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The Nigerian drummer who set the beat for US civil rights



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Three years before Rosa Parks’ bus boycott, Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji protested against racial segregation in the southern states of America. He was part of a generation of Africans who played an important role in the fight for racial justice in the US – and continue to do so, writes the BBC’s Aaron Akinyemi.

“The leaders in the 50s and 60s provide me with a great deal of inspiration,” Nigerian-American activist Opal Tometi, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told the BBC.

When Martin Luther King Jr delivered his historic I Have a Dream speech during the March on Washington 57 years ago, around 250,000 people attended the event, including prominent figures such James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.

Among the guests was perhaps a slightly more unexpected figure – Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji.

Born in 1927 to a Yoruba family in Lagos state, Olatunji won a scholarship to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1950.

He became a pioneering drummer, releasing 17 studio albums, including his 1959 debut Drums of Passion, widely credited with helping to introduce the West to “world music”.

Despite Olatunji’s enduring musical legacy, which includes a Grammy nomination and compositions for Broadway and Hollywood, his civil rights advocacy is less well known.

“He was committed to social activism throughout his life,” says Robert Atkinson, who collaborated with Olatunji on his autobiography The Beat of My Drum, which was published in 2005, two years after his death.

“He really deserves to be remembered more for his role as a political activist in the US civil rights movement – before it was even a movement.”

Pride in African culture

As a Morehouse student, Olatunji encountered ignorance and stereotypes about Africa and strove to educate his fellow students about the continent’s music and cultural traditions.

He started playing African music at university social gatherings and gave drumming demonstrations at both black and white churches across Atlanta.

image copyrightOlatunji family

image captionBabatunde Olatunji moved to the US in 1950 to study and married Ammiebelle Bush in 1957

“Baba sparked a deep sense of pride among African Americans by strongly promoting images of African culture, which in a subtle but significant way, helped set in motion the currents of the early civil rights movement,” Atkinson says.

At a time of state-sanctioned racial segregation in the US, Olatunji quickly became acutely aware of racism, and began organising students to challenge so-called “Jim Crow” laws in the south.

In 1952, three years before Rosa Parks helped spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, Olatunji staged his own protests on public buses in the south.

On one occasion, he and a group of students boarded a racially segregated bus in Atlanta wearing traditional African clothes and were allowed to sit anywhere they wanted because they were not identified as African Americans, who had to sit at the back.

The next day, they boarded the same bus in their Western clothing and refused to sit in the back when ordered to do so by the bus driver. Olatunji and his friends continued to challenge segregation in this way despite the threat of prison.

“We started the protest quietly,” he later recalled of the incident. “We were part and parcel of the struggle for freedom in the early 1950s.”

Meeting Martin Luther King and Malcolm X

Olatunji’s widow, 89-year-old Iyafin Ammiebelle Olatunji, told the BBC that he was called in to “ease the tensions in various communities”, such as during the aftermath in 1965 of deadly riots in the predominately black neighbourhood of Watts in Los Angeles.

“He saw himself as a pan-Africanist who always reached out to unify Africans and African Americans,” she said.

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image captionBabatunde Olatunji attending an event in Harlem with Malcolm X to mark Nigeria’s independence from the UK on 1 October 1960

Olatunji became a president of the Morehouse student body, which led to him meeting many early civil rights leaders in the 1950s, including Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.

His involvement in the US civil rights movement was strongly inspired by the wave of anti-colonial resistance movements sweeping across Africa during the 1950s and 1960s – of which he was a part.

In 1958, he travelled to Accra to attend the All African People’s Conference organised by Ghana’s independence leader Kwame Nkrumah.

The conference brought together leading independence figures and delegates from 28 African countries and colonies to strategise their opposition to European colonialisation.

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It was also attended by influential African Americans such as Claude Barnett, founder the Chicago-based Associated Negro Press and Alphaeus Hunton, then secretary of the Council of African Affairs.

Professor Louis Chude-Sokei, director of African-American studies at Boston University, says there was an intellectual and social exchange between Africans and African Americans, some of whom were inspired by newly independent African states such as Ghana and Nigeria.

“Given that shared context of race and racial struggle, by the time we get to the civil rights movement, it’s not strange that African Americans and Africans are interacting culturally around issues of freedom and liberation,” he told the BBC.

Colonisation and segregation

In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr was invited to Ghana’s first independence day celebrations, and met Nkrumah. The meeting had a profound effect on King, who drew inspiration from Ghana’s anti-colonial struggle.

“Ghana has something to say to us,” King said in his first sermon upon returning to the US from Ghana. “It says to us…that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it.”
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBabatunde Olatunji was close to both Martin Luther King (L) and Malcolm X (R) – the pair pictured here at their only meeting in 1964

In the 1962 American Negro Leadership Conference, King drew a more direct comparison between colonialism in Africa and American segregation, saying the two were “nearly synonymous… because their common end is economic exploitation, political domination, and the debasing of human personality”.

Meanwhile, King’s counterpart Malcolm X embraced the anti-colonial uprising of the Mau Mau movement in Kenya, and believed adopting some of its tactics could help eradicate the Ku Klux Klan in the US.
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionHis daughters says Olatunji, who influenced many jazz musicians, had an amazing work ethic
He also met several African leaders to discuss the African-American civil rights struggle and received support in particular from Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere. In 1964, Nyerere helped Malcolm X convince African leaders to pass a resolution at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit urging the US to eliminate racial discrimination.

Malcolm X also interacted with Africans in the US, where he met Olatunji, who drummed at civil rights rallies at his request.

“He had a close relationship with both Martin Luther King and Malcom X,” Atkinson says.

“Baba was a bridge between the two approaches of the time: King’s was non-violent and Malcolm’s not so much sometimes.”

Intensity and passion

Olatunji gave several performances for the NAACP and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1960, he appeared on the civil rights jazz album We Insist! alongside playwright Oscar Brown Jr and Max Roach.

The intensity of my father’s performances, during which he exuberated his passion for his art, his message, and his fans always amazed me,” one of his four children, Folasade, told the BBC.

“He had an excellent work ethic which he instilled in his children and the people around him,” she said.

His eldest daughter Modupe added: “His work ethic was still evident until the end of his life.”

Their father died in 2003 one day before his 76th birthday. His legacy of music and activism continues to inspire successive generations, particularly contemporary Africans in America who draw on his example of bridging the continent with its diaspora.

“We have picked up the baton from a previous generation and we’re continuing to run the race that they started,” says Ms Tometi of BLM.

Olatunji’s biographer adds: “This is a perfect time for people to know about Baba. These demonstrations for justice are such a new and greater uprising of what he was part of 60 years ago.”

Related Topics

  • African-American Civil Rights Movement

  • Nigeria
  • Black interest
  • United States

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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