African Women in Power/Politics – AWJ Issue VIII

In this issue of the African Women’s Journal, dubbed African Women in Power/Politics, The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) seeks to explore both the individual and collective experiences of past, aspiring or current women in power/politics.

The articles speak to some of the persistent and structural as well as emerging obstacles and challenges women face as they wrestle with power, privilege and politics. Authors also present alternative strategies for ensuring visionary, transformative leadership. They stop and take stock and give room for personal journeys and reflections.

Whether women engage at local, national, regional or global levels, they continue to wrestle with power, make their voices heard and bring about lasting change which can be felt by the coming generations. We’ve heard a few of the stories and journeys here in this issue, but of course there are countless others whose stories have neither been told nor heard. May women continue to shape their own narratives and emerge with possibilities that respond to their realities.

Here’s to gender parity in our decision making spaces – including in our homes, and to transformational leadership.

A luta continua!

A snippet of the Journal:

Amina Mohammed shares her personally journey, from growing up in North-East Nigeria to her current position as special Advisor to Ban Ki Moon on Post-2015. She challenges us that it is not enough to simply have a seat at the table, but we must speak truth to the establishment and make that seat count for the countless who are not at the table. She reminds us that each of us must play our part, using our positions of power, small as they may be, to create a just and prosperous world where all people realize their rights and live with dignity and hope.

Annie Devenish takes a closer look at an eco-feminist and ultimately political movement; the Green Belt Movement, as well as the trailblazing woman at its forefront; Wangari Maathai. This case study provides an alternative model of leadership and participation; with women tapping into power through taking control of natural resources and articulating their struggles and concerns.

Bertha Rinjeu introduces us to a number of resilient women who find innovative ways around the threats, public shame and humiliation they face while on their political journeys. She touches on culture, patriarchy and strategies women employ to overcome obstacles placed in their paths to power.

Gavaza Maluleke looks at women fighting both a racist and sexist apartheid in South Africa – in particular focusing on the role of rural women, and the multiple ways in which women can participate and tap into power – both as individuals, and perhaps most importantly, as a collective.

Louisa Khabure delves into patriarchy, political violence and the increasingly monetized nature of campaigns. She presents the nature and extent of challenges women face when seeking political leadership and examines this within the context of a broader political culture in Kenya. She also proposes actions to remedy the ills of the political landscape.

Aminatta L. R. Ngum presents the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, who ironically held the position of Minister of Family Welfare and the Advancement of Women’s Affairs in Rwanda and who was the first and only woman tried and convicted for the crime of genocide as well as rape as an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Nimmo Elmi takes a look at the case of women in Somalia relegated to the private sphere despite their active engagement prior to the civil war. Through Serah Kahiu and Sara Longwe‘s reflections of their own political journeys in Kenya and Zambia respectively, we come to understand that the personal is truly political.

Here’s a link to the Journal Issue (http://femnet.co/index.php/en/african-women-s-journal/item/340-african-women-in-power-politics-awj-issue-viii)

The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) is a membership-based pan-African Network set up in 1988 to advance African women’s development, equality and other human rights. Over the years FEMNET has played a central role in sharing information, experiences, ideas and strategies among African women’s NGOs in order to strengthen women’s capacity to participate effectively in the development processes on the continent. FEMNET has played a lead role in building the women’s movement in Africa and has ensured that African women voices are amplified and influence decisions made at national, regional and global levels, which have direct and indirect impact on their lives.

Shining Hope

It was exactly a year ago, January 2014, when I first came to know of Kennedy Odede, a fellow Kenyan like myself who was causing ripples across the world and for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, it wasn’t through local channels that I had come to know of him but through a gripping piece that he had written for the New York Times which had highlighted on the intrinsic link between terrorism and urban poverty. He had laid the facts bare, the article was true and indeed  uncomfortable. Many a times we do want to judge and furtively give our opinionated views on this perdition known as terrorism without wanting to constructively discuss or tackle its root causes and exacerbating agents. To read more on the article kindly see it here http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/09/opinion/terrorisms-fertile-ground.html?_r=0

Nonetheless, I am not writing to judge but to tell a story.

At four years of age, young Kennedy Odede had grown to know and understand that he was poor, that his family was poor, extended family as well as his late family. He was old enough to absorb the environment surrounding him and at six years when of age to walk around, he took to the streets to sell peanuts. Maybe it was by his own volition I thought to begin with,  but no, it was because of the fact that he needed to make some extra money for the family. His mother worked odd jobs to make ends meet for him and his siblings.

Growing up in Kibera slums however, the city streets and lights offered an added sense of adventure and excitement to young Kennedy. This was not to last and growing resentment took over. As he sold his peanuts to people in cars or to walking pedestrians, Kennedy began to realize the glaring disparity between his home in Kibera and the lifestyles of these people. The big cars, the clean clothes, the good shoes, it was all too painful. “I hate rich people,” the little boy said amidst throwing whatever he had with him at the cars. On several occasions, feeling jaded and exhausted from the day’s work, Kennedy headed home only to find the house fully occupied by neighbours’ kids who had come to partake of their already small portioned meals. “Mum, these neighbours have to go, I am hungry, we are all hungry, how do we even begin to share,” young Kennedy ranted in between short breaths. But his mum was deaf to this and with each passing day she reminded him that it was only through sharing, through humanity that one keeps hope alive.

At the tender age of ten, Kennedy was a homeless boy roaming the streets of Nairobi. The pain had become too much to bear and so he decided to run away from home. At the age of fifteen, ‘luck’ befell him and he got a job at a factory where he made Ksh 100 ($ 1. 2) a day after 10 hours of labour. It was also then that he had begun to read on Martin Luther King Jr. “Each day I cried and cried. This could not be life. Was I born to live this way? Is poverty bound to flow through my veins till I die? Is it genetic? My grand dad was a poor fisherman, his father too…this just cannot be life.”

Fast forward to 2015 and I am seated across this gentleman known as Kennedy. He tells me about the countless number of friends that he lost along this journey called life. The pain is palpable and I could see it through his eyes as he spoke fondly of them. Some committed suicide, while others were killed by the police. “It was crazy, I was crazy. I had lost all hope, I was violent. “

“It was on one of these long days after working at the factory that I began to question myself and question God. Flooded with tears, I told him that he could not bring me into this world to know such hard living. Hard pressed against the wall I could only bounce back. So I decided to buy a football from that day’s earning and called my friends together. I told them that there had to be more to life. Some thought I was mad but this football brought us together. I told them that we had to transform the society by ourselves,” Kennedy narrates. His words ring true and remind me of Victor Frankl’s words in his revolutionary book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ where he writes of his experiences in the Nazi gas camps. He states that man when questioning his existence should not ask what he expects from life but what life expects from him.

Today Kennedy is a success story, he is one of the leading social entrepreneurs in the world and has transformed Kibera and Mathare through the organization that he started back then at fifteen years of age, ‘Shining Hope for Communities.’ A community based and owned organization that is anchored on providing quality education, health care, water and sanitation and economic empowerment to society. Today the organization is serving over 70,000 people.

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(Large water tank serving the community with clean water)

Library

(The kids enjoying their Saturday morning watching Sesame street while the young adults indulge in some leisure reading at one of the Shofco Libraries)

What was most inspiring to see was the love for wellness of society amongst the staff members and community. During the post election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-8, the community armed with pangas and machetes stood watch over the organization’s building and projects to protect them from vandalism. “It is there work, they take so much pride in it,” Kennedy says amidst a big smile across his face.

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(The Kibera School for Girls play area)

school

One particular individual who struck me on one of my visits to Shofco (Shining Hope for Communities) is Paul (name changed) who focuses on assisting families that are dealing with sexual and gender based violence. His story is both heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. Paul was a cab driver who worked long hours especially during the night shift when his four year old daughter was raped by a neighbour. It was then that he decided to sensitize and empower the community on these issues and joined Shofco.

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(Kennedy Odede)

This brings me to my kind appeal to you; we do not need to know pain nor humble beginnings to change the world. It’s okay to just be and to give of our gifts and time to better society. Our founding fathers fought for liberation, it is now our time to propel transformation. It no longer is about politics as we know it where several individuals suffer delusions of grandeur, but about the grassroots and the roles that we are playing there. I would love to hear more on your amazing stories as well as share them. In a world that is facing the ubiquity of suffering with heartbreaking news sprawled across our screens on a daily basis; it’s all too easy to fall into the bottomless pit of hopelessness. We do have the ability to transcend this predicament and influence in a different way, African youth tell me your story nwmaina2015@gmail.com

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.Martin Luther King, Jr.

#BringBackOurGirls

burning-candles-in-church

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.

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