Ongala Maurice

To Inspire is to Empower


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NATIONAL YOUTH DISSERVICE

Kenya. Outright, the East African country whose leaders are known to have perfected the science of looting public coffers and robbing the citizenry of hundreds of billions, while still remaining the region’s economic super power. In the wake of numerous graft scandals that have rocked our nation from the years past to this very day, I chuckle at the thought of writing this piece for I know not where to begin. I must confess that my poor mind has been the field of a stiffly contested battle as to whether or not I should pen this. But having remembered the moral obligation vested upon me as a young leader and the overwhelming weight of responsibility, this task is underwhelming.

Well,images-3 I do not want to dwell on the Ksh. 791 million and other humongous amounts looted by powerful people at the NYS, Ministry of Devolution and elsewhere in the Jubilee government.

I just thought we should remember a few things and do some critical thinking as we near the election year, 2017. For starters, it is useful for us to remember that it took the President and his Deputy unusually long to name their cabinet after their disputed election. But when they finally did after ostensibly carrying out ‘extensive consultation and interviews’, there was no ministry directly in charge of youth affairs. Instead, youth affairs was one of he too many departments under the then Ministry of Devolution and Planning headed by the all-powerful Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru. The constitutional limit of the number of ministries notwithstanding, this was the genesis of my problems with the Jubilee Government. The youth were arm-twisted right from the beginning of this government. From its very onset, we were only a small department and not a full ministry as had been with the previous regimes.

Secondly, when the Opposition Leader Rt Hon Raila Odinga raised alarm over the on-going fleecing of public funds at the NYS and named CS Anne Waiguru as a prime suspect, several things happened.

  1. Leader of Majority in Parliament, Hon Aden Duale, a die hard Jubilee member and self-confessed sycophant of the President came out with poisonous vehemence against Raila, asking him to stop meddling in the Jubilee affairs and wait for next elections.
  2. Deputy Leader of Majority in the Senate, Hon Kipchumba Murkomen, a close ally of the Deputy President came gun-blazing against the opposition CORD Coalition in rallies and press conferences terming Raila as an enemy of development.
  3. Then CS Anne Waiguru herself actually sued Raila for defamation. (Jeez! How hard corruption can fight back!). The case files have since been rotting in some city shelves with no follow up – it was only a threat.
  4. Mutahi Ngunyi, a city political analyst and consultant with his usual shameless bias bashed Raila on Twitter, insulted him and called him all manner of names including the famous ‘Lord of Poverty’ phrase.
  5. Deputy President William Ruto repeatedly called Raila a poor, stingy man, an economic saboteur. He further propagated Mutahi Ngunyi’s Lord of Poverty insult, to which Raila responded with the even more famous, ‘High Priest of Corruption’ term.
  6. President Uhuru Kenyatta himself defended Waiguru saying the opposition should let Jubilee deliver on their mandate to Kenyans and avoid side shows. He was also quoted during rallies in Obunga and Kibra slums asking Raila and his team to stop sabotaging the otherwise helpful NYS slum upgrade program.

Well, today the whole story is different. Over the last few weeks, individuals like Josephine Kabura (I don’t get why this name is pronounced as Kafura) who was supposed to be the sacrificial lamb decided she wasn’t gonna die alone. She swore an affidavit that seriously implicated Waiguru and Mutahi Ngunyi in the NYS multi million scandal. On her day of grilling at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Waiguru went ahead and adversely named Hon Duale, Hon Murkomen (I’m not sure if they are still honourable), Deputy President’s Personal Assistant, Farouk Kibet, DP’s brother and other individuals as having been involved in the scandal. The affidavit is in the public domain, doing rounds on social media. The other thing that has happened is that both the President and his Deputy have since kept a deafening silence on these latest developments.

So today, every Kenyan youth knows that the reason the six individuals listed above cursed, insulted and damned Raila Odinga for blowing the whistle of NYS scandal was because they knew they were all involved in one way or the other, no? They knew they were partners in crime. They knew they had hatched a plan and it was well sealed. They had treacherously stolen from the Kenyan youth and they weren’t going to let anyone make noise about it. They used the mainstream media, social media, propagandists like Dennis Itumbi and all manner of tools at their disposal to discredit the RAO. But as we have come to know experientially, facts are ever so stubborn. Today we know that it was has always been a National Youth Disservice (NYD) and not NYS.

If you are a Kenyan youth (including recruits at NYS) and you happen to stumble upon this line, it is meant for you. Perhaps, like me, you’ve been watching the goings on in the State of The Nation with utter disgust and bitterness. You walk long distances daily, sweat out your last drop and keep hoping for a better tomorrow. You persist in the hope that the Jubilee government will make good their promise of job creation. Well, you can do yourself one favour, go register as a voter. We have a date with mediocre leadership next year. 2017 is beckoning, so do this favour to yourself. Register and vote out Jubilee. Period. That is your most powerful way of changing and shaping your next 5 years.

 

 

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Vultures for Leaders!

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African Heads of State in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Africa has over the decades had to put up with leaders and governments whose core objectives are to amass wealth and commit hienous atrocities against their own subjects – slaughter, kill, maim and torture, punish dissenting voices and cripple the very liberty that they ostensibly fought for during the struggle for independence.

A few cases in point. Not long ago, Kenya was at war with itself because of election theft. We saw citizens chopping off fellow countrymen’s heads, burning their property and driving them out of their homes because they belonged to a different tribe. The effects of these, we still live with to this very day. Currently, Burundi is on fire. We have all seen gory images and heard unimaginable stories from the land of Nkurunzinza. People killing each other like they are animals. Draining their blood and dragging their dead bodies long distances in the open, then chopping off their body parts. Why? Because they are of a different political opinion. In Somalia, the blood of terrorism is the the water the quenches people’s thirst. It is no longer news for any number of innocent civilians to be killed by the warring Al Shabaab and their sub-factions. Recently in South Africa, which is supposed to be Africa’s most civilised nation – or so they say, we saw xenophobic nationals butchering innocent foreigners whose only crime was to visit and live in SA, legally. Southern Sudan, The Sudan, DRC… Damn! the list is too long, time beats me.

One thing worthy of noting is that the African culture is inherently a loving and peaceable culture. A comparative ethnography across Africa reveals striking similarities between cultural practices across the continent. I can state here with the audacity and authority of the African that I am, that not one African culture celebrates murder and advocates for killing, even through Juju, of innocent fellow humans.

What, then, is the genesis of the venom? Straight answer, vultures for leaders.

When you have people in positions of power and authority whose only interest is to be selfish, you will fail. And this has been Africa’s greatest undoing, the reason why scores of African countries are proudly failed states. But even more appalling, none of these leaders who perpetrate such horrific crimes against humanity has been brought to book either during or after their reign. Pierre Nkurunzinza is still a free man. Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and other co-accused persons are free, which brings me to the gist of this article.

Yesterday, The African Union adopted President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Proposal to quit The International Criminal Court (ICC). This, they purport, is because the ICC is an imperialist court instituted to oppress Africans and strip them of their sovereignty. Really? Shamelessly, the heads of state attempting to compare Africa to the West and in sheer tomfoolery, stated that ICC has never opened any case against leaders of the West. They cited Ne-colonalism and all those kinds of nonsense to justify their dumb move. By the way, neo-colonialism is an argument of weak minds who can not stand up for themselves and reform systems from within. More critically, Neo-cololialism can as well be – and has been – perpetuated by our own presidents and leaders right here in Africa, so that argument flops.

int-auI don’t hold brief for the West, but my candid question is, how many leaders in Europe and the Americas in the recent history have butchered, tortured and maimed their fellow countrymen for political dissent? How many have persecuted and killed us Africans when we go to study in their prestigious universities because of xenophobia? Instead, have they not generously given our sons and daughters scholarships and fellowships? We have countless cases of such in Africa and very scanty in the West. This makes me wonder just how skewed leaders of Africa, conglomerating in Addis Ababa could get in their rationale.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have much problems with this decision if we had credible judicial systems and processes in Africa. First at country level, the courts are flawed and marred with wanton corruption that is at best, hopeless. As I write this, the a Supreme Court Judge in Kenya is being investigated over a 2 million USD bribe to rule a case in favour of a powerful politician. Just in case you didn’t know, The Supreme Court is the highest judicial institution in Kenya. Secondly, at the continental level, all the atrocities that have been committed in African countries have happened in the full glare of the much hyped AU.

Was the decision made by African Heads of State in Addis Ababa representative of their citizens’ views back home? If Africa so quits the ICC, what is the alternative court? The AU is a toothless dog that can only bark the loudest but bite no meat, however soft. If Africa so quite ICC, ours will be a desperate case. Our greedy leaders will adopt impunity as a shared best practice in governance across the continent, for, who will be watching? Our courts are already flawed and notoriously corruptible, who else will be watching? Our religious leaders are conmen and women who do worse than the politicians, who else will be watching? Our human rights watchdogs operate within a very limited space which is continuously getting squeezed as they become complacent… Who will be watching as African leaders savage and ravage the continent?

Africa needs a Revolution. Whatever it takes, a revolution is all we need.

Thanks for reading!

#VultresForLeaders #SeasonsOfGrace


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DEADBEAT INDOLENCE

Let’s take the bull by the horn once, for all of us and for all time. Last week, I, like scores other Kenyans, was appalled by the bold yet bewildered initiative taken by the now famous Jackson Njeru to create the equally famed Deadbeat Kenya Facebook Page. Just in the unlikely event that you’re wondering what this is all about, Deadbeat Kenya is a page where women and men bash people they had babies with, and have since taken off or neglected responsibility of the same. And as you would authentically expect, Kenyans have flocked this page for obvious reasons – which I have chosen to deal with in this piece. It has been embraced by all and sundry. It has trended probably more than any recent hot topic on both Social Media and the Mainstream Media. The ‘bashers’, by statistics largely women, post pictures and phone numbers of fathers of their children and accompany such with some not-so-lovely description of what has hitherto transpired.

deadbeatNow, good people, before we hit the crux, it will serve us perfect to examine some basics. According to The Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus, a Deadbeat also referred to as Defaulter, is someone who fails to meet a financial obligation. But that is more general. Wikipedia, in quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1965), says thus,

“Deadbeat parent is a racialized pejorative term to parents of either gender who evade court ordered child support obligations. Primarily used in the United States and Canada, the gender-specific deadbeat dad and deadbeat mom are commonly used to refer to men and women who have fathered or mothered a child and intentionally fail to pay child support ordered by a family law court or statutory agency such as the Child Support Agency.”

The issue of who is the father of a child is one person’s word against another’s, unless it is determined by a paternity test or a court of law. This is the first problem anyone must have with the Jackson Njeru-run Facebook initiative. Assuming the above cited law explicitly applied to Kenya, still most, if not all, of the wailers and hecklers (or are they shoe-throwers?) on Deadbeat Kenya have not sought court redress over the paternity and child maintenance. Therefore, they have not an iota of moral justification to defame their so-called exes, male or female. Based on this, users of this unfortunate page risk being charged in a court of law for character assassination and defamation. But that’s not all. According to Section 29 (b) of the Kenya Information and Communication Act, CAP 411 of the Laws of Kenya, the users of Deadbeat Kenya can be charged for causing “annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety”, all of which are criminal offenses in this land. Just a screenshot to any police station is good enough to trigger the legal process!
Personal opinion: Deadbeat Kenya is the case of washing your very own filthy (inner) garments in the public arena as others watch amused. The onlookers clap for you and cheer, “wash more! Use the latest detergent…!”, and in indeed, you keep washing. How backward! How thoughtless! How reckless! Two adults consenting to cheap pleasurable moments in private (or perhaps in public – Masaku 7’s and Muliro Gardens are still fresh in all of our minds) with no thoughts of the consequences, end up in shameless public online duels. Will this give bread and meat to the poor innocent human being you brought into the world? My generation makes me shudder.

Time to take this a half a notch higher. I am in no way being the devil’s advocate here, but who said that single parents cannot make it to raise great people? President Barack Hussein Obama was raised singly by his mother even when his biological (Kenyan) dad was alive and kicking. That in no way deterred him from becoming the most powerful man on earth today, and for the last couple of years. Right home, the CEO of Equity Bank, Dr. James Mwangi, a man celebrated at home and abroad, lost his dad at a tender age and thereafter, brought up by his peasant mother in a poverty-stricken village right here in Kenya. Today his own bank is soaring high in the East African region, and he is a billionaire! Think of the other numerous examples, time limits me.

Kenyan youth have been known to have their priorities wrong. They fight vehemently for jobs; consideration and involvement in policy formulation and implementation yet make no deliberate efforts to prepare themselves for the tasks they demand. Education and learning, to them ends with college and everything that follows could include nothing further than parties, raves, alcohol, sexual exploits and clandestine, which results in unexpected pregnancies and deadly infections. A sick society of moral decadence, indolence and slothfulness.

Turkey, The Koreas and China – some of the greatest Asian economies – have a labour force relatively similar to Kenya (the highest being 20 – 34 years old, on average). This is a pretty young workforce, just like Kenya. The youth in the cited countries spend most of their time in innovation hubs trying to solve technological problems and coming up with innovations that are eventually exported to Africa. They take full advantage of the 24 hour economy and make the most out of it. They do not acquire education in order to be employed, but rather to be self-dependent. A second, before you defensively say, Kenya has no innovation hub, 24-hour economy et cetera, allow me to pull you closer home. Youth Hub Africa is a youth run online initiative founded by a Nigerian young person, Rotimi Olawale alongside others. An online youth interaction platform that promotes excellence, Youth Hub Africa has helped connect numerous young people on and off the continent to opportunities; fellowships, scholarships, conferences, trainings and so on. Keeping with West Africa, John Armah, only 23, is one of Ghana’s youngest entrepreneurs. He is the founder of Ghana Centre for Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation (GCEEI). This centre is committed to easing the unemployment problem amongst the youth in Ghana in both the formal and informal sectors by providing a platform where the unemployed youth can connect with experienced entrepreneurs, business financiers, recruitment agencies, skills training experts and policy makers, so they can either be employed or receive the requisite training, advice and funding to actualize their business ideas. Again time and space beat me.

Back home, young people of the employable age and qualities (read self-employment), have so much time to meddle in online mediocrity at the expense of the country’s economy. Kenyan youth burn so much time doing online politicking, perpetrating and spreading hate speech, and engaging in counter-productive online ventures like Deadbeat Kenya, which only enrage resentment, anger, anxiety and animosity. I am in no capacity to justify why any right-thinking man would bastardize a baby – in the simplest term, it is unacceptable antisocial behaviour! Having underscored this, it even beats me the more why a level-headed woman would rant about her bastard and his/her irresponsible father in public, in this age and time, instead of seeking legal redress. Makes me wonder, which of the two actions would bear the most admirable fruits? Where is wisdom? What happened to the fabric of our social order ans sense of shame?

I wouldn’t close this before I opine that in the wake of devolution of resources to grassroots and lots of privileges and favours directed to the youth from the government and by the constitution, we can do better than the ‘Deadbeat Kenyas’ of this country. We can rise above mediocrity and start cherishing excellence. We can desist from burning idle time on unproductive social media ventures, go out there and do actual work.

The author is a Social Development Consultant, Youth Africa’s Correspondent in Kenya,  Kenya Community of Practice’s National Youth Representative and CO-Chair of African Youth for Results Network (Y4R)


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African Youth, The Onus is on Us!

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A section of African Youth Leaders giving highlights of their case studies presented at the Youth for Results Knowledge and Learning event in Tunis, April 2014

It is a cold Friday afternoon, early April 2014, in the Capital of Northern Africa’s prominent nation Tunisia – the country that saw the genesis of the Arab Spring. The final day of Youth for Results Network’s Knowledge and Training event is here. Youth for Results Network (Y4R) is the youth sub-set of Africa for Results Initiative (AfriK4R) under Africa Community of Practice (AfCoP). This initiative has a core mandate of sharing knowledge and best practices on Managing for Development Results (MfDR), bringing together practitioners from governments, the civil society, the private sector as well as the academia.

The auditorium is filled with reflective faces. The chilly weather quite contrasts the warm mood of the occupants of this auditorium. Young development professionals from many walks of Africa have been here for the last three or four days attending the much anticipated training on Managing for Development Results (MfDR) with a youth perspective. This event, organized and facilitated by Africa Community of Practice on Managing for Development Results (AfCoP-MfDR) and Africa Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) was aimed at equipping key young African leaders with the requisite knowledge on development issues, to enable them effectively play their role in helping Africa achieve sustainable economic development, social progress and poverty reduction. This is in keeping with the realization that sustainable development in Africa may only be sustainable indeed when the youth are involved. You may be asking why.

This focus on the youth stems from the belief that youth face an exciting era of possibilities with technological advancements like computers, mobile phones and the internet, which can facilitate learning and expose youth to many opportunities. African youth have the power within their reach, to influence their communities and represent the social and economic future of their respective societies. Furthermore, youth represent Africa’s future workforce since two thirds of Africa’s population of one billion is under the age of 35. Over 35% of Africans are between the ages of 15 and 35 years. This makes the Sub-Saharan Africa the youngest and the fastest growing region of the world, leading to the popular term, ‘youth bulge’ which is both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent.

These young people gathered here in Tunisia are well aware of these statistics. But even more compelling, they are aware of a myriad of shared challenges that face them and their colleagues back in their home countries. To cite a few, of the 10 million youth living with HIV/AIDS globally, 6.2million are found in Africa. Most of these young people are too poor to afford anti retroviral drugs. The participants here are also aware that on average, 72% of young Africans live below 2 dollars a day. This, coupled with scores other disturbing statistics related to youth unemployment and poor governance in most African countries, make a case that there is evidently, an urgent need to address youth issues on the continent. Time is ripe for no more talk but action. Strategically launched and professionally guided action against youth deprivation and marginalization in Africa. The billion dollar question is who is going to be trusted with this task? I throw a random scan across the auditorium again, and I see reflective faces. Having intensively learnt incredibly invaluable lessons pertaining to Management for Development Results – with components such as leadership for results and results based budgeting among others – these young people are ready and their faces reflect this. They are ready to take up the challenge that is before them, for as it was said of old; great is the opportunity that lies in every challenge. I therefore take a random one-on-one with few of the participants.

“A key lesson I have learnt here is that managing for results allows for integration of social change management in our daily work,” remarked David Takawira, a prominent youth leader from Zimbabwe, who also doubles up as Program Coordinator for Norwegian People’s Aid in his country. Takawira continues, “my piece of advice to young people in Africa is that we need to go back to the basics of community work and mobilization, since social movements require a critical mass supporting our networking tools.’

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Ongala Maurice from Kenya gives the indicators of the Youth for Results Action Plan

From David, I meet Matar Faye, the Chairperson of Give1 Project, Senegal. Asked what he thinks of the situation of African youth in view of managing for results. Faye minces no words.

“I am motivated, by this Knowledge and Learning Event, to do more result oriented work with the youth. I have decided to strategically involve myself rather than wait to be involved, which may never come to fruition.” Faye, also a successful young entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of M&F Clothing Company, challenges young people in the continent to stop complaining and start working. At this point, I spare some moments for my thought process to take this in. As a youth leader from Kenya, I already feel so challenged. But I have to get more views. So I catch up with the 22 year old CEO from Ghana, John Armah. This focused, tactful and knowledgeable young man is the founder and Executive Director of Ghana Centre for Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation (GCEEI). He says this event has enlightened him a great deal on the basics of results-based budgeting, which is a pillar of managing for development results. He also challenges African youth to use innovative approaches in addressing their plight, adding that African problems need African solutions which are found in Africa.

Sticking with Ghana, Mona Niina a young Evaluation Coordinator is concise, “After so much enlightening, we have to go back and act! Let’s not forget to create synergies through collaboration.”

Lastly, I get to talk to young Landry Ndriko Mayigane from Rwanda, the founder and President of Youth Action against Climate Change. He says it is incumbent upon us to share knowledge with other youth in our communities and countries for more enlightening. Landry also challenges youth in Africa to be more conscientious and active rather than being passive observers. And his comment reminds me that knowledge sharing is at the core of Youth for Results Action Plan developed in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2013. I long to have talked to a few more but I see them engaged in completing their group assignments which are to be presented in moments, so I take the humble pie.

From the words of these young visionary leaders, I see and quite concur, that it is not enough to highlight and enlist the problems of African youth. More, a lot more is required. Urgently so. In the words of Ruth Aine, a young Online Communications Specialist from Uganda, the youth need to equip themselves with knowledge and requisite tools that will render them ready to take up challenges and prove their worth in taking Africa forward. Only then will people take them seriously.

As I draw the curtains on this piece, I am compelled to share a thought that originated from Nigeria’s Rotimi Olawale, founder of and CEO of Youth Hub Africa and Coordinator of Youth for Results Network.

“In 1963 when The Organization of African Unity (OAU, now AU) was formed, there was no internet. The numbers of aircrafts, airliners and flights in Africa were meager. Yet with these, and amid a myriad other setbacks, Africa’s founding fathers traversed the continent, held meetings, made declarations and birthed OAU. If they could achieve so much in that environment of resource constrains, how much more can we achieve today?”

A definitive characteristic of change makers throughout history is their orientation to action. The onus indeed, is on us!

 

 


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Angela: An Experience of Resilience and Determination to Live

“If I was to tell everything about myself, I would write a novel of more than a thousand pages, but I just want you to have this preview…” starts the ever lovely and jovial 25-year old Angela Mutwang’ (fondly known to many as Angie), with hopes that young people of her generation will one day hear from her first-hand and witness what an experience she has had fighting to live.

12th December 2006 is a day Angela says she will never forget, not only because it’s the day her country Kenya achieved independence many decades past, but because it was also the day she began a new chapter in her life. She was recuperating from a serious illness at home in Kisumu city when she decided to take an HIV test.

Prior to this day, Angela’s mother had persistently suggested that she should take the HIV test. The reasons for this suggestion were unclear and even worrying, given that her mum is a career nurse. On several occasions, her mum said in Kiswahili: “Angela, si tupime HIV? hizi rashes zinafanana na za mgonjwa mwingine tuko naye huko kwa ward na ako na HIV” (Angela, why don’t we test HIV? these rashes on your body are very similar to those of a patient we have in the ward and he has HIV).

But Why the HIV Test?
This question would not cease lingering and nagging Angela’s inner self. Her mum wanted her to test for HIV because the kind of rashes on her skin resembled those of a patient they had in the hospital who was HIV positive. Angela however, definitely disagreed for she had just graduated from High School and had never had sexual intercourse, had never been a drug addict and had no history of rape, sexual defilement in her childhood or any known exposure to the virus. How else would she have acquired the deadly virus?

Thanking God that her mama did not force her to take the HIV test, Angela finally gave it a benefit of doubt and decided on her own to visit a testing centre. It was her first time visiting a Voluntary Counseling and Testing centre and she received straight positive result for all three rapid tests that were conducted. Angela wasn’t astonished by the result. She remained calm! Well, this could sound like fiction of sorts but in her own words she says, “…it was like I had received malaria test results. I have never understood why that horrible news didn’t move me.” She went to her mum at the hospital where she worked as a nurse and broke the news of her HIV status. They immediately went to the laboratory and she was retested and her mum also took the test. Angela was still HIV positive but her mama was negative. This cleared any possibility of having acquired the virus from her mother. The two of them sat at the hospital lounge and had a lengthy talk.

“She was witty. She told me it was as a result of a blood transfusion I had way back when I was only 2 years old, I was living with my maternal grandparents in Homabay when I fell critically ill and had to be transfused. It turned out that since then I was always in poor health. Mum had suspected the blood had not been screened. Being a nurse, the only thing she was left with was to take good care of me because she wasn’t strong enough to confirm her fears,” recounts Angela. “Mum said at the time I was growing up, HIV was so expensive to manage. It had just been discovered in Kenya and she was still a nursing student at Kenya Medical Training College.”

Back to the reality of the moment, Angela’s CD4-cell count was at 311. A normal count is in the range of 800-1600. She now felt the reality of the killer disease in her blood and was certain she was dying slowly. She felt frustrated, stressed and distressed. Something really urgent had to be done. Angela was immediately enrolled into Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) at Kisumu District Hospital. Whenever she went for the adherence sessions she would spend the whole time crying bitterly and asking questions that no one could logically and satisfactorily answer. As a result, Angela was referred to Tuungane Youth Centre of Impact Research & Development Organization, a youth friendly health centre which manages HIV related cases among young people of up to 21 years of age. At Tuungane Centre, her CD4 cell count was taken again and this time round, it had dropped drastically to 255. “I was even more frustrated and stressed. I slipped into depression. I knew I was dying soon,” she says.

Soon afterwards – thanks to top notch professionalism, warmth and palliative care she received at Tuungane – Angie got so well acquainted with her new family that she even got a part time job there. Earlier on, Angie had vehemently resisted her parents’ calls to take her for higher education. She thought she would but waste her parents’ fees and die all the same. This position was to change when her mum told her she would be able to access some vital hospital information and even sue the hospital where she was transfused contaminated blood, if she studied some course in college. Angie was thus convinced to join Medical School to study Medical Records and Information Technology just to revenge. She was raging with the urge to hit back. Her resentment had steadily evolved into bitterness. She was irked and was waiting for just the right time to launch the search for those who did her this injustice when she was only a little angel.

After joining Kenya Medical training College, Angela’s Christian virtues in which she had been brought up came alive. She recalls, “I joined college but in the course of my studies, I realized God had a much deeper purpose for me than revenge. He had been so faithful to me and given me life for all the years I lived with the deadly virus. Eventually, I gave up on revenging and instead focused on Christ. I made a conscious decision to live positively. Hard as it was, forgiving those who did me this injustice made me even a stronger warrior!”

Setbacks
Needless to mention, young people living with HIV in Kenya and Africa at large come face to face with the cold reality of stigma and discrimination, fear, ignorance, hatred and cruelty. Angela was discriminated against right from home by neighbors and relatives, friends in school and worse to imagine, even in the church. Many preferred to look at her as having been promiscuous when she was still a virgin! They didn’t care to know the moving story behind her condition.

Angela recuperating in a hospital in Kisumu

Angela recuperating in a hospital in Kisumu

Although Angela has learned to deal with the social ills she faces almost daily, she still finds it difficult to be ever taking drugs. If her mother doesn’t remind her to take medication, sometimes she won’t remember to do so. She is also poor at eating and this sometimes makes her really weak especially in the wake of drugs. Perhaps the greatest of the impediments that Angie has faced is that of access to medication in management of opportunistic infections. Many are the times she is taken ill with pneumonia, TB or other respiratory complications. One other thing that Angela doesn’t like talking about is her love life. She says she denies herself the opportunity of falling in love and sustaining a relationship. She notes this phobia must be a result of self stigma of sorts but in a quick rejoinder and with a beautiful smile, she promises herself to work on it.

My perception of myself…
Asked what she thinks about her status and her life, Angela goes completely inspirational. One could not help but marvel at what encouraging words came out of a person whose life was once rocked with self-pity, bitterness and resentment.

“God’s ways are not our ways; I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” says Angie. “God will not throw at me what I cannot bear. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! This I deeply believe. I also believe that knowing my status was the best thing that ever happened to me and surely, my status is a blessing to me and scores others whom I inspire to fight on.”

Over and over again Angela prayed, “Lord, let this cup pass for it is too much for me”, but only several months later she discovered for herself that she could actually manage it. She only needed the positive will, which she got. “Now it has been nearly 24 years since my infection. I am still here, still working, still living, still learning how to love,” she reflects.

Sometime back, Angela could count the number of pills she had to take in a week, 14 assorted tablets! She goes to her doctor for reviews and assures him that she’s feeling quite well. Not few are the times the doctor mutters words to himself as he rereads the latest laboratory results which show her immunity declining towards zero. Nevertheless she fights on for her Christian up bringing has taught her that God is always present with her. This thought she says comforts her and gives her much hope.

Angela is deeply pained when young people living with the virus are stigmatized an ill-treated. She quotes a story in the Holy Bible in the book of Matthew where someone asks Jesus,
“When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes?”

Jesus replies, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these, you did it for me.” On a light note, Angela adds, “I still harbor a childlike desire to really see Jesus, talk with Him, and ask Him a few questions concerning my life…”

Angela admits her life has been greatly impacted by people who have stood out to show her great love and care, people who have prayed with and for her in time of need. She says these acts have not been of men but it’s God Himself who has been working through them.

“God is omnipresent,” says Angela, “He is not only in the church, but also in the person sitting next to me on the bench on Saturday, He is in my parents and friends who have shared tears with me on more than one occasion, He is in Maurice who is helping me to share my story with the whole world, only to inspire someone, and He can be in you today if you choose to do that single act of kindness to someone living with the virus!” This statement particularly got me thinking…

Angela during a past church function

Angela during a past church function

My Piece of Advice
Asked what snippet of advice she would give to young people struggling with her kind of situation, Angie again quotes from her favorite book and source of inspiration, the Holy Bible. She says, “Let your weakness be your strength, simple!” She particularly mentions the book of Romans 8:18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us…”

She notes with concern that many people are afraid of facing facts and prefer only to shelve in cocoons of comfort. This she says is wrong and should be unlearnt if a successful combat against HIV/AIDS is to be waged. She says only a few people have saved a life when everyone actually has the potent to do so.

“They may not have saved a child from a burning building, neither may they have even pulled a drowning person out of the swollen river, notes Angela, “but – when so many are so afraid and even dread talking to people living with the virus – they sit next to me, they shake my hand, they hug me, you know. They tell me they love me so much and that, if they could, they would do anything to make it easier for me. Knowing people like this has made my life a daily miracle! You can save a life, too. That life may only be a few months, or a year, or two years long, but you can save it just as surely as if you had reached into the river and pulled out someone who was drowning.”
In her parting shot, Angela looks straight into my eyes and says, “You will be called upon to grieve; yet, you will know you have made a difference in someone’s life in this world. Then you will realize you have gained more than you could ever have given.”

Deep and powerful inspiration do we draw from this moving experience of one young girl living in poverty stricken, under-developed country. This is a story of resilience and determination to beat all odds and just live. Yet, as I love to do, I challenge you: have you saved a life?

Angela can be reached on the following contacts:

+254 710 711 967
angelamutwang@gmail.com
facebook.com/angela.odiaga

Follow the author of this blog, Ongala Maurice on Twitter: @Maurytweetz


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Peace in The Wait, not Peace in Waiting.

My fingers feel really sticky on the TV remote control. My face literally glued to the screen with my eyes growing dimmer by the hour. I keep flipping from one channel to the next. I get on the keyboard to type my mind but I’m quickly drawn back to the TV screen. CNN, BBC and the international cluster of media do not make a lot of sense to me now. I am doing local media, exclusively. I have never fancied Kiswahili broadcasts but today I don’t mind them. I sit in the very same position for hours on end, day after day and I don’t even realize it. I no longer feel hunger or the pain of it. I walk to the kitchen once in a while for a glass of cold water but end up not doing a sip, two hours later. There is something I am looking for, some news. Some news that I so badly long to hear. No one is telling me this thing just yet but I seem so relentless in my waiting. First question is, for how long will life continue in this manner?

I have never been more patient. I know that millions of other Kenyans are enduring the suspense now and this keeps my heart beating. Sometimes I go on my knees and intercede for my beloved country because I am eager to hear them tell me that we finally have a new president. A president duly elected through the just process of the law as embodied in the constitution. A president selfless and dedicated to the cause of justice, not selective justice. I president who is a true patriot, just like me. One who, like our founding fathers, will lay his life for the good of the nation.

Yeah, see, now my whole body is dripping with perspiration but still, I do not mind continuing in the wait. I had played my role in leaving all else and lining up in the scorching sun all day to cast my vote. And that was not the greatest, for I will continue to sustain the President elect with my tax for the next 5 years of administration. I will not expect so much from him though, save for transparency and inclusiveness. Not so much really, just catapulting economic development and some solidifying of our infrastructure. If I ask him for quality healthcare and quality education at all levels, still that is not so much. Yes, because their manifestos were so lofty, one would wonder whether they were for real or they were merely designed for campaign. I don’t imagine all that being done to me, not because I am a pessimist, who I have never been, but because I am only a simple citizen demanding his constitutional rights.

But back to the long wait, people, I am not only ready to wait a couple more days for the great announcement, but I am also ready to accept whoever the great man will be, for I know that whether he is a Kikuyu or a Luo, this country is mightier than him. Just like The Mamboleo Tale is pressing its opinion herein but Kenya is still greater. That’s a default setting, don’t you agree with me? I am sure you do. So hey brother and sister, I pledge not to throw a blow at you or anything akin to it because of them. Let them manage their leadership affairs as we manage our obligations as patriots. In holding them accountable, we ought to be united and not speak in different voices, otherwise we will fail at it. Let stones, machetes, blows or even vile speech not be our defenders, but in the words of our very inspiring National Anthem, let’s give a chance for ‘justice to be our shield and defender, may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty…’ and ‘plenty will surely be found within our borders’.

See you soon in the inauguration ceremony! Peace! One Love!

Ongala Maurice is a freelance writer, established blogger and Kenya’s Correspondent for Youth Hub Africa. http://www.youthhubafrica.org/


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We Live in a Post-Saitoti World

Ongala Maurice Speaks remains this real. Many are the times when the tale gets hilarious. Not meagre are the instances when you read and leave with a prize of laughter, a smile or for the tougher of you, a grin. This is contrary. Yes, contrary because we now live in a Post-Saitoti World.

J.M. Kariuki and Bruce McKenzie of old had their lives taken away at this spot. I’m also told The Late Kipkalya Kones and Lorna Laboso, some really prominent legislators in the Government of Kenya shared the date – June 10 – of yielding up their lives with this Internal Security Pair. As many of you as believe that all these are but bad coincidences, I charge to take a second consideration, this time a more objective one. This country Kenya, my brothers…

But speaking of the Internal Security Pair, to whom you will allow me to refer as ISP, could there have been something transpiring under cover? Is there anything Kenyans need to get acquainted to that is being purposefully held away from them? Or better still, how possible could this be, that the Minister for Internal Security and his equally powerful assistant could somehow find themselves aboard a chopper with ‘unforeseen’ mechanical problems? Pertinent questions round one.

Honestly the human side of me permitted me to shed a tear or two as I watched the Vice President, Mr. Wiper tell the tale of these two great men of our land and their body guards. He was struggling with tears and in disbelief paired with enormous difficulty, he almost brushed the journalists’ mics aside from his face. He chose his words with great care, yes I noticed him do. Hon. Musyoka is one composed guy in such an occurrence, you know that. Rt. Hon. The Prime Minister and his men weren’t left behind. Political rallies cancelled and their hype almost instantaneously replace with shock waves. It didn’t matter whether it was UDF or ODM, URP or TNA, PNU, the legendary KANU, et cetera; fact is all these rallies were cancelled by the very people who organized them!

But wait, before we come to terms with the painful loss of the very intelligent minister – Prof. George Saitoti and his Assistant, the very zealous Hon. Orwa Ojodeh and their security details – take a moment to ask, why did Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere and the Permanent Secretary who were also meant to be in this same flight, decline to fly at last minutes? The Captain and the co-pilot must have not foreseen any peril early enough, with all their experiences and the many missions they have carried out successfully with the ISP? I ask. Wasn’t this not a case of a too-sudden-to-be-salvaged fate? The Euro-copter AS350, was a new aircraft tested over Nairobi for one hour by the same pilot who flew it at its crash, also having clocked only 230 flight hour since purchase. How possibly credible could this crash be? Ok, why the ISP and not any other pair? If the ISP was this unsafe within the country, how unsafe are you and me blabbing on Ongala Maurice Speaks right now? Pertinent questions round two. Lots more stunning facts are in existence pertaining to this tragedy, perhaps you know some more (…).

Bottomline, I shudder. I utterly render myself feeble enough not to entertain the episodes of this movie-like country which I love. Love hurts, now I know. We love this country this much, no wonder the tears drop. Life and death in Kenya both happen really incredibly. Lord I’m too feeble to imagine this. Are we enemies of our own selves or what? Ok, I will be patient with you. From the noble writers like myself and the folks in upcountry to the elite and the political class in the cities and places of high authority; are we our own enemies? Pertinent questions round three.

Some parting lines could go like this: People never know when they give their last speeches, case in point Prof Saitoti at the Mombasa Peace Conference on Friday June 8. You never know what will be counted good of you after your demise, case in point Hon. Orwa Ojode and his loyalty to his boss and zealous debates in Parliament. And lastly, you never know when your loved ones and colleagues will be taken away from you perhaps forever, so learn to love and appreciate them while they last case in point, fellow legislators and kin of the deceased. Meanwhile the 3 day national mourning period declared by His Excellency the President ends Wednesday 13 June.

The conclusion of the matter is: we live in a Post-Saitoti World. Sad for Kenya, reality to the world.