The life and times of Kenya’s most outspoken First Lady Lucy Kibaki

Former president Mwai Kibaki with his wife Lucy. (PHOTO: FILE/ STANDARD)

State House became a very small place when she was upset.

But those who knew Lucy Kibaki describe her as one of the most passionate women on issues family and children.

She was also described as motherly, and would often listen very attentively to those she admired.

Lucy will be also be remembered as a great champion in the war against the HIV pandemic during Kibaki's time at the helm. She is also the most outspoken first lady that Kenya has had so far.

In May 2003, she asked the Government to come up with a legislation against doctors who do not reveal patient's HIV status to their spouses. She said the anomaly had contributed to the spread of the killer disease.

In September that year, the mother of four began a countrywide tour to assess first-hand the impact of the HIV pandemic in the country.

Her other major concern was the plight of children. Mama Lucy often expressed concern over millions of children who languished in poverty.

Perhaps touched by the reality of what she saw having been a teacher in her earlier life, Lucy asked those in charge to take issues concerning children seriously.

She noted that nearly half of the 16.2 million children in the country lived below the poverty line.

Snubbed Keriri

She strongly defended what she believed in and would trample on anyone who stood on her way.

This played out in December 2003 when she kicked out the then State House boss Matere Keriri.

Lucy asked Mr Keriri, who was also President Kibaki's private secretary to resign or be sacked after a fallout.

She expressed this in public when she snubbed Keriri's hand, proffered in greeting, at the airport several days later.

But she greeted and chatted briefly with the then Vice President Moody Awori as other dignitaries lined up at the airport to welcome President Kibaki from his two week trip to the Coast.

She was returning from the Coast where she boycotted the new year function.

In another incident, Mr Awori made a slip of the tongue when he referred to Lucy as the second lady. Despite Awori's apologies, she protested bitterly as stunned guests looked on. She demanded to know why she was being relegated to a second lady. Awori had been invited to give a vote of thanks.

But the most dramatic scene in her life at State House is when she stood besides Kibaki who had held a rare press conference in January 2004 where he declared that he had only one wife.

"I want to make it very clear that I have only one dear wife, Mrs Lucy Muthoni Kibaki. I do not have any other and anybody who knows me and knows my family and knows how I live knows I only have one wife," said an agitated Kibaki, who also warned the public and the media to stop speculations on his family. He was reacting to remarks that had been made by former Kabete MP Paul Muite.

Unlike her husband who preferred to keep most of his political troubles behind closed doors, Lucy spoke her mind out and told off the Raila Odinga political faction in government who were seen as rebels.

In March 2004, she publicly asked Raila and his allies in government to resign if they were dissatisfied with their positions.

In another occasion, she told Raila's Liberal Democratic Party off in the famous "Kenyans do not eat politics" quote.

"They are making it very difficult for the President to operate. But let me assure Kenyans that their efforts are doomed and they will go nowhere. Kenyans do not eat politics," she said.

Lucy, who appeared briefly in President Kibaki's 1992 campaign before melting back to her Muthaiga home, to resurface in 1997, once in a while missed the life of an ordinary woman in Nairobi who would walk into a shop on the streets freely and buy whatever she liked.

On one such occasion, she stirred Nairobi residents when she went shopping in the Central Business District.

"Mama akiwa hapa, hakuna wasi wasi," she told people who had milled around the street to catch a glimpse of her buying hair pieces and other accessories. Police, however, restrained her from going close to the members of the public.

Loud music

The former World Bank boss Mukhtar Diop also met the wrath of the first lady.

An agitated Lucy stormed Muthaiga Police Station demanding the arrest of Mr Diop. She accused Diop of disrupting her sleep by playing loud music during his farewell party at night. The World Bank official had rented the house from the Kibakis.

In another incident, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara is said to have been slapped by Lucy at State House in 2008. This attracted the attention of Ameru's Njuri Ncheke elders who demanded a goat from the president. It is unclear whether it was ever delivered. 

Earlier, Mr Francis Musyimi, then a Principal Administrative Secretary, got into trouble in 2007 when he mistook the name of the First Lady with that of another woman at an awards ceremony at State House. The costly blunder earned him an instant slap from Lucy.

Journalists were not spared. In May 2005, the First Lady stormed Nation Media Group's offices protesting what she called negative media coverage.

"Every day, you write lies about me. I will come to the newsrooms and you will see my true colours. I am annoyed beyond control. I am demanding the truth and exercising my right," she said the night protest at the Nation, before slapping a journalist who was taking pictures.

The late Lucy Kibaki at the Nation Media offices. (PHOTO: FILE/ STANDARD)

She accused the media of becoming hostile to her family in the evening drama that saw her wrestle cameras, mobile phones and notebooks from journalists as her security detail watched.

She also later raised an official complaint with the Media Council of Kenya where she complained about the conduct of two senior editors—the then Sunday Nation Managing Editor Macharia Gaitho, who was also a Daily Nation columnist, and then Standard's Deputy Managing Editor (News) Kipkoech Tanui (now Group Editorial Director), who is also columnist.

"It is our considered opinion, based on their own writing, slanting of both news and commentary that Mr Gaitho and Mr Tanui have no intention whatsoever of treating the Kibaki State House, including (in fact, especially) the First Lady, with anything remotely resembling respect, truthfulness or balanced reporting, commentary and analysis," read her statement.

Former Kenya First Lady late Lucy Kibaki, former US First Lady Laura Bush( 2nd-L), Kenyan President Emilio Mwai Kibaki (2nd-R) and US President George Bush (R) wave from the balcony of the White House. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

George Saitoti

On corruption, she came out several times to call for action against culprits, but she preferred the action taken in line with the law.

"Let the Government be told who among its Cabinet ministers and civil servants are corrupt and the figures involved, if credible, the culprits will be immediately sacked," she said July 2004.

But her biggest public spat was when she attacked the late George Saitoti over the Sachang'wan tanker tragedy.

A visibly annoyed Lucy expressed her anger and placed the blame on the Internal Security docket.

"How can dead people be taught a lesson? How can the minister fly all the way to Molo from Nairobi to say that and hurt the people who are already mourning their dead?" posed a furious Lucy, after visiting some of the victims of the fire tragedy admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital.

"It is unfortunate that we do not have a woman minister at the Internal Security docket, she would have stopped the fire accident. The minister there today waits until he hears there is an accident then makes an appearance. It is his job to ensure the safety of Kenyans," she added.

Prof Saitoti, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali flew to the scene of the accident in Nakuru County, where he said the deadly fire accident should serve as a lesson to others.

"...118 people are dead not because they were sick or had an accident but because it was an accident through ignorance. Our people do not know that such situations are dangerous. How will they know if they are not told? I challenge those in charge to inform me in writing by tomorrow why this civic education was never done. Kenyans have been neglected by the administration. I have witnessed this, no information is given to our people," she said.

Last seen publicly at an official function on August 27, 2010 during the promulgation of the Constitution at Uhuru Park, where she led the nation in dancing to Emmy Kosgey's song 'Taunet Nelel', speculations about her ill-health started spreading as early as 2012.

The public started worrying about her health after she missed the swearing-in ceremony of third President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Kasarani Stadium.

The grapevine was awash with speculation that she was ailing, a situation nobody dared to publicly talk about, including his family. It was only until last month that reports in a section of the media indicated that she was seriously ill.

Lucy was on Saturday, April 23 transferred to Bupa Cromwell Hospital in London where she passed away early yesterday.