“I have not held such an office before.
When I came here for the first time, it was unbelievable. I was appointed into this position when I was three months into my job as the Chief Tourism officer in the Mombasa County Government.
Life happens. Isn’t it confounding how a particular moment can change the entire trajectory of your life? Here, I am. On a different career path and living in Nairobi for the first time.
The city is fast. I have had to acquaint myself with an early morning alarm clock and get used to the traffic jam. Except for a breakout on my face, I can say that I have settled in well.
I was born and brought up in Marikiti, Oldtown, Mombasa. If you ask of my childhood story, I was that little girl who was not afraid to speak her mind, ask questions or do what I thought was right. I used my voice to communicate or amplify a particular issue. At the age of 13, I drew inspiration from the late Kofi Annan and saw the zeal and power of Oprah Winfrey in me. That is why I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in public relations and mass communications. For my Master’s degree, I studied International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy.
Before the CAS appointment, I was working on something else and to be honest, I did not see myself in the national government. I vividly remember how it all happened. I was having a plate of ‘viazi’ when my phone beeped then buzzed.
Everything was happening fast— my phone was blowing up.
“I need to know your full name. I know you by Nadia Naddy (that is how most people knew me), but what is your real name? The caller sounded frantic. I just gave him my full name as Nadia Ahmed Abdalla. He then informed me that the President had appointed me as the Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) ICT Ministry, Youth Affairs and Innovation. He was sending me a video. I watched it. It was unbelievable. I could hear butterflies in my stomach. I lost appetite for the viazi.
At that particular moment, I did not even know what that role entailed, it could have been a call to a board or something but the fact that the
President had mentioned my name was mind-blowing. I am honoured and privileged to be here. My role is to equip, empower, protect and involve the youth in decision and policymaking and implementation.
About three months ago, I was just a girl who was trying to be different in her own space then in the next moment, the entire country was interested in knowing more about me. I was the youngest of the appointees— 28 years. My twitter and Instagram feeds were flooded.
Now, when I go to Mombasa, I can no longer be myself. On those streets unlike here in Nairobi where I am having a normal life, people know my identity and the position I hold. Mheshimiwa! They call out.
I come from a family that believes in owning their own identities. I was brought up in a set up in which my mother and aunties did what they felt was right. My mother divorced when I was one and even after she remarried, she did not lose the ardour for a better life. I get my drive partly from her. I could see the potential she had only that it was limited to her children.
I wanted to go beyond. I wanted to do something to tackle the challenges that women and the youth face.
After my Master’s degree in Berlin, I came back to Mombasa and I held events for youth and women. I equipped them with communication skills, we discussed matters mental health and I was a link between women going through domestic abuse and psychologists.
‘She is doing this for attention,’ rumours spread.
When I uploaded my photos on social media, others were quick to read a motive.
‘She wants to attract men,’ some women said. I did not let this stop me.
It amplified the phrase, ‘be your own vibe.’ I was unstoppable and maximised my space on the social media platforms and on the ground. I believe the fact that I am not afraid to make my voice heard and my contribution in shaping the lives of the youth and women is what made the President’s to appoint me.
Even in business, I believed in going the extra mile. To enable me to organise events, I had many hustles, selling branded environment- friendly water bottles, scarves, and my book. It’s called the Feminist in Us published in 2017. The book addresses misconceptions about the feminist movement in the hope of driving support for women causes.
In 2019, I was the Mombasa representative of the show Ms. President that aired on KTN. It featured women change-makers from the various communities.
Why did I apply to be part of the show?
I wanted to prove a point. That women like me, read young, Muslim and from the Coast can lead and bring about positive change. Though I got eliminated, the experience made me hungry to do more and to maintain the journey that I had already started.
With my current position, my intent is to give young people and women a space to voice their views and ideas. A few weeks ago, I did a pilot for the program ‘Kenya is me dialogue’ in Mombasa. The program will be in the form of public barazas where the youth and women get to share their views and be listened to. I will then use their views to shape policy.
As we celebrate the International Women’s Day tomorrow, I urge women not to focus so much on preserving their femininity but rather fight to create something and to bring positive change.
When it comes to you being a woman and feminine, harness the power and be your own vibe.”
BY LILYS NJERU