Several weeks ago, I received an email through the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians network t to the effect that Sr Anne Nasimiyu, a Founder member of the Circle had passed on. I was profoundly shocked by the announcement considering that there was no prior news of her being sick. I wondered what could have caused the untimely and sudden death. Could it have been an accident ? For a moment I was in denial , thinking that the announcement was possibly a mistake .. may be it was not even true.. ?
Initially it was explained that she had died after a short illness, possibly malaria….
This explanation left me not only with a sense of loss and grief but also a sense of lament . If indeed she died of malaria, she would have succumbed to one of the diseases that are preventable and even curable with the appropriate medical care and facilities. Pondering the possibility that she might not have had access to the appropriate kind of care when she needed it left me also with a palpable sense of irony and paradox. This is because Sr Nasimiyu was a member of a Franciscan African Order of nuns called the “The Little Sisters of St Francis.” In my view, while the word Little in their title signals the spirit of humility that marks their service and ministry particularly to the marginalized and vulnerable, their works of mercy are anything but little. In Kenya , for example, they have created St Francis Community Hospital in Kasarani which is one of the better Faith -based healthcare facilities intended to make quality healthcare more accessible particularly for the vulnerable and impoverished. That Sr Nasimiyu could have died due to lack of access to quality care when she needed it struck me as as paradoxical and even ironic given the commitment of this group of concerned and engaged(consecrated) women to bring such care to those who need it but cannot access it or afford it.
While Sr Nasimiyu’s sudden death was described in the obituary simply as the outcome of a short illness, her sudden passing reminded me that the possibility of fair , just , affordable and efficacious healthcare as a human right is still a pipe dream for many in Kenya , Africa and indeed globally. This rather haunting thought kept surfacing in my mind as I contemplated Sr Nasimiyu’s untimely death . I was reminded of Paul Farmer, who considers poverty , an outcome of what he calls “pathologies of power “ often inscribed in what he calls “structures of violence . I was reminded also of Paul Farmer’s profound insight that poverty is pathogenic i.e. that it generates disease , the kind often referred to in the literature as Diseases of Poverty.eg Malaria. I was reminded also of his insight that such diseases often reach pandemic proportions and are disproportionately lethal among the impoverished .. The poor end up dying what Farmer calls “stupid deaths” because these deaths are for the most part preventable . Through their healthcare services , the Sister of St Francis are contributing to the reduction of such premature yet preventable deaths.
Meanwhile ,, Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty comes to a similar conclusion . He considers poverty and its attendant lack of access to healthcare an enduring ethical scandal . He considers a moral scandal that in Africa , for example ,15000 people die each day for what he calls preventable causes of disease among the poor (e.g. lack of food, water and or sanitation ) The Little Sisters of St Francis, of whom Sr Nasimiyu was not just a member but a superior general for many years, have recognized this ethical scandal and have done something proactively about it through their works of mercy instantiated here by the health care services they offer to the vulnerable. As I remember Sr Nasimiyu today , I wish to put on record my appreciation and celebration of the (not so little) Sisters of St Francis’ collective efforts to save lives , even as I mourn and lament the passing of Sr Nasimiyu.
My sense of deep loss was also occasioned by the fact that I have had the privilege of interacting with Sr Nasimiyu in 2 major contexts. Sr Nasimiyu was for many years my colleague in the department of Religious Studies at Kenyatta University, Nairobi , where we both taught in the 1980s and 1990s. In those years ,I got to know her as a scholar and teacher of African Theology and even African Religions and Cultures. Much as she was a Catholic theologian and a leading one at that, Sr Nasimiyu also appreciated African cultures and religions and taught courses, published and facilitated research meant to deepen awareness of and respect for African spiritualities . She was commendably a champion of what is known in Catholic circles “inculturation theology”. I now look back with renewed appreciation for her role in the collective efforts by colleagues at KU and elsewhere in the east African region to bring African Christian Theology from the margins to the center of Christian theological discourse. For example, she was an active participant in what we simply called “the Sagana group” that met yearly for quite a few years to discuss emerging issues in African Christian Theology and practice. The outcomes of those consultations were edited and Published by Prof Jesse N Mugambi , the convener of the Sagana group under what was called the African (theology) Challenge series . Sr . Ann Nasimiyu and J. N Mugambi in 1992 coedited “Moral and Ethical Issues in African Christianity Exploratory Essays in Moral Theology, one of the several volumes in the African Challenge series . In Sr Nasimiyu’s untimely death then, Africa has lost a passionate champion who called the world to recognize and apply Afro-Christian theo ethics as a viable way of seeking a livable and humane world.
I also had the privilege of knowing Sr Nasimiyu through the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians ,a Panafrican organization of African Women founded under the leadership of Mercy Amber Oduyoye in 1989 . She was a founder member and I vividly remember her participation in the inaugural gathering of 70 women from across Africa in Accra Ghana September of 1989. Recognizing that Religion is implicated in African women’s lives for good or ill, one of the core goals of the Circle was /is to conduct as systematic and critical study of religions in Africa with a view to naming to what extent the practice of these religions support or subvert particularly (though not limited to the flourishing ) of women.
In the last 3 decades, members of the Circle individually or collectively have written and published the results of their systematic and socially engaged critical study of religion in Africa and indeed globally. Theirs has been a prophetic voice as they name and shame sexism in Church and society and they struggle particularly to end gender based violence and exploitation of women . In her capacity as a founder member of the Circle of Concerned African women theologians, Sr Ann has been part of this prophetic theological voice of African women. Though not quite acknowledged and at times censored, this prophetic voice has been bold and enduring and has had an impact that is also yet to be quantified or acknowledged in any substantive manner neither in church or society.
In recalling Sr Nasimiyu as a member of the circle, I conclude that Sr Nasimiyu’s is one of those untold “Her-Stories “ that The Circle of Concerned African Women theologians consider an imperative to tell as part of their theological , scholarly and prophetic agenda. Such Herstories were the subject matter of a volume edited by Isabel Phiri (also a founder member of the Circle  Perhaps Sr Nasimiyu’s Herstory will (sooner than later ) be told in more detail and nuance than I have neither time nor space to do in this short tribute.
As I conclude this short essay in honor and memory of Sr Nasimiyu, I recall that the day I received the email from coordinator of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians Kenyan Chapter , I looked around for more information about her. In my search , I found a tribute to her in the Daily nation of 26th February 2018 . I was , at least for a while encouraged by the warm thoughts and memories of her shared in that tribute
On March 3rd 2018 however, as I browsed through the same paper I came across a story about the plight of Nuns, mainly from Africa and Asia and their being “shortchanged (to put it mildly ) in terms of their rights as workers specifically workers in churches and residences of clergy in Rome . I was perplexed by this story as I considered the scale and magnitude of the violation of the rights of domestic workers globally. I was perplexed as I realized that nuns have been at the frontline fighting for justice for women’s rights including their rights as workers . It struck me as ironic and painful to read this story of how nuns themselves are facing a similar plight as they work in and for the church
I imagined Sr Nasimiyu reading this story with the eyes of a Little Sr of St Francis.. I imagined that she would bee perplexed too, even outraged by this story .
I imagined her reading the story with the eyes of a “Concerned African Theologian, and thought she would be concerned and possibly outraged enough to call for recognition of that nuns have rights, human rights including rights as workers including when they work in and for the church .
I imagined that in calling for recognition of nuns’ rights as human rights she would not be alone. (Another) Sr Ann (Carr) BVM,RIP) in her essay , Women Work and Poverty lamented the denigration of women’s labor not only in society but also sadly (her word) in the church. Ann Carr would probably join Sr Nasimiyu in her call to attend to the injustices and violations of women’s rights including nuns rights. In Ann Carr’s words : ‘’
“to attend to the facts and figures of women’s work and poverty , to give voice to poor women everywhere but especially in the third world .. to analyze the structures and systems within which most women live and work, and to envision s transformed social order where there is free and freeing work , bread and roses for everyone these are the urgent tasks of a critical , Christin feminist theology .. For the credibility and the very reality of the of the church as bearer of the message of Jesus , as the living signs of salvation in the world in its service to the poor depends on the transformative knowledge and practice of Christians everywhere in the dynamism, of concrete history..
The plight of the impoverished lacking health care and dying “stupid deaths” and the plight of nuns workers rights being violated in what appears to be domestic servitude even within the church would in my humble view be a major concern of Ann Nasimiyu.
I imagine her even from the other side , urging us to attend to this plight as a matter Christian , moral duty. I imagine her humbly yet strongly recommending that responding urgently proactively and prophylactically to such ethical scandals would be the best way to remember and honor her legacy ..
Commitment to continue fighting for justice particularly justice for women (including nuns ) ,, would in my humble view add a ring of authenticity and profundity to our hope and wish that Sr Nasimiyu, RIP …
As I conclude this reflection .I concur with the lyrics of a song composed by her fellow (not so ) Little Sisters of St Francis, which eulogize Sr Nasimiyu for her prophetic moral courage , compassion and commitment to justice. Attached is the link to this song and its uplifting tribute. May she indeed RIP or in the Swahili lyrics of the song, Twaomba Mwenyezi Mungu ampokee , Twaomba Apumzike Salama, Mama Sr Nasimiyu Wasike ( ie we pray that God receives Her. Warmly ; We pray that she rests in peace, Our Mother Sr Anne Nasimiyu
Here is the link to the song:
 Farmer reminds us that pathologies of power revolve around multiple axis of structural violence of which he names 3: the axis of gender, the axis of race , and colonialism . His book Pathologies of power is his passionate plea for universal health care as a human right that is subverted by “market based “ medicine and care. (from Farmer, Pathologies of Power )
 For details see Phiri Isabel et all. Herstories: Hidden Histories of Women of Faith in Africa: Cluster Publishers. Pietemarisburg ,2002
 For details see article entitled :Church Looses Dedicated Nun : https://www.nation.co.ke/news/Church-loses-dedicated-nun/1056-4320978-i76olu/index.html
 Ann Carr (BVM) Women work and Poverty: In Fiorenza ES. The Power of Naming: A Concilium Reader in Feminist Liberation Theology, Reprint Wipf and Stock, Eugene Oregon 2006:86-87