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Photo by Simon MAINA / AFP) (Photo by SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images

Kenya's Speaker of the National Assembly Justine Muturi (L) looks on as Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan (R) addresses a joint Parliament session of Members of Parliament and Senators in Nairobi on May 5, 2021.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan Makes Amends With Kenya

President Samia Suluhu Hassan has visited Kenya to mend relations which were severed during the late John Magufuli's mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tanzania's first female head of state President Samia Suluhu Hassan has reportedly made amends with Kenya. This, after Kenya had closed its entry point to the neighbouring country during the late President John Magufuli's mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hassan visited Kenya earlier in the week where she presented her address in Kenya's parliament and followed mask-wearing protocol throughout her entire two-day visit. President Hassan's move marks a political breakthrough for the two countries after Magufuli's persistent COVID-19 denialism.

Read: Tanzanian President Announces New COVID-19 Task Force

According to the BBC, Hassan's Presidential address in Kenya was in Swahili, a native language in both countries. The Tanzanian President eloquently made cultural analogies to drive home a point about the effectiveness of adhering to mask protocol.

"We're here everybody with masks on our faces - and when I see people with masks on faces it reminds me in our village, when we go and do the herding with the goats, we protect them [with a muzzle] from eating the crops on the way… so we cover them the same way we are doing today… we have to do it."

Hassan's first initiative as President was to implement a special COVID-19 task force following the government's lack of initiative under Magufuli. Magufuli's denial and lack of proactivity against COVID-19 led to Kenya closing entry points between the two countries. Hassan continued to reemphasise East Africa's strong regional trade influence, and strength, by alluding to one of the world's greatest spectacle of the wildebeest migrating across the two countries seasonally. Her approach to mending and strengthening relations, between the two countries, came with some comical charm as Hassan played with her last name Suluhu and Kenya's president's name Uhuru Kenyatta. Suluhu meaning solution and Uhuru meaning freedom.

Hassan's address also touched on celebrating Kenya's cultural uniqueness. She commended the Kenyan parliament's milestone decision to have its proceedings in Swahili from November 2020 — despite widespread criticism that Kenya's Swahili is a diluted version of Tanzania's Swahili. The two-day trip was admittedly a success for reconciling Presidential relations.

Magufuli died on March 18, aged 61, following a two-week mysterious sickness. He had been re-elected for his second five-year Presidential term a few months before his death. Hassan, the former vice-president, was inaugurated on March 23 and took over the remainder of Magufuli's second five-year term.

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

Sungi Mlengeya Uses Her Art to Celebrate Tanzanian and Ugandan Women

Sungi Mlengeya discusses stylistic choices in her art, women as her muse, and her exhibition in The Africa Centre, London.

Sungi Mlengeya has spent the better years of her artistic life refining her visual aesthetic. Opting for minimalism and monochromatic colors, the Dar es Salaam-born artist tries to celebrate the women in her life, exploring every lived moment she shared with them and illuminating the powerful roles of these women to the growth of their societies. Her work often features women in movement, capturing acrobatic poses.

A career in the arts wasn't always apparent for Mlengeya, who is self-taught. After studying finance in university and graduating from Catholic University of Eastern Africa in 2013, she started a career in banking, while selling pieces of her artwork on the side. In 2018, she started working with a gallery and she has been a full time artist ever since.

In her new exhibition, titled (Un)choreographed, Mlengeya explores the essence of dance and the several ways it serves not just as an expression for women but as a means for women’s liberation. Speaking to OkayAfrica, Mlengeya discusses stylistic choices in her art, women as her muse, and her exhibition in The Africa Centre, London, which opened earlier this month and runs until July 24th.

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You switched from working in the bank to an artist. What motivated you to pursue art as a career?

I have always wanted to be an artist but I didn’t know how and when. It was just a pipe dream. I chose to study finance because I thought it would be a general knowledge I could apply in my personal affairs whether it was an art related business or any business or I could either get employed with it. I just felt it was general because I didn’t want something specific like an account which would limit me to a certain career choice.

As a child, were you so drawn to art?

Yes. I remember in kindergarten, we were made to draw people in our homes, and I drew my mother and my Aunty who was living with us, and I rushed home to show them the painting and my mother jokingly said, “this isn’t me.” I remember having this feeling which was so warm and it made me think I captured their essence in a way, even though it didn’t completely look like them, I just felt like it would be a drawing I would always remember. Over the years, from Dar es Salaam, we relocated to Serengeti — which is one of the largest national parks in Tanzania — my parents were wildlife veterinarians so we lived in the park for about 10 years.

There were no electric poles because of conservation purposes so we only had generator power at night so the days were so long because we couldn’t watch TV. We had to come up with other ways to fulfill the days. My mother had these magazines and they had craft sections, so my sister and I will always make crafts from those magazines. Everyday we would make something new from paper or just from cutting and fixing things together and in the evening, we would try out recipes. Most of my childhood was about creating things and I think that has contributed a lot to me becoming an artist because I find so much joy in doing all those things.

Sungi Mlengeya artwork

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

In your work, you’re always keen to document the lives of black and Tanzanian women? Tell me about it.

When I started painting, women were my first muse. I didn’t know why, it was a random decision. I decided to continue painting women as a way of celebrating the women in my life. I usually paint them with strong expressions because I want to inspire a feeling of strength, power and freedom to the women that I’m representing. These are Tanzanian and Ugandan women because these are the places I have a lived experience of and I’m so familiar with those around me which gives me the power to paint the women that I know.

When did you relocate to Uganda?

It was when my gallery invited me in mid 2019. In Uganda I decided to persist with using black and white color in my work. Back in Tanzania I also used the black and white color but I was also exploring other things. But in Uganda, I moved with consistency and my scale of work increased. I think that consistency could have happened anywhere. I’m not trying to insinuate that because of the change of environment. I mean it’s a journey, I keep experimenting with new directions and my art has progressed as well.

Is there any difference between the art scene in Tanzania and that of Uganda

I think it’s more vibrant in Uganda, the galleries here, like mine, are taking part in the global art scene, inviting artists and doing international exhibitions. For my country’s art scene, there is growth. It’s still budding and I’m keen on seeing the several amazing things they do.

Was your minimalist approach to monochromatic colors very intentional?

No, it was not. When I started I wanted to make a painting with a perfect background and I had no clue on what the background would be. So I started painting the face first and, when I finished, I really loved how it looked. There was a contrast of the dark skin against the white background and that was beautiful. It made the painting stand out. But overtime, I have come to attach meaning to it. For me, space means freedom because just deciding to continue to do that meant it was liberating to me as an artist. It helped me focus on what I cared about, which was the women in my art and I really didn’t care much about the background. I was just allowing myself to do what was liberating, and also the women I paint are also in a space where they are free to go about life doing things they want to do, be their true self without the limitations and cultural norms that hinder from pursuing a certain type of life they want.

Sungi Mlengeya event

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

Tell me about your artistic process?

My process is quite explorative, it begins with taking photographs of models. I tell them to pose a certain way or sometimes we get random poses and then I use the photographs to reference. Sometimes I play around with the photograph to add some trick here and there, so that the process is sort of playful. Before it was just turning the photographs into painting but now I play around with the photos so I can put more of myself into the creative process. After that, I use manipulated images for the paintings. Yeah, I think I’m embracing more playfulness because I feel art should be fun. Most times, I don’t plan each painting, I don’t always get the theme but in the process I just relate more meanings to it.

Is your art keen on liberating women in Tanzania against social norms?

When I began, that wasn’t the motivation. It was just creating and expressing myself freely but I guess that is one of the things that adds on how people perceive my work. And that has a bit influenced me to continue focusing on women because I’m so keen on seeing a society where women are treated better. Being able to use my art to speak out that message is very apparent for women, it’s a lovely thing but it’s a secondary reason.

Sungi Mlengeya artwork

Photo Credit: Nigel Glasgow

Tell me about your exhibition ‘(Un)choreographed’

So I love to dance. I feel so good when I dance. I feel like I’m always dancing because when a good song comes up, I will be the first person to stand even though in nature I’m a bit shy and quiet. I have been doing several photoshoots for various works but in every shoot, I end up having some dance poses. I was looking for a theme and a friend of mine told me, “Why don’t you do something about dance, you are always dancing anyway” and it sounded like a good idea. So I brought together all those photographs from previous years and then did some shoot relating to dance and made several paintings from these photographs.

The exhibition is acknowledging the dance moments in my life and then hoping to inspire the viewers to take a moment to celebrate life with dance. I can also relate to dance in real life because my dancing take up spaces and in life we need space for ourselves, space for autonomy to make our decision and I think it’s a basic right. I also relate the movement in dance to a movement in life, taking actions in whatever that you think is important like being committed to your steps despite society. Yeah— so I think I relate those things to dance. Also, there is an idea that a super woman should take care of children, have a job, have a side hustle to make money, do domestic work and all these things but you know, we also need to relax, so it’s a reminder for women to be calm and enjoy life.


The 5 Best East African Songs of the Month (May)

Featuring Njeri, Rayvanny, Zuchu, Buruklyn Boyz and more.

Here is our selection of the hottest music that came out of East Africa in May.

For more of the best music, check out our Best of the Month music lists here and tap in for our weekly Songs You Need to Hear roundup. Check out our picks of the best Ghanaian songs of the month below.

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Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

'Proud and Unafraid' Details the Trials & Tribulations of Being Queer in Nigeria

We spoke with N’ihu Media founder Bayo Lambo about his documentary ‘Proud and Unafraid' and the power of using storytelling to uplift communities.

Despite the growing online visibility of Nigeria’s LGBTQ community, the reality of their lives is still dire. Shackled by the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) which criminalizes queer relationships in the country, and an overtly homophobic populace, queer people are forced to live a parallel life in the country far away from the reach of traditional news sources and media organizations.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives, meaning that the lives and activities of successive generations of queer people might be lost to the sands of time. However, thanks to the decentralizing effect of the Internet, new mediums are springing up that allow queer people tell stories of their lives and intricacies of dealing with being a member of the LGBTQ community in Nigeria.

Last year, N’ihu Media, a media agency based in Lagos, released a documentary touching on the lives of four queer Nigerians titled Proud and Unfraid. In the opening sequence of the documentary, culture writer Vincent Desmond, talks about the ways that being gay makes his perspective on life different. “Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” he says. “The way you meet people, the way you react to people, the way you compose yourself in public. It’s because you’re always aware that someone who one minute is nice to you could just suddenly flip the moment they are aware that this person might be saying.”

Across 27 minutes, the subjects of the documentary explore coming out, the impact of being queer on their inter-personal relationship, and the cost and burdens of identifying as openly queer in a homophobic country like Nigeria, giving a fantastic insight into how they navigate their lives and the harsh realities of being queer in Nigeria.

Over a Zoom call one busy midday week in mid-June, Bayo Lambo, the founder of N’ihu Media lays out his reasons for green-lighting the documentary, what the process liked like, and his dream for a more empathetic Nigeria.

How did you get the idea to do a documentary of queer experiences in Nigeria?

I’m the owner of N’ihu Media and what we do is that we cover everything Africa. It’s a Pan-African thing and we basically explore the lives of people on the continent and it’s impossible to cover life on the continent without covering the disenfranchised. We try to give an objective view of everything and the community is obviously a disenfranchised one.

The idea for the documentary was brought to me by Hannah Ajala. She’s a BBC reporter that we do stuff together and bounce ideas off each other. She knows the kind of stories I like and so she sends me story ideas from time to time but when she sent that one I said, “Yes, let’s do that, let’s see what we can find.”

Half of the time when I do stories, I do them because I want to know. When I was first thinking about doing this channel, I said something out by mistake and everyone turned and looked at me. I said I’d like to follow people to their homes and everyone turned around and was like, “What’s this guy saying?” But what I meant is that I want to see what everybody is going through. You see me today but you only see a part of me. By the time I shut down this laptop or whatever you don’t know what I’m going through, good or bad. So that’s the main reason we took on this story, for telling those hidden stories. We’re like a baby Vice.

When did you start your production company?

Officially, it was 2020. The first time I put a video out was during the pandemic, that was the first time I put out a production but I had started on the sports side of things. I was covering sports in anticipation of doing stories like this one. I’d done the Shitsuke Flag Football in Nigeria which is a fantastic thing. I played in the league so we put cameras there to get clips of the action.

The lack of documentation in Nigerian media about the LGBTQ community leaves a sizable hole in our national archives.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

Speaking specifically about Proud and Unafraid, how important was it to for you to bring representation of the Nigerian queer experience to the fore?

I feel like one thing you have to remember is that everyone is someone’s son, daughter, brother, wife, husband, or child and we need empathy. We need to see other people’s side. I can never understand what you’re going through unless you tell me. I can never understand your choices until I understand why or what set it off. So it is very important that we put ourselves out there and put these kinds of stories out. It’s very good to shed a light on other people’s realities. It’s not easy to see somebody walking down, saying she’s going on a date and when she gets there, there’s a bunch of people waiting just to beat her up. We just need to have more empathy and understand what people are going through.

Can you take me through the selection process for the people you interviewed?

Hannah has been following one of our interviewees and she tried to reach out to them as well as keep me in the loop. Interviewing somebody is one thing and interviewing someone that can convey their pain and their joy is a different thing. The most difficult part of it is getting people to speak out in public and, to me, a lot of these guys are brave and they’re not hiding their lifestyles or they don’t hide themselves. I don’t even call it a lifestyle, they’re not hiding themselves and hey have prominent pages on social media where they discuss their lives openly hence the topic, Proud and Unafraid. With all the setbacks and backlash they face, they’re still brave enough to come out and tell us their stories you know. Hannah found these people, we discussed and decided how best to showcase their stories. Usually, when Hannah says something, as long as we agree, we just go through with it and beat it up as we go.

Proud and Unafraid was produced by N’ihu Media.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

A segment of the documentary touches on the lives of the interviewees before being openly queer, what significance does that part of the conversation hold?

If you look at life in general, you can actually pinpoint every stage of your life. You can base your life on before and after something. During primary school, after primary school, during secondary school, after secondary school. You have to understand that these are people that are going through so much, hiding it was easy in one way but difficult in another way, coming out is easy in one way but difficult in another way. Those are the things I wanted to know: how was it when you’re hiding yourself? What was the pain when you’re walking around? One of the reasons I’m very happy to do this is because I have a friend that I grew up with — we went to school together — he moved down to England, and he’s finally come out.

One of the things he was saying was that how he would have to go somewhere where people were gay bashing or whatever and he would have to laugh at that. He would also go home and his parents would say things or preach to him. Basically, your friends and family are doing things as strangers and you just have to keep quiet, so you can imagine the pain to laugh at yourself or to insult yourself. Then when you come out, there is a different pain those same people castigate you also at the end. So, before and after always brings its own good and bad perspectives. With those perspectives, you want the audience to question themselves and ask if this person would have chosen this life willingly if it was so bad and difficult. I can’t fathom it when people say being queer is a choice. If it was a choice, nobody would be willing to sacrifice jail time or their life on the continent. When you put out a show like this you just want people to be able to see the whole picture and put themselves in people’s place.

Desmond Vincent writer

“Being gay is something that affects almost anything and everything you do,” culture writer Desmond Vincent said.

Photo Credit: N'ihu Media

One of the points raised by Desmond Vincent was that re-educating Nigerians is part of the way forward. Do you consider Proud and Unafraid a part of the re-education process or is it just a picture of what’s happening?

The thing is people go around life with this feeling that if it’s not me, then it’s OK and we can say this for so many things: the plight of Black people, of Africans, and anywhere you can find a disenfranchised community. We need everybody to start speaking up for someone or something. We need to be able to see human beings first. If consenting adults are walking around, we need to be able to see that they are human beings we are talking about. So, to me, I think that’s the most important thing the documentary is trying to say, that they’re your neighbor.

Do you think you would want to explore the realities of the LGBTQ community in other countries on the continent, do you think that might happen down the line?

It would be a blessing to. It will be fantastic, it’s something we would like to do, the only reason we haven’t been able to do it is that finding the right people to get these stories is not always easy. You have to remember that finding people to speak out is hard because this is Africa. There are certain laws that don’t cater to the community and that is the difficult part. But once we find people that are Proud and Unafraid, we will be there to hear their stories.


Tim Lyre Wants You to Worry Less

The talented afro-fusionist keeps the flag flying high for Nigerian alternative music with his debut album, Worry <.

Tim Lyre is part and parcel of Nigeria’s alternative music scene.

Nigeria’s alte renaissance began circa 2016, unearthing a fresh crop of music and artists which saw the previously underground movement bubble and burst into nationwide attention. The movement birthed fresh stars and sounds who introduced a new perspective of music to the pop-centric country. The likes of Odunsi “The Engine”, Nonso Amadi, Lady Donli, Prettyboy D-O, Fasina, Santi, Tomi Thomas, and many more all championed the alte movement. Singer Tim Lyre is a core member of that cohort.

For years, Tim has been active as a singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, also making contributions to the projects of his peers as a producer and as a guest artist. His debut album, Worry Less (stylized as Worry <) arrived this year to show that alternative music in Nigeria is very much alive and well.

Tim Lyre started working on Worry < in 2019. According to him it took about 2-3 years to record, mix, and master the entire project. “The name of the album is Worry Less, so I wanted the album to feel exactly how it sounds,” he tells OkayAfrica. “We had to make sure all the features were right, the transitions and everything was right. I really wanted to take my time to make sure the project was as good as it possibly could be and to represent what the project is about,” offering his explanation as to why the album took so much time to create.

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