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A remarkable journalistic endeavor: In Portland, Maine, a rich story unfolds in the pages of a free newspaper serving the African diaspora

Editor Kit Harrison and publisher Georges Budagu Makoko run Amjambo Africa!, a free publication about the African diaspora and immigration

The Amjambo Africa! team — Georges Budagu Makoko, cofounder and publisher; Kit Harrison, cofounder and editor in chief; and Jean Damescène Hakuzimana, deputy editor and kinyarwanda translator — went over layouts at their co-working space at the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.Molly Haley for The Boston Globe

PORTLAND, Maine — She is the daughter of a celebrated Washington Post correspondent who wrote from New Delhi and Tokyo, seeking out truth and telling the essential stories of people’s lives.

And so, Kit Harrison continues to nurture the journalistic flame that burned so brightly within her father — the late Selig Harrison — an unflinching trait that’s embedded so deeply in her DNA.

It’s a passion shared, too, by Georges Budagu Makoko, who is the publisher of the newspaper that Harrison edits here called Amjambo Africa!

It’s a free publication about the African diaspora and immigration. And it’s intended for the eyes of newcomers to Maine with this lofty goal: to build a community by spreading information about its readership throughout Maine.


“We operate on chutzpah and brains and energy and teamwork,” Harrison told me when I visited her offices here the other day.

“I grew up abroad quite a bit with my journalist father. I also taught kids in the range of (kindergarten) through eighth grade and the focus for me was always international.

Kit Harrison, cofounder and editor in chief of Amjambo Africa!, looked at an old photograph of her father, the late journalist Selig Harrison.Molly Haley for The Boston Globe

“So, I was constantly trying to teach kids about what we all have in common around the world — and why we can live together peacefully if we try. And, so, this is an extension of that work.”

Yes, an extension of that work and an essential ingredient of the pages of Amjambo Africa!

It chronicles the efforts to curb hunger in Africa and the state of the forests of the Congo and the environmental challenges facing Burundian coffee farmers.

There are stories about efforts underway in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda to address mental health issues — and another one about a center that helps kids in Nigeria with autism.

In other words, real journalism for real people. News stories and opinion pieces for a readership thirsting for news about home here in their newly adopted land.


All of it done in seven languages: English, French, Kinyarwanda, Portuguese, Swahili, Somali, and Spanish.

And all of it delivered with a passion and common cause that enrich the lifeblood of great journalism everywhere.

Makoko first arrived in Maine in 2002 and thirsted for news about the Africa he had recently fled. He could find none. So, he set out to do something about it.

“When I came here,” he told me the other day, “I didn’t speak English at the time. I had to take English classes. After that, I was hired by a nonprofit organization that develops housing.”

The people for whom he provided housing wanted something else from him: help in navigating a bureaucracy without the language skills to do it.

“So I started thinking: What can I do to help these people?” he said. “What can I do to help them? I’m here providing housing and yet they need things other than housing. They need information about how to find their way in the system.”

Makoko had written a book, “Ladder to the Moon. A Journey from the Congo to America.”

It told the story of a growing up in a beautiful peaceful village surrounded by family — a life upended during the genocide in Congo and Rwanda.

“When I was writing my book, I thought that maybe that would give people some insight as to why people are coming here,” he said.


“But then my book was not enough. I started thinking maybe we can come up with something that will regularly inform the immigrants about resources that are around here, but also the whole community as to why people are coming here and what’s happening where they are coming from.

“And that’s where the whole idea of the newspaper came from. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to start a newspaper. I was thinking I have this idea. And I have zero background in journalism.”

But Harrison did.

And so a friendship and a critical collaboration and a partnership were forged.

The first issue appeared on April 1, 2018, the product of a year’s worth of planning and answering critical questions: Who’s going to read it? Who’s going to advertise in it? How is this all going to work?

“You can’t print for free,” Makoko said. “That’s an obvious cost that was there. We needed somebody to design the paper. Those are skills that we didn’t have. Kit was very good in writing and doing interviews and coming up with articles — but also translation.

“You’ve got to understand that this newspaper is published in (multiple) languages.”

All of that is a tall task. A monumental and important undertaking.

And, yet, they have done it.

It exists, telling stories about conflict in Ethiopia and about how to stay warm when Maine’s temperatures dip to dangerously low levels.

In other words, a rich journalistic smorgasbord that makes any newspaper vital and interesting — and alive.


“We’re about to celebrate our fifth anniversary,” Harrison told me. “And we’ve grown. We’ve always been small and we still are. But within that smallness there’s been quite a lot of big reception and a lot of interest.

“We’re in it for the long haul. But it’s not easy. It’s very challenging to get the finances in place to do what we want to do, which is big stuff.”

Big stuff. Telling the essential stories of a rich and diverse readership. It’s the passion and the mission of any publisher with a drop of ink in their veins.

“The word Amjambo — by the way — has meaning which you might want to know,” Harrison said. “It means two things. It’s a greeting. But is also means W-O-R-D. Word.”

It’s a word that — like her father — has become central to who she is and what she does.

“You try to work for the common good, using whatever skills and attributes you happen to have,” she said.

“The whole thing with having grown up abroad is huge. So all of that together. My father was a hard-working guy. He worked all the time. And it was always having to do with time to tell the story right.”

And now, that’s precisely what his daughter is doing here in Portland.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.