OF PHENOMENAL WOMEN IN AFRICA- DIAKHOUMBA GASSAMA

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?”
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UNFORTUNATELY, TRUE LEADERS GET FORGOTTEN; THAT IS. TILL THEY DIE

 

In case I become a hero, honor me when I am alive
Do not wait for me to lie on my death bed,
Then come cushion my remains with fragrant words,
For at this point,
They will only be whispers carried away by the wind…
©Rioba

 

Rest in peace Kenneth Matiba, you were a true Hero, a fighter who brought home democracy and gave us a chance to be a multi-party state.

Africa has lost one too many of its heroes. Slowly but surely, we are losing the pioneers who fought for civilization, democracy and against colonization and slavery. We have lost Madikizela-Mandela, a renown fearless anti-apartheid feminist, who never bent to the will of her oppressors no matter how tough the situation got. We have lost Kenneth Matiba, a leader brave enough to say enough was enough with the single party state in Kenya. He was betrayed by his political allies, arrested and detained by the state. We lost Tom Mboya, J.M. Kariuki, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Fred Rwigyema and Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat, just to name a few.

The question that haunts me today, however, is: How often do we stand up for those who stood up for us?

In response to the question at hand; I am of the opinion that not enough is ever done for our political heroes, well, that is until they are no longer of this world. Despite freedom from colonialism, we have been living in Neo-colonialism; a state where we still live in unseen slavery and our freedoms are undermined by our own leaders. It is in our lands, where outspoken and honest leaders lose their lives in stage-managed deaths carried out by power hungry leaders who could not risk having strong opposition leaders, yet we do not speak up. We have allowed ourselves to live in fear of the rulers of the land and thus we end up insulting the efforts of those who stand up for justice rather than standing with them. We do not wish to join them in their fight for freedom, we often criticize everything they do, and say they called for the calamity that befell them, yet when they die we are quick to praise them and mention all the great outcomes of their struggle.

“WHY DO WE TAKE UP LEADERSHIP POSITIONS?”

I often wonder, in our capacity as leaders, do we seek to progress Africa or do we sit at the throne to develop our empires at the expense of tax paying citizens? This question is after an observation of the objectives of the pioneer political leaders. One unique factor amongst these departed souls, is that they fought for the greater good of the society, it was never for individual gain rather for collective achievements. Their attempts to progress Africa often came with challenges. At some point, others were betrayed by their political allies, others were assassinated by those thirsty for power, most of them were tortured or detained, but that did not stop them for fighting for that which they believed in.

A TRUE AFRICAN LEADER- JULIUS MALEMA

We all need to learn from such heroic leaders and take a second to ask ourselves why we take up leadership positions, if these reasons are for selfish individuals gain, then we should know we are working in total disregard for those who lost their lives fighting for freedom.

“MAMA THEY ARE HERE”

Our departed non-retreating anti-apartheid hero- Mama Madikizela Nomzamo Winnie Mandela

Despite all these shortcomings, there are those of us who are however showing us how to speak against any injustices in an attempt to honor our heroes without fear. During Winnie Mandela’s funeral, acting AbaThembu king, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo’s words echoed the reasoning of most people in the almost civilized African society. His words were, “Madikizela-Mandela should have been honored when she was alive.” Julius Malema also stood up and did not hold his tongue back against those who dissociated themselves from Madikizela-Mandela. “Mama those who sold you out to the regime are here. They are crying the loudest…” The words of these two leaders echo the thoughts of most of us who are unable to speak today. During the reading of the eulogy of Kenneth Matiba, our leaders were also given a taste of the same medicine by a long-time friend of the departed. He called out names of leaders whom he claimed betrayed the departed during his arrest.

THE BRAVE ONES ONLY LIVE ON ONCE THEY DIE


The brave ones often go unnoticed; we end up remembering them only when they are dead. The heroes often sit at the back while we enjoy the fruits of their labor. Then we come up programs where we siphon their dues into our pockets and give them peanuts as a reward for their fight against the white man, against slavery, against torture and against an imbalanced political society. The brave ones are often silent, they watch from a distance, especially when we think we know it all; when we forget they saw it all. They watch not because they do not want to help but because they are helpless, we think their time is gone, we believe we know what we are doing. The brave ones are often speechless, not because they cannot speak but because they do not understand how we are redeemed from colonialism yet we still agree to live as slaves

That being said- We are privileged to have been fought for by great leaders such as Kenneth Matiba. Even if they have departed, they still live amongst us in spirit. May we be wise enough to follow their footsteps in the continued fight against corrupt leaders, dictators and tyrants, land grabbers and any forms of injustice that oppress the rights and freedoms we are meant to enjoy. Let us stand up and speak out against injustices!

 

WHEN THE HEART BREAKS

In life, there are different kinds of people, those who love, those who play and those who don’t feel. But one common thing amongst us all is that there is a point in life where we lose the most precious thing to us and we have to endure that sickening pain within us, or for others, let the pain and shame consume us and form hollow, dead but living creatures out of us. The question is, what next, do we continue to feel sorry for ourselves or do we move on? Am a fighter, I definitely pick moving on. I have a really lovely sister, one who loves with all her heart. I never was the emotional one between us, or so I thought (I don’t know if am laughing or crying now), she always got hurt because of how much she loved, or trusted. Often the society took advantage of her kind heart. I would try reason with her and ask her to take it slow. I told her “usiingiange box na miguu zote” (For lack of a better statement- don’t fall madly in love). She once told me, “Mirriam, there is one day you will fall in love and you will get your heart broken and trust me you will not like it. So today, do unto other what you want them to do to you.”
Fast forward, April 2016, I finally met him, tall, handsome, brown eyed, that body build… everything was perfect, he was like my personal teddy bear, in his arms I was safe, he literary took away the nightmares I had, (story for another day though). I didn’t hesitate to let everyone know he was mine, you know us women, and how we get when it comes to territories. Then again, being the campus girl I was, I felt like I was too young to settle down, I wanted it both ways, secure my man and still flirt around, attend parties, get high, but you can never have it both ways. So I finally lost him, he had to walk away, he had given me too many chances and I kept on giving him a reason why I did not deserve these chances. This time around, I knew there was no going back, he was at his last straw, he was too calm, it was like he was gone already.
It felt like my heart had been ripped out of my soul in a second, our journey had finally come to a standstill and this time round, I knew there was no going back. I had screwed up, and for a moment, I felt like even he knew it too; this time we couldn’t really recover. I had killed the last shred of trust he struggled to have in me. I felt my soul slowly slip out of my living body. The pain was too immense, for someone who said I couldn’t cry, I struggled to walk home with balancing tears in my eyes, then bore out my heart on my pillows, the shaking was uncontrollable, I couldn’t breathe well, my hands were trying hard to play the role of a fan and a comforter at the same time. Breaking up with someone you built your future around cannot really be explained. It is like they just died in your arms, and you no longer can feel their presence, yet they are there. Heart breaks are painful, because this time, aside from the feeling that they are gone, you will constantly have to see them happy in another one’s arms, and by all means put a fake smile on your face and congratulate them on how far they have come, or tell them how happy you are for them. Deep inside though, you will be crumbling to tiny pieces, breaking down and losing the last roll of cool that kept you going, because you cannot believe you actually lost the only man or woman who made you be you, with whom you did not have to hide in front of or pretend to be perfect. But guess what, our actions have consequences, the best we can do is swallow the bitter pill, get well and move on.
On that fateful day, in my own crazy mind, I felt like I needed to go out, get high, get drunk. Those were the typical solutions to campus life. But for once I stopped and gave it a really long thought, I was trying to be unique, so why was I opting for typical acts? So what would getting high solve? Would he come back if I got drunk? What about the little ones that looked up to me, what example was I setting for them? Finally made a resolve, I knew who I wanted to do. I would stay home, scribble a few notes in my diary, write a post my blog, go to church, in short, be the woman I always wanted to be in my fantasies, then maybe, that way, he would not have to constantly wonder if I messed up again. He at least would be at peace knowing that I learnt the hard way, finally straightened my acts and became the empowered woman he said I was deep down. I thank him, even if I never say it to him, he made me the woman I am, and the one am working hard to be- ambitious, focused, successful but submissive and greatest of all, God fearing. I moved on from my heartbreak and turned out to be a better person.
Hey- It is never that simple, but at the same time it is not impossible, it’s a healing process that only becomes a reality if you are committed. You can do it too, alternatively, you can avoid the hurt all together, treasure whatever you have, be committed, you never know when tables will turn and you have to live with memories only.

THESE HOPELESS REFLECTIONS.

The worth of the papers I hold in my hands, have lost their value. I seek not to understand how the society operates; for, from time immemorial, society has only seemed to recognize though who it finds to be worthy its time. Despite my efforts in school to explore the library, the constant and consistent self-motivation talks to find the strength to move on despite the harsh reality that all my efforts may be in vain, the cold nights in the classrooms searching deeper within my books to find the knowledge that others could not comprehend and despite the consequences of my lonely nights in the classrooms found in the open view of the school street lights, but still lurking within the shadows of rapists and robbers! I thought God would reward my tireless efforts, but all my thoughts were hopeless reflections, I still could not secure a decent living.
 
The worth of the papers I hold in my hands have lost their value. The job applications from every entertainment propose requirements, that to me, are a far-fetched dream. They ask for three years’ experience yet I know not the entry of a construction site aside for the days I was put on attachments. They ask for a bulk of documents of verification, where one sheet of paper would cost me a thousand shillings, an extra five with double zeros if I will have to bribe to attain. They ask for application fees, and a bunch of other things, but yet even after I meet these, they ask again, what tribe are you from? I dreamed of a day, where I would not be judged, based on the perception of my tribe rather by the efforts of my hands. But alas, despite my revolutionary reflections, all those were hopeless reflections.
The worth of the papers I hold in my hands, have lost their value. I head back to my village with my head bent in shame. I feel ashamed of the color of my skin, I feel ashamed of the being cursed by my tribe name, I feel ashamed that I dared to dream. My anger is directed towards all those that set the society to believe success was meant for the chosen few, I desire for a podium to express my emotions of despair, but my soul is to crushed to take another leap of faith. I left the village knowing the past was behind, but here I am, on the country bus, headed back. I gnaw my mind and crush my teeth, the intensity of disappointment glooms my day, and then I realize, city life was not meant for girls like me, my fantasies of success and my visions of equality, all those were hopeless reflections.
The worth of the papers I hold in my hands, have lost their value. Despite graduating with a first class, a big uplift for my poor clan and being the only girl from my village with a university degree in Civil Engineering, I bend in the scorching sun and plough the dry lands. I work, back bent all day, until my bones ache, at least to get a loaf of bread at the end of the day to feed my two-year-old son, whose father seems to care not of his existence. The naïve girl in me still hoped he would come back and rescue me from the shackles of poverty, fulfill the empty promises he made that made my legs swoon back in the days, but all those are hopeless reflections.
 

The worth of the papers I once held in my hands already lost meaning. As I seat at the corner of my old hut, my roof leaks and drops of rain splash around, my son wails, my tummy aches. I see a reflection from a far, a ray of hope, a dazzling hand; it stretches towards me, saying, “Come, rest my child.” A smile of hope lights my face, a bit of the burden is lessened from my shoulder, I feel some inner peace, one I knew was too good to be true: My son’s cries, they bring me back, he looks at me with hope in his eyes, the kind of look that hopes for food. I thought I saw our break come through, but then again, as I console my son, close to my sagged bosoms and frail body, I realize what I have known all along, as long as I know not one, as long as I am the common Mwananchi, with common wananchi parents, all hopes and dreams I have, are hopeless reflections.
The worth of the papers my body holds, I no longer comprehend. My soul stares at my frail body, lying cold on the ground. My son weeps beside it, shaking it, begging it to siphon my soul from the link that separates us from the pains of this world. Asking it how it will survive without its shadow as a protection from the scorching sun and the glaring eyes. My load feels lesser than before, the environment is no mirror image of my former life. if feels like a mockery of how life should be. But how can life be when man decides to dictate who should enjoy their rights as privileges instead. As my soul flies higher, the weeping increases, I see the mothers lying on the ground across the world, I see their young ones weeping. Despite my wish to help, I desire not to relive the experiences I had with my hopeless reflections. I fly away; to a land we all are equal, a land where my hopeless reflections are a possible reality.
 

I HIDE BENEATH THE BEAUTY