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30-year-old Gambian lawyer emerges Daily Trust African of the Year

A victim of FGM, married off at 14 and widowed at 21, she fights for girls' and women's rights

A Gambian lawyer, Musu Bakoto Sawo, has emerged winner of the 2020 Daily Trust African of the Year award.

Sawo is a girl child/women’s rights advocate, change maker and lecturer, who began advocacy at the age of nine.

Being a victim of female genital mutilation, married off at 14 and widowed at 21, she has continued to use her experiences to challenge these same practices.

She emerged winner after a rigorous selection process carried out by a committee led by a former President of Botswana, Dr Festus Mogae.

The pan-African committee, which had as members Ambassador Ms Mona Omar (North Africa), Ms Gwen Lister (Southern Africa), Mr Amadou Mahtar Ba (West Africa), Pastor Rigobert Minani Bihuzo (Central Africa), and Mr Kabiru Yusuf (West Africa), began sitting on December 10, 2020 and announced Mrs Sawo as the winner of the award on January 4, 2021.

‘She deserves the award’

Commenting on the process, the chairman of the selection committee, Dr Mogae, said, “Musu Bakoto deserves the award for her continuous work to end violence against girls and women, including child marriage and female genital mutilation”.

The African of the Year Award project was instituted in 2008 by Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust, Daily Trust on Saturday, Daily Trust on Sunday, Teen Trust, Aminiya and Kilimanjaro.

The organisation, one of Nigeria’s leading independent newspaper publishers, initiated the award in line with its commitment to African unity and sustainable development, to recognize and reward, annually, an exemplary African who has made extra-ordinary contributions to human development in any part of the continent, and in any sphere of human endeavour.

A statement by the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the company, Nura Daura, disclosed that the committee counted the lawyer worthy of the award because of her commitment to ending violence against girls and women, fighting child marriage and female genital mutilation.

He maintained that she had used her experience in capacity building, research, networking and programme development to engage in human rights mechanisms at the grassroots, national, regional and international organisations and platforms.

He noted that the importance of Sawo’s work cannot be overemphasised in this period of COVID-19, “where women have been particularly impacted negatively, especially during the lockdown when a lot of husbands lost their jobs, resulting in, among other tendencies, domestic violence in the homes”.

‘She is worthy’

Daura further explained that with Sawo championing the rights of women in any part of Africa, which is largely a traditional society, she is deemed to be promoting a great cause and, therefore, worthy of the award.

Mrs Sawo, an international human rights lawyer, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia, and National Coordinator for Think Young Women, a non-governmental organisation championing the rights of women and girls, was a recipient of the 2017 Vero Chirwa Award (from the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa).

She was also recognized as one of the 100 most influential young persons in West Africa by the Confederation of West African Youths in 2018; and a recipient of ‘Inspiring Gambian Award 2018’ by the People’s Choice Award for Excellence in The Gambia.

Congolese medical doctor, Denis Mukwege, is the first African of the Year award winner in 2008.

Exactly 11 years after the Daily Trust recognition, Dr Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, for his wonderful work of treating women who had been abused and raped in his war-torn country.

Apart from the recognition, the 2020 Daily Trust African of the Year award comes with a cash prize of $10,000.

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