them. As I listened to him, I immediately suspected that what he was saying was made up. He’s Kenyan-Somali and even though he did his research, it was still a fabrication. He wasn’t a real pirate. During a break, I approached him to have my suspicions confirmed. Turned out I was right. By his own admission, he asked that I [don't] ruin things for him or spoil his gig.

I realized that this was an actor. I did some research and found out that he’s among a group of make-believe actors who have been featured as pirates in international press like the New York Times. This is a documentary about someone posing as who they are not just to earn some money. So this was how the inspiration for Ayaanle came about, from fake pirates and terrorists.

Ayaanle was shot in Nairobi, Kenya. How challenging was it to shoot?

First, it’s the same problem plaguing African filmmaking, the lack of support from the government. You are required to do everything yourself in making your film without assistance. We struggled to get access to government institutions and places. There was also a challenge in gaining government permits. It was really tough trying to get guns and you can’t use fake guns. It took weeks and months to get the access and permits we needed. Another thing we faced was trying to shoot scenes in main streets and city centers because filming is restricted. What we were left with were the slums, and crowd management with which was tasking.

Ayaanle premiered at the New York African Film Festival last month. Are there plans for theatrical releases in Kenya and Somalia?

Actually we were still editing the film just before it was shown at NYAFF. And there are plans to release the film in Kenya and Somali because I’m particularly interested in what Africans think about the story we tell. Because, at the end of the day, the people you would like to give you credit are Africans.

Cinema in Somalia has suffered decades of being in the dark, hijacked by terrorism which has posed security challenges. How do you think Ayaanle will revitalize cinema culture in the country?

We are aware of the security issues in Somalia and all the mayhem. And even though we shot the film in Kenya, we had the trailer premiere in Somalia and people came around, including government officials and the media. They saw that we could tell local stories with an international level of production, stories that otherwise won’t be told by Western media.

Take for example movies like Captain Phillips and Black Hawk Down, which were adapted from books written by white men. Despite having Somali characters, it is not a Somali story. It’s all shown through a Western lens.

We need to tell our own stories and to be able to do that, we need access and funding. We need people to be supportive and understand the value of storytelling. I think Ayaanle is breaking the barrier and it’s proving that we too can deliver the same quality with Hollywood movies. Also, cinema is a business, and investors and business people will see that there’s money to be made and invest in our industry.

Somali woman

Ayaanle comes with a certain level of self-awareness.

Photo Credit: Screenshot Ayaanle

What do you think are the pressing concerns for Somali filmmaking or the Somali film industry?

We have a lot to do and learn ourselves. Our government comes from a failed state and has been struggling with building the system. If you look at any successful film industry, the government has a hand involved, the support is there. What we are hoping is that things become stable and the government understands the value of storytelling. Movies have the power to change the mindset of the youths, with employment and distract them from participating in certain vices.

I think movies will help people see a different side of Somalia, even for the Somalis themselves and the ones in the diaspora, who barely know what’s happening in the country. We need to talk a lot more and make ourselves heard, with the government and entrepreneurs coming together to build cinema infrastructure for the country.

What did you hope to achieve in handling the portrayal of terrorism and radicalization?

Ayaanle is story about a young Somali actor who has always been cast as a terrorist or a pirate, so he’s struggling to find a balance to get different roles other than the ones he is always portrayed in. He’s also not making enough money as an actor. I wanted the film to talk about what international media gets wrong about terrorism, to ask the question of how much is true in their depictions.

For me, it’s also about drawing attention to the desperate actors who are tell fake stories as terrorists and pirates in movies. I focused on the theme of terrorism because it affects the youth in Somalia. Let’s say you have been arrested for something and the first thing the police does is label you as a terrorist. It also addresses police corruption and complicity. When you go for casting or auditions, the roles about terrorism are reserved for Somalis, we aren’t portrayed as doctors or business persons. Ayaanle is targeting how Somalis are typecast as terrorists.

Actor Barkhad Abdirahman

Abdirahman joins forces with Farah to shine a light into his own life as an actor.

Photo Credit: Screenshot Ayaanle

Talking about the cast, Barkhad Abdirahman is famous for playing a member of a pirate crew role in the Hollywood film Captain Phillips. Did you have Abdirahman in your mind when you were thinking about a male lead for Ayaanle or did his casting come much later?

Incidentally, Barkhad was in Kenya as part of the cast for Watu Wote,which was nominated for an Oscar. The film was about a bus being attacked by Al-Shabaab, a unique story and I was on the set. That was where I met Barkhad for the first time. He was telling me how he couldn’t get roles other than terrorist and that was when I saw him playing an actor in my film. It felt convenient.

Throughout the story of Ayaanle, there’s nothing that I made up. It is based on real stories. Barkhad has experience and isn’t a newcomer. He was in the American series Fargo and Stray. As my first film, I didn’t want to take the risk of casting someone new. Right away, I saw him playing the role of Ayaanle.

Ahmed Farah directing

"My focus is to tell Somali stories and make it universal."

Photo Credit: Ahmed Farah

As a a Somali filmmaker, do you think there are expectations for you to make films that talk about terrorism?

I have the freedom to do whatever I want because I’m not dependent on anyone’s funding, it’s a choice I made a long time ago. If I want to do things my way and I need to find my funds my way. I don’t have the pressure of fulfilling the expectations of others. I’m doing my things the way I see them fit. This is why I prefer to do low-budget movies for which I’m in full control and then progress from there. In the future, I would like to do comedy, horror, thrillers, love stories, whatever comes to mind as long as it is interesting for people to watch. My focus is to tell Somali stories and make it universal.

Photo: The Sundance Institute

In his Imaginative Debut Feature, Walé Oyéjidé Brings Together Elements of His Life’s Work

The Nigerian American director has long used the tools of his multi-hyphenate trade to expand the ways Africans are seen. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, 'Bravo, Burkina!' gives him a larger canvas on which to paint.

Whether it’s employing asylum seekers to model his designs or adding his flair to a piece of pivotal clothing that the late Chadwick Boseman wore in Black Panther, Walé Oyéjidé has always been about using whatever elements he can to push the ways Africans have traditionally been portrayed. What he hinted at in his short film After Migration: Calabria (available on the Criterion Channel), which tells the story of two refugees settling in Italy, he now gets to explore further in the feature debut, Bravo, Burkina!

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Photo by C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

Baaba Maal Releases New Single 'Agreement'

Senegal's Baaba Maal shares a new song ahead of his upcoming album, Being.

Renowned Senegalese singer and guitaristBaaba Maalhas shared a new single called "Agreement." The song is the fourth track on his upcoming album Being, which is slated to be released on March 31st, 2023.

"Agreement," a percussion-heavy record produced by Johan Hugo, fuses both ancient and modern rhythms, and continues Baaba Maal's ongoing musical quest to connect the past and the present, while making lasting cultural and emotional connections through music.

While discussing the record, Baaba Maal dissects the meaning of the song and explains that it draws inspiration from day-to-day relationships.

“Agreement is about the relationships you make in your life, whether they are with friends, musicians, neighbors, people you love,” says Baaba Maal. ”When you say to people, we are going on this journey through life together, through good times and bad, you should be very sure that you mean it.”

The Senegalese legend continues breaking down the meaning of the song by explaining it through a cultural lens.

“It’s based on a proverb from my community — to say no at the beginning to the idea that we will always be together is much stronger and more noble that beginning a relationship and then cutting it short later, maybe forty years later. Be mature enough to take seriously an agreement you make with someone about the future, about your souls being connected,” says Maal.

After a seven-year music hiatus, "Agreement" is one of Maal's new releases, and he will continue to share his music in the coming months with fans. In addition to releasing his upcoming album, the Poor-born icon will be performing at the Barbican in London, for the first time in 20 years on May 30th, 2023.

Maal'sBeing is a riveting extension of his pioneering, transcendent, and inspiring four-decade legacy that has blended the traditional and the innovative, the acoustic and the electronic over the years. For being, Maal reportedly partnered with long-time producer Johan Hugo, and recorded the body of work in Brooklyn, London and Senegal. Watch the visualizer for "Agreement" below.

Listen to Baaba Maal "Agreement" below.

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