18 Sep Diamond In The Rough
Picture this. Its 1967, you are in newly self governed Bostwana. It has just transitioned from being a British protectorate state, there is nothing here, the country is poor and everyone knows it. Stay with me for a minute here, there is a lesson, I promise. You see, to the British, this is probably some backwater village-(You know how the whole continent is a country type of thinking 😉 with nothing to exploit for all their hard work in exploration; so, circa 1966 the British tell the WaTswana hasta lavista folks it’s been real, here is your country.
Fast forward 1967, DeBeers, the world’s largest diamond firm strike gold- well diamonds in this case, in the Orapa region, they actually started looking for diamonds in Botswana in 1938. Now they could have given up and packed up their bags and left but they didn’t. 50 years later, the diamonds found have elevated the economy of Botswana with the largest diamond on record to date having been found there. My point is, sometimes in the most unlikely of places you will find a gem, and quite often we give up barely inches before we find our treasure.
This was the case for me one Friday afternoon. Now, I have met a lot of politicians over the years and I really do mean a lot. There are those that do it for the money, others for the power and well some- devastatingly few if I may say- do it for the people. Back to my Friday afternoon, ah yes, I had just come back to Nairobi, from Wajir or Turkana I think. I was due to meet yet another politician. The venue was Kibra, Lindi ward to be exact. Cecilia- the politician was having a meeting with the electorate of Lindi ward to share her vision with the people; you know tell them why they should vote for her. You see Cecilia is one of the women we have been working with to ensure that they are worthy of the peoples vote, that they can be their voice in a patriarchal legislative house. Vote A Dada was our mantra, but these dada’s had to be strategic in their planning and flawless in their execution to ensure that they could be elected to meet the constitutional 2/3 requirement.
Back to Lindi ward, So I take a taxi from my office to Lindi, and I think okay this is Kibra, its pretty tight on space so we’ll probably have a few people who can in turn spread her message- flawless logic right? Wrong, I walked into a school in Lindi where there was an over-flux of people right from outside the gate. I mean there must have been like 500+ people in a space that could probably only hold 80-100. But I had to get inside, so there I was slithering through the tight spaces like water into a crack, all my efforts were rewarded when I got inside and caught a glimpse of her, as close as I dared, and there, a top a class room chair Cecila May Ayot.
Cecila May Ayot: the only woman who dared to trounce her male opponents in the primaries to be the flag bearer for her party, still the only woman left standing to claim her seat at the table through the ballot. Might not sound like much but, in this 21st centaury Kenya, women are still politically represented by only 6.3% in elective positions so yes, this is quite a big deal.
As I stood in my tiny crack in a sea of people I listened, as she talked with her people, found common ground through the struggles they have all shared, and talked about a future you could visualize so vividly you could practically reach out and grab it. She talked about the strides they had taken together and what they could achieve collectively. Their needs were simple yet so abstract for them to even conceive what life could be if they were met. Clean water, school for their children, medicine for their hospitals and a life of dignity; like I said: simple. As I listened, I watched as she carried the people along with her filling them with a hope that had since been lost in an abyss of broken political promises and a meadow of a man eat man society. I watched as she inspired them to believe that they too could be drivers in the ship that lead to a land of inclusivity, accountability, and responsive leadership. Did they not see that they alone wielded this power? In that moment, they did. And what was a community that has been looked down upon, used for political ambition and discarded after election years, before my very eyes turned into citizens who believed they could make the change with only their vote at the ballot. I imagined that this is what it must have felt like to stand in the streets of Washington while Martin Luther Delivered the iconic “I have a Dream” speech.
All the while, before and after that meeting her male opponents did not hesitate to continuously threaten, abuse and malign her name in their campaigns. “ We are used to this” She says, “It is how they have intimidated women from daring to stake any claim to a seat at the table,
This is one for the ages I say. God speed Cecila, may you always lend your voice for the voiceless.
Cecila May Ayot was elected as a Member of County Assembly for Lindi Ward, Kibra Constituency on 8 August 2017. She takes Lindi’s voice to the county government where she hopes to legislatively effect change that will restore and sustain the hopes of her people in good and accountable leadership.