7 African Women to watch at #Rio2016

The stakes are high this time of the year as Rio2016 kick off. Lots of hopes and dreams are riding on this year’s wins. The national pride of certain countries is at stake at the sporting event as those of us living in African countries stayed up late to watch the opening ceremonies.

Btw did you know that the Olympics started in 776 B.C. in Greece where the first Olympian, Coroebus won the single event, a 192-metre foot-race? In 2016, we’re all about the African women doing us proud at the Olympics. Out of this year’s lot, lets’ focus on seven African sportswomen who we’ll be keeping an eye on as the event unfolds.

Yolande Mabika

Refugee Olympic Team

This 28-year-old judoka (a person who practices or is an expert in judo) is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She’ll be participating in this year’s Olympics under that flag.

There’s no shying away from it Yolande has suffered to get to where she is now. She’s slept on the street, and worked as a sweeper and at a textile mill. In 2013, she qualified for the World Judo Championships held in Brazil. She sought asylum in Brazil and started training at the Instituto Reação, a judo school founded by a former Olympic bronze medalist. She is aiming for gold at Rio2016 under the women’s 70kg category.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: Nothing should hold you back the way nothing held Yolande back. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that she gets the gold she’s aiming for.

Vivian Cheruiyot


Known as ‘pocket rocket’ due to her short stature, Vivian is a Kenyan long-distance runner who specializes in track and cross country running. She has a massive track record under her belt but her most notable moments include how she lost 17kgs after giving birth. Vivian did this in order to compete in the 2013 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships 10,000m gold medal in Beijing, China. She won that by the way.

These aren’t Vivian’s first Olympics. She scooped 2nd and 3rd place in the 2012 Olympics for women’s 5000m and 10,000m respectively. She has also crowned Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year 2012. In Rio this year, she is doubling up in the women’s 5000m and 10000m.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: There’s always room to do better and improve on your best. Vivian has pushed herself to do better and succeeded. She won and we can learn from her by pushing ourselves to win too.

Hortence Vanessa Mballa Atangana


Another judoka on the list, Vanessa has been flying the Cameroonian flag high since 2013 when she won the African Championships where she won a bronze medal in the women’s 78kg category. She also scooped third place in the Commonwealth games of 2014. In this year’s Olympics, she is going for gold in the same category.

Margret Rumat Rumat Hassan


Margret’s story is touching. The 19-year-old will be one of South Sudan’s two athletes to participate in the Olympics. She is from Wau, a South Sudan city, where, as recently as 2015, this world-class athlete didn’t even have access to a gym.

Against all odds, she trained her way to the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. There she competed in the Women’s 400m as an Independent Olympic Athlete. This was even before South Sudan was recognized. She is aiming to be first or second at Rio2016 in the women’s 200m.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: Margret forged a path where there was none before. Some people spend their lives training to be athletes in world-class gyms, Margret didn’t have access to that last year. And still, she stands.

Blessing Okagbare


Blessing also holds many feathers in her cap. This Nigerian track and field athlete specializes in long jumping and short sprints is an Olympic and World Championships medalist in the long jump. Blessing is also a world medalist in the 200 metres. She holds the Women’s 100 metres Commonwealth Games record for the fastest time at 10.85 seconds.

Her 100m best of 10.79 made her the African record holder for the event until it was eclipsed by Murielle Ahoure in 2016. She was the African 100m and long jump champion in 2010. She has also won medals at the All-Africa Games, IAAF Continental Cup and World Relays. As a sign of her prowess, she is poised to take part in four events during Rio2016: women’s long jump, women’s 100m, women’s 200m and women’s 4x100m relay.

Genzebe Dibaba


This Ethiopian middle- and long-distance runner is destined for great things. Genzebe is the sister of three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Olympic silver medalist Ejegayehu Dibaba, and the cousin of former Olympic champion Derartu Tulu. Her veins are literally flow with the blood of a winner. However, that’s not to say her own efforts are for nothing.

Genzebe was the 2012 World Indoor Champion for the 1500m, and is the reigning 2014 World Indoor Champion and World Indoor Record Holder in the 3000m. She represented Ethiopia at the 2012 Summer Olympics and has twice competed at the World Championships in Athletics (2009 and 2011). Genzebe was named Laureus Sportswoman of the Year for the 2014 year and was 2015 IAAF World Athlete of the Year. She is the current world record holder for the 1500m (both indoor and outdoor), the indoor 3000m, the indoor 5000m, the indoor mile, and the indoor two miles.

She is looking to win the women’s 1500 m track and field event at Rio2016.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: We know we mentioned this before but…look at Genzebe’s family! The Dibaba family, aka the “world’s fastest family” are goals for how healthy families can reach their peaks and excel. They challenge us to ask, how can we work with our families to ensure that everyone stays winning?

Caster Semenya


A middle-distance runner, South African Caster Semenya’s track record is bright. It all started in the 2008 World Junior Championships, where she won the gold in the 800m at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games. In the African Junior Championships of 2009, she won both the 800m and 1500m races. In August of the same year, Caster won gold in the 800 metres at the World Championships setting the fastest time of the year.

Caster was chosen to carry the country’s flag during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics where she scooped a silver medal in the women’s 800 metres. Amidst the shadow of gender testing that has been haunting her career, Semenya aims for gold in this year’s Olympics in the category of Women’s 800m.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: After the gender testing troubles, some people thought Caster will no longer participate in competitive sports. Caster has proven those haters wrong by rising again with no consideration for what others may think.

As the Rio2016 unfolds, these are just a few of the #MotherlandMoguls to keep your eyes on as they do us proud!

Nok Nora Duany Bassey & Aprelle Duany: We wanted South Sudanese children to access education

nok duany bassey aprelle duany tasoos

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. Despite the ongoing conflict, it’s status provides many opportunities for business. Sister-in-laws Nok Nora Duany Bassey and Aprelle Duany joined forces to create The American School of South Sudan (TASOSS) in order to provide much needed high quality early childhood education. Nok’s background is in finance and Aprelle is a fashion designer but both wanted the best for their native and adopted homeland. Below the founders share their greatest challenges, hopes and advice for creating a business in the midst of conflict.

Liz: Nok, can you tell me a little about how you came to leave South Sudan and live in the US?

Nok: We left South Sudan immediately after the civil war started and came to Bloomington, Indiana where my parents were graduate students at the time. Even during that period, my parents remained really connected to the conflict and worked on the peace process. My dad used to spend six months in Kenya or wherever he could in the bush in South Sudan and then six months in the US to check on the family. I had three brothers and a sister so there were five of us with my mother. She did a lot of advocacy work with churches from the US but there was always a narrative in the household that, “When there is peace we will go home.” And that narrative stuck.

So literally when peace came in 2005 after the CPA was signed, I went back after 21 years of being away. My father was already in Juba and we first went to the North, to Khartoum. I remember thinking, “Why haven’t I been here?” A Sudanese classmate from Georgetown was showing me around and everything was so developed. We spent Christmas there and I flew to Juba in time for New Year’s and when I arrived there was completely nothing. I remember getting into the back of a truck to go to my childhood home where I was born. There were no roads. Everything was still under construction.

My father had been there for a week and was working to set everything up but it had been abandoned for twenty years. When he came back home they had a found a corpse there and many dead animals. Coming back, I remember this feeling of excitement but also of anger. I thought to myself that I would never go back to the North until I had played some part in developing South Sudan. Coming back forever changed me. I finished my graduate studies in 2006 and moved back to South Sudan permanently.

Liz: How was the transition moving back?

Nok: Of course it was difficult but it was such a mix of emotions. There was a lot of excitement. So many South Sudanese were moving back after a long time. Over 4 million people were displaced during the war so there was an influx of different South Sudanese from all over the world. Everyone was so encouraged and inspired. I remember drums beating at nights and elders telling stories. People were finally moving freely and everyone was happy. My mom would say, “This really is what peace is: freedom.”

We were all building things from scratch and anything that you wanted to do in South Sudan was possible.  My father would tell me, “If you miss something you had in the US ,build it here.” I was so inspired and encouraged seeing the work being done for us to have our own country. Of course it was also a big culture shock and it took time and patience to take everything in.

2Liz: What about you Aprelle? How was it for you moving to Juba?

Aprelle: Moving to South Sudan was a difficult transition for me.  I left my family and comforts of New York City to support my husband, who like his sister Nok, wanted an opportunity to redevelop his home country.  As a new wife and mom, there were many cultural differences that I was not expecting.

In addition to the lack of development and language barriers, the environment was difficult to ease into.  Overtime, I began to meet new people and gain a better understanding of why South Sudan faced generations of challenges, which held the country back.  South Sudan was not an easy place to thrive, but everyday I would meet people who were so passionate about changing the country into a place where they could call home, it was inspiring.  At that time, I also began to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of life and I began to explore areas where I could also contribute.

Liz: So once you were based in Juba, how did the idea to create a school come about?

Aprelle: The school was inspired by my daughter Jinai.  The idea became actualized over lunch with Nok, myself, and a few friends. Children in Juba were often isolated in their compounds without an opportunity to engage with other children, which is key to healthy childhood development.  One of the things that I wanted for my daughter was a sense of community where she could play and learn.  Additionally, Nok and I both benefited from education in our lives from a young age and we wanted to create opportunities for young South Sudanese children to access education.

Nok: Yes, oftentimes, people were sending their kids to Kenya or Uganda for school. Young women like myself left kids with their grandparents in other countries. It was heartbreaking. We finally had peace and families were being split again after so many years of being unstable. There were not many schools to support kids in Juba.

We initially decided to start a nursery school because Jinai needed one. We started with one classroom and one student. The first day we held an Open House and a few people passed through but Jinai was the only student enrolled for the first two weeks. So everyone was looking over Jinai saying, “Oh, she’s coloring! She knows the ABCs….” Eventually we got more students enrolled and had a full class and a waiting list.

My background is in finance and Aprelle is a designer so it has been a learning process. But we’ve always had a lot of passion and it has been helpful to start small and learn along the way.

Liz: Aside from not coming from an education background, what have been some of the greatest challenges building a business in Juba?

Aprelle: There were many challenges. I think even with an education background, we would have still run into many hurdles.  You have to remember, South Sudan is the newest country on Earth, less than 5 years old at the time.  We didn’t have an education system, curriculum, or guidelines to follow, so we had to make it up as we went along.  We had to pay attention to what was working and what was not working in terms of building relationships with parents, training teachers, and gauging how much the students were growing.  It was a difficult task as we were basically pioneering the space but we had a lot of passion that helped us along.

Nok: In addition, when we started this we knew that we really needed to get it right. When we just had nursery level it was easier to say that we could build the foundation, but then as the students grow we really realized that we can’t mess up. Education is so important to the development of South Sudan so it was nerve-wracking. We knew we needed the right support and people who are skilled in educational development to get involved.

We knew we needed the right teachers, but the retention of these teachers has been a huge challenge because of the instability of the environment. Teachers often leave without much notice and really good teachers have been nervous about living in South Sudan. Another challenge has been learning the terrain and the culture and how business works here. Things like getting proper registration and licensing take time and can be quite costly. Once we got the technical stuff out of the way the main challenges were convincing people that investing in early childhood education and in getting girls in school are important. When we started, many people were asking, “Why work with this age?”

Ideas about girls’ education not being valued are not just present in rural areas but also in Juba. Families believe there is no immediate benefit to have daughters in school, but we know how investing in girls can change communities.

Omnia and Salma: We want to connect the Sudans using culture and technology

Omnia and Salma

Sudan and South Sudan have been under fire for decades from the perils of civil war, famine, poverty, corruption, Islamic jihad and other crisis that affect the countries politically, socially and economically as well as culturally. Omnia Shawkat and Salma Amin Saad decided to build a contemporary platform to voice independent opinions of the diverse, intelligent, and peaceful youth that diverge massively from the mainstream that places them in tiny status-quo boxes.

Omnia and Salma started the online magazine Andariya for Sudan & South Sudan in both English and Arabic to lifting our spirits, sharing contemporary analysis and opinions & promoting creative arts ideas and events. Since the launch of the magazine they’ve also launched a photography project titled “MyKhartoum” to show the beauty of the capital city with a series focused on Juba coming soon.

Omnia and Salma shared with us why online media is so important, why Andariya is different and what they’ve learned about organic growth. 

Why do you think digital media matters in Sudan and South Sudan?

Sudan and South Sudan have a shared cross-border culture that was severed along with the political ties in July 2011. The current generation witnessed a tough time of great polarization and we had no time to heal, reconcile or mend our broken matter when the political secession came upon. This need to open the road of communication is one great reason why digital media matters right now; it transcends boundaries.

The publishing industry is also lagging behind due to many factors (economic, censorship, access, language etc.) and a way to overcome some of these challenges and reach and engage a wider audience that is already online, beyond even the Sudans (there is a massive diaspora population from both countries) is through the use of digital media of various types.

What role would you like Andariya to play in the development of these two countries?

Our mandate is purely cultural, so if we are to perfect our mandate, the cultural footprint of the Sudans on the internet will be enhanced along with more offline engagement due to the conversations that spring up online. One underlying factor is to really connect both countries (both local and diaspora communities) over intersecting cultural values, opinions & aspirations. Both Sudans are in similar development stages, and cultural development is key in advancing all the other pillars of development.

Andariya Logo

What makes Andariya different from other youth-focused media platforms?

There are the basic building blocks of being a bi-lingual digital cultural platform for South Sudan and Sudan. We target a larger age group- for once, the “youth” or younger generation is online and discussing matters of importance to them in a common platform that welcomes all views.

More importantly, we are discussing issues that older generations have exclusively hashed out over the last few decades (i.e. identity issues, culture and acculturation, etc.) and adding our perspectives to the conversation.

Another differentiating factor is our belief in using different mediums to reach diverse audiences. We’re across social media platforms but slowly growing into creating online-offline campaigns to engage more people.

Can you share your favourite story from the platform and why?

The way our community was formed is both interesting and inspiring; we practically found each other as if we were long lost souls. We have an incredibly harmonious relationship with more than 50 community members across the world, and we treasure this the most.

For your business to get to the next level, would you prefer funding or a high-value mentor?

We’d prefer to have a mentor to help us reach that next level. We’re a very hands-on platform that organically adapts to challenges and opportunities and finding a mentor who can understand the climate we operate in and growth we’re aspiring to would be invaluable.

So far, we’ve taught ourselves what we discovered was needed, but a community of more than 50 people also means everyone brings wisdom and creativity to the table, so we’d like to think we’re currently being internally mentored.

What can we expect to see from Andariya over the next 6 months?

We’re launching a new website so we expect editorial growth. Our business model has shifted massively in the last four or five months so we’re experimenting with more offline engagement.

A few online projects are also in the works. We are actively pursuing expanding our network and partnerships base both inside the Sudans and outside.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned on your journey towards building Andariya?

Be flexible. Organic evolution can be disruptive but can also be harmonious.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.