“My advice for women aspiring to become leaders is that as a women, you find yourself fighting back, all the time but you don’t have to take that fight to over shadow you.” Says Miss Lona Merekeji.

(Miss Lona tells her story)

“The fact that this organization is existing until today from 2009, I think is a big achievement, and there are some achievements that you realize after some time, it has been almost a year, since I was given that award, It gave me a lot of time to reflect, and from that reflection, I think there are things that we have done, first of all, to put up as a young person by then, was ten years ago, to put on a nationwide observation mission that include over 3,000 people, deploy them, collect that information from them, be able to produce that report timely, that was a big achievement, During the referendum, we replicated the same and had connections in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia,  we had monitors there and still  did the same.”

This is attributed to the team that Miss Lona worked with, a reason why she says it’s very reflective, because everybody had a contribution, to make the whole picture but need to drive that picture, providing leadership for that picture not being that easy, but thinks it’s an achievement.

“The processes we have engaged in in civil society, is the other thing that stood out for me is, I remember in June 2010, we actually started the match for referendum, and it went until January when people were voting and that for me was an achievement.”

“we certainly pushed for the recognition of the civil society to be at the table for the negotiation, which was not there before, actually if you look at the peace negotiations in east Africa, the civil society never sit at the table of negotiators but they are always lobbing at the side, but in 2014 we had to push and justify for legality that civil society needs to be brought to the table as negotiators, first we got accreditations for 14 civil society negotiators at the symposium, them after that we got accreditation for 11 civil society negotiators at the table and ever since then it has continued as a culture, and that’s why when the high level revitalization forum happened, it was easy to get out of that, and i hope that model is educating, it was a big achievement, and only my colleagues can testify.”

“One thing I want to tell young women is that, once you are invited into a space, own it, be too humble and its also good to be strategic, so that you identify the strategic location and stay there. They need to be pro-, because it’s a key to success, and also need to do your ground work, you need to research about what you are getting yourself into and again you need to answer the question why? For yourself, if you want to be a leader, because its only that space were you see whether you want to go for this thing or not, and if you are going for it, who are your possible allies and what is the possible obstacles, and the moment you do that then you are not going to run over the obstacles and you do this all by yourself.”

“I remember those day when we sit in a meeting with my civil society colleagues, I used to ask them, how committed are you?, because for me , I am committed to an extent, even if am the only woman standing, I will push for this course until we get the result, and I think its good for a good leader to do that, but the challenge is, you need to be prepared to take extra, its not glamorous and always think ahead, and then you will find yourself into many spaces  writing, because it is a very important skill that works in our spaces, and were conversation are going on and as an activist, it shaping final thinking as we all know a pen holder is always so powerful, it’s a space that is almost vacant, if you have an eye for it, you will find yourself into so many places, and progressing without people knowing where you are going, and it’s very thrilling, when i have the real document, nobody will play around with you, cause you know the truth and you will speak authoritatively, there is no shot cut for it, because you have to always refer to the rapture and it is what I did from the beginning as a consultancy when I was in the secretariat in 2006 – 2007 LRA peace talks.”

“Its often not easy being a woman, but in this context being a woman who is in leading an organization that is not a women’s organization, people think we are a women organization, it’s a civil society, it’s so difficult because sometimes people respect thinking it’s a women’s thing, but I keep on saying that it’s a national issues and stop seeing me as a woman, and also in some spaces you find gender stereo types, because with this I find myself into spaces that are male dominated, and when you are speaking, they look at you as  a woman, I remember when I was also a member of the constitution review commission, and we had detail discussion on youth with former chief justice, Ambros and he told me that anybody who is not married is a youth.”

“In that national constitution amendment committee, we had a serious exchange with the chair because, before I was respected I went to that committee as the representative of the youth, and when we were talking about governance, I would raise my hand he would ignore me and I kept raising my hand, and he latterly said “Lona Let the lawyers talk when its women issues”. As a women you find yourself fighting back, all the time but you don’t have to take that fight to over shadow you.”

“My advice for women aspiring to become leaders is that, not to own the obstacles but go over them and focus on what is ahead of you, don’t take them personal because you are not the only woman being treated like that, finish it with this people and square it with them in terms of your contributions and before getting to any space at least have one of two information about that space, and that is even first before you dress up, if am invited to do something I always.”

“Sometimes I find some women throwing themselves into things, and go make mess out of them, you need to protect your image and output, it’s not that you are perfect but at least protect and know what you are giving out.” Concluded Miss Lona Merekeji