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CS Prof Margaret Kobia: An NYS scandal under my watch would ‘kill me’

POLITICS
By Esther Dianah | September 12th 2021
From a tender age, Public Service, Youth and Gender Cabinet Secretary PROF MARGARET KOBIA knew education was the key to success.  She tells QUEENTER MBORI why the youth should stop looking for white-collar jobs. Interview transcribed by ESTHER DIANAH.
 
Share with us your journey to becoming a Cabinet Secretary, from your days in high school.
I never knew I would become a Cabinet secretary at any one point. However, I always knew education was important.  Ever since I was in primary school, my parents always said that to get out of the environment we lived in that involved doing a lot of shamba work, I had to get good education.
 
I looked up to my teachers. They were mostly women and were smart. They also seemed to have a better quality of life at home. I endeavoured to do well in order to be like them. When I joined Alliance High school, I met more female teachers who were even more smart and I kept dreaming bigger. My dreams kept on changing.

So where does it all start?
I started my career at Ngara Girls where I taught for four years. I needed to do something else because it had become monotonous. I moved to the Kenya National Examination Council as a test developer and researcher. While at the examination council, I realised I needed a masters and the government offered me a scholarship to study at Kenyatta University.
 
I taught at Kenyatta University and at the same time did administration.
 A time came that if one needed a promotion, they must be in possession of a PhD. Knowing that this too hindered women, I applied for a PhD at Kenyatta University, but there was not much progress because of issues like lack of supervisors and strikes.

What happened next?
I moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where I did my PhD in education and entrepreneurship. I came back and went to teach at Strathmore. While I was at Strathmore, the Kenya School of Government advertised for the position of a director.

How was it like serving as a director?
I served this position for eight years. While serving as a director, I realised the difference between leadership in men and women. The staff had the trouble addressing me, other people left because they found my administration very difficult, all the same, I shared my vision of the school and I am proud of how it is now. When the new Constitution came, the government advertised the position of a chairperson for the Public Service Commission. It had never had a female chair since its establishment. I always went an extra mile in my work and God is always on my side, so I got the position.

You inherited a docket bedevilled by corruption, poor work ethics, and poor work delivery; how does the cleaning process look like now?
When I joined the ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender, we had a big challenge with National Youth Service; we had lost money. There was NYS I and II. We sat to understand the challenges and root causes of the malpractices, we realised that as long as youth service is a department in the public service, it would never perform because of lack of proper oversight and it had a huge budget.
 
This made it an avenue for recruiting youths and the President was so passionate about it. Upon analysing the situation, we saw the need to put structures on how the National Youth Service would be run. We recruited an oversight board, we reviewed the whole procurement procedure to be compliant with what is expected by the government. This is my fourth year in youth service and no money has been stolen.

What still gives you sleepless nights?
I think if money is ever lost in this NYS, after what happened to one and two, I would not be able to face the president and explain. This would definitely keep me up at night.

Youths and women suffered a big blow as a result of the Covid pandemic. What is the ministry doing about this?
As a government we have looked at expanding technical institutions, reviewed the curriculum and made people understand that universities were never meant to train people for jobs. University gives a broad liberal education so that you can be able to survive anywhere.

What can you tell qualified Kenyans suffering unemployment and waiting for a white collar job?
There are many Kenyans with university qualifications who think that they only went to school to get a job and sit in the office. But this is because most of us grew up hearing that we should go to school, pass exams and get a job, when this doesn’t work for them they lack other options and can’t think beyond that. We need to interact with the youth and let them know that being employed is no longer going to be possible. The education you get up to university should be an avenue to learn and not just sit and wait.

Work life integration is very difficult for women. You hold a powerful office, how do you balance?
Women struggle with work balance because nothing exempts you from being a mother or looking after your children and husband. In the office, I delegate a lot. I have a support team at home; it is okay to iron clothes and other basic things. It is important to invest in your family as much as you invest in your career.
Everyone has a family; you must find a balance because you will always need your family. Women can have it all but you must be comfortable with what is said about you or around you and have clarity of what you want. They also need a coping strategy.

We don’t have a female presidential candidate 60 years into independence, what can we do about this?
This is a work in progress which will not just happen unless we come together as women and join with men then we start pursuing that goal. One day perhaps we will have a female vice president. If we become deliberate on our target, building capacity through training and exposure. I think one day, Kenya will get a female president.
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