People to watch: East Africa
Burundi: Francine Niyonsaba – Speedy sprinter
The 24-year-old runner is Burundi’s top world-class athlete. Her breakout performance was when she won the African championships in the 800m race at the age of 19 in 2012. She was the first Burundian athlete to win an Olympic medal, taking a silver medal at the Rio games in 2016. She also won the IAAF Diamond League 800m race in Lausanne in July of this year. Born in an isolated region of eastern Burundi, she is cheered as a national champion and has supporters from across the political divide in spite of the country’s recent conflicts. Her big rival on the global stage is Caster Semenya of South Africa.
Ethiopia: Teddy Afro – The return of a star
Pop music sensation Teddy Afro has kept away from the limelight since his controversial arrest and imprisonment a decade ago. On an album he released to coincide with the 2005 general election, several of his songs scolded the government for dividing people along ethnic lines in an effort to control the country. Although they are still popular on the streets of Addis Ababa, the songs are banned by public radio and television stations.
But the artist, whose real name is Tewodros Kassahun, is back in the limelight with the release of his new album, Ethiopia, which reached the top of Billboard’s world music chart. Government censors have not forgotten about him, however. Police stormed his album launch party on 3 September. The government is busy trying to quash several ethnic-based uprisings around the country, and has no time for critics.
Tanzania:Tundu Lissu – Fierce critic
He is arguably one of President John Magufuli’s fiercest critics. The September 2017 shooting of Tundu Lissu, the opposition CHADEMA member of parliament for Singida East, at his home in the capital may forever change the country, as attempts at political assassinations have been virtually unheard of. The opposition has called for an international investigation into the attack out of fear that the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi party is not an independent party, and the incident has already hurt the Tanzanian government’s reputation. The 49-year-old trained lawyer, who worked at the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team on human and land rights issues, is also the opposition’s chief whip in parliament. Lissu was arrested several times in 2017 for his steady criticism of the government and corruption, and the opposition has a lot riding on his fate.
This article first appeared in the December/January 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine