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Youth, Peace, Security: Zekia Musa Ahmed, Activist, Central Equatoria

Zekia Musa, 29, may be visually impaired but that doesn't stop this feisty young activist from advocating for the rights of disabled persons and highlighting the need to include them at all levels of decision-making. Photo by Moses Pasi/UNMISS.

29-year-old Zekia Musa Ahmed holds a degree in psychology from the University of Juba and works with the Ministry of Education representing people with disabilities. Visually impaired herself, Zekia originally comes from Nimule in Eastern Equatoria and is passionate about her activism.

What made you decide to become involved in politics and social issues?

I wasn’t very focused on politics initially, but as I started my advocacy for persons with disabilities, I realized that everything in life has a political hue and nuance. Given my own visual impairment and my educational background, I chose to be a counsellor as well as an advocate for people with similar issues in South Sudan. Often, our culture can impact the disabled negatively and I wanted to break the myths surrounding people like me. Disabled people are not ‘lesser’ than anybody who has complete use of all their faculties. As a citizen of South Sudan, I felt that it was my duty to speak up, speak out on behalf of disabled people.

Were your family supportive of your choices?

Ever since I was in school, my family has been very supportive of me. You know, when you’re visually impaired, education is a problem, reading is a problem. It was a learning curve for my parents as well because they had to figure out how best to support me. I am an activist today because of the strong stand given to me by my parents who, from childhood, gave me the confidence to hold my own in any social situation. That’s probably why I am so bold and unafraid to speak my mind.

My parents also taught me how to perform all necessary household tasks despite my disability so that I could always take care of myself. I cook, iron my clothes, serve people food and I can even come and go from work on my own. This self-reliance was taught to me by my family and I am forever grateful to them.

What are some challenges that you face daily?

Firstly, most people don’t know how to socialize with us; many people feel uncomfortable being friends with or even holding a conversation with disabled people. There are these negative attitudes towards us, as I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t matter how educated we are, society seems to be uncomfortable around disabilities. Many people believe that when we lose our eyes, we have, in effect, lost the entire world. My activism revolves around explaining to people that disabled persons are fully capable of living a fruitful, productive life.

 How have you overcome adversity?

As a disabled person, it’s up to you to find that fire in the belly, that confidence to train yourself to work around your particular disability. We have to find ways to cope with the obstacles life throws in our way. This could be through building our capacities through training provided by relevant organisations, through having a healthy social life and support structure and by having faith in one’s own capabilities.

What motivates you to advocate for social justice and change?

Inequalities are rife across South Sudan, especially human rights abuses. We have to have equal laws and equal justice for everybody. Disabled people need to be included in decisions that impact us directly. I advocate for our rights because I want to see us being included and heard in the future of our country.

Can you give us an example of the positive impact/reactions you have got from people?

Recently I was invited by a civil society organization to facilitate a workshop on the transitional constitution of South Sudan. Seeing me as a visually impaired facilitator who could use the computer and didn’t need any extra assistance was, in itself, an education for the participants. I got very positive reactions from everybody, not least because I was fully conversant with the topic of the workshop, but also because my disability didn’t make any difference in my ability to reach out to people.

Why is it important for young people to be actively involved in politics and speak up on issues that impact them directly?

Young people are the backbone of the country. When you have issues with your backbone, your entire body will be paralyzed, and you will be incapable of moving. It’s exactly the same with youth. If they are not trained well to support the country, the country will be paralyzed and will not develop. Youth are the future and they need to eschew conflict and contribute to our young nation’s progress.

What do you feel your country needs most at this moment in time?

Peace is our topmost priority, because in its absence there is no security, no investment, no roads, electricity, water, good education and health facilities. So peace is the starting point of the development of the country. Peace will show our real image and heart as South Sudanese and will attract investors to develop our country.

If you had a message for the youth of South Sudan, what would it be?

Focus on unity, equality, prosperity and also build your capacity so that we can develop our country together.