In looking for inspiration, I look up to individuals who radiate positive energy that targets revolutionary changes- I do not discriminate based on gender. Rather, I look at your journey and how much it mirrors the journey I wish to take. My exposure to different societal classes, and how we segregated our own, within our own country always made me wish to be the voice for the unheard masses. Exposure to post election violence in 2007, having been affected by the 2017 terror attack on Kenyan soldiers in El-Adde, indirectly experienced police brutality, societal class segregation, tribalism and disregard for the law were some of the lowest moments in my life that opened up my eyes to the need for us to stand up against injustices. Thus my search for personal influencers who can inspire me to empower my society and build a better Africa.
I chose to address a close friend and my mentor, an anti-FGM activist and the Regional Youth and Activism coordinator for Africa at Amnesty International- Diakhoumba Gassama, as my inspiration today. This is because from her, I learnt that, despite so many stumbling blocks in your fight for justice, as long as you have the zeal and desire to see a better Africa, you CAN DO IT!
The calm aura the lady displayed as she walked into the room during the global launch of the Amnesty International report made me want to make acquaintance with her. She sat composed, in her African attire, head held high; not in a proud manner, rather in an empowered manner. She listened, and finally when she spoke, I knew my role model was right in front of me, the years of searching for a perfect mirror image of whom I want to be when I grow up had come to an end. After the launch, I watched her from afar, she interacted with everyone, a smile always plastered on her face, you could easily feel her free but authoritative spirit in the air. I was not sure on how to approach her, how to say “Hi, my name is Rioba”- for once in my life I felt unsure of how I was to approach my life changing moment. After a couple of backs and forths, I walked away, she was within the country on official business for at least a week, I was confident we would cross paths at Amnesty International offices at some point.
Then on this lovely day, Didi asks me, “By the way, Mirriam, have you heard lunch, no? then let us go for lunch, do you know a good place with African food where we can have a meal?” Trust me you, my ears were buzzing, my cheek muscles were itching because I couldn’t stop smiling! In a way, or me, this was a miracle that gave me a chance to interact with Miss Diakhoumba.
I learnt a lot from her during that date and till today, bits of wish I wish to share with you…
HER PERSONALITY- AN EPIC BLEND OF A PROTECTOR, A PERFORMER AND A CAREGIVER
Diakhoumba is a bubble of high energy she is an extrovert and that works best in her activism role as she can easily learn about people, and channel a conversation in a way that makes a person comfortable around her. In my opinion, Diakhoumba is a strong woman; a feminist, open-minded, humble but outspoken, respectful, considerate and the best friend you could ask for. Her personality is a mixture of a protector, a performer and the caregiver. She is a visionary woman who can easily blend into different conversations and make people view things in new light.
Diakhoumba influences you to think fast easily. She influences you to be kind even to those that the society deems to be beneath us. She never discriminates people based on societal stereotyping, she is a patriotic African who promotes African cultures and economy in any way possible- I think you will notice she is always clad in an African attire in every occasion. In promoting goods from Africa, Diakhoumba believes she is preserving the African culture, nurturing our economy and supporting the sweat of our brothers and sisters. When we support Africa, we empower Africa.
STAND UP AGAINST INJUSTICES AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION. BE YOUR BROTHERS’ KEEPER.
Diakhoumba has never been one to mince her words. She calls out injustices there and then. I will revisit one experience she narrated to me during a lunch session with her at The Manor, in Westlands. She happened to witness an incident at an airport where an Indian Memsahib slapped her maid in public. Didi did not waste a second to stand up for that woman, and call out the Indian woman on how she handled the situation. What was disheartening, was how the security officers were quick to stand by the memsahib, against Diakhoumba and the house help, without listening to both sides of the story, until an airhostess who had witnessed the whole exchange came and straightened things out, in defense of the house help. From this encounter, I felt like our skin color was enough proof that whenever there was a conflict, we were the problem. We need stand up against any human rights violations in the society in an aim to promote equality and dignity for all citizens.
CONSERVE THE ENVIRONMENT
We once visited the chairperson for the Youth Enterprise Fund, Mr. Ronald Osumba and after the meeting she was handed a business card by Mr. Osumba and her response marveled me. She said, “I shall take you card, but normally I give people my phone and they note their numbers down for me. Having business cards means cutting down trees to make paper, and thus destroying our environments that is why I do not have business cards. It is a luxury we can do without” Diakhoumba was quite inspired by the late Wangari Mathai, she believes the only way to keep our hero’s legacy alive is by actually respecting her dream to keep nature and the environment alive. And her fight does not end at not having business cards; her mobile phone is also environment friendly, but that is a story for another day.
FIND YOUR PASSION AND PURSUE IT
Often, due to the diversities in the society, or hat our parents want us to be, we are confused about where our passions lie. It is important, however, to take time and understand where your passions lie, what you love doing both in career and personal life, if we wish to lead happy lives. Pursue these goals without ceasing and at the end of the you will meet success and development.
FIND TIME TO REST YOUR MUSCLES
The old proverb, work with no play makes Jack a dull boy is a reality, and therefore, despite her busy schedule, Diakoumba will always make time for herself and others. She believes that it is always necessary for us to try and rest in an attempt to give our minds time to relax, or to have a bit of time to handle personal issues that are not work related. In her free time, Diakhoumba swims or attends Yoga classes. She also makes time to hang out with her fellow feminists whenever she visits different countries. In our daily activities, we need to allocate time to rest, have fun, exercise or just sleep. The only way to be productive is if you give your body sufficient time to rest and rejuvenate.
There is so much more to share about Diakhoumba but unfortunately time and space doesn’t allow. I wish to cut it shot with this parting shot as an advice. These were questions I took home with me after my first encounter with Diakhoumba Gassama. “Where does your passion lie, are you putting your best foot forward in ensuring your dreams for Africa become a reality?”