For the past seven years, Kenyan Ashura Michael has worked in various fields of human rights advocacy and peace-building, and volunteered in different organisations
The Bachelor of Arts graduate from the University of Nairobi is passionate about rights of persons with disabilities. Ashura is deaf and works as a presenter at Signs TV.
Last November, the activist was elected Speaker of the youth wing of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), which sits in Arusha Tanzania.
I spoke to her about her new role and the place of youth in the community.
Were you ready for this role?
Actually I was not prepared. I have been agitating for the rights of young people and people living with disabilities nearly all my adult life. It is a challenge I’m excited about, and I believe, with support from the institution, it is a wonderful opportunity to carry out my push for a more equal society on a wider scope. No human is limited.
What are your duties as Speaker of the youth parliament?
I am responsible for ensuring that the assembly passes legislation supported by the majority party. In pursuing this goal, I determine when each Bill reaches the floor. I am also responsible for handing over the final youth assembly decisions to the Speaker of the East Africa Legislative Assembly, Martin Ngonga, for further deliberations.
What purpose does the assembly serve within the EAC?
Vijana Assembly-East African Youth Parliament brings together more than 100 young people from all over East Africa. It was a build-up of a series of other conversations between young people and key policy makers in ensuring inclusion of youth in legislative matters in the community.
In Uganda, plans are underway to establish a national youth parliament this year. This assembly will consist of youth leaders from grassroots organisations and parliamentary youth leaders.
Do youth in the region understand EALA?
It’s a mixed bag. There are those who have participated in the assembly’s activities and are well informed about its mandate.
The majority of young people in the EAC though are unaware of the assembly’s existence and role. Part of the reason is because our regional representatives have not aggressively engaged our young people in the affairs of the region. Our leaders should make it their business to mobilise youth across the region to actively participate in the community’s agenda.
While it’s important to be involved in local politics, EAC offers an opportunity to do this at a regional level, with an even bigger impact.
In what ways has your new role changed how you view the bloc?
What I thought were Kenyan-specific problems are shared across the region. Kenya is grappling with the problem of youth unemployment, and so are Rwanda and Uganda.
Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan all grapple with the challenge of inadequate youth empowerment programmes. As such, I have appreciated the need to mobilise efforts, to pool our resources and to formulate a collective strategy to address these challenges as a region, rather than dealing with them in isolation.
What key challenges hinder the articulation of the EAC agenda and what is the solution?
Lack of political goodwill among leaders of the EAC countries is prevalent. The heads of state sometimes fail to follow through on the pacts made, which hinders progress. There is also suspicion and bad blood among leaders. This makes it difficult to coexist and to forge forward as a bloc.
To realise the objectives of the community, countries and their leaders must put their differences aside and reason together for a collective EAC vision. There also needs to be honest commitment to honour promises made.
You describe yourself as an ability activist. Do you think young people embrace the concept of human rights?
Most young people dislike activism fearing antagonising the government. It is possible to be an activist without being confrontational with the authorities. There is also a misguided assumption that persons living with disabilities face other challenges such as intellectual impairment and inability to understand issues. This is untrue.
We are intelligent and our views do not matter less—they need equal space to be heard and acted upon. My call to fellow activists is to trust in their ability to change their communities and be ready to defend their cause. Young people believe being an activist in not valued in our society.
Who do you look up to in your work?
I look up to many people, but Michelle Obama stands out. Michelle tells the story of her failures in life, which have impacted heavily on her successes through learning from her mistakes. She has previously said that if she could advise her younger self, it would be to be bold and to stop being afraid to take risks. These life lessons are important to me and my journey.
What legacy do you wish to leave?
I see it more of institutional legacy than my own. I want to see Kenya ratify the African Charter on Democracy Election and Governance so that we are free from politics of violence.
Additionally, I wish to see more Vijana assemblies set up in various counties in Kenya to allow young people to engage.
I’m driven by the desire to leave behind an institution that will offer solutions to generations that come after us.