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Africa’s LGBT+ community pays tribute to late writer as ‘beacon of light’

Binyavanga Wainaina was a champion of the LGBT+ cause in Africa

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Africa's LGBT+ community pays tribute to late writer as 'beacon of light'

From delivering a TED talk in a tutu to coming out in a country where homosexuality is deeply ostracised, Binyavanga Wainaina was a champion of the LGBT+ cause in Africa, campaigners said as they paid tribute to the Kenyan writer, who died this week aged 48.

Many praised the openly gay author, essayist, and campaigner as a role model who challenged widespread prejudices and emboldened young LGBT+ Africans to be open about who they were.

“I think Wainaina is the first African gay professional writer, and someone of such a high standing in society that has come out as openly gay,” said Clare Byarugaba, a human rights activist in Uganda.

Byarugaba said Wainaina’s example provided encouragement to young LGBT+ people in Uganda, where many face violence and discrimination.

“It’s a commonly held belief that you can’t amount to anything if you’re LGBT,” said Byarugaba, who works with the independent human rights group Chapter Four Uganda.

“I can give them as an example and say, here’s one person, who is African, Kenyan, East African who is gay and accomplished, and recognized all over the world and has made it within his craft –and you can also make it like him.”

Hajia Yariya, a gay woman in Ghana – where LGBT+ people still face discrimination – said reading an interview in an African newspaper in which Wainaina said being a gay African man was not a big deal had given her “goosebumps”.

“I became very proud of who I am and I admired his fearless being a lot from that day onwards,” she said.

“I can boldly say that he encourages the LGBTQI people in every part of Africa, especially me, because reading his article created a shift in my mind and whole being as a queer woman,” she added.

Wainaina came out as gay in 2014 – a major step in Kenya, where homosexuality remains a taboo in many circles and gay sex is illegal.

Kenya’s Supreme Court is due to rule later on Friday on a challenge to that law, which campaigners say violates the country’s progressive 2010 constitution guaranteeing equality, dignity, and privacy for all citizens.

Many Christian and Muslim groups support the law, however, and the attorney general has argued decriminalizing gay sex could lead to legalising same-sex marriage.

Fellow author and friend, Frankie Edozien said Wainaina was “a beacon of light” who “was not going to cede his right to be an African and a gay African anywhere on the continent”.

That included the famous TED talk – delivered in a lilac jacket and bright pink tutu – in 2015, the year after he came out.

“If people like him were silent, what is then the hope for the baker, the tailor, the mechanic who is LGBTQ out there?” the Nigerian-American author told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from New York.

Same-sex acts are illegal in 32 African countries and Edozien said intimidation, fear of arrest and stress had led to a high incidence of mental health problems among LGBT+ Africans.

“We are having a very, very hard issue with mental health issues, suicide, attempted suicide,” he said.

“For many people Wainaina’s life pulled them back from the brink, allowed them to see that there can be another way. It allowed them to see that the choice is not always darkness, not always misery.”

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Iddris Sandu, the 21-year-old expert behind Instagram, Snapchat and Uber

At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library

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Iddris Sandu speaks onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp

During his days in high school, 16-year-old Iddris Sandu created a mobile software that caught the attention of the U.S Former President Barack Obama. This got him an invitation to the White House where the honorary Presidential scholar award was bestowed upon him. The 21-year-old talented guru who is currently based in Los Angeles has completed many phenomenal feats, one of which includes building algorithms for Uber, Instagram and Snapchat which has given them the repute they have today.

At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library for a period of two years. It was there he got an internship offer from a designer who worked at Google at the company’s headquarters. He had his first encounter with programming at the age of 13, alongside the first-ever Google Blogger, Google Plus and a host of others. Sandu was still determined to affect the world around him positively and at age 15, he built an app that students at his high school used to get directions to their classrooms.

He considers himself a cultural architect and aims to create a level playing ground between Silicon Valley and the younger generation of colour. He was given birth to and raised in Harbor City, California by his Ghanaian parents. He recalls an unforgettable and mortifying experience he had at the age of 8, while on a trip to Ghana with his dad during an interview with Oxford University’s Music and Style Magazine.

Iddris Sandu attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles
Iddris Sandu attends Beautycon Festival Los Angeles 2019 at Los Angeles Convention Center on August 11, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Beautycon/AFP

He revealed that on the fourth day of the trip, he abandoned him in a village, took his passport and came back to the States. He further added how he was abandoned and was only able to get in contact with an NGO after almost nine months, it was with the help of this NGO that he was able to travel back home. It was on his return to the U.S that the first-ever iPhone was unveiled and this propelled his journey into the world of technology.

According to him, he was greatly inspired and thought – this device is going to change the world. The iPhone was so highly regarded because for the first-time regular consumers developed for other consumers. He explained that in earlier times, you had to have work experience for a few years at a tech company for your offer or input to tech or creation of an app to be regarded at all. Apple conquered that problem and he knew that was the future.

Sandu gained recognition far and wide inadvertently from this. It led to him being invited to a meeting with former President Obama. During this period, he wrote an algorithm that he sold to Instagram and later became a consultant to Snapchat and Uber respectively. He created for Uber, an Autonomous Collision Detection Interface software for self-driving cars. He left big companies in the tech industry with the purpose of bridging the gap between the ignorant and knowledgeable. He further went on to the need for invention and creativity among youngsters like himself.

Sandu believes that information is one of the various things that keep people divided. You must think on a more advanced level in order to become a creator rather than a consumer. He posits that people of colour, in particular, are more likely to be consumers than creators; he further went on to say it is hard to make a difference in the society when you are a consumer rather than a creator. 

Iddris Sandu poses onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp
Honoree Iddris Sandu poses onstage at the Culture Creators 4th Annual Innovators Camp; Leaders Awards Brunc.h Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Culture Creators/AFP

Sandu says he has been trying to change the narrative and he has experienced some success doing this. Upon meeting the late rapper Nipsey Hussle at a local Starbucks in 2017, Sandu and Nipsey were able to transform an abandoned store into the Marathon Clothing Store. All these happened while Sandu encouraged the study of STEM subjects in schools and at higher levels. According to The New York Times, the smart store offers exclusive music and other content to customers who have downloaded an app. The store drew its overall makeup from Nipsey’s cultural influences and Sandu’s solid background of tech and design. It attracted many big cultural icons such as Russell Westbrook, Vegas Jones of Roc Nation, among others along with many journalists.

In an interview with CNBC, Sandu said the store has helped him bridge the gap between culture and technology, and would love others to do the same. During the interview, Sandu expressed that we are in the digital age and we are constantly exposed to content instantaneously. He also said that more focus and attention should be placed on the more pressing issues affecting society and capitalize on that.

CNBC gathered the information that the genius is set to partner with Kanye West and Jaden Smith on some future businesses, clothing lines and disaster relief projects in 2019. Sandu has also partnered with Kanye West after he succeeded at creating his own music album whose sonics and instrumentals were created in just 3 days. Sandu is also working on a book that will discuss innovators such as Kanye West; Robi Reed, a casting director; and Edward Enninful, the editor of British Vogue.

Sandu is undoubtedly on his way to becoming a leader for the next generation of influencers and entrepreneurs; considering his passion to use all his connections to empower young people in America and to make a positive impact on the community around him.

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Ethiopian youths “pimp out” jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture

Beetles became a common sight in Addis Ababa under former Emperor, Haile Selassie

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Ethiopian youths "pimp out" jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture
Ethiopian painter Robel Wolde, 25, poses in front of his pimped Volkswagen Beetle during an interview with AFP, in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2019. - Love for the Beetle in Ethiopia goes back decades and is rooted in both economics and nostalgia. Volkswagen is hoping to capitalise on this goodwill. In January, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ethiopian government to set up a domestic auto industry, including an assembly plant. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

When Robel Wolde bought a beat-up 1967 Volkswagen Beetle from a friend for 50,000 Br Ethiopian, it marked the start of an extensive restoration he’d plotted for years.

The 25-year-old Ethiopian painter quickly went to work. 

He installed new grey leather seats, applied black stripes and decals along the orange-and-blue exterior and hired a metalworker to fit oversized headlights to the front bumper. 

Two months and an additional $1,000 later, Robel’s vision was complete. 

And with that, he joined the growing number of young Ethiopian drivers giving the Beetle — which has long occupied a hallowed position in the nation’s car culture — a 21st-century upgrade. 

Some of this restoration work is inspired by shows like the old MTV hit “Pimp My Ride” — “pimped out”, American slang for customised vehicles, has been adopted in Addis Ababa.

But love for the Beetle in Ethiopia goes back decades and is rooted in both economics and nostalgia. 

Volkswagen is hoping to capitalise on this goodwill. In January, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ethiopian government to set up a domestic auto industry, including an assembly plant.

Regardless of what comes of this project, Robel says the Beetle’s popularity will endure. 

“Most of the time, Beetles are driven by old people,” he said, leaning on the bonnet of his car near one of Addis’ busier roundabouts.

“But when they are custom and pimped like this, they are a fashion statement for young people.” 

The ‘car for everyone’ –

Ethiopian youths "pimp out" jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture
Ethiopian mechanic Kaleb Teshome, 29, poses in front of his pimped Volkswagen Beetle during an interview with reporters, in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2019. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

Initially developed in Nazi Germany as an instrument of propaganda, the origins of the Volkswagen Beetle “people’s car” date back to 1938.

Beetles became a common sight in Addis Ababa under former Emperor, Haile Selassie, who ruled for more than four decades beginning in 1930. 

In 1974, when the communist Derg regime removed him from power, Haile Selassie was famously forced to duck into a Beetle before being escorted away from his palace. 

Decades later, Beetles remain ubiquitous, in part because exorbitant taxes make buying new cars impossible for many. 

Yet, it’s clear that the cars also have sentimental value. 

When the Ethiopian-American novelist Maaza Mengiste sees one, she says she is reminded of the pale blue Beetle her grandfather drove — the same car that took her to the airport when she left the country as a young girl not long after the Derg came to power.

“I associate that car with Ethiopia, with growing up there and all the happy memories I have,” she told reporters. 

Last year, Mengiste started posting pictures of Beetles on Twitter, using the hashtag #BeetleEthiopia.

Ever since, Ethiopians from a range of backgrounds have been posting photos of their own, sometimes offering equally personal memories. 

“There was something about a Volkswagen that cut through social lines,” Mengiste said. 

“It was a car for everyone. You could be looking for some form of stability, and you would manage to buy a Volkswagen and that was your step into an upwardly mobile but not extravagant social class.”

‘I pimp all of it’ –

Ethiopian youths "pimp out" jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture
Ethiopian painter Robel Wolde, 25, sits inside his pimped Volkswagen Beetle, in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2019. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

Like Mengiste, Kaleb Teshome, a 29-year-old mechanic, has been riding in Beetles all his life. 

For decades, his family has owned a garage that specialises in fixing up the cars.

Now, Kaleb works alongside his father at the garage, where more than a dozen Beetles compete for space on a tiny dirt lot, with others lining the nearby road. 

Many of the Beetles have been brought in for standard tune-ups. 

But every few months, Kaleb is asked to do the kind of custom work worthy of “Pimp My Ride,” a show he still watches online even though it was cancelled more than a decade ago. 

“I’ve known the cars since my childhood. I know what they need,” he said. 

“It could be paintwork. It could be big tyres. It could be a sound system. I pimp all of it.”

One recent morning, he showed reporters his own “pimped-out” Beetle, a shiny green-and-black 1972 model with massive tyres that would look more at home on a truck.

“When I drive it on the street,” he said, “even people who drive luxurious cars say ‘Wow.'”

‘Part of history’ –

Ethiopian youths "pimp out" jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture
Elias Wondimagegn sits inside his Volkswagen Beetle car while the lettering on the window reads ‘I love my Volkswagen, don’t touch my car’, in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2019. (Photo by MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP)

Whether “pimped-out” or not, the Beetles of Addis Ababa seem destined to become collectors’ items. 

In July, Volkswagen marked the end of the Beetle’s around eight-decade run by launching a limited, 65-unit “Beetle Final Edition” at its factory in Puebla, Mexico. 

For Robel, the painter, the news was further validation of the investment he’d made in his own car.

“If production of the Beetles has stopped, that means we have a treasure,” he said.

“They will become part of history. That is their fate, so I think I am lucky. Even if I get a really good offer, I don’t think I will sell.”

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“Okada” Wars: How Nigeria’s Uber-style motorbikes are competing for Lagos routes

First to launch was Gokada in 2018, pioneering an Uber-style system for two-wheeled transport

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"Okada" Wars: How Nigeria's Uber-style motorbikes are competing for Lagos routes
ORide driver arrives on motorbike taxi to attend meeting at company headquaters, Ikeja in Lagos, on August 19, 2019. - A growing number of ride hailing services have stepped into the chaos -- bringing order to the "okada" motorbike taxis that have long whizzed perilously around Lagos. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Banker Yemi Adegbola used to leave his home in Lagos before 4 am each day, but would still arrive late to work because of the notorious traffic in Nigeria’s biggest city.

Now, he says he has “dumped his car” for one of a raft of new motorbike ride-hailing apps that developers hope can speed up journeys for the roughly 20 million residents of the economic capital. 

For years, the jams — known locally as “go-slows” — have been a nightmare for Lagosians. 

Potholed roads, reckless driving and too many cars have helped turn the daily commute into an ordeal that often lasts for hours. 

People miss appointments and business suffers as one of Africa’s largest markets grinds to a standstill.

"Okada" Wars: How Nigeria's Uber-style motorbikes are competing for Lagos routes
Regular motorcycle taxis “okada” queue for passengers without helmet or kits for safety unlike Uber-style branded motorbike taxis in Lagos, on September 4, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

READ: Facebook to curb fake news using Yoruba and Igbo languages

Sensing an opportunity, a growing number of ride-hailing services have stepped into the chaos — bringing order to the “okada” motorbike taxis that have long whizzed perilously around Lagos.

First to launch was Gokada in 2018, pioneering an Uber-style system for two-wheeled transport that had already been successfully rolled out by firms elsewhere.

It has since been followed by other operators like Maxokada and ORide — and the competitors are looking to overtake each other with better technology, lower prices and more services.

‘Open market’ –

Before these startups, Lagosians in a hurry had to put their faith in the army of unregulated “okada” riders weaving hazardously through the traffic.

Often untrained and unfamiliar with the city, they were seen as dangerous and blamed by the police for a rise in petty crime.

The authorities clamped down and in 2012 banned the 100cc bikes from 475 roads and highways around the city.

This year, some 3,000 motorcycles were impounded and destroyed for violating the restrictions, police said.

The ride-hailing apps provide a striking difference. 

Their drivers are decked out in bibs and helmets in company colours, carry safety kits with them and have more powerful bikes that can make longer trips. 

ORide drivers park motorbike taxis to attend meeting at company headquarters, Ikeja in Lagos, on August 19, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Passengers are charged an Uber-style tariff, and no longer have to resort to haggling each time they hail a ride.

READ: MTN Nigeria launches mobile money transfer service

A traditional “okada” ride can cost between ₦50 and several hundred naira — depending on the distance, area and the mood of the driver.

New entrant, ORide kick-started its services in May and is looking to tap into the abundant opportunities with 3,000 trained drivers. 

The firm — part of the OPay online payment service — is looking to expand operations as part of a $50 million push and already works in six other cities in Nigeria.

“It’s an open market in which everybody has something to offer. There’s so much to cover in Nigeria,” Iniabasi Akpan, OPay country manager, told reporters. 

Unlike other players which allow users to hail a ride both online or on the streets, passengers can only pay via the OPay app, developed by Norway’s Opera Software.

The firm has comprehensive insurance that covers both riders and passengers and secures its drivers with asset financing contracts that ensure they pay back the cost of their new bikes in 18 months.

Bumps in the road –

Overall, the two-wheeler taxi market is forecast to reach $9 billion worldwide by 2021, according to India-based Tech Sci. 

But it has not been all smooth riding since the apps launched.

Accidents remain unavoidable in the confusion of Nigeria’s roads, online apps have faltered, drivers have looked to inflate fares and corrupt officials still prey on road-users. 

Gokada in May announced over $5 million in new funding and said it hoped to branch out into other forms of transport and eventually push outside Nigeria.

"Okada" Wars: How Nigeria's Uber-style motorbikes are competing for Lagos routes

But last month, the firm shut down for two weeks after its chief executive, Fahim Saleh encountered some of the navigational problems when a short journey ended up taking much longer. 

The driver he ordered took 15 minutes to pick him up, admitted he wasn’t using GPS and then set off on a circuitous route to the destination.   

READ: Sierra Leone to launch National blockchain Identification system

“How could I be the CEO of Gokada, the company that pioneered motorcycle ride-hailing in Nigeria and be experiencing this?” Saleh wrote in an online post. 

“I told the pilot to pull over to the side of the road, I would hop over the median and wait for an Uber. ‘This is what it has come to,’ I thought.”

The disappointment chimed with the gripes of some Nigerian users who have complained of navigation problems while using the various apps and accuse drivers of deliberately taking longer routes to increase fares.

Firms have sought ways around the issues.

Gokada re-launched its 2.0 service with a fresh fleet of bikes after giving drivers more training and incorporating features like helmets with inbuilt mobile headsets.

ORide has a monitoring unit set up to track its drivers. 

Despite the bumps in the road, riders told reporters the apps were helping them bolster their business and offering a key lifeline.

"Okada" Wars: How Nigeria's Uber-style motorbikes are competing for Lagos routes
Opay workers sit to monitor riders in the field at the company’s control room, Ikeja in Lagos, on August 30, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

“This scheme has taken many out of poverty by creating jobs,” ORide driver Johnson Onipede told reporters, sitting on his light green bike as he waited for his next ride.

Onipede said his main headache remained one familiar to all Lagosians — venal local thieves.

He said riders needed help getting small gangs of thugs, known as “agberos” or “area boys”, to stop their extortion and harassment.

“Both the government and company should help us to stop the agberos and area boys because they are making life unbearable for us.”

READ: The brain behind West Africa’s premier smart card manufacturers

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