I found her preparing for her first party meeting with other village leaders. “We can talk before the meeting starts. It is an introductory meeting nothing much to worry about”. Meet Amimo a lady of medium height and a sharp memory. This unassuming little known alumnus of the prestigious Aga Khan School, living in the sprawling slums of Kibera, Nairobi has trounced the big names in political circles to be the first lady to win the Chairperson of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) in that village. This is one of the most powerful parties in the country.
The UNHABITAT statistics estimate the population in Kibera to be a million comprising nine villages. The slum sprawls over a stretch of 600 acres crossed by a single railway line that connects Nairobi to Uganda. The sight of open sewers, poor road network and temporary shacks of mud and tin roofs is common.
Having seen her from childhood I would never have guessed her to be a strong willed lady, much less a person who would pursue politics which is believed to be a man’s domain. She was a fishmonger and since my child-hood days, has remained consistent in her business given the economic background of the villagers even when sales were not often easy. She seems a simple fishmonger. But wait until she speaks! She has a wealth of knowledge, with a mastery of English and eloquence of speech beyond what you might expect of an ordinary woman living in the slums. After all, there is a notion that slums are places of crime and illiteracy. It leaves one amazed at how underutilized she has been. Amimo was born to civil servant parents who had never lived in a slum. Their modest life saw all her 12 siblings receiving quality education. Remarkably, she attended the Aga Khan High School from 1978-81. This is a prestigious school associated with the rich and mighty at that time and still today. Her face lights up when she recalls her school days. ``I have great memories of a really great school. Now I am very wise and nobody can challenge me. I can do many things on my own”.
After high school Amimo was enrolled in a teachers training institute and graduated as a primary school teacher. She taught for a short time and was swept off her feet by the love of her heart who she married. Like any well educated young woman, she had big dreams of being in a white collar job. However her husband denied her the dignity of her dreams and instead took her straight to the slum to start a family. “My husband knew I was highly educated but he told me that I could not work any longer as a teacher and would only allow me to do business. So I followed the rules and I submitted myself to him. I felt stranded in the slum because I had never known people lived in such poor conditions I decided to sell fish at my door step. I have now lived in the slum all my adult life- 30years’’.
The fear of women becoming more powerful than their husbands has contributed to a high level of dependency and illiteracy among women. “Those were our men. Our culture dictated that a man as head of his family needed to remain strong and provide everything with little or no input coming from his wife. Even though my husband is supportive of my being in politics, he realizes that had he listened to more of my ideas he would have progressed”.
Amimo has three grown up boys. Her only daughter died in 2010 of a mysterious illness. She woke up one morning complaining of pains and within few minutes had fainted. She was never to recover. By the time they reached the hospital 2km away she had died. Amimo says sadly, “Up to now I cannot tell what really happened’’. The issue of healthcare in the slum is very challenging. There are no emergency ambulances to transport the sick. It is an issue that needs redress. Preventative health care is important because if you know your problem in time, you can deal with it early enough.
With charisma and clear vision. She nurtured her dreams for 30 years, aspiring to become a political leader. “I started slowly after being in business for so long. I was involved in OXFAM, CARE KENYA AND the UNDUGU SOCIETY. These organizations have been dealing at the grassroots level, imparting knowledge and awareness on community mobilization, gender rights and I saw an opportunity to also educate other women”. Her passion to teach led her to be involved in the local school board contributing significantly to its progress.
The greatest contribution of all is that Amimo plays a significant role to sensitize women and men on issues of gender violence. She has been a great champion for health matters and as a member of the community water committee has agitated for clean water. “I have always known that I could provide leadership. I will use my skills of dialogue to reduce conflict within the communities. I aspire even to be more than a chairperson’’.
Her political mileage and the resilience that comes with it are to be admired. Her parting message to women anywhere is, “Women need to know how to live in whatever lifestyle there is, if it lower or higher. And they should struggle to uplift themselves to reach their targets’’. As we wind up this fascinating story of a humble fishmonger who has become a dynamic community leader and visionary, we celebrate Amimo. Through her wisdom and determination, she is for sure going to advance conditions in Kibera in the next 5 years of her tenure.
Further reading: http:// www.kibera.org.uk
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignment: Profiles.