Powerful chief in society where women ‘sit on dusty ground’

Chief Margaret Lomosingo with children she has helped rehabilitate.  [Photo: Lucas Ng’asike/Standard]
By Joe Ombuor

Turkana, Kenya: It is no mean feat for a woman’s voice to carry authority among the conservative Turkana community of Northern Western Kenya.

Yet Mrs Margaret Lomosingo, a mother of four, is not only respected by her people, but wields the trumps of power over Lodwar Township location, the most populous administrative unit in the expansive Turkana County.

What is her magic? The towering chief, resplendent in her crisp uniform complete with a beret bearing a crown and a tablet with the word “chief” on her lapel takes a calculated pause, thrusts her swagger cane of power under her armpit and, looking at me straight in the eye, says: “No magic really. But I should say that honesty and humility contributed a lot to this realisation.

“I should point out that attaining leadership positions in communities such as ours where culture holds sway is no walk in the park for women, thanks to strong traditional norms. Our men are bigoted to the extent of believing that women exist as objects to be seen and not heard while our women remain diffident and subdued.

“You must have noticed that where people are gathered for occasions, women sit in the dusty ground while men sit on ekicholong, the traditional stools they carry along. So women are placed that low.

List of ingredients

“High in the list of the ingredients of leadership for both men and women is a dignified traditional marriage. Count leadership out of your life’s ambitions if you are not married traditionally. Conventional church weddings are secondary in our community where they are derogatorily known as ‘marriages of rice’,” she explains.

What prepared her for this momentous job? Chief Margaret, with a smile that reveals her dimples, says: “I worked part time for close to a decade in the department of adult education prior to joining the Provincial Administration. Teaching adults gives one the confidence and courage to sort out people’s problems.

“I had to contend with lots of drama and theatrics during my initial days as assistant chief. Men and women requiring my services would come to the office and approach me where I was seated in full uniform to ask to be shown the office of the assistant chief. I would react humbly by showing them the office of a male colleague in charge of a different sub location only for them to return to me pleading to be attended to, disbelief written all over their faces.

“I always made sure I served them beyond their expectation to dilute their obsession with male administrators.

“Three years down the line from the time I became the second ever woman Turkana assistant chief in 2004, my stature was such that I beat 12 male competitors to the coveted post of Lodwar Township chief in 2007, making history by becoming the first ever Turkana woman to be appointed a fully fledged location chief,” she says.

Margaret is traditionally married to a respected Turkana elder, Emmanuel Lomosingo. “He is the rock on which I have built my career,” she says of her husband.

How does she want to be remembered?

Says the chief with her infectious smile: “I have put a lot of effort in discouraging early marriages that have negatively affected the education of girls in our county. I am proud to say that more girls are today completing school in my location as opposed to the case in the past.

“Before I took over as chief of Township location, many young girls were widowed after their husbands died in raids. Parents have bought my advise on the importance of education for girls as a sure way of raising standards of life for the community.

“Also on the downward trend since I took over are cases of sexual abuse and defilement that are punishable here by as many as 20 years in jail. We jokingly call the hefty punishment ‘bamba 20’.”

Chief Margaret says she has tackled many family and land disputes successfully. “With our concerted campaigns for higher education, many people have enrolled at Mount Kenya University and other institutions available in Lodwar. Busy minds are less prone to petty quarrels that form the gist of domestic disputes.

“With more people in classrooms in the evenings, drunkenness has gone down too, thus easing the fight against illicit liquor,” she notes.

Margaret has been at the centre of a project to rehabilitate street urchins, some brought home from as far away as Kitale and Eldoret.

Sixty-eight such children are currently temporarily housed at the compound of the Kenya Evangelical Team and Crusade Church under Rev Nicholas Ekuam, awaiting placement into various primary schools.

The administrator was largely educated outside her native Turkana.

“My parents worked in many places in Nyanza, Lower Rift and Western regions where I had access to education, with the additional advantage of learning other languages,” she says.

“The fact that I can speak Dholuo, Ekegusii, Kalenjin, Luhya and other languages has stood me in good stead.

“Lodwar Township is cosmopolitan and people get surprised when they bring cases to me and I address them in their own tongues,” she says.

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Margaret Lomosingo Turkana community