To know who you are, you need to have some idea of where you have been. Even though times have changed for women - better opportunities, more pressure - some things, like the journey of self-discovery remain the same.

Caroline Nyanga speaks to two women from different generations; media personality and MD of Rembesha Kenya, Sheila Mwanyigha and her mother, retired Senior Superintendent of Police, Agnes Wanjiru Mwanyigha


Having taken a break from her radio and music career, Sheila started ‘SheilaLivesLoudOut’, a weekly chat show on YouTube on which guests share lessons from real life experiences

Early years:

“I was born and raised in Nairobi’s South C estate where my childhood was a happy one. My parents, Agnes Wanjiru and Gideon Mwanyigah (who were police officers and members of the Kenya Police Band) got along well.

It helped my younger brother Mark and I embrace good social skills, self-esteem and emotional security.

My parents were strict and ensured that good behaviour was maintained. Their careers kept them quite busy but I appreciate that whenever they were off duty, they made up for lost time.

My mother, in particular, kept track of our academic performance and ensured we did our house chores. I also had a strict regime to follow that had specified time for homework, prayers and Bible study.

To show her gratitude, she would occasionally suggest that we take time out to bond.

Growing up, I was known to be a jolly but shy, responsible and reserved person. We didn’t have much in terms of luxuries - I remember mum warning us not to go to the neighboring houses to watch colour TV.

But being the children we were, we would occasionally find ourselves breaking the rules having been influenced by our friends, only to end up paying the price. Not a very pleasant experience. I picked up the art of discipline really quick!

Having two parents who were musicians was fun. There was always music in the house - from Beethoven to Osibisa. I recall sitting next to my dad as we sang along to the lyrics of Elvis Presley and Fela Kuti.

There were times when my father accompanied my brother and I to various recording studios where we worked on several radio jingles.

With the money from the adverts, he would buy us text books and chips. This aside, it was a big deal hearing ourselves on radio and this made my dad proud.

Teen years:

After attending Highridge Primary School, I joined Pangani Girls High School. Unlike fellow day scholars, I benefitted greatly from different areas, among them time-management, self-sufficiency and being able to adjust to people from diverse backgrounds which made me a better, independent person.

I was quite approachable so I made a number of friends. I would spend time telling them about my experiences and we would end up chatting for hours about life.

Before I knew it, so many of my schoolmates started coming to me for advice whenever they felt discouraged. Back home, I became a different and more mature person. I was no longer the little girl next door who spent time watching TV. I occasionally begged mum to let me go clubbing but she wouldn’t budge.

It was only years after high school that she let me go on my first official outing at The Carnivore. On this and other occasions, my father would accompany me. This went on for years until I finally got a driver’s license.  

 Early adulthood:

After high school, I joined the University of Nairobi where I pursued a BA in Sociology and German, followed by a Master’s in Sociology (Medical Psychology).

Not only did I make lots of friends but I developed self-confidence and finally found out what I wanted to be in life. During my free time, I would listen to music, read, run and spend time with friends and family. Things I still do to date.

 Relationship with mum:

I had a close relationship with mum but I was confined to rules and regulations which I had to follow to the dot or face her wrath. 

For instance, when she wouldn’t let me go clubbing, I perceived it as some sort of punishment but, with time, I realised she had my best interests at heart.

Besides her strictness, my mother was and has always been very supportive of my dreams and goals. I remember once when I was on the verge of being sent home because of school fees; my mother pleaded with the headmistress and asked that she be allowed to wash dishes after the parent-teacher meeting to help raise the money.

This not only taught me to remain loyal to her but it made me realise the lengths she would go to ensure that I got good education.

After school, I chose to follow the yearnings of my heart and become a musician. I also ventured into the media industry with the support of my parents.

My father accompanied me to my first job interview and he and my mum were present during my first gig at Carnivore in 1997.   

With time, music, got the better of me and before I knew it, I was going places, meeting people and making money.

On mistakes in life and advice to girls and women:

Sheila says she has no regrets about how she has led her life. While admitting that mistakes do happen all the time, she says no one is an exception.

“I remember almost burning the house as a teenager while trying to bake my father a birthday cake and that was the end of my baking career. Mum was furious and dad had mixed feelings! She said she never wanted to hear about cakes in the house. To date, I still don’t know how to bake a cake.

Looking back at my past and to the person I have become today, I would not wish to change a thing. I am the kind of person who spends little time wondering or worrying what others think.

I believe in doing what makes me happy. It’s taken time to know that I owe no one an explanation for the way I live and when all is said and done, I have to be true to myself. My motto has always been: If you stay true to yourself, your family will always be there for you regardless of what others say or think about you.

As for friendships, I make friends very easily, but there are only a handful that have been with me through the good, the bad and the unbelievable. I treasure those who were with me before the fame. They see me for who I am. Each one of them is like a sun and we all revolve around each other.

My advice to girls and women in Kenya about their relationships with their mothers is that they should know that no matter what they may be going through, their mothers will understand their situations and are in the best position to advise them.  

If I could count how many times my mother was right and I was wrong, I would be writing for days on end. Mothers always want the best for their children. In many ways, you shall become your mother as you grow so don’t be surprised when you find your mum’s presence in your home, even when she’s not there!

Mama made be beautiful from the inside out. My mother taught me what true beauty entails. It’s not physical. An accident taught me that. Everything can change in an instant.

True beauty is what’s on the inside. It always finds its way to the surface and is what really lasts. She taught me to go deeper than looks, learn to work hard and trust that God has a plan.

 My weapon has been: Honour your parents and keep them in the loop on your life. Making it through life is not a one-man show, so walk with them and love them!

Mrs Mwanyigha:

A mother, grandmother of two and a retired police officer.

 Early years:

I was born in Kirinyaga but grew up in Nairobi. I am the second born in family of six. I take pride in my upbringing and I believe it played a big role in who I am today.

My father, Mr Buckstone Mwangi Wamahio, was the son of Chief Wambugu Katitu pf Nyeri. My mother Mrs Joyce Wamwirwa Njumbu was the daughter to Cannon Johana Njumbi – a well-respected man who educated many and has a school built in his honour, Njumbi Girls Secondary School.

As a child, I often accompanied my mother to work. She was an employee at the Government Printer before she was transferred to Kenyatta International Convention Centre, across the police headquarters.

We would meet police officers on the roads and saw how beautiful they looked in their uniforms, in particular, an officer by the name Mrs Mwangangi. I wished for the day I would serve in the service with them.

My dream came true when I was 19. December 13, 1973, is a date that will forever be etched in my memory. On this day, due to my interest in music, I was selected to join the Kenya Police Band at the police depot. 

I was overjoyed and I felt I had to represent my gender with gusto to show the world that women can excel in any area.

Being part of the police band was a privilege. I not only earned Sh250 per month (considered lot of money at the time), I also lived in a well-guarded house within Nairobi’s South C estate, with three of my colleagues. 

When I joined the band, I met Inspector Gideon Mwanyigha. He was the director of Kenya Police Band Number One and was a humble, handsome man from Taita.

Ours was love at first sight. One thing led to another and, with time, he proposed to me. We tied the knot in 1975 having been blessed with two children — Sheila being one of them. 

As a female police officer, I had to navigate my career while raising the children. We were allowed to have two children because one could only have two spells of maternity leave. I chose my career so I don’t regret it.

During my tenure as a law enforcement officer, I focused on protecting people and property. Other duties included patrolling areas I was assigned, which sometimes included entire jurisdictions. I responded to calls, enforced laws, made arrests, issued citations and occasionally testified in court cases.

Despite my busy schedule, I am happy that I was able to fulfill my dream at the end of it all. Although I occasionally miss my police job, having served there for close to five decades, I try to engage in various activities to keep myself busy. 

Now in my 60s, I still run up to 12 kilometres a day. I also love spending time with my two granddaughters (son Mark is married with two daughters).

 Relationship with husband:

My relationship with my husband was complex. He was my boss and my husband. It wasn’t easy. He was a very attractive man, so I ensured that I was always ahead of the pack! We were both performers with fans who looked up to us as their role models.

This simply meant that we had to be extremely cautious in the manner we carried ourselves — more so in public places. Imagine someone asking you for your wife’s contacts - and vice versa! Not everyone knew we were married to each other but there was no going behind each other’s’ backs!

Besides being a great husband, he was a great father and we always displayed a united front. We made the rules that were to be followed in the house but occasionally bent them to suit us when need arose.

He always made time to check on the children’s homework before he left to catch up with his friends for evening drinks.

He even taught our children how to shine their shoes to military standards. My son Mark became a scout and later on joined the military.

However, despite the good times we spent together, it was brought to an end with the death of my husband which remains such a huge loss.

There’s so much I still needed to learn from him. He was a wise and transparent man. We were a partnership. The loss was not easy. The children still needed him, not to mention his grandchildren who will be asking questions about their grandfather.

 My daughter and I:

My relationship with my daughter Sheila was easy. Sheila and her brother learned to clean the house, cook basic meals and groom themselves.

My husband and I were always on the move and, many a times, they had to take care of themselves. The issues, however, arose when Sheila was just about to finish high school. I recall her asking for permission to go to a night vigil - something I refused. It took the intervention of a neighbour for me to understand. 

One thing I admired about Sheila was the fact that, unlike many girls her age who were party animals, she chose a different path.

It was after completing high school and obtaining good grades that she went to The Carnivore for the first time, accompanied by her father who dropped her off and picked her up upon request.

As a pupil and student, Sheila was an obedient and responsible child. I had no worries about what she was up to, even when she started going out.

Although I always wished for my daughter to become a doctor (she could not stand the sight of blood), back then, and even to date, I chose to support her heart’s desire which lay in music.

I recall being present during her first performance at Splash with Kalamashaka and Hardstone - her entire family was there.

We had to support her knowing that she had a talent in singing, which would take her places. She was recording commercials and earning money to pay for her university education. We always knew that her discipline would guide her talent.

 No regrets

The fact that I have achieved my dreams as a police officer and a mother makes me contented with life. I believe no one is perfect and every mother dreams of the best for their children.

There are occasions when mistakes are bound to happen but there are always better ways of resolving them.

Despite this, it is sad to note that unlike our times, children of today have no idea how to be independent. They rely on house helps for every single thing.

In my day, children would handle tasks at home and even if they weren’t properly done at first, with time and teaching, they would become self-reliant.

There was respect for others and kindness too. We took our children to church early. It was important that my children have a relationship with God early in life.

An active lifestyle was a must for children then — which sadly is not the case today. Cell phones, television, video games have completely taken over and there’s a generation that barely runs around the estates anymore.

In my day, it took a village to raise a child. Children were accountable not just to their parents, but their teachers, and other parents in the community, and this is something which is lacking today.

If I could turn back the hands of time, I would still join the police service. It was an exciting career. The Kenya Police uniform is so beautiful and dignified.

It’s visible to everyone and you can tell who a police officer is from afar. Also, when my husband would wear the ceremonial gear, he was exquisite! I enjoyed going to work and the authority that the uniform presented.

 Mistakes and advice to women and girls:  

As women, we shouldn’t give up the role of being a mother to the housekeeper. I understand the demands of the current jobs and pressure, but one thing mothers must always keep in mind is that those children are theirs, hence the need to bring them up in the right manner.

It is important for us mothers to teach our children that the world is made up of the haves and have-nots. Ridiculing those who are different is a terrible thing to do.

Respect for others is not pegged on background, ethnicity, race or anything else other than humanity. Money is not always the best way to show our children love but our time with them is what counts.

Supporting your children is the best gift we can accord them. Each child has something special. They do not come into the world empty-handed. They have something to give and chances are parents may be the first ones to spot it.

Having a famous child is not easy. But it is important that we as parents stay strong for our children trusting they are doing the right thing.

Lastly, it is our duty as parents to teach our children values of earning what they have and especially when raising girls, teach them to come to the table with something. Being pretty is not enough.