Angela Wainaina(center) was an exceptional and beautiful person, both inside and out. To some she was a sister, a daughter and a friend. To others, she was that voice on the radio who represented their struggles and talked about the issues that others avoided. To many of the participants at the 2008 Young Women’s Knowledge & Leadership Institute, she was all that and more; she was one of us. An activist. Angel was always ready to help out, or just hang out after a strenuous day of talking about human rights, economic issues, sexual reproductive health etc. She was someone who spoke freely about what she believed in, but who also respected others’ opinions. 

I have two vivid images of her in mind. One where she was in full Kenyan traditional garb, during our YOWLI conference, and the other when we were at a beach in Dakar. Beautiful and free-spirited. Its hard to imagine that someone as full of life as herself should be gone so quickly. Many YOWLIs connected with her on different levels. I connected with her because we’re both journalists, and we both love writing. I found it admirable that she was willing to go on the radio every single day and talk about the poverty and suffering that people were undergoing in the impoverished neighborhoods of Kenya. Its one thing to put a pen to paper and talk about these issues, and its another thing altogether to put your own voice and name on air and condemn injustices. It makes you more vulnerable. Yet Angel was willing to do that, and she did. It helped that she was good at it, but her passion more than anything is what is evident. 

I remember on the last day of the YOWLI Conference, when El-Hadji Diouf – a popular Senegalese football player – came to show his support for us, Angel and Kgomotso had the privilege of taking a picture with him, and I caught the moment. I teased Angel that I wasn’t going to give her the picture, until she paid up, because this was celebrity status right here. Lol. Of course, I emailed her the picture the moment I uploaded it onto my computer….who could resist her charm? And at the beach when we were trying to negotiate to buy beaded jewelry. And before one of the Privatization workshops when we staged our very own photo shoot. So many memories in only a month of knowing one another. 

The last time I spoke to Angel was about a week ago. We were catching up with one another, and she was telling me about her latest project in acting, and about how the radio job was going great and all. And she mentioned how she loved my blog and we should work on a project together…It’s really hard to wrap my head around the fact that she is gone. I’ve never really had a problem dealing with death in the past, and I normally don’t even shed a tear until a good couple of months later, but this. This is someone who was so full of life, and so committed to making the world a better place. And so young, with so much potential. She’d already achieved so much, but was still striving on. Yet she was so humble about it, you wouldn’t even know the kind of force she was. 

For such a person to be taken away as a result of someone’s negligence! I came across a CNN article on the Nakumatt fire last week and read through it. But never would I have thought that she would be a victim of that fire. As always, everything is linked. Governments who are not willing to spend and invest in proper energy and electricity initiatives, and instead spend on themselves. Citizens who have to deal with continual power outages and have to opt for generators to keep business and life going. And for heavens sake, institutions that care not to invest in the security of their workers and clients. How on earth could those security guards close the doors to that supermarket when there was a fire going on? One of the first things you learn about fires, is to keep doorways and pathways open. And the reason for that dumb move was to prevent looting? When people’s lives are at stake? Obviously we seriously need to re-prioritize a lot of things. Whats even more annoying is the response teams actions on the videos that some people took…they didn’t seem like they were in any sort of hurry to do anything. We need to work on our immediate response initiatives otherwise we shall continue to lose great assets to our communities. Until our government leaders get off their high horses, and realize that nothing can or should be neglected in development, well, enough said. To the families and friends of the 23 victims of that fateful fire, take heart. To those who’s family members are missing, keep the faith.

Angel, you were a blessing to me and I’m sure to all who got a chance to interact with you. Your work is very admirable, and you’ve probably done more than some of us ever attempt to do in our lifetimes. Your legacy will live on, as each YOWLI continues to do what we all pledged to do in July 2008. You have done your part and you have done it beyond all expectations. You can hand over the mantle now, and know that you will forever be in our memories. We never got to do that project together, but we are both a part of a bigger project : of human and women’s rights activism. Stay beautiful and blessed, until we meet again. RIP.