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CITY GIRL: To all girls who put in honest work, success is coming, Omar is proof


As a young woman who harbours C-suite ambitions, I never pass over an opportunity to write about women who inspire me. I also hardly fail to notice — and celebrate — when one of us smashes the glass ceiling because such rare occurrences are educable moments from which we could wring some lessons.

Whether it is the recent appointment of Ms Sylvia Mulinge as Safaricom’s Chief Customer Officer, or Ms Lina Githuka’s appointment as Managing Director of Kenya Wine Agencies Limited, or even the fact that Ms Rebecca Miano is the first female CEO in KenGen’s 60-year existence, these success stories — which are few and far between — give young ambitious women a lot of hope.

Imagine my joy this week when I read about Ms Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American elected to US Congress. Her story is a remarkable account of what sheer resilience and supreme determination can achieve.

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP

Born in 1982 in Mogadishu, Somali, Ms Omar’s life was disrupted by the violence which began when she was only eight years old. Her family moved to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where they lived for four years before migrating to the US.

In an interview with TIME magazine, she says they arrived in the US when she was 12. She took a keen interest in politics, often accompanying her relatives to political meetings where she was exposed to issues about politics, governance and democracy.

Before joining politics, she worked as a policy analyst and community leader, and organised various political campaigns.

Ms Omar, whose mother died when she was fairly young, had every reason to give up. Being a black in the US is hard enough. I cannot imagine how tough it must be, being a woman, black and Somali. When Ms Omar expressed interest in elective politics, it seemed impossible for her to get elected.

Yet, in November 2016, she made history by becoming the first Somali-American law-maker, having been elected to represent District 60B in the Minnesota house of representatives.

During the recently concluded US mid-term elections, she ran on a Democratic Party ticket and at the age of 36, became the first Somali-American elected to Congress with 78.3 per cent of the total vote. She will be representing Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.

She is also the first of two Muslim women elected to Congress. The other is Ms Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who will be representing Michigan’s 13th congressional district.

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Even if Ms Omar stops here — and I hope does not — she will not be an asterisk in the books of history. Hers will be a story of what it looks like to believe in yourself, ignoring naysayers and focusing on your mission.

We must not let this lesson be lost on us.

In a world where it is fashionable to take short-cuts to the good life, Ms Omar teaches us that hard work may be old-fashioned, but still the best route to success. In a world where diligence and dedication are underrated, her determination to outwork, outdo and outsmart competition is the testimony we need. In a world where mediocrity is rewarded and incompetence celebrated, the story of this young Somali congresswoman teaches us that you must trust your struggle.

So today I am speaking to all the young women who work late and study into the night to acquire those qualifications — the world is ours for the taking. To all the young women reading this, who are putting in the hard work and the long hours to achieve our dreams, your time is coming. To the young women who have decided that they are not taking short-cuts in life, that we are working for every penny in our purses and every milestone in our name, success is nigh.

GREAT DREAMS

For all the young women harbouring great dreams, making the right moves, learning the ropes and doing our homework as we prepare ourselves for the next level, help is on the way. To the women fighting hard to assert themselves in vicious, male-dominated fields such as politics, where the odds are stacked against you, your victory is around the corner.

To mothers who are raising their children alone, stretching every coin to educate your children and put clothes on their backs, may your hard work never go unrewarded.

Ms Omar is the personification of the quote; “It matters not where you come from, all that matters is where you are going.”

Young women of Kenya, your hard work is all you have, and it is all you will ever need.

Viva, Ms Omar!