14 January 2009

Africa: Mukwege is African of the Year - runners Up - Christiana Thorpe, Salif Keita

Photo: Daily Trust
Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere accepting the African of the Year award 2008.

Fifty-three year old Congolese gynaecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere was named last night as the Daily Trust African of the Year 2008 for his devoted work in treating rape victims in his war-torn country and helping the traumatised women to regain their dignity.

The Daily Trust Board of Editors and the Advisory Committee of the Daily Trust African of the Year 2008, which made the selection, also named the chairperson of the National Electoral Commission [NEC] of Sierra Leone Dr. Christiana Ayoka Mary Thorpe as well as the great Malian musician Salif Keita as the runners-up to the African of the Year 2008.

The Advisory Committee was headed by Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, former Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity [OAU, now known as African Union, AU], who is also a former prime minister of Tanzania. Other members of the pan-African Advisory Committee that made the selection include Professor Abdoulaye Bathily, Professor Kwame Karikari, Dr. Muthoni Wanyeki and Professor Tandeka Nkiwane. The Board of Editors was headed by the chairman of Media Trust Limited's board and Chief Executive Officer, Malam Kabiru Yusuf.

The African of the Year and the two runners-up were honoured at a special dinner and award ceremony at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja last night. Dr. Salim chaired the ceremony.

Dr. Denis Mukwege operates the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in troubled eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, very close to the borders with Rwanda and Burundi. The doctor, who trained as a gynaecologist in France, was quoted by the selection committee as having said that though his country has several armed groups, all of them make Congolese women their common enemy.

Rape is common in the war-torn region, with many victims suffering gang-rape by teams of armed men. Dr. Mukwege's hospital receives raped and brutalised women from all over the region for treatment and reconstructive surgery. In addition, he coordinates anti-HIV/AIDS programs in South Kivu Province, of which Bukavu is the capital.

The selection committee praised Dr. Mukwege as "the man who saves women" and also as the man who restores women's dignity and the ability to procreate after the violence of rape. It said while he could easily have emigrated to Europe or North America to pursue a lucrative medical practice, Dr. Mukwege chose to remain behind in Congo and carry out a great humanitarian mission in the service of brutalised African women.

According to the Advisory Committee, the runner-up Dr. Thorpe, 59, was honoured because of her diligent work in conducting free, fair and transparent elections in Sierra Leone even though the country had been ravaged by a civil war that lasted for 11 years.

During the war years, Thorpe also founded and led the Sierra Leone chapter of the Forum for African Women Educationists [FAWE], which did extensive work in refugee camps, counselling rape victims, providing emergency classes and imparting skills to them. Thorpe had also been a teacher and school principal, a Roman Catholic nun and was Sierra Leone's Minister of Education in 1994-96.

As for the runner-up Salif Keita, 59, the committee said he was selected because of his great contributions to African music and also for his work for the protection of albinos in Africa.

Describing Keita as one of the greatest African musicians of this generation, the selection committees said he left indelible marks on the African music and cultural scene since he left his hometown, Djoliba for the Malian capital, Bamako in 1967, after he suffered much social rejection because of his albinism.

It said from Mandinka folk songs to Anglo-Saxon pop, French chansons and Afro-Cuban rhythms, Keita made huge contributions to African music, churned out dozens of albums and performed at many great musical events in the last four decades. His work on behalf of albinos, which he carries out through the non-profit organisation SOS Albinos, was singled out for much praise by the selection committees.

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