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Where to eat African cuisine in Metro Detroit

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THE DETROIT NEWS — Being a huge continent, the food found in Africa varies among the countries within it. Some staples are seasoned meats, rice, couscous and fried plantains.

Metro Detroit is lucky to have a few authentic restaurants that serve the dishes of Ethiopia, Morocco, Senegal, Burundi and elsewhere. Here’s a look:

Maty’s African Restaurant: A small, colorful dining area that can seat about two dozen people is filled with aroma of grilled fish, lamb skewers and beef shawarma. I’ll return for the fataya, a Senegalese version of a fried empanada comes stuffed with chicken or fish and is served with a side of mustard-y onion slaw. 21611 Grand River, Detroit. (313) 472-5885 or eatatmatys.com. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.
Taste of Ethiopia: This cozy spot offers a buffet lunch on weekdays ($10.95) with jerk chicken, collard greens, fried plantains, split peas and a fantastic red lentil dish called yemisir we’t. Many of those dishes are on their vast dinner menu, which also includes vegetarian and meat combos, and beer, wine and cocktails. 28639 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield. (248) 905-5560 or tasteofethiopia.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and noon-10 p.m. Sat.

The Blue Nile: Also Ethiopian, the Blue Nile offers all-you-can-eat feasts for vegetarians and carnivores, as well as several vegan dishes. Both Blue Nile and Taste of Ethiopia serve injera, a very soft, sourdough flatbread that is unlike any other bread I’ve tasted. It’s porous, spongy texture is perfect for soaking up stews and sauces. Blue Nile has two locations and both have a full bar. 545 W. Nine Mile, Ferndale. (248) 547-6699. 221 E. Washington, Ann Arbor. (734) 998-4746. bluenilemi.com. Open 5-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 3-9 p.m. Sun. Ann Arbor location is also open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tues.-Sat. for lunch.

Nwanneka’s Place: Specialties here include a large variety of soup, goat meat and yams. Nwanneka’s, which also serves American and soul food dishes, serves fufu, a dish found in Ghana and Nigeria. It’s white lump made by pounding yam flour and grounded cassava, and is often eaten with soup. 27532 Schoolcraft, Livonia. (734) 744-7777 or nwannekasplace.squarespace.com. Open noon-7 p.m. Mon. and Wed., noon-9 p.m. Tues. and Thurs.-Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Kola Restaurant & Ultra Lounge: Not just a restaurant, Kola is a nightlife destination with weekly events like Soul Thursdays, Tropical Fridays and Afrobeat Night on Saturdays. The menu offers beef and chicken suya, which is thinly sliced meat seasoned with onions, tomato and yaji spice. There’s also a full bar, a variety of soft drinks, and Nigerian beverages like palm juice and Maltina. 32523 Northwestern Hwy., Farmington Hills. (248) 932-5652 or kolalounge.com. Open 5-10 p.m. Wed.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Sat. and 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sun.

Casablanca: Named after the largest city in Morocco, this Ypsi restaurant specializes in Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes. Choose from bistilla, a chicken pie, or chicken Mhammar roasted with butter, onions, saffron, herbs and fresh ginger, or get both with the Moroccan combo plate for two. 2333 Washtenaw, Ypsilanti. (734) 961-7825 or casablancaypsilanti.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and 1-8 p.m. Sun.

Windsor: Our neighbors across the border have two Somalian restaurants: Jubba(2000 W. Wyandotte, Windsor) and Somali Restaurant (2127 University, Windsor). Somali cuisine is influenced by a variety of regions and includes beef, chicken, rice and even pasta and samosas.

Pop-ups: There are several chefs in Metro Detroit that operate as a pop-up while they work toward opening brick-and-mortar restaurants. Kitchen Ramarj blends Liberian and Mediterranean flavors and pop ups at places like Corktown’s Brooklyn Street Local. YumVillage pop-up and food truck serves West African and Caribbean food like jollof rice and jerk chicken. Until it’s food truck season again, find chef Godwin Ihentuge cooking monthly dinners at Colors Restaurant the last Thursday of each month. Burundi restaurant Baobab Fare is readying to open in West Village after winning a $10,000 grant from Comerica Hatch Detroit. While they ready to open, the husband-and-wife team have been hosting pop-ups around town. Jerk & Jollof is a nightlife pop-up that blends African and Caribbean music, food and culture that most recently took over Saint Andrew’s Hall for a New Year’s Eve event.

Did I leave out a restaurant that you think should be mentioned in this list? Please, let me know.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

Crime

Two Somali men stabbed to death in north London as 2018 toll reaches 15

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Two men have been stabbed to death within two hours of each other in the same London borough, bringing the number of people fatally wounded with knives in the capital in 2018 to at least 15.

The Metropolitan police launched two separate murder investigations into the killings on Tuesday night but said they had not ruled out the possibility of a link between them.

The first victim was found with stab wounds in Bartholomew Road, Camden, at about 8.30pm. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was named by family members as 17-year-old Abdikarim Hassan.

Officers were later called to reports of a disturbance in Malden Road, Camden, at about 10.15pm, and found 20-year-old Sadiq Adan Mohamed with serious stab wounds. He was also pronounced dead at the scene.

No arrests have been made.

Hassan came to the UK from Somalia when he was two years old and was the eldest of six children, his uncle Yusuf Ahmed said.

He was a student at Westminster college and was a “good guy” who was “always smiling” and liked playing football, he said.

Elsewhere in London, a 24-year-old man who was shot in the head in Westminster on Tuesday night remains in a critical condition in hospital. Two people were arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder.

Reacting to the most recent stabbings, Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “London must come together to make it clear that this cannot continue. We will not police our way out of this problem. There is a role for all of us – London’s public, our partners and the police.

“There will be young people out today who are carrying knives. Stop and think: do you really want your life to end?”

Police deployed extra patrols across Camden overnight, while a section 60 order – which gives police the right to search people in locations where they believe serious violence will take place – was in force until 7am on Wednesday.

Official figures show 2017 was among young people since at least 2002. Forty-six people aged 25 or under were stabbed to death in London, 21 more than the previous year, according to police figures.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has faced criticism for his handling of knife crime, said: “This morning I am asking the prime minister and the home secretary to urgently meet with me, my deputy mayor for policing and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police service to discuss what more can be done across government – including policing, youth services, sentencing, health services, probation and prisons – to tackle the evil of knife attacks on Britain’s streets.”

The latest phase of a Met police operation to fight knife crime resulted in nearly 300 arrests and the seizure of more than 250 weapons. Throughout the week-long operation officers recovered 265 knives, six firearms, and 45 other offensive weapons.

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Columbus, Ohio

Ismail Mohamed Wants To Be Ohio’s First Somali-American Legislator

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Ismail Mohamed, a candidate for Ohio's 25th House District, would be the state's first Somali-American legislator. CLARE ROTH / WOSU

Home means a few different things for Ismail Mohamed.

Right now, Mohamed works in Cincinnati as a staff lawyer at Baker Hostetler. He was born in Somalia, a country his family was forced to flee in the early 2000s as the civil war unfolded. But he feels his deepest connection is to the Columbus neighborhood where he was raised.

Mohamed graduated from Northland High School about a decade ago, earned a Bachelor’s and a law degree from The Ohio State University, and returned to the Northland last spring. Now, he’s running to represent the 25th District in the Ohio House.

“I reached out to a lot of different politicians to kind of get answers on some of the concerns that are going on, and I was not getting the answers that I thought were really addressing the issues. So that’s what prompted me to run,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent in the May primary. If he wins that election, and the subsequent general in November, he’d be the first Somali-American state legislator in Ohio and the second in the country.

Mohamed says his district includes a lot of New American communities, including from Somalia, Nepal and other foreign countries.

“It’s critical we’re promoting such communities to really advance our goals and our policies in the future,” he says. “I’m so honored to be that poster-child and push that forward.”

But Mohamed says those groups are part of the larger fabric of the 25th District, and the issues they face are largely the same.

“The biggest issue in our community, I would say, is lack of economic development. The 25th [House District] has the lowest income rate — I think median income is $31,000,” he says. “A little more than half have high school diplomas. So there’s lack of educational attainment as well, which is driving the poverty issue.”

Mohamed is only 25 years old, far younger than the average age of Ohio lawmakers. But he said he doesn’t believe his lack of political experience will get in his way.

“Someone who doesn’t have a lot of ties to a political party, doesn’t have ties to the political machine, and is able to directly touch our constituents — I think that puts me in a better position,” he says.

And as tensions over immigration rise all over the country, Mohamed says local politics are more important than ever.

“It’s not just a national arena that’s defining us,” he says. “It’s more us defining what’s going in the national arena.”

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Canada

Canadians call for return of relative held in Ethiopia

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AL JAZEERA — A Canadian family is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to negotiate the release of a citizen imprisoned in Ethiopia saying “there will never be a better time than now to get him home”.

Canadian Bashir Makhtal, 49, has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since January 2007 on charges of “terrorism”.

Authorities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, accuse Makhtal of being a ringleader for the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – a rebel group pressing for self-rule in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region – and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ethiopia classifies the ONLF as a “terrorist” organisation.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union, however, do not.

Makhtal, whose grandfather was a founding member of the ONLF, has always declared himself innocent, saying he was in the region to promote his clothing business.

Now, more than a decade on, the Ethiopian government’s recent release of thousands of political prisoners and peace talks with the ONLF have given Makhtal’s family further impetus in campaigning for his release.

‘There is hope’
Asiso Abdi, Makhtal’s wife, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopian authorities could be persuaded to include Bashir among those freed, if Canada applies adequate diplomatic pressure.

“If the government of Justin Trudeau is willing to get Bashir home, there will never be a better time than now,” Abdi said. “When there is a life, there is a hope.”

Canadian officials say they are exploring every possible option to bring Makhtal back to Canada.

Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, met Makhtal during a diplomatic visit to Ethiopia in April 2017.

Negotiating Makhtal’s release is a priority for the Canadian government, he told Al Jazeera.

“Our objective is to see this happen as soon as we can… At every opportunity, the discussion with Ethiopian officials regarding Mr Makhtal happens,” Alghabra said.

“[But] these conversations are not easy… The Ethiopian government see him as someone who has been convicted and is serving a sentence.”

Despite mounting diplomatic pressure, Ethiopian officials continue to deny Makhtal is a political prisoner and block his release from jail.

Metasebia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Qatar, told Al Jazeera recent prisoner releases were specifically intended to “create a broader political space within the country”, and will not affect Makhtal’s status.

“Bashir Makhtal is not an Ethiopian, he is imprisoned due to the terrorist crimes he committed,” Tadesse said. “One cannot mix his case with the current measures taken by the Ethiopian government.”

When questioned, Tadesse refused to provide Al Jazeera with further details regarding the nature of the “terrorist crimes”.

‘An unfair trial’
Rights group Amnesty International said Makhtal has been detained unfairly.

“Once charges were laid against Makhtal we pressed for him to be provided with a fair trial and an opportunity to mount an effective defence, such as by having full access to allegations, evidence and witnesses against him,” Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International in Canada, told Al Jazeera.

“That was not the case, nor was his appeal hearing a fair process,” Neve said.

Lorne Waldman, Makhtal’s Canada-based lawyer, told Al Jazeera that Ethiopia had subjected his client to a number of extrajudicial measures: including an illegal extradition and torture.

“Bashir’s version of events has been the same since the beginning, that he was in Somalia doing business … [and] when there was the [Ethiopian] military incursion into Somalia he, like thousands of others, fled to the Kenyan border,” Waldman said.

“He was detained at the border and taken into custody in Nairobi, and from Nairobi he was illegally spirited on a private plane to Ethiopia without any formal extradition proceedings,” he added.

“Then he was tortured and charged under the anti-terrorism provisions in Ethiopia, before being prosecuted in what people generally felt was an unfair trial, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.”

Extraordinary rendition
Amnesty said Makhtal’s transfer to Ethiopia was “tantamount to an instance of extraordinary rendition”, adding it was “very likely” he had been subjected to torture or other forms of cruel treatment in Ethiopia.

The prevalence of torture in Ethiopia – described as a “major problem” in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 report – and Makhtal being held incommunicado at the beginning of his detention support Amnesty’s concerns regarding mistreatment, Neve said.

Authorities in Ethiopia did not acknowledge they had imprisoned Makhtal until July 2007, six months after his arrival in Addis Ababa, his relatives told Al Jazeera.

Nearly 11 years later, Makhtal’s family still has little clarity about whether Ethiopia will release him.

Some 12,000km away from his prison cell in Ethiopia, Makhtal’s absence in Canada continues to be felt every day, Abdi told Al Jazeera.

“They took my husband and with him my future happiness,” she said.

“I have already missed 11 wedding anniversaries with him, 11 years of my life have gone. I’m missing a half of me deep inside the dark cell of an Ethiopian prison.”

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