25 May 2020

Plucky and benevolent woman behind the success stories of Community Organising dies from Covid19

Former colleagues and friends of Josephine Mukanjira, who died from Covid19 complications in Mid-April, pay tributes to a stupendous woman who was behind the many success stories of Community Organising in the UK. “Jo was simply the pillar of community organising and the backbone of our work” said one former colleague from Citizens UK, a charity that organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good.

Josephine Mukanjira descended from East Africa and had connections both to Uganda and Rwanda. Jo was very close to her mum and her extended family who live in Uganda and are devastated by the untimely tragic death of a woman who was the beacon of hope for the family. Jo, who had been in the UK for a long time, worked for Citizens UK for over 12 years in different capacities until September 2019 when she left the organisation. In the past few months, Jo worked for an organisation as an accountant. Just a few days before her untimely departure, Jo joined a prominent Chartered Governance organisation in the City of London, but Covid19 stole this woman of courage and her dreams were cut short. Neil Jameson, founder and former Executive Director of Citizens UK, who has been the backbone of the farewell organising for Josephine said,Jo will be remembered as one of the kindest, most wiling and most loyal colleagues we had through those tough years of growth and challenge. She looked out for colleagues and rarely said ‘NO’. The very best of humanity and quiet, inspirational leader. So much missed. RIP Josephine

Stephanie Leonard, tweeted, “Josie ensured my first month’s salary was paid up front so I could pay my rent when I started my job at CUK. She knew I needed help and went out of her way to support me. She always checked in on me when I would come to the office. She was such a gorgeous person. Such awful news.” Whereas another former colleague, Lydia Rye said in a tweet, “Jo was warm and terrifying (read my expenses were always late) in equal measure and my favourite person to gossip outside assemblies with. I cannot imagine being at CUK without her. Such desperately sad news.” Many other colleagues and community leaders used the social media platforms to pay their tributes among which are the following, Ana Franca-Ferreira, tweeted “Met Jo at 17 as a young intern. Saw her again at 24 at my first professional job, she made me feel at home. Every time I was in the office and Jo was there, I was at home. Heartbroken that she has gone but have the certainty that she rests with God. Thanks for your life Jo!” Another former colleague, Dermot Bryers tweeted, “So, so sad. I always loved seeing Jo when I came to Cavell Street. Love and condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.

Among those who used twitter to pay tributes was, Bethan Angharad Lant, “I adored Josephine. She had such natural warmth. I looked forward to seeing her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.” Others went onto Facebook to pay their respects. Paul Regan, one of the pioneers of Community Organising in the UK said, “This is a complete shock. Such kind and positive person. I find it difficult to believe. RIP Jo”. Whereas Rabbi Janet Darley, who also shared prayer and religious reflection at the zoom memorial, wrote on Facebook, “Such sad news. Such a lovely person. May her soul be bound up in the gathering of life. Her memory will surely be a blessing to all who knew and loved her”. Another former colleague and close friend, Emmanuel Gotora wrote on Facebook, “We’ve lost a true gem. Josie was a caring and kind-hearted colleague and much loved by all at Citizens UK. She had a wicked sense of humour and always had time to talk no matter how busy things were. Her calm presence greeted many of us at the office. She always had a smile and a never-ending secret stash of chocolate which she was always happy to share. Josephine was more than a work colleague - she was a friend - a rare combination. She loved being with people and always went above and beyond to lend a hand when needed. She loved a game of football too! I’ll always remember the football games in Weavers’ Field. I will miss you my dear friend Josie - rest in peace.”

Many people around the country meet their local community organisers, but there was one person behind these organisers, Jo. Some of her former colleagues used to even call her as, ‘organiser of organisers’. More tributes and reactions from colleagues and friends on twitter HERE and on Facebook HERE

Devastated and shocked by the sudden death of Jo, old and new colleagues, and friends joined the memorial zoom organised to commemorate her life on Tuesday 28th April. Fitting tributes and stories of a remarkable woman were shared by those who joined the memorial where we also had heart touching hymn and song, ‘Great is they faithfulness’ and ‘Who will speak if we don’t?’ led by Bernadette Farrell, hymnographer, composer of Catholic liturgical music and veteran Community Organiser. We were also joined by Jo’s mum and extended family from Uganda, who were indeed very grateful for the memorial service held in honour of their loved one. The memorial was also a reminder that much should be done to support Jo’s family as they mainly relied on her financial support following the death of her 2 brothers in the past few years. We have, therefore, launched a fundraiser to give Jo the best send-off she very much deserves. We are also keen to help her mum and the kids Jo was sponsoring in schools in Uganda. Here is the GoFundMe page, Paying Respect to Jo. Please donate and share. It is all paying back to a woman that helped many in the fight for social justice.  

21 May 2020

Together against an invisible enemy – why I joined the NHS volunteer responders program

Bekele as an NHS volunteer responder
I believe in one collective human family that can help one another and thrive together. When there is a challenge, we have to step in to help one-another. When there is happiness, good to cherish that together, if at all possible. For me, this is a world of interdependence where what affects one, affects the other. When we do something for others, it does not only benefit others, but we greatly benefit from what we are doing as well. The benefit is mutual. Hence it is more than vital for me to take up on voluntary works as much as possible and contribute my bits. Hence whenever possible, I try my best to contribute my share on a voluntary capacity. 
Bekele as London 2012 Olympics Games Maker

I was one of the Games Makers of London 2012 Olympics, which was one of my proudest moments in my life.  I am now up as an NHS Volunteer Responder, which makes me very proud.

When there was a call for NHS volunteers, I did not hesitate. I just asked myself ‘how I could be of help?’ What could I do? What could I contribute to the fight against this monster virus whilst supporting fellow citizens? I hence made my application and was approved in days’ time, which was excellent. Yet I was aware that more than 750000 people had applied to volunteer, which by itself was amazing and extraordinary. For me joining these people from around the country was a big deal on its own. People willing to step in and make a difference.

Coronavirus is an invisible enemy affecting many people. The impact of this monstrous virus is massive on the wider collective human family. I have lost 2 of my close ex-colleagues and friends to Covid19, whcih is very painful. Anybody could be infected by this ruthless virus. Hence vital for me to do whatever I could in the fight against this virus. Whilst doing this voluntary work, I get to know many wonderful people doing the right thing at the right time. We can only stamp out Covid19 collectively. For me, there is no small contribution. Hence when I decided to apply for this voluntary position, I was determined to do whatever I could in my capacity to be part of the wider fighters.

As a former refugee who made Britain his home, this gives me another opportunity to pay back. Hence doing this voluntary work means a lot for me.

8 May 2020

Dearest Jo, you never said goodbye

Life has not been fair recently. I have had some heartbreaks. The challenges of Covid19, the lockdown and its impact on life, the tragic death of a very good friend and former colleague called Mona Mahmoud and uncertainty about projects and future. To make it even worse I lost Josephine Mukanjira, one of my best friends and colleagues. Jo was someone who was there before I joined Citizens UK, where I have worked for over 9 years. She was someone who was always willing to help me. Someone extra generous to step in when there were challenges. Someone who would do everything on earth to make others happy.

Jo at Greater London Authority – 20th February 2020
When I last spoke to Jo on Wednesday 15th April to tell her about our colleague Mona’s death, she said she had already heard about it and that she was so sad. As we discussed about life, she sounded full of life and lots to live for. She told me that she was happy with her new job. That she was ready for the challenge the new opportunity would bring. I believed all what Jo said. As I had also met with her in person on February 20th when she attended a Community Sponsorship event I organised at the office of the Mayor of London, it all sounded good for me and that I was happy for her. But life was not fair for Jo. Despite the hopes and aspirations she exhibited in the conversation I had with her, she was taken away by the monster virus called Covid19. When I heard Jo’s departure within days of talking to her, I could not believe it.  I was in denial for some time. How could that happen? Somebody who sounded so healthy and fit going untimely is heart-breaking. But life is unpredictable. We only have today for granted.

I have lots of memories with Jo. I and Jo often had our lunches together. Lunch breaks were opportunities to catch up. But when we finished our lunches, Jo would say “I am sure you would at least wash your food container before taking it back home as I know you never cook.” Jo knew I do not cook often and that in fact I hated cooking and get nervous whenever I cook. Whenever I left the office at the end of the working day, I would say goodbye to Jo and colleagues and say look after the money. Jo would say, “Keep bringing the money and we would look after it”. We both laugh and hope to meet again. 

Jo was not only a colleague, but also family friend. She had been to my house on a couple of occasions. My family knew her very well. She was a delight to have around. Her life is now in the hands of Almighty God, whom she served wholeheartedly. She should be at peace in the company of angels. I pray that she is at peace.

Thank you, Jo, for everything you did for me. Thank you for your friendship, colleagueship and leadership.

Goodbye to you, Jo. Sleep tight my good old friend. Your memories will live with us as long as we are in this world. Rest in peace Jo.

28 March 2020

The monster virus has changed our lives – hoping to be back to normalcy soon

I have been living in London for many years. Commute to work daily and travel around London often using public transport, which is among the best in the world. 

One of the beauties of London is its busyness, its vibrancy and its cosmopolitan nature. The past few days have been very different. More spaces and visible social distancing in our public transports. Coffee shops, eateries, etc with lots of empty chairs. Shelves in most of supermarkets empty. Unusually different experience. Undoubtedly our lives have changed.

I understand there are more challenging days ahead as we fight the spread of Coronavirus, but we will rise up to the challenges and come out victorious. After all, the collective human family has been imaginative and creative and hence will come up with solutions soon. This is a reminder that we are interdependent. We are all in this together. What affects one, affects the other. Yes, we are in this as one human family, wherever we may be.

In the meantime, it is vital that we 

📣 Remember the most vulnerable people in our collective human family. 
📣 Remember the elderly, the homeless, refugees and all those with existing health issues. 
📣 Remember to keep doing the Right Thing.

Hope is what I have. Hopeful that we defeat this monster Coronavirus and come back to normalcy soon.

Till then keen doing the right thing, remain positive, safe, upbeat and kind. One world, one human family!

Written on 17th March 2020 before the UK Lockdown.

25 February 2020

Ethiopia goes to polls in August – hoping it gets it right

As I was in Ethiopia during the May 2005 election, I was one of the many hopefuls that thought democracy; tolerance and the rule of law were about to prevail in my home country. I was one of those very hopeful folks, who thought change was coming and Ethiopia was changing for the better.  My experience and learning in different parts of the country during the pre-election era in 2005 gave me hopes. The pre-election era was interesting, reasonably democratic, of course with some tolerable exceptions. As I had the opportunity to travel around the country in those days, I was able to talk to many people about the changes, hopes and the long road to democracy. That period was one of the most interesting in Ethiopia’s General Election history.

Post-Election Ethiopia was totally different. Killings, beatings, arbitrary detentions, all sort of miseries. The determination of the tyrannical regime to cling to power at any cost diverted the road to democracy and triggered the June 2005 protests that cost the lives of many innocent Ethiopians. The same stubbornness by the then regime resulted in the October/November 2005 massacre. In addition to the massacres, thousands were jailed, many people were forced to leave their homes and many others went on exile.

Ever since, all the elections were fake, undemocratic and questionable. It was all about how many percent of the vote the ruling party (EPRDF) would get, 98%, 99% or 100%. Totally shambolic.

Election 2020

As Ethiopia goes to polls in August 2020, there is a lot to expect. One thing for sure there will be winners and losers and it all depends on how we react to the wins and losses. If we ever think, it is now or never, then we have already lost the argument before even going to the polls. There could be disappointments when we are not able to mange our expectations. If the election is free and fair, that is a big deal on its own. That matters equally as the results. But if we are determined to see only the results that we want to see and anything else is unacceptable, then we have a problem. We have to remember election is not an end by itself and our wins or losses at an election wouldn’t mean the triumph or shortcoming of democracy. We need to hang on and work to change the course towards a stronger and more informed participation and strengthen the democratic process so that democratic elections become habits and that the next generation takes those democratic elections and principles for granted.

Hopes and fears

Managing expectation – it is more than important to manage expectations. Both prospective candidates, their parties, supporters and the wider electorates need to manage their expectations. They should at times be ready for disappointments, but ready to deal with it with grace, accept the results, move on and come back in the future, if they wish so. Hence vital to be ready for everything and avoid unwanted and unintended consequences. 

have hopes that all parties and candidates will be able to manage their expectations and act responsibly. I also have fears that some may not be able to contain their angers because of the challenges of managing their egos. Hence vital to know that going into election is part of a democratic journey, not an end by itself.

The role of Media - The media, be it video, voice, print, online or offline, they all have roles to play. Social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have big impact and significant roles to play. Hence vital to work on media accountability and professionalism in the run up to the general election and beyond. There should be credible sources of information that can avail timely information to avoid misinformation, disinformation and fake news. Facts and reliable data need to be available on time. Credible fact checkers need to be supported. People have to ask for the sources of information and check their credibility. There will be lots of opinion pieces and analyses based on individual perceptions and views. Hence, we need to cultivate the habit of asking for the sources of information every now and then and differentiate between news and opinions.

It takes us all to see the 2020 Ethiopian General Election succeed and exceed expectations of the usual and unusual suspects. Remember we all have stakes and cannot be silent on this important and momentous moment. Let us build democratic culture together and be voices of reasons.

Plucky and benevolent woman behind the success stories of Community Organising dies from Covid19

Former colleagues and friends of Josephine Mukanjira, who died from Covid19 complications in Mid-April, pay tributes to a stupendous ...