20 Ethiopians, Eritreans, Djiboutians, And Somalis You Got To Know About This Black History Month
Blackness comes in all forms in our world today, and we’re beginning to appreciate all of it. The Horn of Africa often gets overlooked unless you’re talking about pirates or refugees. In honor of Black History Month, here are 20 amazing Northeast Africans that have done great things for their country, their people, and the world.
Menen Asfaw was Ethiopia’s Empress and the other half to a powerful couple with Emperor Haile Selassie. Empress Asfaw worked heavily with Ethiopian women’s issues, and promoted female education through the founding of the first all-girls school for both boarding and day students. Her programs also sought to help disabled and low income Ethiopians. On top of doing all of this, Empress Asfaw even offered her crown to save Ethiopia from the Italian Occupation between 1936-1941. Menen Asfaw was a selfless, intelligent, and benevolent leader of the people.
Zera Yacob was known as “the greatest ruler of Ethiopia….” He is considered the father of Ethiopian philosophy. Yacob and his work questioned everything from physics to to epistemology to the existence of God. His work came at a time in which most history and philosophy was orally transmitted. To this day, philosophers and scholars analyze and interpret his documents to better envision Ethiopia and East Africa’s past.
Mesfin Woldemariam is a former professor, an intellectual, a writer, and most importantly a human rights activist. Wolderman has made it his mission to promote basic human rights in Ethiopia as well as reveal violations occurring throughout the country. Through his creation of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, he has shown the world and Ethiopians the issues and wrongdoings of the EPRDF. Woldemariam has helped Ethiopians understand their rights, and regain their individual power from the government.
Sophie Bekele is a badass Ethiopian woman that has taken the tech business to task in Africa. CEO Bekele has created CBS International and SbCommunications Network, both companies dedicated to providing better tech capabilities in both Ethiopia and Africa. She is also a leading member of the ICANN Council of GNSO, UN committees, African Information Society Initiative. CEO Bekele has also done amazing policy work that aims to bring Africa into today’s international competitive market through tech and the internet.
Legesse Wolde-Yohannes (pictured)/Aklilu Lemma
Legesse Wolde-Yohannes/Akililu Lemma both used their medical and horticultural skills towards stopping the fatal disease, bilharzia. Bilharzia has spread to more than 200 million across Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Despite lack of support from the medical community, Lemma and Wolde-Yohannes created new pathways for medical research through their own discoveries with endod. While Lemma died in 1997, leaving behind the Institute of Pathobiology in Addis Ababa University, Wolde-Yohannes has continued their work into the twenty-first century.
Semhar Araia has dedicated her career to changing the way Eritreans, East Africans, and their history, are treated and understood on an international landscape. This is seen through her work as the member of AiD’s (Africans in the Diaspora organization) member, a member of Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, and a consistent advocate and speaker on policy between the U.S. and Africa. Araia also created the Diaspora African Women’s Network which is an organization based on the premise of giving African women opportunities.
Haben Girma is an amazing Eritrean woman seeking more rights and visibility for people with disabilities. Girma is not only an advocate for people with disabilities, but she also is the “first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School,” as stated on her website. She has been named a Champion of Change by Pres. Obama and V.P. Biden. Check out her Tedx to hear her talk about her work and achievements.
Bahta Hagos was an important figure in Eritrea’s freedom from colonial rule. The commander-in-chief maneuvered important military tactics and plans that led to the Egyptians leaving Eritrea. Both his triumphant and unsuccess military campaigns against Italy led to the eventual Battle of Adwa that dashed any colonial expansion into Ethiopia. Without his efforts, Eritrea would not only have spent decades longer under colonial rule, but also Ethiopia would have been occupied and colonized.
As a member of the egalitarian Kunama people, Dehab Faytinga fought for the recognition and representation of Eritreans and the Kunama people. Faytinga became heavily involved in Eritrea’s political atmosphere by gaining extensive training and working for a government department to create the first Kunama radio program. Her work only continued as she was elected as a member of the National Union of Eritrean Women in the district of Tokombia.Since her days in the government, Dehab has become a singer/ambassador for her country. She has traveled the world spreading Eritrean poetry, instruments, music, and the Kunama language. She is also the first East African female singer to perform at 2000 Ma’ Africa.
Eritrea has produced some amazing athletes, but one of them has made some great strides in sport a you wouldn’t expect — ice hockey. Oliver Kylington is the first Eritrean to become a professional ice hockey player. Even though his career has just begun, he was considered the no. 1 pick amongst international hockey skaters in 2015.
The famous and well-known Djiboutian writer has given the world some amazing work. His books dive deep into Djiboutian culture and identity, and provides a voice for many in East Africa. Waberi’s books have transcended the Djiboutian framework, and have been translated into several languages as a result. Since moving to France in 1985, he has been awarded several prestigious awards like the Stefan-George-Preis in 2006. He has also been a successful academic, and currently is a professor at George Washington University.
Roble Olhaye was the longest-serving ambassador, functioning as Djibouti’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. He’s well-known for promoting a more positive international view of Djibouti, and helping relations between several countries. Olhaye was also known for his effort to put the people first when conducting his work. He was known as a wise mentor by many in the U.N. and its committees.
Sally Raguib/Yasmin Farah (pictured)
Yasmin Farah and Sally Raguib represented Djibouti in the 2012 Olympics. Sally Raguib is the only known Djiboutian judoka to compete in the Olympics at the mere age of 16. Yasmin Farah, on the other hand, was the first Djiboutian table tennis player to ever compete in the Olympic Games. These two women set a precedence for future Djiboutian women in sports. Recently, several Djiboutian girls have begun to play table tennis just like Yasmin.
Zeinab Kamel Ali
Zeinab Kamel Ali is the only Djiboutian female politician on record. She is part of the committee for the African Union’s Economic, and is a representative for East Africa on the Social and Cultural Council. Even though she doesn’t have any known images, Zeinab should be recognized for her achievements and work in Djibouti and elsewhere.
Houssein Omar Hassan
Houssein Omar Hassan is the first Djiboutian to compete in the Paralympic Games in 2012. Despite his severe injury and being last, Hassan finished the race and went down in Paralympic history as a legend. His determination and perseverance has inspired people all over the world to never give in when the going gets tough!
Said Sheikh Samatar
Said Sheikh Samatar was a renowned scholar and author in Somali and Northeast African Studies. He has been an outspoken voice for Somalis across the world, and has been a consistent scholarly source by every intellectual interested in the Northeast African region. His work has helped people across the world better understand the Somali experience through various discussions, journals, and documentaries.
Waabari was the most prolific and well-known musical groups in Somali history. The group traveled around the East to perform Somali music from the 1960s onwards. Waabari produced singers like Maryam Mursal, who went on to be the first woman to perform Somali jazz. Mursal wasn’t the only successful singer to come out of Waabari. The supergroup also produced Hassan Sheikh Mumin, Msgool, and much more. Without Waabari, Somali music and its international presence would never have been the same or as popular.
Afdhere Jama is one of the few openly Queer Somali Muslims to actively write on behalf of Muslim members of the LGBTQIA. He has written several books on subjects ranging from being gay in Somalia and Beirut to faith and queerness. He’s also directed several films highlighting the struggle of gayness, religion, and expression. Jama gives insight into the struggle of being Queer, Muslim, and Somali in today’s harsh world.
Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim
Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim are the founders of Maatano, an international fashion line with an equally global fanbase. The talented twins have incorporated their Somali and African sentiments with a New York City flare. Their growth from interns to global phenomenons has been inspiration to Somali fashionistas everywhere.
Sultan Yusuf Mahamud Ibrahim
Sultan Yusuf Mahamud Ibrahim was the longest reigning Sultan of the Geledi sultanate. His reign, lasting from 1798 to 1849, brought stability to Somalia, and created a boost in the ivory trade. His rule brought better relations with the sultanates of Oman, Wituland, and Yemen. Sultan Ibrahim serves as a bright spot for Somalia’s sultanate period and history.
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