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Tribute: Elizabeth Ibrahim and Zephyrin Kalimba ran the good race

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By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group

There is a poignancy about reflecting on life, and knowing that one day, your race will come to an end. For many, this reality seems to inhibit them. Yet for a few, the finite nature of life fuels a relentless drive to contribute to the betterment of their communities while they still can. Elizabeth Ibrahim and Zephyrin Kalimba belong to the latter.

In the first week of 2022, the world sadly lost them both.

Elizabeth Ibrahim

On 4 January, the residents of Kambi Garba in Isiolo County, Kenya, were left in disbelief after the brutal and fatal stabbing of Elizabeth, a peace activist. Her race came to an abrupt and violent halt after an attack over a suspected land row.

Elizabeth was revered in Isiolo and the rest of Kenya for her peace efforts, as well as her activism on environmental issues and gender equality. In a tragic coincidence, she was attacked at the same place where her husband and son were killed eleven years ago in a tribal clash. Remarkably, the death of Elizabeth’s husband and son inspired her to champion peace-building in Isiolo. She persuaded members of her community to embrace peace and not to avenge the death of her loved ones.

Her dedication to peace won her admiration both locally and nationally. In 2007, the then President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, recognised her peace-building efforts by bestowing on her a presidential award.

At the time of her death, Elizabeth was also a peace ambassador on Minority Rights Group International (MRG)’s ‘Network for Peace’ project and sat on the board of our partner organisation, Isiolo Gender Watch (IGW). We will miss her greatly.

Elizabeth Ibrahim. Credit: Grace Lolim.

Zephyrin Kalimba

Two days before Elizabeth’s death, minority rights activist and former senator Zephyrin Kalimba’s life journey came to an end at a hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. Kalimba distinguished himself as a champion of the rights of Historically Marginalised Peoples in the country.

Kalimba’s advocacy for the rights of Historically Marginalised Peoples like the Batwa first came to prominence in civil society in the second half of 1990s – a critical time when Rwanda was on the recovery path after the 1994 genocide. He led organizations such as the Community of Potters of Rwanda (COPORWA).

He used these opportunities to advocate for more equitable access to public goods and services for marginalised communities, and his efforts culminated in scholarship opportunities for Batwa students and the building of dignified housing for marginalised people.

Kalimba’s advocacy was recognised by the highest office in the land, and in 2012, President Paul Kagame appointed him to the senate, where he served until 2020. He continued to advocate for the rights of ethnic minorities throughout his term.

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Elizabeth and Kalimba served their communities with utmost diligence and commitment throughout their lives. We are all running our own races but what we can learn from them is simple: there is always time to do good.

May their souls rest in peace.

Featured photo: Zephyrin Kalimba swearing in to the Rwandan senate in 2012. Credit: Rwanda Presidency.

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Filed Under: Africa, Kenya, Rwanda
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