Jean Hakuzimana, deputy editor of Amjambo Africa, interviews Lucie Narukundo, owner of the Moriah Store, for a feature about the business. The free newspaper has grown to be an important news source for immigrants in Maine and an educational resource for people who have lived in the state their whole lives. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Jean Hakuzimana had a pen in his shirt pocket and a friendly smile on his face. He held his microphone toward Magalie Lumiere Yangala.

“Can you take me through the places where you volunteer?” he asked.

“I volunteer everywhere possible,” she replied.

Hakuzimana was interviewing Yangala for a profile in Amjambo Africa, a free multilingual news source. She is a regular reader (in English, French, Swahili and Lingala) and was excited to be featured.

“They always have something new,” said Yangala, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Amjambo” is a Swahili greeting and literally translates to “words” in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi. What began five years ago as a monthly newspaper has expanded to include a website, podcasts, videos and social media pages. Amjambo Africa aims to reach two audiences – immigrants who want to learn about their new state and longtime Mainers who want to learn about immigrants.


It’s a big goal. The May issue filled 31 pages with stories about the shelter for asylum seekers at the Portland Expo, a bill that would remove citizenship status from MaineCare eligibility requirements, a new podcast about Black Mainers past and present, and recent policy changes at the border between the United States and Canada. There were dispatches from freelancers in Rwanda and Uganda, blurbs on programs at local nonprofits such as Hope Acts and In Her Presence, and a photo spread from events during Ramadan and Eid. Two articles – one about how to report hate crimes, another about how to access and improve medical care for pregnant women – were printed in multiple languages, with more translated on Amjambo Africa’s website.

“The idea was, ‘How can I help many people at the same time?’ ” said Georges Budagu Makoko, one of the founders of Amjambo Africa.

Hakuzimana talks with Kit Harrison, co-founder and editor-in-chief, center, and Laura deDoes, community engagement committee member with Amjambo Africa, during a meeting at Burundi Star Coffee in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Makoko didn’t set out to start a news organization. He is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and earned a degree in business administration in Rwanda. The violence in both countries prompted him to seek asylum in the United States in 2002. He settled in Maine and later became a senior property manager at Avesta Housing.

Makoko quickly realized Americans knew little about the conditions that prompted him to flee his former life. He published a book about his experiences called “Ladder to the Moon: Journey from the Congo to America” in 2013 and started a nonprofit with the same name in 2016 to educate the public about Africa and the challenges faced by immigrants.

He also knew from his personal and professional experiences that immigrants coming to Maine struggled to find answers to their questions, especially if they did not speak English. He started thinking about how he could reach more people to share what he knew about his old home and his new one.

During a presentation at the Rockland Public Library, Makoko met Kit Harrison, who worked for 25 years as a teacher and lives in Camden. He said he wanted to start a newspaper that would publish information in multiple languages. Harrison, who has written about education for local newspapers and blogs and is the daughter of a former Washington Post correspondent, was immediately interested.


“I was working in a rural area, and there was very little understanding of who was arriving or even that anyone was arriving in Maine, let alone who they were, why they were here and that people who were arriving were bringing great things to us,” said Harrison. “I knew that a lot of people needed information that would eventually lead to a more inclusive state where we could all thrive better, and I saw this publication as a way to help create that.”

Jean Hakuzimana, deputy editor of Amjambo Africa, interviews Lucie Narukundo, owner of the Moriah Store, in Kinyarwanda for a feature about the business. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


They worked on the idea for a year before they debuted the first issue on April 1, 2018. Makoko is the publisher and Harrison is the editor in chief. They printed 10,000 copies.

“We were very pleased with the feedback that we received from different individuals and organizations,” said Makoko. “Some were just saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m holding a newspaper that is written in French and in Kinyarwanda and Swahili.’ We started getting phone calls from people reaching out and saying to us, ‘How can you not publish this in Lingala? Can you do this in other languages?’ ”

Translation proved to be a major challenge. Makoko spoke six languages, and Harrison spoke two. Makoko thought he could handle the translation himself until he sat down to try it and realized the size of the undertaking.

“I stayed up all night long, until, boy, I can’t remember when,” he said. “In the morning, I called everyone I knew who could speak French, Kinyarwanda and Swahili.”


They also had to learn how to fundraise and secure advertisers to support their free newspaper. Amjambo Africa is a product of Makoko’s nonprofit. Today, it has four sources of revenue: advertisements, corporate sponsorships, grants and individual donations. They pay stipends to translators and freelancers, but they only had one (Harrison) and a half (Makoko) employees until they hired Hakuzimana as a deputy editor in November.

Originally from Rwanda, Hakuzimana immigrated to the United States in 2018. He came first to Portland but decided to settle his family in Concord, New Hampshire. Still, he agreed to help translate articles from English to Kinyarwanda for Amjambo Africa. As a child, Hakuzimana used to mimic the broadcasters he heard on the radio. He studied journalism in college but later got a job in communications. His work took him to more than 10 countries in Africa.

Even though he wasn’t working in the field, he saw the conditions for journalists.

“On the African continent, many countries do not respect the freedom of the press like in America and in many countries journalists can be harassed and even be killed,” he said, citing an example of a prominent journalist in Cameroon who was abducted and found dead earlier this year.

Hakuzimana interviews Catherine Lee of Lee International at the University of Maine School of Law. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

When he started working with Amjambo Africa in the United States, he suggested that he could help build relationships with freelancers in Africa. He started coordinating that coverage and also launched a podcast in English (Amjambo Time) and Kinyarwanda (Wiriwe Maine) to bring the news to more people. (Amjambo Africa recently secured the funding to add the podcast in French.) The most recent episode includes the interview with Yangala, as well as with Portland’s new director of diversity and equity, and a staff person from the New England Arab American Organization. Hakuzimana personally sends the links to the recordings to many of his local contacts on WhatsApp so they can spread it to more people.

“It’s an innovative way for Amjambo Africa to reach out to these communities,” he said.


Hakuzimana also earned a master’s degree in community development policy and practice at the University of New Hampshire in 2021, and he said that experience has informed his work as well.

“I don’t see Amjambo Africa as a breaking news publication, but the community development of news,” he said.


Mardochée Mbongi appeared in Amjambo Africa for the first time last fall when he was elected as the president of the Congolese Community of Maine, and he immediately started hearing from local organizations and contacts who wanted to work with him. He said it has become a trusted source of information for him and others in part because he knows it is created by immigrants with experiences similar to his.

“Amjambo is the first newspaper I need to read before I read any other paper,” he said.

He appeared in a recent episode of the podcast in English, but when he shared the link in his own WhatsApp groups, not everyone could understand it. So he was excited to hear Amjambo Africa will launch a podcast in French.


Apollinaire Munyaneza has been reading Amjambo Africa since the beginning. He and his family came to Maine from Rwanda in 2017 through the green card lottery, and he now works as a chemistry teacher at Portland High School. He always reads stories about education, but he also appreciates the stories with financial tips and the coverage of local cultural events.

But he sees the real value of Amjambo Africa in the podcasts. President of the Rwandan Community Association of Maine, Munyaneza appreciates that Wiwire Maine – recorded in Kinyarwanda, the language spoken by many people from Rwanda – is accessible to people who are unable or uninterested to read an article in print or online.

“Even senior citizens who cannot read and understand English, they have the news in their language,” he said. “It gives people information, but in a way that many people can access it. The printed edition, yes, people can read, but not everyone. The podcast is very helpful.”

Recent episodes included information on how to get into the health care field in Maine, what to know during tax season and what is happening in the Maine Legislature.

Hakuzimana looks over a copy of Amjambo Africa while meeting with Kit Harrison, co-founder and editor-in-chief, and Laura deDoes, a member of the paper’s community engagement committee. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Laura deDoes of Cumberland learned about Amjambo Africa because she was in the newspaper. She adopted the younger of her two sons from Ethiopia when he was a baby, and one way her family fosters a connection to his birth country is by hosting an annual party in September to recognize the Ethiopian New Year. In 2018, Harrison wrote a story about the celebration.

“I wanted to be involved in it,” she said. “I was just so impressed we have a newspaper dedicated to what’s going on in Africa and stories on local people that were originally from African nations.”


She immediately offered to help by taking photos for the newspaper; deDoes works as a radiologic technologist at Maine Medical Center but enjoys photography as a hobby. One of her first assignments was a story about Akakpo & Co., a Portland business that sells jewelry and other accessories made by artist Ebenezer Akakpo, who is originally from Ghana. She said she has appreciated the chance to highlight that business and others owned by immigrants.

“I think that by learning more about people that we think we don’t have anything in common with, we realize that we have a lot in common,” she said. “In that respect, no longer is it us and them, but it just becomes us.”


Articles are now translated in English, French, Kinyarwanda, Portuguese, Swahili, Somali and Spanish. The newspaper is printed and mostly distributed by MaineToday Media, the parent company of the Portland Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram; it usually comes off the press on the final Monday of the month and hits newsstands the following Wednesday. At one time, Amjambo Africa printed 19,000 copies. More recently, price increases led the paper to cut that back to 13,000. About 9,000 are inserted into the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and the Bangor Daily News, and the rest are distributed from York to Penobscot counties.

Hakuzimana listens in on a journalism forum as part of the Justice for Women lecture series at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The newspaper can be found in grocery stores, markets, food pantries, coffee shops, medical centers, hotels and shelters where asylum seekers are living. Volunteers help spread extra bundles; deDoes always brings extras to the public library and schools where she lives in Cumberland.

The podcasts air on WMPG at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and are available along with the stories from the print product at


Hakuzimana comes to Maine once or twice a week to meet with Amjambo Africa staff and conduct interviews in multiple languages. On one recent visit, he interviewed the owner of Moriah Store in Portland in Kinyarwanda and then spoke to customers in French and Swahili. On another, he attended a journalism roundtable at the University of Maine School of Law with Harrison and Makoko, then set out for the Peer Workforce Navigator Program, which aims to connect people with job training and employment resources. There, he interviewed Yangala and then spent a few minutes talking with Kate Fahey, the program director.

“I had a concern from some members of the community who fear that the unemployment will affect their tax refund,” he asked Fahey as he wrote in a small red notebook. “Do you meet that concern?”

Fahey answered his question about withholding taxes from unemployment income and talked about their efforts to connect workers impacted by layoffs with new jobs. Many of the people served by this program have been immigrants, including hundreds of temporary workers laid off from local Abbott Laboratories COVID test manufacturing facilities in recent years. She said Amjambo Africa has been a helpful resource to spread the word about this program, which operates out of the ProsperityME office in Portland but involves community organizations from across the state.

“They really look forward to these newspapers, especially in the Bangor area where there is a growing community but there’s not so much infrastructure built quite yet to support folks who are moving there,” said Fahey. “We hear from a lot of folks about the importance of Amjambo and the reliance on Amjambo to get their news.”

Later in the afternoon, Hakuzimana met Harrison and deDoes at Burundi Star Coffee for a meeting. They talked about plans to distribute extra copies of the paper in their towns and what stories would be in upcoming issues. The May issue on their table featured a front-page story about the temporary overnight shelter at the Portland Expo, and they talked about how to continue their coverage.

“There’s a story there,” said Harrison.

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