African ‘Her’story: Gone but not forgotten

One of my best friends is Kenyan. He just graduated from Eastern Mennonite University with a degree in justice and peacebuilding; I figured he would be a good source for information about African women achievements. I was right. “Google Dekha Ibrahim Abdi,” he said.

It was an easy inspiration. After reading just a few sentences about her and her achievements, it was clear just how remarkable she was. She is another example of a strong African woman that only makes international news coverage after her death.

She passed away this summer because of injuries during a car accident. She had just gotten back to her home country, Kenya. She was returning home from classes at EMU during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute learning how to further use her innate peace skills.

During the 1990s a small scale war broke out over water and livestock in Dekha’s hometown of Wajir. She initiated a peace movement that united Christian and Muslim women to work toward peaceful negotiations. Her process was centered upon rules of mediation; she made sure to listen intently without interrupting to everyone who wanted to use mediation as a resource. According to her obituary in The Guardian,

“she knew that humiliation is one of the main drivers of violence, and that they best antidote to humiliation is respect. When everyone felt their point of view was understood, she would work to restore relations between victim and offender.”

She was part of several non-governmental organizations and non-profits including Wajir Peace and Development, Responding to Conflict, Co-existence International, ACTION for Conflict Transformation, Peace Direct, and the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Cambodia. She was a founder and/or on the board of many of the organizations.

For her peace efforts, she won a 1999 distinguised medal for service away, named the Kenyan Peace Builder of the Year in 2005, and received the Right Livelihood Award in 2007 (referred to as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”).

One of the most frustrating realizations I’ve had while writing about these amazing women is that they aren’t internationally recognized for their work until after they die. What does it take for these women to be recognized for their achievements while still alive?

Right now, this very instant, some woman in Africa is working to make the world a better place. Media should actively seek out these women and praise them for their courageous works while they are still alive.

3 thoughts on “African ‘Her’story: Gone but not forgotten

  1. I like that you point out the frustration over why these women are not internationally recognized. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of research on the women of Yemen, particularly with their protest efforts against Saleh’s regime. I think one reason why these efforts are becoming more and more documented is because people are noticing that women are actually leading these protests. The majority of protestors in Yemen are women; not to mention, women are making huge progress in Africa and the Middle East by using the Internet as a mechanism to open up discursive space they might not have otherwise. I think two benefits of the Arab Spring are that it has really provided a way for all people (men and women) to unite against oppression and that it really sheds light on the women’s efforts. Most of the literature is indicating that male protestors are very supportive of their wives and female relatives’ efforts and successes. I think your recent post on the Peace Prize does a good job of discussing this recognition. But, I agree with you, I do think otherwise, this recognition is lacking. Furthermore, even though the coverage of women’s movements in the Arab Spring is great at raising international awareness, I cannot help but feel a little conflicted with the thought that the news agencies are capitalizing on these efforts to “get the story.” But, I guess the answer to that question is that news agencies will inevitably have this motivation and the benefits of international awareness outweigh that particular negative.

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  2. I agree with the reply above, and to further eszenyme’s discussion, I too am concerned with how the media capitalizes on show casing women’s efforts. I am nervous because of the media’ spin on tokenizing such women. No doubt, these women need to be praised and be given time to show other women what great role models they are and to potentially spark an interest, maybe even a movement, within other women. Regardless, tokenizing women, especially of Africana women whom unfortunately are portrayed to be exotic enough, risk the chance of misconceptions and further racism. Ultimately, demeaning the woman instead of praising her.

    Furthermore, I love love love the quote used in her obituary on her:
    “she knew that humiliation is one of the main drivers of violence, and that they best antidote to humiliation is respect. When everyone felt their point of view was understood, she would work to restore relations between victim and offender.”

    God, this is so true. Humans desired to be validated for their past, present, and feelings towards them. To be validated that what they experience was true, painful, and undeserving. But, the issue is, many don’t want to hear them out.

    Awesome post!

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  3. I ran into this article on the Google search drive while reading about Tawakkul Karman. Thank you for the amazing post on my mother’s story on peacebuilding. I share your frustrations that more African women are receiving the global recognition their efforts deserve. I can’t speak on behalf of other remarkable African ladies out there, but what I knew of my mother was she viewed peacebuilding as a collaborative effort, she made sure to always work as a team and would rather progress as a unit than to be recognized solely.

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