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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# Joseph Okoh
What does Africa Day mean to Afro-Irish people living here today?
It’s a celebration of culture and a recognition of success, mixed with demands for better recognition and a reflection on what is happening in Sudan.

A CELEBRATION. AN exposure to beauty. A challenge to the stereotypes. A reason to highlight the successes and the positives. A moment to reflect on what is happening in Sudan. An opportunity to talk about integration. A chance to call for better representation. A reason to ask for the continent’s natural resources to be used properly. As good as excuse as any to dance. 

The ways in which people mark Africa Day are varied across the island. Today, Africa Day is back with various events taking place not just here, but around the world.

The annual celebration of the continent’s unity, cultural diversity and potential started in 1963 in commemoration of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (now known as the African Union).

To mark the occasion, The Journal spoke to some Afro-Irish on how important celebrating their African culture is and what the day means to them.

Michaela Nsangolo, Miss Congo Éireann

Last year, Machaela Nsangolo decided to enter for the first-ever Miss Congo Éireann. She thought it was a good way to connect with her roots. To her delight she won.

“It was an amazing experience and it felt great to win. Being Congolese is a blessing. I’m proud to be African and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she explains.

Michaela Nsangolo 1

Born in Kinshasa, Nsangolo has lived in Ireland since infancy, when her family moved to Dublin. The 25-year-old now works as a financial analyst while also building a music career.

“Growing up, my parents would speak Lingala to me and take us to a Congolese church. However, as I got a bit older, I withdrew from the Congolese community. But these days I just love being around my people and promoting our rich culture here.”

The Miss Congo Éireann was launched last November to unite people of Congolese heritage in Ireland and showcase the different talents within the community.

“Before the competition, I wasn’t really engaging with the Congolese community here, so being part of the contest has made me learn  lot more about Congo and Africa,” Nsangolo said.

“My family encouraged me to go for the contest and their support gave me the confidence to go all the way. Growing up, my parents did a good job at making us explore our Congolese side but Miss Congo Eireann made me appreciate the culture even more.”

Since moving to Ireland, Nsangolo hasn’t visited her country of birth. While she relishes the conviviality and sense of brotherhood Africa Day celebrations in Ireland brings, she says she can’t wait to be home again.

“I definitely plan to visit at some stage and I’m can’t wait for that to happen. When I decide, I’m going to spend a whole month. It would be great to meet many family members I’ve never seen before.”

And what does the Africa Day mean to her?

“For me, it’s a celebration of the things that make us unique. There is so much ethnic diversity yet many striking similarities between cultures. It’s something you don’t really have in other continents,” said Nsangolo.

Oghogho Omoregie, Security Officer

For Portlaoise-based security officer, Oghogho Omoregie, 30, Africa Day is “an exposure to the beauty of Africa and its people”.

“It’s a day to highlight the successes we are achieving around the world – in art, music and tech,” he says.

Originally from Nigeria, Omoregie has lived in Ireland for the past 12 years and has been involved in many Africa Day events in Laois.

This year’s celebration has been made more special with the arrival of a baby daughter to his family.

“I am married to an Irish lady and we just welcomed our fifth child – right in time for Africa Day,” he says. “I came to Ireland as a teenager to further my education but now I feel blessed to be building a beautiful family here too.”

Oghogho and family

To ensure that his children are familiar with their African heritage, Omoregie is teaching them his native Bini language, which is widely spoken by the Edo people in Nigeria.

“I’m a traditional person,” he adds. “I expose them to the Edo culture as much as I can. They know the different greetings when you wake up in the morning, the greetings after eating and the greetings they say to their aunties. They are adapting really well.”

Omoregie feels lucky to have a partner who embraces the culture too. “She’s learning how to cook Nigerian dishes too,”’ says Omoregie. “I’m still learning about the Irish culture and the cultural exchange is beautiful.”

Despite settling well in Ireland, Omoregie said he still misses home: “I miss the weather of course and I miss the street foods. The freedom to enjoy loud music in your neighbourhood, without worrying that you might be reported to the guards is something I still miss.”

And what is his African Day message?

“Integration. Let’s unite, respect different cultures and learn from each other. Africa has its challenges but there are many positive things about us too. People should stop the lame stereotypes.”

Liswa McDonald and China Soribe (Umoja Linn)

Liswa McDonald and China Soribe are talented entrepreneurs promoting the African culture through fashion and art.

Their e-commerce retail business named Umoja Linn was created “to share Africa’s diverse culture, art and style through a variety of ethically made pieces”.

‘Umoja’ means unity in Swahili while Linn is the Irish for ‘by us’.

“The name is a reflection of our Afro-Irish roots. Our business is about uniting African designers and making items accessible for Africans in the diaspora who are constantly looking for designs to represent their culture,” Liswa and China explains.

Liswa who is from the Zulu tribe in South Africa moved to Ireland in 2007. In the same year, China – a proud Igbo native came here from Nigeria.

The pair first met while studying in the University of Galway and connected through their mutual interest in fashion.

“Fashion is one of the ways I celebrate my identity. Growing up in Tullamore, we were one of the very few black families so it was almost impossible to get African pieces. When I moved to Galway for college, African students faced a similar challenge but that’s how Umoja Linn came about,” China said.

“Dressing is a fundamental part of who we are as a people,” McDonald adds. “It is unique and makes us stand out anywhere in the world. And I can say the same about our music and our food.”

AFRICA DAY 76 Sam Boal / Liswa McDonald and China Soribe Sam Boal / /

The pair has been named ambassadors for the Africa Day 2023 events hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and they are excited to be involved.

“Africa Day is all about celebration. We want to celebrate our food, music and highlight who we are. We are endowed with diverse cultural heritage and with that comes the beautiful prints and styles which us at Umoja Linn celebrate proudly and are honoured to share with the world. We also get a chance to highlight the economic potential that exists within Africa,” Liswa and China said.

So, what are their hopes for Africa?

“We want a better representation of the continent, but Africans should also change how they view themselves. Let’s improve and challenge each other to be builders and changemakers.”

Najwan El-Magboul, Community worker

Twenty years ago, Najwan El-Magboul left her career as an air hostess in Sudan to start a new life in Ireland.

“The Darfur genocide – perpetrated by the same generals responsible for the current war in Sudan forced me to leave. I sought asylum here and spent a year in Direct Provision,” she recalls.

Although things were very tough at the beginning, she has settled in very well in Limerick. Now an Irish citizen and armed with two masters degrees, El-Magboul has been actively involved in community work and have participated in many Africa Day events in the town.

She believes World Africa Day is important as it shows how positive and varied the continent is.

“I might be Muslim from Sudan and someone else might be Christian from another part of Africa but we always like to share love from where we come from,” she said.

“We might dress or speak differently but we our united in certain values. We have our problems but we are always happy. When an African takes to the dance floor, every other nationality steps back. That’s the energy we bring and it makes me really proud.”

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the current African Union.

It’s a significant milestone for Africa but El-Magboul says her mood has been dampened by the ongoing war in her country.

“The violence is constantly on my mind. We are all sad about the killings and are deeply concerned about our families who are experiencing displacement and malnourishment. The militia raided the home of my relatives the other day and they were forced to hide in the toilet with their baby. I’m fortunate they weren’t killed.”

While Africa is still grappling with social, political and economic challenges, El-Magboul points out that there are many reasons to be optimistic about its future.

“Most people now have the opportunity to get good education. There generation coming through are excelling in tech. There’s been a lot of advancement in music and arts. I believe that if our natural resources are properly managed, nothing can stop us.”

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