High Level Dialogue: What will it take to Silence the Guns in Africa by 2020?

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(Pic Courtesy of dgtrends.org)

“Guns don’t usually talk, but when we make them talk, they shout, BOOM BOOM.”

In kick starting discussions on what it would take to silence the guns; H.E Olusegun Obasanjo unsparingly reminded us of the consequences of guns blazing in the continent; their impact on human development, economic development and the extent to which they destroy families, majority of the time women and the youth.

“Identity, colonial legacy, democracy, popular participation, resource management, religion and inequality must be addressed now,” stated the former president of the Republic of Nigeria. We need to give more weight to discussions on the elimination of corruption and correct interpretation of religion. Youth are our present and future and we need to ensure education and employment for all.”

“I admit that we did not address the civil war in Nigeria well, we didn’t look at the aspects of diversity dividing us; and it is for this reason that I believe the extent to which lessons learnt are shared is pertinent in managing and preventing conflict. Our war lasted 30 months; I realized that I am a Yoruba but my Yorubaness could not overtake my Nigerianess. That we must embrace our diversity for collective national development,” he stated.

“With the state having three pillars of government borrowed from colonialism, that being the executive, the legislature and judiciary, so too do we need a fourth pillar which is a higher authority of active solidarity,” informed the former head of state. “This is the only way that we can deal with the problem of social frustration and subsequently disallowing it to fester.”

Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the Public protector in South Africa shared too her views on silencing the guns. In a somber tone, she reiterated the need for respect of the rule of law during elections and civil and political rights. The impressive prosecutor highlighted the dire consequences of inadequate public awareness and citizens’ rights emphasizing the paramount importance of ensuring access to good information by citizens. “Where people are misinformed or ignorant they will create their own narratives and take the law into their own hands,” she stated. She also raised the pertinent point of benevolent governments needing checks and balances because they too are prone to making mistakes.

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(Pic Courtesy of dgtrends.org)

Dr. Noha Bakr, Assistant minister of International cooperation in Egypt posed a poignant question to the audience as she shared her views on the aforementioned topic. “There is no spring in Africa, how then did we end up calling it the arab spring? We did not anticipate the repercussions of not walking our talk.”

The Egyptian assistant minister emphasized the need to address high levels of illiteracy and shared on their experiences in Egypt. She highlighted the poignant aspect of democracy being measured through the ballot boxes as fictitious and wrong benchmarking. “Democracy with regards to the ballot box is not about elections alone but also incorporates the ballot boxes in oil and resource matters.

Dr. Brice Parfait Kolelas, Minister of Public Service and State reforms, Republic of Congo shared in these sentiments and spoke on the need for synergy between institutions dealing with democracy, human rights and governance. “Today, we can learn a great deal from the National Commission for Social dialogue in Congo,” he stated.

H.E Olusegun Obasanjo in ending his experiences with the forum, shared the sobering story of a young rebel leader that he once met from the Niger delta. The former head of state was extremely curious on how the young man had ended up in such an unfortunate role and the young boy  responded as follows.

“Your Excellency, due to free primary education I went to primary school, I did extremely well and hence secured a place in secondary school; and I then went to university. There I pursued a career in mining engineering seeing as I come from a resource rich country. I graduated and could not get a job for 4 years, what do you expect me to do?”

Opening Session: #Silencingtheguns #DGTrends

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Both an electric and somber mood could be felt across the room as leaders and a myriad of stakeholders convened in Dakar, Senegal for the first day of the Third High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

The air was full of promise, a readiness and willingness by participants present to embark on discussions on how to Silence the Guns; these are discussions that would enable us to learn, share, and collectively concretize strategies to end wars in Africa. Undoubtedly, the opening session was mixed with both this and the inculcated emotions that spurred the genesis of this dialogue; the need for urgent change.

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(Pic Courtesy of dgtrends.org)

Plenary Session One

The Third High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance began with a reminder by Dr. Kahabele Matlosa and reiteration by Dr. Aisha L. Abdullahi of the devastating cost of war on the continent; its impact on human, economic and social development and the need for intrinsic comprehension of the nexus  between democracy, peace and development.

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 Dr. Khabele Matlosa /Pic Courtesy of dgtrends.org)

Mr. Kidane Kiros, the Director of Institute of Peace and Security Studies Ethiopia, reminded the audience of the misconceptions surrounding growth and that economic growth in itself was not sustainable. “Terrorism, piracy, cyber crime and conflict are existing threats that could thwart the continents vision and progress in rising,” he stated. Mr. Kiros reiterated the need for concerted efforts and the use of existential instruments to address these challenges.

H.E Bernhard Kampann, Ambassador of Germany to Senegal shared in his sentiments and urged the participants present to ensure that as they developed strategic interventions; doing so by rooting them on sturdy, resilient, participatory, efficient, effective, accountable and inclusive governance systems. “This is imperative in bringing back trust and that committed work brings a better future.”

Dr. Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and chair of the governing board, Africa Governance Institute, flagged the issue of inter and intra state conflict being fuelled by transnational crime networks and also urged the audience to seek a more comprehensive and holistic discussion that addressed not only national but regional tension. He highlighted the nexus index that reflected the growing decline of security in Africa and the dire need for robust, accountable and transformative leadership. “We need to operationalize the African culture and use the structures embedded there to address some of these challenges. We need institutional collaboration to make things work,” he stated.

Mrs. Bintou Djibo, UNDP Representative Senegal’s representative gave the opening remarks on her behalf. In her statement, Mrs. Djibou highlighted the need for empowerment of women as active participants in the peace building process. “The positive effects are known, why then are we not doing this?” the representative asked in exasperation.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Mr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas urged the audience to enhance their courage and ambition in addressing the root causes of conflict and the need for improved early warning mechanisms and political will in implementing solutions present to silence the guns.

Dr. Aisha L. Abdullahi in her spirited and valiant address wound up the session with a reminder on the progress made by the continent in the last decade whilst highlighting sobering and tangible solutions to address the challenges of silencing the guns. Allow me to reiterate them below:

  • Build an institutional and administrative capacity of the State
  • Consider Socio-cultural diversity which is a resource for unity and integration
  • Expand the frontier of a human rights culture
  • Partnership
  • Better management of Africa’s natural resources
  • Address issues affecting both youth and women specifically
  • Demilitarize African politics and society
  • Implement the shared values agenda
  • Address issues of internally displaced people, refugees and stateless people
  • Establish an effective functioning of national infrastructure for peace

No doubt, this is a forum that provides the opportunity for us to do well by doing right; that being to address these challenges both realistically and practically; an uphill task that we choose to rise up to.

It always seems impossible until it is done #Silencingtheguns #DGTrends

Nelson Mandela, a man that we all love and respect, a true Pan Africanist once reminded us that revolutions and solutions always seemed impossible until they were done; indeed he was right.

30th to 31st October 2013 has seen the inaugural convening of heads of state, former heads of state, members of several governments, civil society, academia, think tanks and researchers but to name a few in Dakar, Senegal. This is to bring forth and propel a substantive and priority dialogue; that being, Silencing the Guns: Strengthening Governance to Prevent, Manage and Resolve Conflict in Africa by 2020.

The theme is inspired by the 50th Anniversary Celebration Declaration adopted by African leaders in May 2013.

Bold claim isn’t it?

Majority of us, I included, have at times found myself on the well known down trodden path of afro pessimism. A state of mind and being that has seen us cower and shy away from dealing with the challenges that we face across the African continent. We bear the brunt of the pernicious effects that war has brought on us yet still insist on the status quo remaining the same.

Development across the continent is increasing at an exponential rate and majority of us do know that it is still not at its optimum for one reason only: blazing guns. We must bear in mind that where growth increases disproportionately with security, it renders our efforts futile and this has been witnessed on a large scale, this is not new to us.

War has no emotion and does not discriminate, it does not have mercy on the business that you able handedly and painstakingly started several years ago, nor does it support the new exciting business venture that you take such pride in and it most certainly does not distance itself from your family. Make no mistake to disengage yourself from this topic; terrorism in itself has no borders and we have witnessed the extent to which it has spawned undesirable socio-economic consequences.

The third High Level dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance is a momentous forum as it is dedicated to the vitally important discussions affecting us all. Be it in Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, Angola, Mauritius, intra and interstate conflict has crippled us and this dialogue could not have come at a more urgent time.

With majority of African states celebrating 50 years of independence or there about, it’s evident and disheartening to see the extent to which insecurity which has been exacerbated by corruption, poverty and poor governance has stagnated our progress in the last half century. Alive to our potential, that including human capital and resources, then democracy, governance and human rights cannot just be a mere dialogue but a top priority; a priority not only for us but for generations to come.

This is a dialogue that is focusing on sharing evidence based knowledge and analysis on the root causes of conflict in Africa and how they can be addressed through appropriate governance reforms; a forum that aims to enhance a dialogue on the exchange of lessons, experience and best practices in fostering accountable, responsive and effective governance in conflict situations and lastly, is a dialogue to concretize strategies for achieving synergy and complementarity between the Africa Governance Architecture framework and the Africa Peace and Security Architecture framework towards silencing the guns in Africa.

Undoubtedly, it is imperative for us all to be on the same page and this is an excellent forum that provides the platform for doing so. We all have the opportunity to come together to develop innovative and practical solutions to our common problems. It is only through concerted efforts and cooperation that we, as the African continent can address the ever increasing challenge that we face.

I invite you to join in the discussions and to stream in live at www.dgtrends.org/dgtrends-live or on social media using the hash tags #DGTrends and #Silencingtheguns.

The Girl Child

Headlines today read that Africa is rising.

That of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, six are in Africa and are rich in natural resources. Development is on the rise and talks of economic emancipation are on everyone’s lips.

However, I refuse to accept the narrative that Africa is rising for one reason only; women’s marginalization from meaningfully engaging in the growth of this continent is rife. I write this from a standpoint of logic and sound reasoning as opposed to passionate valour. Women today are not considered as equals and are still victims of sexual violence, poverty and disease.

How then is Africa rising without half of its population?

We see this in almost every corner of the continent; women holding minority number of seats in parliament; women being demoralized from meaningfully engaging in the very economic activities that are propelling this continent forward; be it in the mining sector, manufacturing industries or service industries. Despite women being majority of the farmers on this continent, we still see that they have no tenure security and their contributions are most times going undervalued and underutilized.

Our Chibok girls have still not returned and are subject to atrocities for a crime no one should ever be guilty of, an education. These are adolescent girls who, against all odds, sought education in order to be empowered in their bid to become responsible leaders of the society.

Gender equality cannot be underscored in the African story, it is imperative in realizing our potential and prosperity as a continent and true emancipation can only be realized when we rid ourselves of this impediment.

Women’s empowerment and participation in the community and the workforce greatly increases economic growth, reduces poverty, enhances societal well-being, and helps ensure sustainable development. This is a proven statistic.

I give the example of women who reside in the mountainous region of Entoto in Ethiopia; women who make less than dollar a day from carrying 35kgs of firewood on their back in order to educate and provide for their children; or of the women engaging in artisanal mining despite its hazardous effect on health in order to feed their families; or of the ambitious Chibok girls who were targeted by Boko Haram insurgents because of the fact that their empowerment threatens the existence of their organization.

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It is a fact that when we empower women and girls, we change the world. Today both women and men are becoming increasingly aware that this undoes centuries of injustice and enriches societies; that it also plays a very vital role in defeating some of the most dangerous ideologies and organizations around the globe. It is for this very reason that we see large and experienced terrorist groups target a teenage girl like Malala.

To silence the guns in Africa by 2020, we must realize that addressing crimes against women and children is a priority; that gender inequality is not a woman’s issue, but a rights issue.

It is reported that regardless of the international protocols mandating governments to protect civilians, women continue to be targeted for rape and other violence. For instance, despite having one of the largest peacekeeping forces in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has continued to play host to targeted rape campaigns by armed groups vying for control of mineral-rich turf.

Despite demonstrated value of women as peace-builders from Liberia to Uganda and Sudan, women are largely excluded from formal peace processes. Only 1 in 13 participants in peace negotiations since 1992 has been women. Women have served as only 6% of negotiators to formalized peace talks and are not appointed as chief mediators in UN-brokered talks. Lack of women’s participation often means crimes against women go unaddressed and peace agreements do not ultimately reflect popular needs.

It has also been proven that women add value to measures that prevent conflict. They can be critical sources of intelligence, such as locations of weapons stores or plans for insurgent attacks. Yet global conflict prevention efforts still fail to adequately incorporate this resource: only slightly more than 3% of total military personnel in peacekeeping operations are women. Similarly, only 13 of 34 peacekeeping and political missions have gender advisors, compromising mission ability to incorporate a gender perspective in prevention efforts.

The progress of this continent can only come about if persons in society work together as equals. We need to address education in a more holistic manner to address this issue. Men are as much the problem as they are the solution to ending violence against women as well as their empowerment. Society needs to learn and relearn on what manhood is about. Manhood is not about dominance, nor is it about inequality; and women are neither objects to be used nor abused. We need to start teaching boys and men that they are equals and that it is okay to promote equality. Men’s liberation can only come about from women’s liberation. That one day young men would be enthusiastic and pleased to be told that they play like girls.

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The Maputo protocol is one of our greatest achievements in formidably progressing women’s rights on the continent yet despite this, we still see that not all governments have ratified it.

The African Union Heads of State and Government have dedicated next year, 2015, as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063” which reflects its rededication to the Pan African vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.

One of the aspirations for Africa by 2063 is an Africa of people driven development relying on the potential of its women and youth. This aspiration can and will be realized only when we critically challenge ourselves on the roles that we’re playing to enhance, ensure strong visibility, actionable commitment and implementation on the same.

To ensure sustainable growth, governments need to address structural weaknesses and deliberately and vigorously promote economic transformation with depth; this involves inclusive growth. There can be no democracy without women feeling safe and secure to live, to work and to meaningfully contribute to the growth of the African continent.

“Noone is buying my khangas” >> Security and Tourism #Mombasa

“Mum, I can sell a khanga to you for Ksh 250 (3 USD) only, but we can still negotiate.”

Now for someone who loves all things beautiful, I know that the price of khangas in Mombasa is usually double the price. What she was quoting was burning her pocket.

Margaret is a middle aged lady who works on the coastline of Mombasa and her business is in selling an assortment of beautiful khangas.

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Majority of us are aware of how bad the tourism sector has been since rising insecurity plagued our country; this being exacerbated by travel advisories.

It’s a hot Tuesday afternoon and Margaret informs me that she has not sold a single khanga in over a week. How is she fending for herself? Even she can’t answer that but informs me that to cut on costs, she treks to her business location on foot. She estimates the distance as about 10kms one way.

“Things are really bad. You’d need to be here to understand how bad it is,” she tells me.

“Right now we are surviving because of German tourists who are still frequenting the place, but they still aren’t as many.” It is 21st October and on a usual year, this would be peak season and hotels would be buzzing with tourists.

“If I could move my business to Tanzania, I would; they are all there; but you know how difficult it is to do business as a Kenyan there, it is not easy.”

I nod in agreement.

“This fear of insecurity is crippling our business.”

“What is more worrying is that Kenyans do not have the capacity to go on holiday often. You’re hungry, I’m hungry, how then will we help each other?” Her statement reminds me of a comment once made that reiterated this; that despite Kenya being given status as a middle income country recently, her people do not eat GDP.

Where people cannot fend for themselves, there is no progress.

“We all need each other. If my brothers and sisters could afford my products and my brother’s products, then we would not depend as much on external tourists.”

“My friend here has not sold any wood carvings in two weeks,” she tells me, as she points to an older gentleman seated by a corner, looking drained by the scorching sun.

Undoubtedly, thousands of Kenyans have lost their jobs and sources of livelihood. This can be felt in every sector of the economy, from the young man selling dhow tours on the beach to the farmer selling cabbages at Marikiti market in Mombasa.

The government has been lobbying within the international community in a bid to avert travel advisories; however this is still not felt on the ground. Insecurity remains a key business risk in Kenya and this fact cannot be underscored; the people in Mombasa cannot afford another attack. As it were, economic growth has stagnated and it will take a while before the business environment returns to normal.

Unmistakably, terrorism threats remain real with Somalia being in the immediate geographic proximity and the existential fact that increasingly more youth are unemployed, idle and frustrated which creates fertile ground for recruitment.

It is reported that in 2013 alone, tourism directly contributed Kshs183.4 billion to the Kenyan economy, with 40 per cent of that going into coastal counties. This figure takes into account accommodation, food and beverage, entertainment and recreation, retail, and transport industries.

Government figures from the 2014 Economic Survey place total ‘tourism earnings’ in 2013 at Kshs 94 billion, which would place the impact of insecurity in the Coastal region at Kshs 15 billion per year, or Kshs 41.2 million per day.

One then can see that urgent and drastic measures need to be taken to curb cases of insecurity.

We would need to invest heavily, wisely and holistically in the other sectors of growth that have immense potential to boost employment. This would contribute to enhancing peace and stability. Be it the ICT sector or agricultural sector which requires more incentives in order to boost food security in not only the coastal region but the entire country. This country can not survive on the government creating jobs, make no mistake, that is not it’s role. What it needs is a vibrant private sector and it’s role is to ensure this and facilitate this.

A hungry man is an angry man and the reverse is true.

As reported, weak governance has exacerbated insecurity and the proliferation of small arms on our porous borders has cost us. We will come a long way in fighting this menace when we rid ourselves of corruption as well as have functional institutions.

A delegate highlighted at the recently convened African Union fifth annual retreat of special envoys, representatives and mediators that we should avoid the temptation to collapse freedom and democracy into security and stability. Screening a group of people in a stadium will not solve this problem.

Aristotle also over 2500 years ago stated that where there is inequality there will be instability.

The international agenda should  complement and not undercut the commitments that Kenya has for itself and focus on development in order to break the vicious cycle of instability.

Giving Margaret 350 Kshs, I get myself a beautiful khanga.

#BringBackOurGirls

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Does it ever cross your mind on how the girls are this very moment? Their thoughts, their fears, their dreams, their tears?

Has it ever crossed your mind on how many are 6 months pregnant today, angry, tired, bitter and enveloped in pain?

Has it also crossed your mind on what the parents, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, friends and neighbours of these girls feel today? The thoughts racing through their minds every split second? The anguish, the agony; not knowing if and when their little girls are coming home?

Has it crossed your mind?

Dear girls,

We are so sorry for taking so long to come for you.

We hold your families’ anguish in our words, our thoughts, our prayers, our poems and in our songs. We are remembering you and you are not forgotten. We dream with you and long for the day of your safe return with eager anticipation.

Our hearts bleed at the thoughts of where you are right now; and pray earnestly to God to give you renewed strength, renewed hope, renewed dreams, because dear girls, we are coming for you. We will not let the world sleep when you are still out there in unimaginable conditions.

We will not let your dreams of being safe, healthy and educated women die, because dear ones, you are our future. You will come back home and regain your health, strength, sanity and peace of mind. You will get back what is rightfully yours. A secure and peaceful life; a life filled with promise and prosperity.

You dear one’s will heal my broken bones tomorrow, you will teach my future children in school, you will fly me to my next destination and you will cook the world’s greatest meal. You will drop the greatest album, nurse my aging self to health, and you will definitely fix my daughters teeth. I cannot wait to see you shine in Nollywood, Hollywood and Bollywood.

I will watch you on TV with tears welling up in my eyes, and not because I am sad, but because you are the journalist on my screen who presents the news with zeal, energy and enthusiasm in her eyes, a broad and genuine smile.

You will remind me each day, that there is a God who heals, who restores and who delivers.

Entoto, Ethiopia: Part I

Its 3 am in the morning in Addis, the rain is pounding hard, it’s pretty cold and I can’t sleep. My mind and thoughts are in Entoto, a relatively large mountainous region in the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

My mind is here for one reason only; the remarkable women that I had met a few days earlier; Aster, Alamnish and Abavechi.

“I wonder what Aster is up to,” I think to myself. Maybe she’s asleep? Or is she chatting with her 6 children this very moment? Or has she already left her house to head out into the mountains to pick firewood? I for one am freezing my brains off, are her and her loved ones warm enough up there?

“Nyagz, try and sleep your mind will explode,” I tell myself. But my brain was on overdrive till day break, I just couldn’t sleep.

Allow me to introduce you to Aster, Abavechi and Alamnish; very beautiful, strong and graceful women that I met on my final stop in Entoto; and final in the sense that the cab could not go any higher up the steep slope. The car engine coughed and sputtered and finally gave in. It was time to head back down.

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Just as we turned the car is when we saw the three ladies heading down the steep slope with what seemed as heaps upon heaps of wood. “Oh my goodness, “I exclaimed to my friend Hedego. “Is this for real?”

“It is my dear.”

Entoto is a mountainous region that is approximately 3,200 metres above sea level and was home to Menelik II when he founded Addis. This is an area densely populated with eucalyptus trees so maybe you can understand why on this rainy morning; my thoughts were with the ladies and their families.

I had been here about two years prior visiting some tourist sites, Menelik II’s palace and a religious church called Entoto Maryam church, both sites that are very rich in history and culture. (I highly recommend)

It was on this first visit to Entoto that I encountered the women in this area. Back then I was astounded just I was that very moment when I saw the ladies, only difference is that this time around I had come to interact with them.

“Salamnu,” I say. “Salamnu, they reply back.

That’s as far as my Amharic goes and so I ask my friend Hedego to ask them kindly if they could take some time to speak with me to which they agree.

“We need to rest anyway, so there’s no problem,” Aster says as she walks to the side of the road with the others following suit. They all put down their bundles of wood in unison and look me squarely in the eyes awaiting my questions. This caught me off guard I must admit as I wasn’t quite prepared for their quick cooperation.

I begin by introducing myself and explaining my reason for wanting to speak with them; which was to gain a little more insight into their lives (quite intrusive if you ask me) but thus far, this forward approach has worked for me.

I ask them if it would be okay to pay them something small for their time and this seems to tickle Aster. “Of course daughter, I will never say no to money, I’m not even sure I’d speak to you without you offering it.”

“Do you ladies know each other?” we begin, “No we do not, we introduce ourselves to each other in the morning as we head up into the forest or on our way back down. “We are usually there by 5 am and only make our way back after 10 hours; you are bound to make friends on the way,” Alamnish informs me.

“I have many friends,” Abavechi quips.

I come to learn that the women spend most of the day in the forest and sell their collection at the bottom of the slope for about 20-25 Birr ( $ 1-1.25 )

This load that I speak of is approximately 35-40 kgs or could be more. I could not fathom the weight on my back after lifting it with my hands (which I was still unable to) and so my friend Hedego tested it out. The poor guy could barely flinch let alone take a step. Alamnish had to help him.

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“This is out of this world,” he exclaims.

I also come to learn that both Abavechi and Alamnish have husbands who work in the textile industry and that it is they who chiseled tools for them to use in the forest. For Aster it was a different story, “Ah my ex husband is a nobody,” she says in between laughs. ”Ok not a nobody per se he sends me 1000 Birr ($ 50 ) from time to time for our 6 children.”

She seems to think about it for a split second and looks at me again, “Ah my dear, let’s call him a nobody.”

”One day when I went into the forest I returned home to find him gone.  Despite the aching back and long hours on this road, I was always on time to make food for him and the kids.”

What intrigued me most about Aster is that from the get go she kept eye contact with me the whole time yet my friend Hedego was the one translating our conversation. It felt like a woman to woman conversation.

I came to learn that Aster has 6 children, Abavechi one child and Alamnish 2; who are all in school. “You cannot undervalue education; not after the government has made this much an effort in providing it for our children. We can only play our part and that is by being responsible mothers. That is why we have to make ends meet by all means; our kids can only help us over the school holidays,” Aster says.

I commend them on this and can’t help but think of the words George Manblot once said. If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work, then every woman in Africa would be a millionaire; Alamnish, Aster and Abavechi being at the front line.

“Egzi’abher yibarkih” we say to each other, which means in Amharic, God bless you as we part ways.

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