There is something poverty does to you! This is a common phrase, and, Dr. Lilian Gogo used these exact words to describe what propelled her to where she is today.
For Hon. Dr. Lilian Gogo, there was always just one thing on her wish list; to buy her mother a utensil cabinet.
“There is a way poverty makes you see far; it opens up your mind to the extent that you always want to do something that will improve your life.”
Born and bred in Siaya County, to a prison warden and a housemaid then, Dr. Gogo who is a first child says, "My mother graduated into a peasant farmer after getting married”.
Dr. Lilian Gogo grew up in a polygamous family, “I grew up in a big family of fourteen, with a fairly hard life”.
“You can guess the salary of prison a warder then, going by the fact that prison wardens are struggling even today,” she made this remark to paint a picture of her humble upbringing.
Dr. Gogo is serving a second term as the Member of Parliament for Rangwe Constituency, she clinched power after serving as a lecturer for many years.
Gogo notes that despite living in abject poverty, her father loved school, and, "he struggled with us all through to take us to school even though he did not go school much. He made sure I went to school.”
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The trained food scientist and a mother of four daughters says, "There is a way that poverty shapes you, hardens and strengthens you. It tampers you like iron and you can go through much," she laughed hysterically.
Dr. Gogo goes on in a peal of laughter, visibly happy and absent of lack, she remarks, "If I were to sit with you now and we eat from the same plate, the speed at which I will handle you, I am not sure you will get any food!”
Gogo says, as a child, she didn’t realize they were poor. “I just acclimatized myself with the situation and gave myself peace to study.”
Being accustomed to the situation at hand, played out right for Dr. Gogo, she claims she was the top student in her primary and second best in her secondary school.
Gogo believes that she learned to use resources well because she grew up in an environment of lack and want.
“Once you have struggled and gotten something, you need to use it well,” she adds that this life skill helps her in running the constituency.
GOING THROUGH PUBERTY
Dr. Gogo acknowledges that there are so many challenges that come with puberty.
She advises that teenagers in this phase should be patient and wait on themselves.
"Do not compete with anyone, don't have peer pressure, and don't try sex because, for every trial you make, there are consequences. Don't live on trial, just give yourself your time”
“If it is time to be in school, be in school, if it is your time for study, you study, if it is your time for having sex, you will also just have sex,” she advised.
Gogo says that in any case, women get tired of having sex at some point, “you start saying I am having a headache because you don’t want to have any more sex. Try to do the right thing at the time as it is required of you.”
So, from growing up in abject poverty to being a university lecturer, Gogo has surely learned one or two, she says “Generally life requires a lot of consistency, you need to be consistent in what you do, every stage of life has its demands, and I must fulfil them."
“I have taught myself that obedience is better than sacrifice, it is important for me to obey,” she added.
Dr. Gogo reckons that there are certain things that she could have done better coming to this point.
“If I were to run the whole cycle again, I would give more time to my family. I have been the career wanting and ending woman and that comes with its consequences," she said.
Gogo says she appreciates the sacrifice her family has given her.
Dr. Gogo graduated with her undergraduate in law in 2022, too, and she wishes she would have done it earlier.
“I wish that I did this study in my tail end of 30's because I struggled to study a four-year course while in Bunge discharging my duties and working for my constituency," she regretted.
Balancing school and being a mother she says was also a strain on her.
She gives counsel, "If you have time to go to school and finish as a young person, go to school then move to the next chapter. If you can multi-task, good for you."
Gogo recalls that growing up, “I didn’t want a big house, I didn't want better food or anything, I only wanted to work hard in school and buy my mum a cupboard.”
She wanted to buy a cupboard with a specific need to keep their utensils, Gogo says she didn’t like how their utensils were kept.
But also, she had fear of reprisal, “I did not want anybody to steal our few utensils, so the cupboard was purposeful to store the utensils better”.
“I also wanted to spare my mother the headache of serving guests in traditional dishes.”
Gogo now can afford her mother several cupboards, “I finally did, I bought her one by default because my husband built my mother a good house and I sneaked in a cupboard”.
Being a teacher, I ask Dr. Gogo where she draws the line with her daughters, she laughs and challenges me to find one of her daughters and ask them the question instead!
“I cannot register my own trumpets, but I am very strict, fairly strict! Literally, I rarely entertain crap.”
She adds, “I think my kids have adopted, I have lovely children and they know when I am out of it. We have learned to live with it.”
“As a mother, naturally and instinctively that line comes, and you know this one I am passing my red line,” she spoke of the extreme she can go.
Gogo defied all odds to serve a second term in parliament from a constituency that was known for never reelecting leaders, this knowledge however powerful, Gogo says when she gets home she forgets all that.
“I honestly don’t remember because once you get home, the immediate thing is to go to the kitchen. It is natural for any woman.”
“You will always want to know what your husband has eaten and if kids are doing well at school," she says she is an ordinary person wearing the clothes of a leader.
She however points out that there are places where she has to show leadership in a family setup.
Power struggles are inevitable among spouses, especially if a woman is empowered, Dr. Gogo agrees to note that power struggles are bound to happen because of the nature of a man.
"There is a male ego to nurse, there is a point where he would want to be a man resulting in rubbing of shoulders, that is also true, but I also know when to retract and leave so that we don’t keep involving ourselves in arguments.” She said everyone needs emotional intelligence.
FROM ACADEMIA TO BUNGE
Dr. Gogo misses lecture halls, “very very seriously,” that's how she put it.
“It is a situation where you mould minds and they depend on you. In lecture halls there is order! Here there is no order.”
"I miss teaching because there is order, what you do you can see it, but a politician's job, more often than not, is a thankless job!” She remarked adding that it’s because people think they own political leaders.
“People think we don’t have a life of our own, somebody wants to call you at odd hours, meanwhile you are supposed to be a wife and a mother,” she lamented.
The Rangwe MP who claims to have not gone on leave for the past eight years enjoys reading.
“If someone were to tell me they are giving me an examination on Monday, that would really relax me because I would sit down and read, and when I read, I get okay.”
Other than enjoying reading, Dr. Gogo focuses on her faith, “I am a Christian, I would go and get lost in worship. I also enjoy cooking, I can do a nice dish and sing along when I am relaxed.”
Dr. Gogo enjoys a nice dish of Tilapia, Ugali, and Kunde. Gogo enjoys traveling too, if given an opportunity, she'd travel the whole world, she said.
Dr. Gogo has achieved a lot, but she too has role models. When I met her, she was donning a nice suit, and she says that is how Martha Karua used to dress when she was in Bunge, so her inspiration.
“I loved the way Martha dressed, she was very neat. She is one of the neatest women leaders I have ever met,” she said adding that she also looks up to Mama Ida Odinga.
She also looks up to Mama Phoebe Asiyo, “I drink from the pot of mama phoebe Asiyo, she is a living icon that we have had in the political system, and she has gone out of her way to polish women's leadership.
“My mom Nyaloka inspires me too. My mom must have given birth to a girl who she didn’t know how she was going to turn out. My mom is a very patient woman, I can’t be a quarter of what she is,” she said affectionately.
Having grown up in a poor home, Dr. Gogo says she is a beneficiary of HELB and that, “most parents are struggling.”
"An educated society is an open society and a thinking society and innovative. If it were not for helb loan, I would not have gone to school myself. I believe there are many Kenyans who are in the same predicament as me.”
“Let nobody in their rightful senses think about removing that loan,” she added.
As a woman in leadership, Dr. Gogo says that there are many issues women face, including sexism.
“Any woman who wants to vie, you will always be associated with who you are relating with, who you slept with and where, whereas it’s not an issue when men sleep with people,’ she pointed out.
According to Gogo, violence is also another challenge women in leadership face. She advised that women must stand firm.
"There is also cyber bullying, but you bully me, I will troll you back up to the end of the day," she warned adding that lack of resources is a challenge women aspirants face.
She advised that women aspirants should have their resources when running for political seats and not just wait to be supported.
"There is a lot of training that needs to be put in so that women know what exactly they are getting into. People want to be political leaders but they don’t know what they are getting into,” Gogo said.