Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me first off say thank you for being here for this. Thank you for giving me an audience to stand before, thank you for the opportunity to be heard, and for giving me a platform to be seen. I appreciate every one of you for supporting this Initiative. That’s right….the Adelle Onyango Initiative. It’s not quite sunk in, to be honest with you all; the fact that I have an initiative, the fact that I am addressing you all, the fact that today is happening. Almost two years I made a conscious effort and decision to try and make a difference in the world and specifically in Kenya and Africa, and today, part of that dream has come true. Making a difference in the world sounds vast and it is, and it is daunting! What I have learnt though in these two years is that each of us has our own little world. We each live in our own little worlds with our families and friends and workmates and the things we love and the things we hate, with our ecosystems and environments, our struggles and disappointments with our insufficiencies and our insecurities together with our hopes and our dreams. I’ve learnt that making a difference in the world isn’t about one grand gesture. We are not a one size fits all society, each of us has different needs, different wants, different struggles and different challenges. For me making a difference in the world is more about making a difference for each person, whether it be as simple as showing love, giving a chance or providing opportunity whatever the need may be, it’s about making a difference one world at a time, and eventually added up, we will make a difference in the whole world. And that is my drive. A lot has been said about the Initiative, and I need not add more onto that. Allow me though to share with you my opinion on two things, on women and African-ness.
In 2008 I was raped. Literally, ten years to the day the most brutal, barbaric, inhumane thing that can happen to a human being happened to me. I’m not saying this for you to feel sorry for me. So if you have a lump in your throat clear it, if you have a tear in your eye, wipe it off, and if you’re feeling uncomfortable, deal with it, because this is not only a reality but the norm. Where all of my friends have a story, all of my sisters have the same fears; we get into cabs in three’s and four’s. We live in a society where for a woman, being alone is being vulnerable; you are not secure, think about that for a second. Being on your own is a risk to your fundamental human rights.
What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a woman in Africa? What does it mean to be an African woman? And I mean to be a woman, not a wife, not a sister, not a mother, not a girlfriend or a best friend, just to be a woman. Do you picture that lady with shukas around her waist and a baby on her back tied with a leso and pot of water on her head and toddler on her arm? or Do you picture a lady in a power suit in office the head of an organisation, kicking ass and taking names? Who is an African woman? Whatever you picture, recognise that we live in a society governed by gender roles that prescribes who we should be rather than accept who we are. We need to break down these barriers.
The question is often asked, why are you a feminist? My problem is, why aren’t you a feminist? For the record, feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive, be what you want to be. I am standing before you today, all dolled up and unapologetic about it, and I am telling you, I want equal rights. All we want is equal rights, and that’s not just at a legislative level. A father will give his daughter a university student a 7 pm curfew. Because he knows the dark of the night can bring out a darkness in every man that put’s his daughter in danger? But yet, he lets his son wander the night and revel in all it has to offer. The time has come to sit down with your sons and tell them; you cannot grab girls, you cannot use girls, girls do not exist for your excitement and pleasure, we are not your playthings. Have honest conversations with your sons, because I guarantee you, your daughters are not the problem! If my son knows what right, it doesn’t matter if she walks by naked; if my sons know what’s right, he will fight for equal pay, equal rights and equal opportunities, if my son knows what is right, my daughter can be out till 10 pm. If my sons know what’s right, we live in a society as equals. Women are incredible, and nobody ever denies that they are strong, we bear children, raise families, there’s a saying that goes “change a girl’s life, you change a family’s life, you change a community’s life”. And I think if we raise our men right, we will change a girl’s life; if we raise our men right, we will change the world.
And now, Africa!! How many times have you found yourself explaining Africa? Explaining and giving justifications about what it means to be African?”…”I’m from Kenya, a lovely country in East Africa. Over here we have fast Fiber internet just like other countries, Fancy Shopping malls, Smartphones everywhere(trust me Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 went on sale same day in Nairobi as in NY or Barcelona) Sky scrappers, we know how to code and other geeky stuff too, We watch Aljazeera, CNN, BBC and know what happens in Detroit to what happens in Kosovo…” I read that off a comment on a site. And I realised the world doesn’t react to Africa the way I think it should, as people, we don’t see things the way they are, we see them the way we are. We have let everyone else tell us who we are, and in doing so we have lost our African narrative in the rest of the worlds’ version of our story. We need to take back our narrative! And it’s not about convincing them; it’s about owning it for us!
I employ you today to be unapologetic about being African. Without giving excuses and explaining where we come from and why we do the things we do. We acknowledge that we are developing but so is everyone else, the only constant in life is, change! Appreciate the social, economic, customs and tradition,that exist in an African context. We cannot be afraid to make mistakes, and we need to be confident in finding our way and our solutions, cognisant of the fact that our solutions are not the rest of the world’s solutions!
We need to change the African narrative, take away the “but” or “despite” in our stories. We are exceptional! We don’t do extraordinary despite challenges; we just are exceptional!! We don’t seek validation, and we are not about comparison; we are not only creating a different set of rules, but we’re also playing a different game, an African game in an African context!! We are not diseased, broken and in need of help, we are gifted, rich, rhythmic, excellent, powerful, creative, modern, traditional, intelligent, we are kings and we are queens, understand that in being African we can change the world, but in trying to be like the world we cannot be African!
So here I stand an unapologetically African girl, who was raped ten years ago, launching an initiative trying to change the world. This is my dream, and it’s only the beginning.
I’d like to thank God, my family for their unconditional support, The Catapult Agency; I’d especially like to thank James for candour and work ethic and Wambaire for, just being everything that I have needed. I want to thank all the people that I have worked within the last two years, I tried to invite everyone, and I hope you all made it, I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked on the different campaigns and projects and concepts. The first sponsors of this initiative; Centonomy, Biwbiw. My partners on this Initiative; Fuzu. My trustees, thank you for believing in this and for taking your time. I want to thank my husband Falgun, for being my partner in life and in all that I do, for your support, your love and just who you are. Thank you.
I would again like to thank every one of you for coming here tonight. And as you leave, I hope you are in one way or another inspired, and if nothing else you will be unapologetically African and you will change someone’s world!