What are your dreams? What are your aspirations? What keeps you up at night? For Theafrican Muhonja, her dream is to see and live in a society that celebrates gender equity and representation of the African woman. Basically, a society with zero femicide and gender-based violence. She hopes for a generation that embraces women to express themselves freely and enjoy a positive womanly experience.
I guess you are wondering who is she? Exactly why is she called Theafrican? Is it her real name?
Muhonja has many titles to her name. She is a mum, Kenyan born and raised, an artist, an activist, singer, song writer, a proud founder of Young Mothers’ Association and a writer. The first time I met her was in campus, somewhere in the heart of a village university. In my first year of campus, while searching for self, I occasionally sang in the Moi University Band. As for her, she was committed. Her voice was between Angelique Kidjo and Mbilia Bel. Whenever she sang Nakii Nairobi, the rest of us would join in and dance the youth out of our bones. That was Theafrican Muhonja. That is still Theafrican Muhonja.
She does gigs. If you are proposing to your bae, celebrating your anniversary or even throwing yourself a birthday party, she comes in handy. During this confusing corona period, she has been hosting live shows on her Facebook timeline.
Theafrican draws her inspiration from her mum. To her, her mother is a woman of strength. She has fallen so many times but still got up and surged on. Girls during their teenage years brush a lot with their mums. Adolescence. You are the pretty girl enjoying this male attention. What does your supposedly old school mother understand about such? However, when you become a mum, you come to understand and appreciate your mother. The sacrifice. The pain she endured to get you here.
Muhonja became a mum at eighteen. A first year in campus, it hit her one day she had not seen her periods for a few months. During the period, she had suffered severe morning sickness which had her throwing up almost everything she ate. Onions were her worst nightmare. Not knowing any better, she diagnosed herself with malaria and typhoid since she had travelled for music festivals. Little did she know, she was carrying a child.
Impulsively, for all mums when you learn you are pregnant you share it first with the person responsible. Impulse. Of course because it takes two to tango. Whether planned or unplanned, there is a huge part of every mum that hopes the father of the child will step in. Theafrican was not any different.
Scared, she shared with her then boyfriend. He was not receptive. He started blame games. To him, Theafrican was irresponsible. She should not have allowed herself to get pregnant. He neither wanted anything to do with her nor the child. He blocked her on all social media platforms. He decided that was not enough. Maybe he should change campuses. So, he did. He integrated from Moi University Main Campus to Moi Uni Mombasa Campus.
As if all relocating to a different town was not enough, he took his sweet time to tarnish her name. If you were in Moi University some years back, Muhonja was a household name. Her bold and bubbly personality made her likeable. She also played rugby and was the women’s captain rugby team. The Moi University band held so many concerts, where she was always the lead vocalist. No one could match her vocals. Everyone who cared a little to enjoy the campus experience knew her. Poor child, now, she was pregnant. With her situation being splashed on the limelight, depression was her only friend. He swooped in and drew the curtains. Sit in this darkness dear. I like to think depression is a guy. Too much masculine energy. Confused, ashamed, angry, sad and broken, she contemplated suicide.
She was a first-year student on scholarship pregnant and abandoned by the baby’s father to take care of her baby alone. Her church connected her to the sponsors who were based in UK. When she got pregnant, the church pulled out its sponsorship. They insisted that the baby’s father should fend for her school fees.
There are flowers that bloom in the dark. Muhonja is one of those. Through this rough patch, her mum became her greatest support system. She cried her tears and laughed in her laughter. Truly, when you become a mum, your mother often becomes your best friend because she understands motherhood more than anyone. Her family, (her late brother and her doting father) stood by her. Muhonja’s dad would make porridge for her and advise her on the foods to eat to nourish her and the baby whereas her late brother would play delivery boy for all her cravings from ngwashe to nduma. (sweet potatoes and arrowroots)
On 10th January 2014 at 6.30a.m, in Kenyatta National Hospital, she delivered a beautiful girl, Ayanna. It was a normal delivery, with no one in the room. While the experience is a painful one, it lightens the load to have someone, the baby’s father in the room with you. To help rub your back or your feet. Whichever works for you. Muhonja was alone. All the other mums in the room had someone in. A significant other, to hold their hand through the pain. Even through the labor, her ex-partner was still lashing insults at her through text messages.
She has been raising Ayanna alone. As a single mum. With the profound help of her village that comprises of her mother, dad and her late brother. It has been a journey of highs and lows. To paint a perfect image would be telling a lie. The journey started with her having to make the toughest decisions. She had to leave her baby at home with her parents at one and a half months because she did not have money to rent a house or hire a house help. Her mum would occasionally bring the baby to visit in campus during the weekends when Theafrican was not singing herself hoarse to make a few bucks. She battled with postpartum depression and mental illness while still trying to show up as a mum to Ayanna.
To wear the scar of teenage pregnancy, and wear it proudly, Muhonja started a Young Mothers’ Association. To support young moms through psychosocial support and financial empowerment. Most of the times it felt like a support group. Up to date, outside campus, Young Mothers’ Association still opens its arms to young mothers, connects them with psychological counselling, banking support from Fadhili, as well as jobs and skills. All this she does from her own pocket and proceeds from her singing.
In depth, me of the roles of the YMA programmes involve:
- Empowerment programs through training women in their fields of interest like bead work, soap making, beauty among others.
- Psychological support – Through linking young mums struggling with depression and Post-partum depression with a counseling psychologist
- Linking-jobs for the learned ones. Fund others to start small scale businesses.
- Advocate for their rights, lobby for better conditions for them in the society.
- Facilitate trainings, seminars and webinars to create awareness on topics such as contraceptives, parenthood, entrepreneurship, amidst others.
- Create a support group for young mums to freely air their concern without shame and victimisation. Here they are free to form chamas too which facilitate a better well being.
While she feels she was born to sing, Theafrican is actively inspiring millennial mums by standing in her truth and authentically telling her story as is to inspire and empower other mums. Currently with her band Udu Afrika, they do shows that still get everyone happy with music. Her upcoming album dubbed ‘NAANGWA MUHONJA‘ meaning ‘My name is Muhonja‘ in her dialect is a ten song packed album, describing her journey through. She has a death wish. To die while performing on stage. Not surprisingly, her living and breathing wish is for her fellow mums to thrive!