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Photos: Ethiopians Mourn Meles Zenawi


Following the death of Meles Zenawi last month, images of the late Prime Minister flooded Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Okayafrica contributor, griot, and photographer, 'kola, captured this ritual of remembrance in all of its incarnations across the city, from t-shirts to massive billboards. We caught up with 'kola to ask him about the sentiment surrounding the photo series he calls "Long Kiss Goodnight."

OKA: What inspired you to take this photo series?

'k: One day I woke up and heard the PM of Ethiopia had passed away and almost immediately, the same day, all these posters and billboards appeared all over the city. I was awed in 2 respects: the speed at which they were produced and the sheer amount of the posters all over the city. A more cynical person might wonder how long the posters had been in storage waiting to go up (rumors of his passing away had been floating around for about a month before the official announcement of his death). Seeing his face on all these posters brought back some memories of time I spent in Tunisia before the revolution. The then president's face, Ben Ali, was on posters and billboards all over the country, in almost a permanent fashion. One could not get away from it. In hindsight, I wish I had recorded those as I never fathomed there would be a revolution and that the posters and billboards would disappear overnight. Though PM Meles' posters and billboards are post his death, one cannot expect them to remain up forever. And there is something more soothing about Meles' face than Ben Ali's. An intellectual looking, likable uncle waving at you from a billboard on your way to a cafe. I wonder if he will become a pop or cultural icon in Ethiopia...

A photograph of Meles that I did not see on posters, much to my disappointment, was this one ... talk about iconic ... that's Meles plaiting his wife's hair ...

OKA: What was the public consensus about former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at the time of his passing? Did you get a sense that people liked him?

'k: I'm not an Ethiopian and attempting to gauge what Ethiopians really feel about issues can be tricky if you are a foreigner. One thing I have also learnt is that the general public is splintered into different groups. That said, from all I noticed, there was a general feeling of sadness from the nation. As can be imagined, this is the only leader most youths have known since birth and the first leader to die due to "natural" health reasons for awhile in Ethiopia. So there was a sense of sadness in the air in Addis Ababa for a lost leader who died young at 57, nonetheless. That said, his funeral is the first head of state funeral the country has had since 1930 so there was a sense of a special national grieving once his death was formally announced.

OKA: What is the text that accompanies the image of Zenawi?

'k: The text is in Amharic... the national language of the country. I do not read nor understand it but passerbys told me they include poetic accolades and farewell speeches, some in Meles' words.

OKA: Who sponsored the widespread image of Zenawi in public spaces?

'k: The widespread images were sponsored and put up by various groups including private enterprises like banks, public institutions like schools and government agencies and some by individuals. Most posters indicated who put them up. Not an uncommon practice, it seems. Newspapers in Addis are always full of sponsored condolences when some important personality dies or the like. The huge posters all over the city was a new level of that practice though.

OKA: Did you see any posters of Zenawi that had been vandalized?

'k: No, I did not come across such. Not saying there wasn't any but i did not see such in the Addis neighborhoods I ventured.

OKA: Have you seen former heads of state commemorated like this in other countries during your travels?

'k: Former heads of states, not really in my travels. Though I just got back from Accra and I could still see billboards and posters saying bye to the President Atta Mills who recently passed away. Not as heavily concentrated as in Addis. And new roads and building are being constructed in his name. Another country was in Kosova where the first President, Ibrahim Rugova, is still widely adored via posters in the country. Bill Clinton has a statute in Pristina, by the way, talking about former heads of states being commemorated. One thing I can say I am thankful for is that many African countries do not have much of a culture of erecting statutes for living and dead leaders. Posters and Billboards are more easily replaced.

See more photos from "Long Kiss Goodnight" in the slideshow below.

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

100 women 2020

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Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

We thought to delve into his hit-filled discography to bring you The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs.

This list is in no particular order.

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Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories.

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Stogie T Enlists Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and More, for ‘The Empire of Sheep’ Deluxe Edition

Stream the deluxe version of Stogie T's EP 'The Empire of Sheep' featuring Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and more.

Stogie T just shared a deluxe version of his 2019 EP The Empire of Sheep titled EP The Empire of Sheep (Deluxe Unmasked). The project comes with three new songs. "All You Do Is Talk" features fellow South African rappers Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai. New York lyricist appears on "Bad Luck" while one of Stogie T's favorite collaborators Ziyon appears on "The Making."

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