At 86 years old, despite being stooped and frail with age, Fridah Shivonje is mentally alert and very articulate.
Shivonje shot to the national limelight in 2017 following the revelation that she was the nurse who helped Mama Ngina Kenyatta deliver a baby boy at the Aga Khan hospital on October 26, 1961.
The boy, named Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, would later become the fourth president of Kenya. It wasn’t until 2017 that the nurse and the man whose arrival on earth she presided over decades earlier finally met for a tete-a-tete at State Lodge Kakamega during the ninth Mashujaa Day celebrations that were held in Kakamega County for the first time.
“I was on duty at the Aga Khan hospital in Nairobi when two men arrived with a woman in labour on October 26, 1961. I hastened to attend to them since I was the nurse on duty,” Ms Shivonje recalls.
Shivonje says she immediately knew who the arrivals were.
“It was at the height of the agitation for self-rule and most Kenyans knew who Jomo Kenyatta was. On that material day, Kenyatta and his wife were accompanied by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, another freedom fighter,” Ms Shivonje says.
“I oversaw the admission and delivery of the baby. It was only after the delivery that other nurses and a doctor came to ensure all was going well and that mother and child were being taken care of as required,” Shivonje says.
From that moment on, the now-retired nurse says she developed a spiritual attachment to Kenyatta that guided their meeting in 2017.
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“When Kenyatta was 11 years old, I had a dream in which I was urged to go and visit him. I let it pass but a few weeks down the line, I had the same dream again. My initial attempts to get to see him did not succeed because of the wall of protection around the first family,” she narrates.
At the time, she was working at the Kakamega General Hospital where she was posted after a four-year stint working in hospitals in the United Kingdom.
“I had my training as a nurse at Pumwani Hospital, Nairobi from 1957 to 1960. After training, I was posted to the Aga Khan hospital where I worked for three years before flying out of the country to Britain. There, I worked at the West Suffolk Hospital in London, for two years and later moved to Gilford Hospital, London for another two years before coming back home,” Mws Shivonje says.
Her 2017 meeting with Mr Kenyatta was arranged by the Nursing Council of Kenya after scrutiny and confirmation of the claim that she helped his mother during his birth.
“The Nursing Council took my work details and went back to the records at the Aga Khan hospital to verify my claim. Once that was done, the council arranged for a meeting that finally took place in 2017 at State Lodge Kakamega. We had a chat and the President requested another meeting at State House Nairobi where I could meet his children and Mama Ngina Kenyatta. It was during that meeting that the president promised I would get State recognition,” Ms Shivonje says.
Unfortuantely, this has not happened due to bureaucratic red tape that one must go through before being allowed to interract with a head of state. Ms Shivonje is disappointed that the follow-up meeting she has been looking forward to for many years did not materialise, but she is grateful for the first meeting with the former president in Kakamega and says,
“I thank Uhuru for giving me an audience and I hope the new government will do better in recognising national heroes. There are many of them across the country who feel neglected and many are sick but can’t get proper treatment due to their poor financial states,” she said.
Ms Shivonje retired from active nursing duties in 1993 but her services are much sought after by her community in Ikonyero village, Kakamega County.
“The community often comes to me for professional advice and help in my field of specialisation. I did not start a private clinic after retirement as many would have expected,” she says.
She spends most of her time tending to her garden when no people are seeking her help or advice on matters of health.
She urges the government to take advantage of the wealth of experience that retired teachers, doctors, nurses, political leaders, administrators and other professionals have to move the country forward.
“The government should organise forums where those who have retired can mingle with the younger generation and impart some valuable knowledge to them. These retirees are walking data banks that should be put to good use in bettering our standards as a country. Their knowledge should not be allowed to go to waste through neglect,” she says.
Shivonje believes Mashujaa Day will only become meaningful when the government takes the trouble to find those who have and continue to contribute to the growth of this country and not only honour but support them.
Contrary to her expectations, she was not invited to this year’s Mashujaa Day celebration that was held in Lugari sub-county of Kakamega County.
“As I sit here, I did not get an invitation to attend the Mashujaa Day celebrations. So many old men and women would have loved to grace the occasion wherever they are but could not. Our mashujaa should be accorded respect,” she says.
“When I first met President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 9th Mashujaa day celebrations at State Lodge Kakamega, he linked me to his officers to arrange a follow-up meeting with him and his family in Gatundu,” Shivonje says.
However, her efforts to have the second meeting with Uhuru actualised appear to have hit a brick wall, but she has not lost hope.
“I keep being tossed from one governmental official to another with nothing to show for it, yet I am running out of time,” she says.