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Charity Ngilu:Kenya's first female presidential candidate

Achieving Woman
 Charity Ngilu [L] shares a light moment with Phoebe Asiyo [R] during a garden party. APRIL 1997

Her story is one of adversity and optimism - a  story of a woman from a rural village in Kitui who made it to Parliament and then the presidential race.

Charity Kaluki Ngilu in 1997, ventured above the political parapet to scratch at the highest and hardest of glass ceilings by becoming Kenya’s first female presidential candidate.

Though she became fourth and did not win the top job in 1997, Ngilu left her mark on the political landscape.

Born in 1952 in Mbooni, Makueni District she was the ninth of 13 children.

She may not have secured a place in university after graduating from Kenya’s most prestigious high schools, the Alliance Girls but Ngilu proved her destiny lay solely in her hands.

Ngilu went to Kenya Institute of Administration where she took a secretarial course and later served as as former governor of Central Bank Duncan Ndegwa’s personal secretary.

She later proceeded to the Chase Manhattan Bank Nairobi Branch as administrator before quitting formal employment in 1989 to run the family businesses - a bakery and restaurant - in Machakos town.

After the food business, she joined yet another larger family business which manufactures plastic pipes and electric conduits on Mombasa road.

Her metamorphosis since her political debut into parliamentary politics through the 1900’s amounts to no less than baptism by fire.

Before the 1992 elections Ngilu was largely unknown beyond her home district of Kitui and her business circles.

When she declared her candidature for the Kitui Central parliamentary seat which was occupied by George Ndoto, a Cabinet Minister and the districts Kanu boss she drew scant attention.

She mounted a scorched earth campaign and when the last vote was counted the little known woman had thrown down Ndoto into political oblivion.

When was the last time you wrote someone a letter on paper?

In 2002, when opponents of President Daniel arap Moi joined forces as the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), she became known as “Mama Rainbow.”

 Kitui governor-elect Charity Ngilu (right) being sworn-in by Machakos presiding Judge Lady Justice Pauline Nyamweya at the Kitui’s Muslim Secondary School grounds on August 21, 2017


Quick to recognize her contributions to the party after he won the presidency, NARC leader Mwai Kibaki made her one of the key members of his first Cabinet.

She has served as Minister for Health from 2003 to 2007 and Minister for water and irrigation from April 2008 to 2013. She was Cabinet Secretary for Land, Housing and Urban Development from 2013 to 2015.

Her political light dimmed down briefly and like the proverbial phoenix rising through the ashes the women fondly remembered as Mama Rainbow returned from political oblivion in 2017 and   etched her name in history books.Ngilu was in the last General Election elected by the people of Kitui into office and is among the first crop of female governors in the country.Ngilu has never been shy about flaunting her sound married life especially during the 1997 elections when she spoke of her electrical engineer husband Mike Mwendwa Ngilu.

Her husband died in July 2006 while undergoing treatment in South Africa and the widowed mother to Lunde, Mwende and Syalo has held down the fort since.

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