Kenyan Women Who Made Waves in 2019

Almost 10 years after the 2010 Constitution was promulgated ushering in a new era of renewed hope for women representation, parliamentarians on four occasions failed to fulfil their mandate of operationalising the provision.  

Nevertheless, Kenyan women have continued to soar undeterred by the lethargy of MPs in passing the critical bill. Many have continued to defy odds to emerge as industry leaders, innovators and influential figures in governance.

The year 2019 has had such women who have left footprints big enough to earn them various distinguished medals and awards.

In honour of such women who have competitively earned a seat at the high table, zeroed in on a few of these outstanding figures who fit the profile of top Kenyans to draw inspiration from, due to their leadership and achievements in their respective fields..

Justice Jessie Lesiit

Female judges are women of valour and Justice Jessie Lessit is not any less. With over 20 years of experience, the High Court judge is both tough and fair.

Lawyer Cliff Ombeta revealed in an interview with a Standard Group publication that many lawyers are afraid to face the judge who has become a household name in Kenya, due to her handling of high-profile cases.

“Even if you have substance, you will have to justify whatever you say in her court. Many lawyers dread her chambers. She understands the law and so you can’t try to present half-baked theories in her courtroom.” 

In April, Lessit made headlines when she recommended the protection of women suffering from postpartum psychosis. In a case of a woman who killed her newborn and two others neighbour’s children, Lesiit stated that the law did not indicate how a postpartum victim needed to be handled if they killed another person’s child. 

“I do find that it is appropriate to recommend that the law touching on this gender-specific and unique condition be re-examined with a view to making provision for the appropriate handling of such persons,” Justice Lesiit ruled. 

Currently, Lessit is handling two high-profile cases; the murder of university student, Sharon Otieno, in which Migori Governor Okoth Obado is entangled, and the brutal killing of businesswoman Monica Kimani.

Justice Mumbi Ngugi

Justice Mumbi Ngugi

Her story is a reflection of a good fight marked with resilience and determination. Mumbi was appointed as a High Court judge in 2011 and has since made history. 

In a year that has seen high-profile corruption being prosecuted, Ngugi stands out in her tough rulings that paint an image of a jurist out to do more for the country than just her job.

She spelt doom for corrupt governors and public officers in her July 24 ruling, that instructed that elected executives could not continue holding office while facing corruption charges.

Among those affected by her ruling were governors Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu) and Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) who are all facing graft-related cases.

“There have been circumstances in the past in which county governors have, for reasons of ill health been out of office, and given the fact that the constitution provides for the seat of a deputy governor, the counties have continued to function. In this case, the applicant is charged with a criminal offence; he has been accused of being in ‘moral ill-health,” she ruled.

Later on October 1, Ngugi gave another boost to the fight against corruption after she ruled that investigators could conduct secret searches at the offices and homes of corruption suspects without prior notification. 

“In the absence of evidence of abuse of power or a gross violation of the rights of a person to be searched, a court would be slow to stop a search warrant. There is nothing wrong with search warrants if there is reasonable suspicion of commission of an offence,” she stated.

Outside the confines of a courtroom, Mumbi has authored numerous legal pieces, judicial opinions, feature articles, and policy papers and reports. 

In 2008, she co-founded the Albinism Foundation for East Africa, an organisation that aims to ensure the social acceptance of people with albinism.

“It has never been easy especially when a large proportion of society is avoiding you. In fact, finding jobs for people like me is almost impossible because the world is convinced we are intellectually challenged, or a bad omen, or just objects of curiosity,” she writes of her experience.

Brigid Kosgei

Marathoner Brigid Kosgei

For decades, Kenyans have never disappointed on the track. Our athletes have been our foremost source of national pride, flying the Kenyan flag across the world.

On October 13, 2019, Brigid put the country high on the global map after she set a new record time of 2:14:04, for women running in a mixed-sex race in the Chicago Marathon.

She thrashed Britain’s Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year world record of 2:15:25 that had stood, imperious and unchallenged.

Kosgei had set her own target of achieving a 2:10:00 record, a testimony of her sheer determination.

The 25-year-old, made history in April when she became the youngest winner of the London Marathon.

She was among the five finalists for the 2019 World Athlete of the Year Award that was won by American 400m hurdler Dalilah Muhammad.

In a year that saw several Kenyan athletes suspended for doping, the youthful Kosgei fought to retain the country's image on a global stage, as the enduring doping menace continues to threaten Kenya’s stature in global athletics. 

Wanuri Kahiu

Wanuri Kahiu

The renowned filmmaker stood tall in the face of adversity with her controversial movie Rafiki (2018), which won her multiple awards in 2019. 

Rafiki was banned in Kenya by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) after it was cited for promoting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Through the film, Wanuri highlighted the stigma faced and human rights violations associated with same-sex relationships in East Africa.

In June 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an event widely considered a watershed moment in the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, Queerty named her one of the Pride50 trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people.

In August 2019, Rafiki won the Best Achievement in Editing and Best Film in an African Language at the Africa Movies Academy Awards 2019.

Wanuri also won the Young Programmer's Choice Award at the Dublin International Film Festival 2019.

She further landed two Hollywood project: a sci-fi series for Amazon Prime, and directing Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things, in a young adult drama.  

Kahiu studied business management at Warwick and later worn a scholarship to further her passion in film at California University.

Sylvia Mulinge

Safaricom's Sylvia Mulinge

Safaricom PLC has for years been ranked way ahead of its peers for excellence in customer service. At the helm of that department, is the indomitable Sylvia Mulinge.

During her tenure, the company has introduced numerous projects to support underserved members of society including the MPesa Foundation, Safaricom Foundation, Ghetto Classics and Blaze Be Your Own Boss project for the youth.

On October 23, the telco announced a new strategy aimed at bolstering the customer experience, most notable being the introduction of non-expiring data and call bundles, a first for the country. Safaricom also promised to serve its 33 million customers in under five minutes, both at its Safaricom shops and from its call centre.

In June 2019, Mulinge was inducted as the fourth member of the UN Women initiative,  Unstereotype Alliance, chaired by Phumzile Mlambo – Ngcuka, the UN Women executive director.

She joined Unilever CEO Alan Jope, AT&T Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter, and IPG CEO Michael Roth.

Under her leadership, Safaricom became the first African organisation invited to the leadership council of the Unstereotype Alliance, joining global brands such as Facebook, Alibaba Group, Johnsons & Johnsons, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Diageo among others.

Lyn Mengich Cherop

SRC chair Lyn Mengich

Cherop is the chairperson of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), formed under Article 230 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 to set, review and advise on equitable, competitive and fiscally sustainable remuneration and benefits in the public sector through research and analysis.

Mengich, who assumed office in September 2018, taking over from Sarah Serem, has put up a fierce fight against seemingly insatiable MPs who sought to arbitrarily increase their salaries.

She took it a notch higher in May and sued the MPs for adding house and night allowances to their benefits, in a bid to save poor taxpayers from the claws of their own legislators. She argued that the allowances were a duplication of benefits already included in their gross pay as evidenced under the Gazette Notice Number 6517 of 2017.

“Payment of any remuneration and benefits, which have not been set or advised by SRC is in violation of the constitution,” Cherop stated while stating that MPs would have to repay the respective amounts. 

On November 28, Cherop presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta a raft of proposals to cut the wage bill, key among them an intention to slash allowances for civil servants.

“Effort by the government is required to achieve a public sector wage bill of not more than 35 per cent of revenue as per the Public Finance Management Regulations,” she stated.

Cherop, who is an alumnus of JKUAT and the University of Nairobi, boasts over 25 years cross-industry experience holding top-level positions in a wide range of publicly traded and private organizations.

Dr Chao Mbogo

The award-winning mentor, innovator, change-maker and computer science PhD holder from the University of Cape Town, is the Dean School of Science and Technology at the Kenya Methodist University.

Dr Chao Mbogo

She has received over 20 awards, grants and fellowships for her academic accomplishments and her invaluable contribution to research and mentorship.

Dr Mbogo is the founder and program lead of KamiLimu, a free 8-month structured mentorship program that seeks to augment classroom learning for computer science students at Kenyan universities.

Now in its third year, KamiLimu accommodates about 40 mentees in each cohort and is targeted at undergraduate and postgraduate students pursuing IT-related programmes with at least six months of study remaining. 

During 50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, the largest computing education conference worldwide, in February, at Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, Dr Chao presented a paper titled A Structured Mentorship Model for Computer Science University Students in Kenya. 

“The Kenyan university education system has been criticized for graduating students who are underprepared to meet the skills demand of the modern workplace, and who cannot formulate effective solutions to our most pressing socio-economic problems. 

To address the skills gap for computer science students, a structured 6-month mentorship program was designed to offer skills in personal and professional development, innovation, scholarship application, and community engagement.

"Results from this study demonstrate how computer science education can be complemented with a structured mentorship model towards global competitiveness,” an excerpt from the paper reads.  

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