Magazine / Gender Matters
Thursday, 13 Apr 2017 17:38 EATlmakena@kenyafreepress.com
Former Nairobi mayor Margaret Wambui Kenyatta who passed away last Wednesday was laid to rest in Ngong this afternoon, where President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and Nairobi governor Evans Kidero among other leaders paid tribute to the major contributions she made to the advancement of women's rights and national harmony.
Though she was the first daughter of founding Jomo Kenyatta, Margaret for decades remained close to Kenyatta's friend-turned-foe, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, and she helped nurture the city in more fundamental ways than widely recognised.
Mr Kidero, who as the governor of Nairobi is in many ways a distant successor of Margaret's, recognised her contribution to the building of housing estates during her tenure between 1970 and 1976 when she left City Hall. "Her record as mayor of Nairobi has been hard to match for those who followed her," the governor said.
Margaret was born in Dagoretti area in 1928. She attended Ruthimitu Primary School and was among the pioneer students of Alliance High School when it started as a mixed school in 1947. From 1970 to 1976, when she served as Mayor of Nairobi, she was well known among the aldermen as a fair and amiable person, notwithstanding that her father was the president.
At the council, Margaret was recognised as a unifying leader, and she cooperated with councillors (aldermen) from the ruling wing as well as those from groups that had lost favour with her father during the tumultous between 1969-74. Notably, one of her best associates was Bashir Mauladad, a Kenyan of Asian ancestry who was instrumental in some of her accomplishments.
Margaret remains to date one of only three women to have been elected to political positions in Nairobi, the rest being Beth Mugo MP Dagorreti 1997-2013 who became minister for public health in the grand coalition government; Margaret Wanjiru MP Starehe constituency 2007-2013 and assistant minister; and finally Rache Shebesh, the current women representative who relative to the rest got a safe ride in a women-only contest.
The Mayor of Nairobi was the non-executive head of Nairobi City Council until the new constitution of 2010 with devolved government enacted. The position was politically powerful though administratively the Town Clerk exercised more power. For decades, after nearly twenty members in post-colonial Kenya, no woman ever reached the pinnacle of mayoral power to match Margaret.
The new constitution passed in 2010 brought about new principles like affirmative action which calls for policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to elective office, hence the high number of Nairobi women currently serving in both the County Assembly and other levels of government.
Three other women, however, came close to winning seats, being Betty Tett, the Westlands parliamentary candidate who was physically assaulted by an opponent at 1997 vote counting at Railway Club, Eddah Gachukia, who always won nomination to Parliament, and Jael Mbogo, a charismatic leader who was rigged out of the Makadara parliamentary race in the 1960s.
As the only woman in authority in the 70s, Margaret tried to decentralise health services closer to the people, through the creation of dispensaries in Eastlands to cater for the growing population. She also campaigned for the education of girls, whose contribution to society was limited in the 70s.