Since his days in high school, Benedict Faustine Kikove of Tanzania has been advocating for the rights of women and girls. Having racked up a legal victory in the marriage law, which now increases the minimum age for girls to 18 years, 31-year-old Kikove says there is more work to be done.
An ‘ambassador’ for people’s rights
Benedict Faustine Kikove
31-year-old Tanzanian rights advocate mobilizing for positive social change
I was born in 1988, a time of economic hardship in my country, Tanzania, which was going through a structural adjustment programme.
During this period, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund required countries experiencing economic difficulties to withdraw subsidies for social programmes before obtaining new loans. It was also a time of multiple global crises, of wars and coups d’état in many African countries, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The UN was deeply engaged in resolving many of these crises.
I am a child of the new world order. I believe in democracy and multilateral diplomacy—working together for the common good of humanity. In my country they call me Balozi—a Swahili word for “ambassador.”
I helped establish UN clubs in many secondary schools in Tanzania. I am currently the vice president of the UN Association (UNA) in my country. I am also on the board of directors of Msichana Initiative, a girls’ rights advocacy initiative founded by activist Rebecca Gyumi.
High court suit
In 2016, Msichana Initiative filed a suit in the High Court of Tanzania to challenge articles in the Law of Marriage Act, 1971, which allowed girls to be married off—with their parents’ and a court’s consent—at just 14 or 15 years of age.
In 2017 the court ruled in our favour, declaring that the marriage law must be revised so that the minimum age for marriage is the same for girls as for boys. This raised the minimum age for girls to 18. It was a victory we are proud of.
My interest in development and human rights advocacy began 16 years ago, while I was still in secondary school, when I and other students were introduced to UN clubs and the Model UN (MUN) assembly. The MUN is a simulation for hundreds of thousands of students around the world who meet to discuss global issues.
I also had the opportunity to meet UN staffer Eshila Maravanyika, who was then in charge of the UN Information Centre in Tanzania. Through Ms. Maravanyika and further visits to UN offices, I learned a lot about the organization.
Then I decided to establish a UN club in my school. Our club members embarked on a tree-planting program in the school and organized monthly debates on the Millennium Development Goals. During my senior year of high school, I brought friends together to establish 27 more UN clubs in as many schools.
I graduated high school with distinction and went on to study political science at the University of Dar es Salaam. During my undergraduate years, I was regularly invited to events in schools and other places to speak, especially to young people. In the process I met distinguished leaders, including former Tanzanian presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and former South African president Thabo Mbeki. They continue to inspire and support me.
This year, for the first time, I was invited to the UN headquarters in New York to represent Tanzanian civil society at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, during which our country presented for the first time a Voluntary National Report, a report on a country’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The UNA, of which I am vice president, coordinated civil society inputs to the national report and co-convened the Tanzania Sustainable Development Platform, which brought together 500 civil society organizations from 14 regions, including 70 youth organizations.
In the future I would like to go into national politics. I would also like to one day address the UN General Assembly on behalf of my country.