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African Voices: Reclaiming the Mouthpiece

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Photo by Matthew Spiteri (Unsplash)

When Sudan rose to protest against long-serving president and western foe Omar al-Bashir earlier this year, an enclave of South Yorkshire staged one of the world's largest solidarity marches, almost matching similar events held in London.

Sheffield Live TV cameras were on hand to film for its nascent weekly TV show, African Voices. Of the Sudanese protesters showcased, formerly imprisoned and now exiled opposition politician Widda Abdalla was a key organiser, as was Allia Adam, a young woman born in Sheffield to Sudanese parents. Supporting the Sudanese-led protests was a contingent of local allies and organisations like South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG).

From lamenting the lack of food and energy in their country to demands for regime change, the resolve of the Sudanese diaspora community was to soldier on and respond in sync with their families at home. The faces of the protestors in Sudan and Sheffield were those of women and youth, with many in Sudan killed by the military while fighting for the cause. This image defies the stereotype that predominantly Muslim and black African nations are exclusively oppressive to women, who are considered passive in political agency. Unlike coverage of recent anti-regime protests in Catalonia, Hong Kong, Venezuela and France, the international community was silent on the Sudan uprising, despite the International Criminal Court's warrant for the arrest of Bashir, issued in 2009 for crimes against humanity.

African Voices [...] harnesses the power of the proverbial 55th African country

British-Sudanese, like most of Africa's diaspora in South Yorkshire and across the globe, have a history of being professional migrants, business owners, academics and asylum seekers. While the latter demographic attracts regular negative political and social visibility in mainstream media, billionaire philanthropists like Mo Ibrahim and members of the UK's Sudan Doctors Union, which led the UK diaspora's call to action, don't get their deserved spotlight. Humanising their substantial contributions to society would offer a counter-narrative to the impersonal, faceless, linear depiction that is so often perpetuated.

To mitigate the absence of platforms that speak to both their comfortable and uncomfortable truths, the Middle East successfully established Al Jazeera. Here in Sheffield, African Voices Platform, the organisation behind the African Voices TV show, harnesses the power of the proverbial '55th African country', the diaspora, in addressing the increasing information gap about the continent and contextualising this within the UK. The significance of this is that Sheffield has created this platform, not London.

In the first episode of African Voices, Sheffield-based journalist of Sierra Leone descent Baillor Jalloh and Zimbabwean academic and politician Dr Nkululeko Mkastos Sibanda tackled Donald Trump's "shithole countries" comments, made in reference to the predominantly black African and Caribbean nations that some migrants to the US came from. Activist Maxine Bowler and historian George Ben Anthony served as guests, providing a rare platform for a televised, African-led analysis of an issue that directly affected Africans on the continent and here in Sheffield.

Almost two years since its establishment, African Voices has hosted politicians, academics, business leaders, authors and artists. Highlights have included coverage of the first SoAfrica Festival held at the Crucible and Professor Afua Twum-Danso Imoh showcasing a new children's book club which introduces literature by African authors to Sheffield's young people.

African Voices is hosted by Baillor Jalloh, Nkululeko Sibanda, Tchiyiwe Chihana, Enoch Karimba and Paul "Sweet" Lawrence, trustees of African Voices Platform. It airs on Sheffield Live TV every Wednesday at 8:30pm and YouTube from 9:30 pm.

Tchiyiwe Chihana

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