The interactions at Bellagio transformed my thinking as to what sort of work I can do back home [in Zimbabwe].Novuyo Rosa TshumaWriter and Professor
Aya: You and I bonded over Africa. We discussed our challenges and our aspirations. In the 1960s, post-colonial Africa enthusiastically documented the theories and philosophies of some of our leading thinkers. Then there was a bit of a gap. That’s why I wanted to showcase the youth movement from an African perspective. I was tired of Westerners sharing what was happening on the [African] continent from their perspective.
Novuyo: I think that these interactions transformed my thinking as to what sort of work I can do back home [in Zimbabwe]. Before, I had a very depressing sense of home – that’s an accident of youth. One of the most transformative lessons I’ve learned, however, is how to build, not only critique. Thinking of all the ways that one is oppressed creates more anxiety. Rather than focusing on the darkness, I wanted to find spaces for collaboration, connection, and levity.
The residency was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to so many ideas and experiences and enabled me to strive for even more ambitious goals.Aya Chebbi
Aya: The residency was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to so many ideas and experiences and enabled me to strive for even more ambitious goals. It’s the reason Nalafem strives to bring together young female ministers, parliamentarians, and politicians to pave the way for more young women in leadership. My plan for this project was to document the stories of these women advocating for the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. Your help was invaluable, Novuyo.
Novuyo: I didn’t think twice when you asked me. It was an immediate “I’m in, let’s do it!”
Aya: We began with the concept notes and timeline I had put together and found that, of the 17 chapters I had planned (based on the 17 SDGs), seven would’ve been more realistic! Nalafem is all about building and organizing, and this process with you, Novuyo, taught me so much about publishing.
Novuyo: We got there in the end. It was incredible to read the biographies of these trailblazing young women – I mean, there are ministers in their twenties! They walk into such hostile spaces for women, especially African women, and continue regardless. Editing the book also provided a learning curve for me. Being in the U.S. for the past decade, I had to readjust to how things work on the continent. I had a very structured way of doing things in mind, but as the project developed, I had to step back and appreciate that this process was more about creating as you go along, from the ground up. It required a different way of doing things; because these are the stories that Africa, and the world, need.
Aya: What was eye-opening for me was the fact that some of the women we approached were not ready to tell their stories. And I realized in these moments why I’m part of this collective – because we need to support each other. We need more sisterhood, and we need more healing as a collective in order to be able to tell our stories. Meeting this challenge meant that this book helped me to build a better and stronger collective.
Novuyo: You always hear such negative stories about the continent. Instead, I acknowledge the positive by celebrating our accomplishments. That’s also what you get from the book. It’s written by young women who are very attuned to the challenges on the continent. Yet, through fearlessness, mentorship, and learning, they were able to rise above their circumstances. Crucially, these are contemporary women, which gives a very different picture of Africa: its abilities and potential.
Aya: Each contributor was so accomplished. Like Rose Wachuka Macharia, Chief of Staff to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya. At 25, she was the youngest law clerk in the Supreme Court and has gone on to an amazing public service portfolio. The way she unpacks and articulates her experiences in her chapter is incredible; people need to hear her voice. Bogolo Kenewendo, from Botswana, was the youngest minister on the continent for investment and trade, which is a portfolio that is not generally given to women – let alone young women. Her appointment conveyed that young women are finally occupying the leadership positions they deserve.
Novuyo: Aya, you are very accomplished, so I loved when you opened up about the challenges you face in your chapter, like trying to figure out where you fit in society. You started thinking about the tensions between self and society from a young age. The highlight of your chapter is the revolution of Tunisia. You have a phrase for it…
Aya: The Revolution of Dignity.
Novuyo: Right. You were on the streets in 2010, protesting as a young woman and putting your life on the line. And you were arrested! You wrote that a conversation with your father was helpful at that moment. I see why intergenerational wisdom is so important to you. As is learning to move from the streets to the board room while remaining authentic. It’s great to grow from, rather than focus on, what pulls us down. It would be great to get Nalafem to Zimbabwe! Building spaces to share these kinds of stories is what I am passionate about.
You can learn more about I Am Nala at African Books Collective.
For further reading on the topic of African women change-makers, find out about the 2022 Amujae Leadership Forum at the Bellagio Center.
To find out more about Novuyo’s work, get in contact via her website. Read a review of her book House of Stone with The Guardian, as well as an interview about her favorite books. Or you can follow her on Instagram.
For further reading on the topic of African women change-makers, find out about the 2022.
Welcome to the second Bellagio Bulletin, where you’ll learn of the many ways that the Bellagio Center has supported the work of the world’s leading thinkers. We, at The Rockefeller Foundation, are committed to gender equality and the Bellagio Center has helped us to advance the global gender equality agenda. The activities and conversations at […]More