"African women are not dying for Africa anymore, they want to live for Africa."
On the farm, a big harvest celebration was going on: Roasted meat, ugali and beer were being served. All farm workers were happy. Children were playing. Among them was 10-year-old Wahu whose mother worked as the gardener on the white man’s property. Suddenly, the owner’s little son burst in, taking one of the beer calabashes and smashing it against the wall. Everybody was paralysed in silence. Then little Wahu got up, grabbed the little boy’s arm and shouted at him, “How could you do that?” After this incident, Wahu’s mother feared she would loose her job, but her employer insisted on seeing the courageous girl who had stood up against something she felt was wrong.
Today, 43 years later, the first born of eleven siblings, describes this as the start of her engagement for justice. She points out: “We are living in an unjust world, but people have the capacity to make it just.”
In 1977, Wahu's great interest in history, led her to study teaching history and kiswahili. At the university, she learnt about communism, the ideals of justice and equity but also encountered extreme social injustice and economic insecurity. Inspired by her grandmothers and her mother, she got engaged in community empowerment, especially of girls and women. “I think I have always had a radical mind and wanted students who were not stereotypes, but who could take up positions,” she recalls. The political awareness she gained in those days, she adds, “is her greatest strength.”
She began working as a teacher and later a headmistress in a rural school. She recalls teaching her students that everyone is important and has a role in life.
Wahu faced government repression because of her involvement in political community theatre. In 1986 her husband was forced into political exile and went to neighbouring Tanzania. She was left with four children below the age of ten. She sustained her family under great sacrifice. Wahu managed to get a passport in order to travel to Tanzania. She recalls telling the Immigration Officer, “My husband is fighting for political freedom and so is Mandela.” She added that Mandela might be president one day just like her husband and asked the Officer if he wanted to risk denying a passport to the wife of a possible future president. With the same strength she withstood interrogation and threats from the government. She recalls asking a state security interrogator if he was her husband and demanded to know if he told his wife what he had been doing the whole day.
Wahu started a Master’s Degree in Public Health in Sweden, but because of her engagements she has not completed it yet. In 1994 she retired from teaching and committed her time entirely to working for social justice, economic empowerment and democracy. In the early 1990s the democratization process began in Kenya and Wahu became actively involved in founding organizations. Her first experience in mobilizing people was at the Freedom Corner, in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, where political activists joined mothers of political prisoners in demanding for the release of their detained sons. She says: “Political awareness is a basic condition for the fight for human rights and economic justice. This is especially important for women because they have been left to sustain life, but their suggestions are not accepted in decision-making; this is a universal situation for women.”
With her political consciousness and skills, Wahu has trained women on democracy, human rights and gender. She has educated hundreds on economic issues at the local, regional and international levels. In 1996, her husband died, four years after returning from exile and she took up her first job with an NGO as a Regional Programme Manager. After a few months, the outspoken teacher quit. “I did not negotiate for my salary, I negotiated for space to carry out my role,” she recalls. Having worked at all levels especially at the national level on debt cancellation, economic transformation and social justice issues as well as gender and trade in Africa, she considers herself as a global social justice activist.
Courageous and outspoken, she is familiar with the ideas of economists such as George Soros and is today involved in the Kenya Debt Relief Network. which she has given an international platform She is also active in the African Social Forum whose ideas she has taken down to the grass roots. She considers as one of her greatest achievements having inspired people like her former students and her children, whom she speaks about with great pride. During the general elections in 2002, she contested for a seat in Parliament in her Nairobi constituency and garnered 225 votes – without any funding for campaigns. When asked about a magic moment in her life, she quips: “When I was in the US, I gave a speech in front of some American senators and later one of them asked me whether a foreigner could vote in Kenya. I asked him why he wanted to know this and he answered, ‘I would vote for you for president!'”
And thus she summarizes her 30 years of commitment: “African women are not dying for Africa anymore. We want to live for Africa.”
“I never wanted my students to be stereotypes,” the passionate Wahu says. “Every human being is important and has a role in life.” Her role in life was defined by politics. She learnt about communism, the ideals of justice and equity during her university studies in the 1970s. The political consciousness she gained in those days has been her greatest strength. Wahu began work as a teacher and later as a principal in a rural school. After she had had her daughter and three sons, she began to pay attention to government repression through political community theatre. In 1986, her husband was forced into political exile and went to neighboring Tanzania. He left her behind with their four children, all below the age of ten. She sustained her family only through great sacrifice. In the 1990s the democratization process began in Kenya and Wahu became actively involved in founding organizations. Her first experience in mobilizing people was at the Freedom Corner, in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, where political activists joined mothers of political prisoners in demanding for the release of their detained sons. She says political consciousness, especially for women, is critical in the fight for human rights and economic justice. “Women are responsible for sustaining life but often their ideas are not accepted in decision making.” Wahu laments that this is the universal situation for women. Courageous and outspoken, she is familiar with the ideas of economists such as George Soros and is today involved in the Kendren. This has given Wahu an international platform. She is also active in the African Social Forum whose ideas she has taken down to the grass roots. Wahu confidently says, “African women are not dying for Africa anymore, they want to live for Africa.”
In the early 1990s, the democratization process began in Kenya, following international pressure to introduce multiparty politics. Previously, one party, Kanu, ruled Kenya. Among the first expressions for democratic change was a protest to release political prisoners at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park in 1992.
Kenya Debt Relief Network (Kendren)
African Social Forum
Kenya Social Forum
Africa | Kenya