Voices of Positive Change: “You can’t be what you can’t see” – Marian Wright Edelman
Zahara's Dream Interview with Margaret Akullo, United Nations Diplomat
1. What was your dream as a girl-child? /as a young girl?
As a child, you tend to have so many dreams, but I will refer to one that particularly resonates with who I am today. My memory takes me back to 1975 when I lived in my country of birth Uganda. It was towards the end of July 1975 when Uganda hosted the Organisation of African Unity (OAU*) Heads of State summit conference in Kampala. Although it has been close to half a century since the OAU summit took place, I vividly recall standing on the streets of Entebbe with other school children cheerfully waving the Ugandan flag as the OAU delegates were driven past in a convoy of official vehicles heading towards Kampala.
It was then that a clear vision formed in my mind - that one day I would also like to be an international delegate. I had this childish sense that these were important people but if I have to admit, it was the nice cars and beautiful colourful flags of countries that I held in awe and which I wanted to be a part of. In 1976, a year after that historical meeting of the OAU summit in Uganda, our family moved to Ghana to join my late father who had started work as a diplomat with the United Nations. This was perhaps the beginning of my exposure to the United Nations and the international platform. Roll the clock forward to 2021, I am a Criminologist, have worked in Europe, Asia and now Africa. I currently work as Representative a.i. for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Programme Office in Addis Ababa which is also the location of the African Union. Therein lies the connection from childhood to adulthood.
*Now African Union
2. How do you start your day to achieve the objectives you have set for yourself?
Every morning, I have these great mental conversations with myself that ‘I must get out of bed early’ and be ahead of the game. I am a night person, so I tend to sleep well after midnight. But in all honesty, I wake up early but don’t start my day for a couple of hours because whilst my brain is alert, I am physically still asleep. I need silence in the morning to allow me to gather my thoughts and start my day centred. So, I meditate, then think through the order of my day and sometimes I also listen to something positive and spiritual uplifting as I get ready for the day ahead.
3. What is your personal motto?
I have so many personal mottos but my favourite one is ‘Be in Harmony with Yourself’. Its not an easy process as it involves a journey of self-discovery and achieving inner peace. The ultimate aim is that one is able to embrace what I call your ‘perfect imperfections’, which is to accept all areas of self and not to let the perceptions of others sway you.
4. What would you tell your younger self if you were to meet her now?
During the mid-1970s, I went to Achimota Secondary School, a co-educational boarding school in Ghana. The motto of the school is in Latin and is ‘Ut Omnes Unum Sint’ meaning ‘That all may be one’. For me and many others, this captured the concept of equality beautifully and it was only in my adulthood that I realised that equality was the very foundation of my education. In 2020, on the International Day of the Girl (11 October), I put a message on my twitter account to my 15-year-old self, quoting the school’s crest-‘You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys only; and you can play a tune of sorts on the white keys only; but for perfect harmony, you must use both the black and the white keys.’ It was yet another message on equality and so what I would be saying to my younger self will be that we all have a contribution to make in life. Practice the ethos of inclusion and in my words, we stand to gain a lot from the ‘richness of difference’ that diversity brings. Tweet - https://twitter.com/MargsAkullo/status/1315309996763222016?s=20
5. What is your advice for young women and young people worldwide?
#BeYouPowerfully by Zahara’s Dream is an excellent hashtag. I really think it embraces a lot – it talks to you positively. In my mentoring conversations, I am actually known to use the phrases Be You, Do You or Be Powerfully…You and these phrases really hinge on the advice I would give to young women and young people….and it is that your journey begins with YOU. I am a great believer that one’s journey should also involve a high degree of emotional intelligence, simply because we are humans who feel a range of emotions that could impact on us positively or negatively. Emotional Intelligence is about emotions, it’s about your feelings towards you and others, your authenticity, how you receive and benefit from criticism, how you praise others, how grateful you are etc. My advice for young women and young people worldwide would therefore be… to begin a journey with self and find your passion, find that ‘thing’ that is effortless, that excites you, that is within you and of you…and then look for people who can help and guide you release your vision, feed into your growth and … help you Be Powerfully…YOU.
Follow Margaret Akullo on Twitter!