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Kenya’s women of substance


Wangari Maathai

Maathai was a woman of many firsts; first woman in East and Central Africa to get a doctorate.

She was the chair of the Department of Veterinary and an associate professor at the University of Nairobi, positions not held by women prior.

In 2004, she became the first African Woman and Environmentalist to win Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai, alongside Charity Ngilu would also become the first women to run for presidency in Kenya in 1997.

Charity Ngilu

She was the first woman to vie for the presidency in 1997. She came fifth, but triumphed in a show of courage and determination.

Ngilu continued with politics and was part of the Rainbow Coalition that toppled the long ruling Kanu of Daniel Arap Moi. Ngilu was awarded with the Health ministry in 2003, and was also appointed Minister for Water and Irrigation in 2008.

Dr Ngendo Mwangi

The Univeristy of Nairobi is running an advert that mentions Dr Florence Ngendo Mwangi as the first woman lecturer at the Institution. But nothing much is known about this woman, who the Smith College in Massachusetts, honoured with naming a Hall after her, the Mwangi Cultural Centre.

She became the first Kenyan female physicist in 1965. Dr Mwangi was the first African to graduate from Smith College in 1961.

Orie Rogo Manduli

 Controversial as they come, Orie Rogo Manduli is a woman of many firsts.

Manduli was the first woman to be crowned Miss World Kenya after she participated in the contest while in high school aged 16.

She also would slay the belief that speed is for the boys when in 1974; she became the first woman to compete in the Safari Rally. Manduli was also the first woman head of the Non-Governmental Organisations council.

Mary Okelo

She has made a mark as a trailblazer both in the banking and the education sectors. Okelo started the popular Makini Schools in 1978. 

A year before founding the group of schools, Okelo had been appointed the first ever female bank manager in Kenya at the Barclays.

In 1981, with other like-minded women, they founded the Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT), modelled after the Women’s World Banking. Okelo was the first KWFT chairperson, today a deposit taking microfinance.

In 1985, Okelo would be the first African representative to the Women’s World Bank in 1985.

Prof Micere Mugo

Professor Mugo is a Kenyan author of repute. She fled Kenya in 1982, a week to the attempted coup with her two daughters. At the time she held a historical position as the dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Nairobi. No other woman in the East African Universities had risen to that position.

Professor Micere Mugo, was voted among the “The Top 100, they influenced Kenya Most,” writers. The East African’s Standard Century 1902- 2002 stands as one of the worst case of Kenya’s brain drain. However, Prof Mugo did not move to America, where she is the professor of African and African American Studies at Syracuse University, on own volition but as an exile.

Her writings were construed by the government of the day to be seditious.

Grace Ogot

Born in 1934, Grace Ogot is a pioneering Kenyan women author, being the first to be published by the East African Publishing House. She began publishing short stories in English and Luo in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, she received literally acclaim in East Africa.

Ogot is also a journalist, nurse and a politician. Some of her popular works include Land without Thunder the collection of short stories, The Strange Bride, and The Island of Tears among others.

Muthoni Likimani

Likimani, an author of repute is hailed as the first African woman to start a public relations firm and among the first to publish literally works.  Likimani’s other first is marrying from a different ethnic divide at a time when it was unheard of. She is best known for her Pass Book Number F. 47927: Women and Mau Mau in Kenya, novel.

Nyiva Mwendwa

She was the first woman cabinet minister in the Culture and Social Services docket following the 1992 elections. Mwendwa was an elected MP for Kitui West serving for three terms after elections of 1974, 1992 and 2002. She is today the Women Representative, Kitui County.

Elizabeth Mumbi Madoka

Wife to Marsden Madoka, Mumbi was the only woman to serve as President Jomo Kenyatta’s social secretary.  Before getting the job, she participated on the eve of independence in 1963 in a beauty pageant where she was crowned Miss Uhuru.

Irene Koki Mutungi

She was the first female commercial airline captain in Kenya and Africa. Her father is a retired Kenya Airways pilot, and he inspired his daughter. She too has inspired many women to pursue the airline career to the highest levels. 

Margaret Kenyatta

Daughter to the first president Jomo Kenyatta, Margaret was the first Nairobi mayor in the 1970s, and the third in Africa. She then was named as the Kenya’s first ambassador to the United Nations Environment Programme, which was established in 1972 effectively becoming the only serving Kenyan woman ambassador.

Joyce Alouch

Lady Justice Joyce Alouch became the first Kenyan judge to sit on the International Criminal Court bench in 2009. She joined the judiciary in 1974 as a magistrate, and rose through the ranks to be an appellate judge.

Effie Owuor

Owuor was appointed as the first woman Kenyan appellate judge of the Court of Appeal. She studied Law at the Dar-Es- Salaam University of East Africa and has served as a magistrate and judge of the High and Appeals Courts.

 Pauline Konga

Konga was the first woman to win Kenya a medal in the Olympics. She won silver medal in the 5,000 metres at the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta Georgia.

Pamela Jelimo

Jelimo would be the first woman to win Kenya a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing for the 800 metres aged 18. She also is the first Kenyan woman to win the Golden League jackpot, an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) now known as the IAAF Diamond League.

Grace Kaindi

Kaindi is the first female Provincial Police Officer appointed by the former police commissioner Hussein Ali, a rank of the deputy commissioner of police.

After the appointment, she left the Criminal Investigation Department training school to head the Nyanza Police Department. She is again a pioneer as a deputy inspector general of regular police.

Jerusha Ogutu Obala

During the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Golden Jubilee in 2008, the then secretary general Francis Ng’ang’a awarded Jerusha an attestation of devoted service to the teachers’ cause. She was the first woman treasurer for the union from 1981 to 1998 in Siaya district now Siaya County.

Wanini Keriri 

She was appointed officer in Charge Shimo La Tewa Prison, making history as the first female officer to head a notorious male prison. Within no time, she had changed the image of the maximum prison to a model facility. One of her notable achievements is introducing the remote parenting, or family visitations where inmates get to spend time with their loved ones.


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