By Jeckonia Otieno
University of Nairobi’s Sociology lecturer Dr Agnes Zani has distinguished herself as a respected scholar and a champion for the rights of the marginalised. This passion earned her a nomination in the Senate where she is equally vocal.
Recently, when a motion on university education came up for debate on the floor of the senate, one lady’s passion for the marginalised stood out. Nominated senator Agnes Zani raised concern about how the people at the Coast had been forgotten.
The motion that was moved by Kakamega County Senator Bonny Khalwale pushed for a public university in each of the 47 counties to address inequality gaps.
Speaking about her own backyard — the Coast — Dr Zani was very specific that marginalisation is the cause of glaring poverty levels in the region
But who is this passionate woman? Zani is a career educationist who has taught for many years at the University of Nairobi’s Sociology Department and is among the 18 nominated women senators.
Born in Kwale County — a highly marginalised area — Dr Zani talks from first-hand experience of what lack of opportunities means to people who are neglected by the system, especially women.
She shares her story: “I was born in Mombasa but I lived my early years in Golini, Kwale, before moving to Mombasa for studies,” recounts Zani.
An African proverb goes that a fruit does not fall far from the tree; it is the same with the Zani family.
Dr Zani is the second-born in a family of three children born to Zacharia and Teresa Zani who were renowned educationists in Coast Province.
Having come from an area that has been marginalised since Independence, her main agenda as a senator is to see development in education and other spheres of life in counties along the Coast.
She laments: “Coast is still underdeveloped and the only way to bring change is to empower the locals, especially the women, through education.”
Another solution is to tackle backward cultural practices like early marriage and violence against women.She is lucky to have grown in a home where the head of the home respected women.
“Growing up, I did not see my father discriminate against women or girls and that taught me a lot in life. He was just different from most men out there,” remarks Zani.
Zani’s political engagement did not start when she was nominated to the Senate. Rather, it grew as she continued to come face to face with the plight of her people.
To address the problem, from an early age, she got involved in community projects and gender issues to improve her people’s lives. Her passionate involvement in gender issues is what motivated ODM to nominate her to the Senate.
The senator attended Star of the Sea Primary and Secondary School in Mombasa until she got to Form Three.
She was transferred to Moi High School Nairobi after her dad — a commissioner with the Teachers Service Commission — got a transfer to the capital city.
Dr Zani then proceeded to do her A-levels in the same school and joined the University of Nairobi for her undergraduate studies.
She recalls that there was a double intake into the universities that year to clear the backlog of students who were waiting to join.
The senator took up a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Philosophy in the first year but ended up branching into Sociology, her strong point.
“After graduation I embarked on my masters degree studies at the University of Nairobi in 1990 and became a lecturer in 1993 when I graduated.”
Zani lectured for about nine years then went to the UK to pursue an MSc in Philosophy and a doctorate in Philosophy courtesy of a scholarship from the Ford Foundation.
“I came back and joined the University of Nairobi’s Sociology department in 2008 and worked until my nomination into the Senate in 2013,” she says.
Now that she is in the senate, Zani is determined to make a mark on behalf of her people.
Recently, the scholar came up with a motion on investment that seeks to have a certain percentage of what a county produces in terms of investment left at the county level.
For women aspiring to join politics Zani has a word of caution: “Never let opportunities that come your way slip away; instead make the best out of such opportunities because they might never come again. After all you do not know where your capabilities will take you.”