For Nadia Ahmed Abdalla nothing is the same anymore. She is now the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of ICT, State Department of Innovation, and Youth Affairs. It is the biggest table she has sat at and is faced with an opportunity to make her passions, youth and mental health, count.
She holds a Bachelor's degree in Public Relations and Mass Communication from Taylor's University Lakeside Campus, Malaysia, and a Master in Arts International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy from Hochschule Furtwangen University, Germany.
She spoke to JACKSON BIKO via Zoom.
How do you think the experiences of your childhood have brought you to this point in your life?
I was raised in a community that dictated what women can be and cannot be. I grew up seeing my mother and aunts being content with what they had but I was interested in things that were outside of my community. I had a different view of life, of wanting not to fit in the norm. Women never spoke up, but I did and for that, I fought a lot with my parents.
What kind of a child were you growing up in Mombasa?
My mom encouraged me to read. Everybody would call me "mzungu" because I'd speak English. My parents separated when I was very young, so I was raised by my mother and aunts.
What do you think was the impact of your parents separation?
I think I have daddy issues. (Laughs) But seeing my mother raise me single-handedly made me develop a strong personality. My family used to ask, "why are you trying to do so much on your own?" Maybe I was trying to prove a point.
Did you ever see yourself landing this role?
It took me by surprise but as young as 13 years of age, I always believed that I would be the female version of Kofi Annan or Oprah Winfrey of Africa. I’m a feminist and I believe in young people having a voice to bring change.
Can ambition be self-consuming and dangerous?
It can but I think for me what keeps me grounded is my mother and prayers. When mom was diagnosed with cancer it crashed me because she sacrificed a lot to see me where I am today and I wanted to pay her back.
Do you talk to your father? Did he call you when you were appointed in this new role?
My biological dad? I've not seen him for 23 years now but I’m mending that relationship with him. He doesn’t live in Kenya. But he texted me, he said he was proud of me and all. He said I remind him of his dead father, my grandfather.
What do you think your life will be in ten years from now?
I will most likely be married, with two children. I will have featured in Forbes magazine, be very successful be it in government or the humanitarian world.
What do you fear the most?
It's not being able to take care of my mom the way she took care of me or better, and making bad investments.
What is your weakness?
I come across as emotionally unavailable to most people. It stems from my childhood. As a firstborn child, I learned to solve problems at a very young age. It's a mechanism to protect myself but deep inside I'm very emotional.
Did this job come with chase cars and buffed men with guns?
(Laughs) No chase cars. But I have a bodyguard who is very useful when I go to areas with big crowds. To be honest, it’s a bit surreal how things change so quickly but I'm trying to take it all in my stride.
Are you afraid that now that you are in that position you might never know the true nature of humans because they will only be showing you what they want you to see to get something from you?
I think I’m pretty good at reading people. Yes, now people treat me differently but I think it helps that I work with a team who might see something I don't.