Arts + Culture

NextGen: Congolese Author Sandra Uwiringiyimana Writes to Keep the African Spirit Alive

The 22-year-old survivor of the Gatumba massacre shares her perspective of Afrofuturism with OkayAfrica in 'NextGen.'

DIASPORAOver the course of July we'll be publishing short profiles, essays and interviews on the theme of "Afrofutures." Together these stories will be a deep dive into the way African and diaspora thinkers, technologists and artists view a future for Africans in the world and outside of it. 


Take a look at our introduction to Afrofuturism here.

Throughout this month, we'll also highlight and celebrate young, leading talents who already put into practice what a future with black people look like through their work in our daily profile series, 'NextGen.'

To close out our series, meet Congolese author Sandra Uwiringiyimana.

Sandra Uwiringiyimana is a 22-year-old author, activist and speaker from the Democratic Republic o f the Congo. As co-founder of the Jimbere Fund, an organization that aims to revitalize distressed communities in the DRC, she helps people in need in vulnerable areas and fights against poverty. Uwiringiyimana's memoir, How Dare The Sun Rise (Harper Collins), sheds light on her experience of being a refugee and battling trauma.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Uwiringiyimana.

Since her family’s resettlement in the United States in 2007, Sandra has used her experience to fight against the social injustice that occurred at the Gatumba massacre and has become a voice for women and girls, refugees and immigrants who have been often overlooked and undervalued. In telling her story, Sandra has shared the world stage with Charlie Rose, Angelina Jolie, and Tina Brown and has spoken at the Women in the World Summit in 2016 while she was still in university. In addition, she has addressed the United Nations Security Council at the request of Ambassador Samantha Power to plead with world leaders to act on the pressing issue of children in armed conflict.

For Uwiringiyimana, Afrofuturism is a vital part of her spreading her message. She believes it means “living in a world that allows black children and youth to see themselves represented in every aspect of society."

Photo by Rick Wenner, courtesy of Sandra Uwiringiyimana.

She continues:

"It means little black girls growing up appreciating their bodies and features. Afrofuturism means not having to tone down my blackness in order to seem more approachable or trustworthy; it means seeing every kind of black person represented, valued and validated," she says.

Sandra is an example of being an African leader and educating those who may not fully understand the African experience. “I want to show young Africans that we are allowed to be multidimensional. I decided to write a memoir at 22 because I was tired of reading stories that didn't reflect my Africa. My greatest hope is that through my activism and work I can demonstrate how to shed light on the problems of many African countries without making it the only narrative that's picked up by the rest of the world. We have many stories to tell and not all of them begin and end with despair. We are artists, adventurers, leaders, and so much more. We are all valid and deserve adequate representation. We do not need western saviors, we need more young Africans to invest in Africa; not just financially but investing our time to learn our history, who we were before all the brainwashing. It is our duty to keep the true African spirit alive and it is ultimately the only way to save ourselves."

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Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

Freddie Harrel Is Building Conscious Beauty For and With the African Diaspora

Formerly known as "Big Hair Don't Care", creator Freddie Harrel and her team have released 3 new wig shapes called the "RadShapes" available now.


Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


The normalising of Black and brown women in wigs of various styles has certainly been welcomed by the community, as it has opened up so many creative avenues for Black women to take on leadership roles and make room for themselves in the industry.

Radswan (formerly known as Big Hair Don't Care), is a lifestyle brand "bringing a new perspective on Blackness through hair, by disrupting the synthetic market with innovative and sustainable products." Through their rebrand, Radswan aims to, "upscale the direct-to-consumer experience holistically, by having connected conversations around culture and identity, in order to remove the roots of stigma."

The latest from French-Cameroonian founder and creator Freddie Harrel - who was featured on our list of 100 women of 2020 - has built her career in digital marketing and reputation as an outspoken advocate for women's empowerment. On top of her business ventures, the 2018 'Cosmopolitan Influencer of the Year' uses her platform to advocate for women's empowerment with 'SHE Unleashed,' a workshop series where women of all ages come together to discuss the issues that impact the female experience, including the feeling of otherness, identity politics, unconscious bias, racism and sexism.

And hair is clearly one of her many passions, as Freddie says, "Hair embodies my freest and earliest form of self expression, and as a shapeshifter, I'm never done. I get to forever reintroduce my various angles, tell all my stories to this world that often feels constrained and biased."

Armed with a committee of Black women, Freddie has cultivated Radswan and the aesthetic that comes with the synthetic but luxurious wigs. The wigs are designed to look like as though the hair is growing out of her own head, with matching lace that compliments your own skin colour.

By being the first brand to use recycled fibres, Radswan is truly here to change the game. The team has somehow figured out how to make their products look and feel like the real thing, while using 0% human hair and not negotiating on the price, quality or persona.

In 2019, the company secured £1.5m of investment led by BBG Ventures with Female Founders Fund and Pritzker Private Capital participating, along with angelic contributions from Hannah Bronfman, Nashilu Mouen Makoua, and Sonja Perkins.

On the importance of representation and telling Black stories through the products we create, Freddie says, "Hair to me is Sundays kneeling between your mothers or aunties legs, it's your cousin or newly made friend combing lovingly through your hair, whilst you detangle your life out loud. Our constant shapeshifting teaches us to see ourselves in each other, the hands braiding always intimately touching our head more often than not laying someone's lap."

"Big Hair No Care took off in ways we couldn't keep up with," she continues, "RadSwan is our comeback.It's a lifestyle brand, it's the hair game getting an upgrade, becoming fairer and cleaner. It's the platform that recognises and celebrates your identity as a shapeshifter, your individuality and your right to be black like you."


Check out your next hairstyle from Radswan here.

Radswan's RadShape 01Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


Radswan's RadShape 02Photo: Courtesy of Radswan


Radswan's RadShape 03Photo: Courtesy of Radswan

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