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VAS

Youth are my concern

EVE WOMAN
By Njoki Chege | January 5th 2013

By Njoki Chege

ELIZABETH ONGORO, the assistant minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Development and Kasarani MP, is a strong advocate for the rights of slum dwellers and empowering the girlchild. She is now gunning for the Nairobi Senate seat at this year’s General Election. She spoke to NJOKI CHEGE

She prefers to keep her personal life private even as she implements policies that shine in public.

Elizabeth Ongoro, the assistant minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Development, is a seasoned and polished politician who is also the Member of Parliament for Kasarani under the Orange Democratic Party.

Behind that guarded and soft-spoken persona is a loving mother of three and a committed wife. Though Elizabeth wears many hats, she simply sees herself as the woman her children will always look up to for love, guidance and quality time.

So how does she manage to balance all her hats?

“You see, you must learn to prioritise. Everyday I pick out two or three things in the different areas of my life to prioritise. That way I don’t overload myself,” says the soft-spoken Elizabeth.

She is cautious when talking about her family, perhaps in a bid to protect them. But what clearly comes out is her dedication to a young family that needs their mother. Elizabeth is the first Cabinet minister to give birth while in office.

“I live my life in a way that oscillates around the most important aspects of my life. You cannot be a politician for life, but you will be a mother for life,” she asserts.

Offloading

Women, Elizabeth advises, should learn how to juggle and multi-task so that no aspect of their lives is neglected.

“The critical issue for a woman is to know when to put on which hat and how fast to do it. For instance, I cannot address my son as the MP for Kasarani, otherwise I would never relate well with him,” says the politician.

It is for this reason that she has adopted the ‘offloading’ technique.

“As I leave my office, I like to offload my heart, mind and spirit. Sometimes things get tough when I have had a rough day and I feel like I have not offloaded. Such times I go for shopping to clear my mind,” she says.

Born in Maseno, Elizabeth is the fifth born in a family of 12 children.

Her father was a subordinate staff at Seriba Teacher Training College (now Maseno University).

“I am told that when I was born, my parents were trying to get a baby boy. Therefore, at six months, I was taken under the care of my grandmother, a retired nurse,” the legislator recalls.

When little Elizabeth clocked two years, she was sent back to her parents; who were struggling to make ends meet.

She explains: “I literally followed my sister to school because my parents could not afford a house help to look after me. My mother’s hands were quite full raising my younger siblings and trying to make ends meet.”

Elizabeth attended Maseno Mixed Primary School and later Maryhill Girls High School, after which she was transferred to Rangala Girls, where she sat her Form Four examinations in 1985.

She joined Lwak Girls High School for her A Level.

 Elizabeth went through school courtesy of well-wishers like Catholic missionaries who paid her school fees.

In 1987, a young and feisty Elizabeth enrolled at Kenyatta University for a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, which she completed in 1990.

“After graduation I tried my hand in the construction business, waste management and importing spare parts, which were successful,” she recalls.

Ace  Businesswoman

So successful were her business exploits that she expanded her boundaries to Mombasa and Malindi.

In 2003, she graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Masters in Environmental Planning and Management.

As a flourishing businesswoman, Elizabeth got a chance to interact with her employees, most of who lived in the slums of Nairobi.

“I became part of their families. But the poverty I witnessed in their lives was depressing. They could barely afford basics like food and water and they lived in deplorable conditions. I was moved to act,” she says.

Over time, it dawned on her that the root cause of the problem was lack of proper legislation.

“That was my push to join politics because I wanted to become one of the policy makers. I realised proper legislation had to be put in place to alleviate poverty in the slums,” she says.

She chose to run for the Kasarani constituency seat because she had a close interaction with the locals and she could connect with them.

“I identify more with the people of Kasarani Constituency, particularly in the slum areas. I know the pain of sleeping hungry and staying out of school for lack of school fees,” says Elizabeth.

She vied for the parliamentary seat in 2007 under the Orange Democratic Movement ticket and won.

Being an MP has not been an easy task but she has overcome the odds. As a legislator, her pet projects include educating and empowering the teenage girl.

“We have young girls bearing children at the tender age of 13. What I realised is that this trend spills into a generation of under-age girls having babies. The trend needs to end,” she says.

Elizabeth is gunning for the Nairobi Senate seat at this year’s General Election, hoping to use her elevated position to champion for legislation that will transform the city. Given her experience and passion, Elizabeth believes she’s got what it takes to make Nairobi the metropolis it ought to be.

Says Elizabeth: “My ministry deals directly with Nairobi city and I am privileged to be part of this ministry since its inception. Having being part of the team, I believe I have what it takes to turn around the city.”

The Nairobi Senate seat has attracted almost 20 candidates. “I don’t shy off from political battles. I am looking forward to clinching the nomination and facing the rest of the aspirants at the ballot box.”

If elected, Elizabeth promises to make Nairobi more competitive by ridding the city of all the bureaucracies that repel potential investment.

“I want to make it favourable to do business in Nairobi and this can only be done through proper legislation,” she says.

Among other key issues in her agenda for the country’s capital is lowering the costs of energy and, of course, solving the city’s housing crisis.

“But most important, I want to create employment for the youth, whether  through self or formal employment. I believe if we do not empower the youth, we will be sitting on a time bomb that will explode with dire consequences in the future. That’s why I plan to create youth-friendly policies,” she notes.

Elizabeth also pledges to create as many middle level colleges to empower the youth and give them survival skills.

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