A Kenyan woman is among TIME’s 100 Most Influential People, a prestigious annual list published by the American news magazine that acknowledges extraordinary people changing the world.
Ms Nice Nailantei, a 27-year-old anti-FGM activist from Oloitokitok, Kajiado South, is the only Kenyan who made it to the magazine’s 2018 list. She is listed alongside media mogul Oprah Winfrey, President of the United States Donald Trump, Prince Harry and China’s President Xi Jinping.
She was recognised for her relentless efforts to end female genital mutilation.
Ms Nailantei’s journey began at the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro at the age of seven when her parents died. At this age, a Maasai girl is considered to be at the cusp of womanhood and ripe for circumcision, and later marriage to an older man.
Nailantei’s unparalleled courage — never witnessed before in her village — saved her on the eve of her planned circumcision. She run away with her sister away to avoid the cut.
When she returned home, she had clarity of thought that surprised even her grandfather, Mr Philip Lampat Sing’aro, a respectable village elder. She negotiated with him to give her one more year to prepare herself for the rite of passage. When a year passed, she remained adamant against the cut, although her sister finally gave in. Ms Nailantei would later join high school and at the age of 15, she became a role model and a fierce crusader against FGM.
Using diplomacy and negotiation, Ms Nailantei approached Maasai elders with information about the ramifications of FGM on a woman, imploring them to recalibrate their thinking around the practice.
Although her plan did not work at first, the elders warmed up gradually and the greatest sign of respect from them came when they handed her the esiere, a powerful walking stick that symbolises leadership.
Now at 27, Nailantei has become a paragon of a fearless campaign against FGM that has so far saved more than 15,000 girls. Her efforts have spawned international headlines in respectable newspapers such as the New York Times, and have afforded her an enviable seat amongst the citadel of global icons, pioneers and world leaders.
Although the announcement was made yesterday, Nailantei received an email from the magazine two weeks ago, but she had to keep the news even from her closest family members. This is because the magazine was strict on the confidentiality of the matter.
“I am truly honoured and grateful to be in the list,” she said in a phone interview with the Saturday Nation. “It shows how important our work against FGM and child marriage is,” she added.
Ms Nailantei is not sure how the magazine learnt about her although she suspects that is was Jaha Dukureh, a Gambian anti-FGM crusader, who recommended her and eventually wrote a short story to accompany the announcement in the magazine. “I did not know she was writing the story,” she says.
She has been closely following Jaha’s work through international media.
Ms Nailantei said her grandfather is proud of her. “I called him. He may not understand the magnitude of this recognition but he is very proud of me. I am quite sure he is telling every villager about this,” she said a jovial Nailantei.
As she prepared to jet off to New York tomorrow morning to receive her award at a gala event scheduled on Tuesday, Ms Nailantei was mulling over what she will say during the three minutes she will have to make a toast at the event.
Her eyes remain steadfast on her goal to make FGM a thing of the history books, she says