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Death Anniversary: Remembering Mama Lucy Kibaki

By Killiad Msafiri | April 26th 2020

I never bothered to study the history of Kenya’s second First Lady until I sat down to do this story. An interesting fact I soon found out is that we share the same birth month and day. This iron lady was born Lucy Muthoni Kagai on January 13 in 1936 in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County.

She was born of Rose Nyachomba and father John Kagai who was a pastor of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Nyeri’s Muhito Parish. Ostensibly a bright student, Mama Lucy studied at Alliance Girls High School from where she would embark to a teaching career.

The young Lucy would teach at Kamwenja Teachers’ College before being transferred to Kambui College (now Kambui Girls) where she would meet a budding KANU politician and former Makerere University lecturer, Mwai Kibaki. The rest as they say, is history.

Mama Lucy- the tough, loving homemaker

Mama Lucy Kibaki as she was respectfully called exemplified in many ways a typical African mother. While ‘mama’ is a common African name for mother, it is more than just that. Mama is also a title that distinguishes honorable women in a society.

Indeed the motherly Lucy Kibaki was in symbolic terms a mother to our nation or like the Swahili translation would go ‘Mama Taifa’ as the country’s First Lady. Yet she was not just the president’s wife, Lucy was also the mother of their four children and a homemaker- a duty she played so well which is where we start from.

In 2013, Ida Odinga, the wife of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, when asked about Mama Lucy once said that she viewed her “as a very strong and nice woman”.

“It just happened that we didn’t interact a lot. But she is somebody I admire for her strength because being where she is not easy. I like her and I have no problem with her.” She said.

As a chicken would protect her chicks, so did Mama Lucy do to her family. Just months into President Mwai Kibaki’s first term, the First Lady reportedly shut down a bar inside State House where ministers and close allies of the president would enjoy drinks with him.

Agreeably, this was an indirect message to the high ranking government officials that she wanted the president fully focused on the huge task of leading a nation. She believed she had the duty to protect the president’s image. At the time, President Kibaki was still nursing a leg injury he got in an accident during presidential campaigns.

One day in January 2003, President Mwai Kibaki called a press conference from State House to address the nation. This was nothing out of the ordinary. Beside him was a stone faced First Lady following the proceeding. This also was not abnormal.

The only strange thing about it was the message he conveyed to the nation, moving his right hand toward her he said, “this is my wife Lucy and I want to state something that I have wanted you to hold dear and permanently in your heart.” The president went on to declare that “I am married and have only one wife and everyone in Kenya knows it.”

It was not however strange that President Kibaki would call the attention of an entire nation to “make it clear” that he only had one wife- Lucy Muthoni Kibaki. Barely a month before this odd address, one Ms. Mary Wambui who later succeeded the president as the Othaya Member of Parliament in 2013 had claimed to be Kibaki’s wife.

Whose idea was it to call such a press conference? Well, your guess is as good as mine. What a way to mark one’s territory!

Now to her infamous altercation with former World Bank country director Makhtar Diop in 2005. The First Lady stormed his residence late at night to demand that loud music be turned down.

The outgoing director was throwing a farewell party next to the Kibaki’s private residence in Muthaiga to mark the end of his tenure in the country when Mama Lucy disrupted the celebrations. She reportedly tried to disconnect power cables as musicians Mercy Myra, Eric Wainaina and Suzanne Kibukosya entertained guests.

A story of the altercation written in the Daily Nation birthed controversy to another, the issues arising from it receiving wide media coverage in the country for months to follow. All this started because a mother just wanted peace and calm for her family at night.

Mama Lucy was so dedicated to keeping family life private that she discouraged her children from pursuing political careers, to her, family always came first. When she died in 2016 her four children and husband said their last goodbyes as she lay on her hospital bed at Bupa Cromwell Hospital in London.

The slapping Lucy

As First Lady, Lucy accompanied the president in almost all of his local tours as head of state. When the president flew back into the country from international duties, she would always be at the airport to welcome him back. Her hands shook great men and women from home and abroad.

But when her hands were not shaking other hands, they were slapping someone in public. They knew no status or designation, her hands were swift to put you in your place or knock you out of it. Getting into her bad books was something you really didn’t want in your cards.

Former State House Comptroller Matere Keriri knew this too well. Keriri first fell out with Mama Lucy when they reportedly disagreed over the management of the president’s diary during the First Family’s vacation at the Coast in December 2003.

Infuriated, the First Lady snubbed the New Year celebrations. A few days later in January when the president was returning from his two-week vacation at the Coast, Mama Lucy refused to shake Keriri’s hand, publicly embarrassing him.

Matere Keriri’s tenure as State House Comptroller did not last long. While initial reports claimed he was kicked out of this powerful position, Keriri would years later say he was forced to resign. Either way, the fierce Lucy had the last laugh.

Another man to find his face on the receiving end of the president’s wife anger was ex-KTN journalist Clifford Derrick. The cameraman was pounced on by a furious Lucy Kibaki after she spotted him filming part of her late night siege of Nation Media Group’s offices in Nairobi.

The First Lady had stormed the newsroom to protest the coverage of her altercation with former World Bank country director Makhtar Diop. “What are you doing? Are you taking pictures? Stop.” Derrick said in an interview in 2005. “Then she slapped me, grabbed me, and we started to struggle as she wanted to take my camera.”

Former Imenti Central MP and renowned lawyer Gitobu Imanyara would lead a private prosecution against Mama Lucy in a case of abuse of office reported by the roughed up journalist Derrick.

Even though then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko terminated the prosecution, the First Lady apparently never forgave Imanyara for instituting proceedings against her. She would later get back at him in what would be his last visit as MP to State House.

The lawyer claimed that the president’s wife assaulted him when he and other legislators were invited to State House for a meeting with the president. “Mama Lucy was in pyjamas and not wearing any shoes. She immediately started throwing punches at me shouting “nobody goes here without my permission,” Imanyara said.

Although the president apologized for the confrontation, Imanyara would not be satisfied until the matter was settled by the Njuri Ncheke (Meru council of elders) who ordered Kibaki to pay him a he-goat for the dispute.

During Jamhuri Day celebrations in 2007, the First Lady was reported to have slapped a Master of Ceremony for mistakenly calling her Lucy Wambui at a State House dinner.

One of Mama Lucy’s memorable moments in public was when she stood to dance to Emmy Kosgey’s Taunet Nelel during the promulgation of the Constitution in August 2010. She will also be fondly remembered for starting the State House choir which entertained guests during important events.

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