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Mixed Feelings About Michael Jackson in East Africa


East Africans are expressing deep shock over the death of pop star Michael Jackson Thursday of an apparent heart attack. In Kenya, the airwaves were filled Friday with some of Jackson's greatest hits, and even some residents in Somalia's restive capital Mogadishu took a moment to pay tribute to the entertainer. But not everyone was a fan.

Nairobi high school teacher Winnie Miriti says she remembers her parents playing Michael Jackson records at home when she was growing up. She says she the singer was a huge part of her childhood and he will always be fondly remembered.

"The music industry has lost a great man," said Miriti. "He was a true legend. I am going to buy his album right now."

Construction worker James Murua says he will remember Jackson as a first-class entertainer, whose music touched an entire generation of people around the world.

"Great, great loss to humanity really because he set a trend with all of the dance moves and all of the current big celebrities copied their style from Michael Jackson," he said.

Michael Jackson catapulted to fame in the 1960s as the 8 year-old lead singer of the Jackson Five, a hugely successful pop group made up of Jackson and his four brothers. With his unique vocals and signature "moonwalk" dance moves, Jackson went on to become one of the best-selling male solo artists of all time.

But Michael Jackson's successes were often overshadowed by troubles in his private life. He was twice accused of sexually abusing young boys and was formally charged in 2003 with molestation. Jackson was acquitted two years later, but his reputation had been tarnished.

Judy Mwaluko, a young student in Nairobi, knows many of Jackson's songs, especially "We are the World," a song Michael Jackson co-wrote with Lionel Ritchie in the mid-1980s.

Many of the music industry's biggest names, including Jackson, sang the song as a group to raise awareness for famine victims in the Horn of Africa. Mwaluko says while she appreciates the charity work Jackson performed, she says as a man, he was a disappointment.

"His music is not him. I still love his music," she said. "But he really did many messed up things. So, I would not do anything to remember his life or anything like that."

A journalist in the Rwandan capital Kigali, Eunice Juhalo, says people there are sad to hear of Jackson's death. But she says there are many people like her, who have no opinion of Jackson one way or another.

"He is not my favorite musician," said Juhalo. "I know zero about his music and here, his death is like anybody else's death."

Some people in east Africa risked severe punishment to remember Michael Jackson. In Somalia's restive capital Mogadishu Friday, a group of young Somali men ignored the civil war raging around them for a few minutes to listen to their favorite Jackson song.

They could not turn up the volume on their tape recorder for fear of being heard by members of al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group that is fighting to overthrow the Somali government. Al-Shabab does not tolerate music or dancing and has threatened to punish anyone who violates the rule.

Tapping his toe in defiance, one of the Somali men told VOA that Michael Jackson will be missed.

He says he and his friends are shocked that their African-American brother is gone. But his music will live on because that is something no one will ever forget.

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