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Obama applauds Zimbabwe empowerment activist’s courage

Washington Fellowship
ABBIGAL Muleya’s journey to America that started with a seven-hour bus ride from Binga to Harare became United States President Barack Obama’s anecdote

ABBIGAL Muleya’s journey to America that started with a seven-hour bus ride from Binga to Harare became United States President Barack Obama’s anecdote of determination when he addressed 500 Washington Fellows during the Presidential summit on Monday at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington DC.


Muleya is attached to Tulane University in New Orleans as part of 30 young Zimbabwean leaders who were selected to participate in the inaugural Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, an initiative Obama announced in 2013 as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (Yali).

Obama first launched Yali in 2010 to support an emerging generation of African leaders as they work to drive economic growth, enhance democratic governance, and strengthen civil society structures.

The US President who received a standing ovation as he kickstarted the three-day summit said: “One young woman from rural Zimbabwe took a five-hour bus ride, then another six-hour bus ride, then another seven-hour bus ride — a two-day journey — just to get her interview.

“So today, we’re thrilled to welcome you, our Washington Fellows, to an exchange programme unlike any other that America has ever had with Africa. And among your ranks is that young woman from Zimbabwe who endured all those bus rides. So we want to welcome Abbigal Muleya. Where’s Abbigal? Where’s Abbigal? Where is she? There’s Abbigal. That’s a lot of bus rides,” Obama said to laughter by the audience.

The soft spoken confident young woman studied African Languages and Culture at Midlands State University in Gweru graduating with an honours degree in 2009. She has worked as a community volunteer in Binga before her formal employment as Projects Officer at Zubo Trust, a women’s empowerment organisation working with Tonga-speaking women in Binga.

In an exclusive interview, she narrated the ordeal of how Internet connectivity in Binga threatened to defer her dream.

“The Internet was a challenge to me. The online application meant that I needed reliable connectivity. The Econet dongle I used was a nightmare. I had to wait until everyone had retired to bed to get some form of connectivity. That happened for many days until I could finish the process of applying,” Muleya said. “When I was called for the Yali interview by the US embassy connecting to Harare was my second impediment. As the President has rightly said I had to take many bus rides that started with a 9pm journey.”

Muleya said she had a difficult childhood and her parents struggled to pay for her secondary education.