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Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Travel Diary: Antonio Thompson Gets To Know Guinea-Bissau—the Birthplace of Revolutionary Amílcar Cabral

"Guinea-Bissau represents, to me, the meaning of family and the distance we can travel when kindness is the language spoken."

In OkayAfrica's latest Travel Diary, Antonio Thompson links with us again sharing the faces and places he came across in Guinea-Bissau after reconnecting with his homeland Cape Verde for the first time.

During my final few weeks in Cape Verde, I attended a party where, by chance, I met a couple from Guinea-Bissau. I knew this was a good sign: just a few weeks prior, I purchased an inexpensive flight there and planned to stay for just one week. After a great conversation, they promised to put me in touch with someone named Baltazar who lived in Bissau, the capital city.

Up to that point, the most I knew of Guinea-Bissau was its shared history with Cape Verde: both countries were once colonized by Portugal; then led to independence by the revolutionary Amílcar Cabral, who was assassinated in 1973. Going to another country with my still-developing Portuguese and such little background information was exciting, if not naïve. Thus, the idea that someone would help me during my travels there was a relief.


As it later turned out, Baltazar, his wife Janete and their daughter Mila embraced me instantly with a selflessness, generosity, and kindness that one expects to receive from family. Their love for Guinea-Bissau and willingness to teach me all about the country's history, food and diverse ethnic groups and cultures inspired me to extend my trip from one week to one month. During this time, I traveled off the beaten trek, through much of the country's lush, green landscape and across its clay terrain. Most notably, I spent time in Bafatá—the birthplace of Cabral. With its storied past as a major center for commerce and trade, it is today a town whose residents are hopeful that the hollow streets will one day see good fortune and opportunity return.

This trip also coincided with the 2018 midterm election season in the United States—a time fraught with division and debate over borders, "belonging," and identity. As an outsider welcomed so heartily by strangers who brought me into their home to ensure my safety and comfort in an unfamiliar land, Guinea-Bissau represents, to me, the meaning of family and the distance we can travel when kindness is the language spoken.

Here are images of the scenes and wonderful people that I came across in Bissau and Bafatá.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

The Banjaqui family: Janete, Mila, and Baltazar. Through a chance introduction by a brother of Baltazar's in Cape Verde, this family became my family, showing me all over Guinea-Bissau, introducing me to its many customs, rituals, and foods, and reinforcing my hope in the kindness that the world can bring.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Sé Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Candelária, the center of Roman Catholicism in Guinea-Bissau. Located close to the Port of Bissau by the old city, it also functions as a lighthouse.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

​The town of Bafatá is the birthplace of Amílcar Cabral, the revolutionary of Cape Verdean descent who led Guinea-Bissau to independence. Here is the Port of Bafatá at dusk, where the Rio Geba meets the Rio Colufi.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Old architecture and ruinous structures abound Guinea Bissau, many that are adorned with PAIGC symbolism. PAIGC, a Portuguese acronym that translates to African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, is the political party co-founded by Cabral that led Guinea-Bissau to independence, which is still active today.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Entrance to the old marketplace in Bafatá. Once a vibrant, thriving center for trade, only a handful of merchants keep shop here.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Mr. Braima Fati, who was born and raised in Bafatá, continues to sell clothing and goods in the old marketplace and is one of only a few merchants. "I remember what it was like and I long for those days to return, which is why I continue to work here."

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Palm trees are a major crop in Guinea-Bissau, which grow in abundance on the property of Ms. Suncar Sambu Djata, a lifelong resident of Bafatá, pictured here with her daughter. This enables her to produce palm-derived products, including palm oil and palm wine.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Suncar's daughter Lidia, who tugged at the lanyard on my camera, prompting an impromptu photo shoot. With her bright, beaming smile and infectious laugh, she's a natural in front of the camera.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

The ladies of the Balde family are lifelong residents of Bafatá, and members of the Fula ethnic group, one of the largest in Guinea-Bissau. Pictured here are Djenabu (front) with her daughters Umo Cairo, Tulai, Assimau, and Laba.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

I met Inilza during my first morning breakfast at a bistro in Bissau, where she worked as a waitress, filling in the blanks of my still-imperfect Portuguese with English translations. Kind, helpful, and driven, her dream is to become a judge or lawyer, a goal that fuels a rigorous work and study schedule. She moved to Portugal for a 5-year law program just last month, her first time traveling out of West Africa that's bringing her closer to achieving that goal. "I miss my family terribly, but I know this is what I have to do in order to reach my dreams."

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Soccer is arguably the most popular past time in Guinea-Bissau. Pictured here are Ussumane and Abide—two incredible young soccer players that I met in Bairro D'Ajuda, a neighborhood in Bissau.

Photo by Antonio Thompson.

Roger, Danielson, and Saco: three best friends from Bandim, a neighborhood in central Bissau.

Antonio Thompson is a Harlem-based artist and photographer, with a passion for storytelling. His mission is to humanize unseen people and places. Follow him on Instagram: @antonio.thompson.

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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Nigerian Officials Drop Charges Against Naira Marley for Violating Coronavirus Lockdown Order

The Nigerian star was arraigned on Wednesday for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele.

Naira Marley has been pardoned by Lagos authorities, after being arraigned in Lagos for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele last weekend, which violated the city-wide lockdown.

According to a report from Pulse Nigeria, the "Soapy" singer and two other defendants—politician Babatunde Gbadamosi and his wife—were ordered to write formal apologies to the Government of Lagos, give written assurance that he will follow the ordinance going forward, and go into self-isolation for 14 days.

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Photo courtesy of Bebe Zahara Benet.

In Conversation With Cameroonian Drag Artist Bebe Zahara Benet: 'You Don't Stop Doing Your Work'

The U.S.-based Cameroonian artist speaks to us about her upcoming EP, Broken English, and how she's navigating the world of music amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Bebe Zahara Benet is three things: fierce. fabulous, and a force. For avid followers and fans of the reality show RuPaul's Drag Race, you may remember Bebe Zahara Benet as the winner of the inaugural season of the program back in 2009. Since then, she's gone on to star in TLC's Dragnificent and more recently, has been back in the recording studio working on her upcoming EP, Broken English.

Last week, she dropped "Banjo," the first single o the EP. It's a fun, energetic and uninhibited number that likens romantic pursuits to the sweet harmonies of the stringed instrument. Naturally, the accompanying music video is just as vibrant and light-hearted.

The Cameroonian drag artist moved to the United States when she was 19-years-old and has grown to see herself as belonging to two homes. She's put out a ton of music including including the EPs Face and Kisses & Feathers, as well as a number of singles including "Fun Tonite", "Get Fierce (Lose Yourself)" and "Starting a Fire." Currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she says that it's been two years since she's put out original music and it's time to give her fans what they've been asking for.

We spoke with Bebe Zahara Benet on lockdown from her home in Minneapolis, and got to hear more of what went into creating her upcoming project, the challenges of being an alternative artist from a conservative African country and how she's navigating the world of music during the coronavirus outbreak.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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