In our segment of #KenyaWomenSeries, we feature, Governor Anne Waiguru. A trendsetter named Top 40 Under 40 Most Influential Women in Kenya in 2011; the only woman in public service at the time to get such recognition.
An economist, she describes herself as a pragmatic leader and diligent public servant who always upholds excellence in performance.
She was elected Governor of Kirinyaga County in 2017, in a tightly contested gubernatorial election where she emerged as one of the first three women Governors in Kenya.
1. Briefly introduce yourself. Who is Anne Waiguru?
I am a woman who believes that women have what it takes to take up the roles in the highest levels of their country’s public and corporate leadership.
Currently, I am spearheading the socio-economic and political development for one of the country’s vibrant devolved units inhabited by approximately 610,000 people. I am also a wife and a mother.
2. Talk to us about your career journey highlighting the significant achievements and the events around them?
Many know me from serving in the public sector but before this, I worked at Citibank, the World Bank, and in Civil Society specifically at Transparency International-Kenya, where I was a principal research analyst and a consultant for the National Council of NGOs and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
In the mainstream public service, I served as a technical advisor during President Mwai Kibaki’s Government on secondment by the World Bank, and later by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Thereafter, I joined the National Treasury as Head of Governance, where I also served as the alternate to the Permanent Secretary of the National Treasury in the Women Enterprise Fund Board and the Public Procurement Oversight Authority and Advisory Board.
Later, I was appointed Head of the Economic Stimulus Programme and the Director of Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS) between 2007 and 2012. Through sheer hard work at the National Treasury, I led the IFMIS team to win three awards for exemplary performance and was named among the Top 40 Under 40 Most Influential Women in Kenya in 2011; the only woman in public service at the time to get such recognition.
Then in April 2013, I transitioned into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Government as the first Devolution Cabinet Secretary. I was tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the country’s shift from a centralized to a devolved system of Government. As Devolution CS, I won a total of 15 awards in Africa and globally, including the 2015 United Nations Public Service Award following recognition by the Africa Association of Public Administration and Management, for ensuring efficiency in Public Service delivery and introducing one-stop service delivery centres called Huduma Centres.
Kenyans can attest that Huduma centres have eased access to Government services, such as registration of business entities, application for e-driving licenses, application and replacement of lost identity cards, and other related public services.
Given the need to ensure women as part of the marginalized people were empowered economically, I successfully championed the reservation of 30% Government contracts for marginalized groups, which is now a legally recognized general principle of procurement and asset disposal in Kenya and is implemented through Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO).
Immediately after the 2017 General elections, I was elected Vice-Chairperson of the Council of Governors (CoGs) where I played a major role in negotiations between the national Governments and county Governments due to my past work experience.
3. With such an accomplished career life, paint for us a picture of what it means to be a woman in a Senior Management role in Politics and Governance; a sector that many women easily shy away from.
To be a woman in a senior management in politics and governance takes commitment and hard work. Like many women leaders across the globe and Kenya in particular, I have often had to work twice or thrice as hard to clinch any position dominated by men.
For instance, when I fronted my name for Vice-Chairperson of the Council of Governors against three other male candidates, in a room full of 44 men and only two other women, I had to put up a strong case that would persuade the newly elected male Governors to elect me.
In my political life, I have also had to deal with the ills of negative publicity fuelled by political opponents who believed I was rising faster than a woman should. Social media has made it even harder as the rate at which information, true or false, is disseminated is very fast. To make matters worse, the arguments against women often focus on mundane issues such as their physical looks rather than on their ideas and leadership capabilities.
However, these challenges fuel my drive, my undoubted resilience, commitment to excellence, and ability to deliver complex tasks. Now I can say that the experience has elevated me to the level I am in. I believe that transformative leadership should be focused on influencing positive change in individuals and social systems that have hindered gender equality.
I am currently serving as the Chairperson of the Gender, Youth, Sports, Culture, and Social services committee at the Council of Governors. I believe that women leaders should band together to achieve equality in the social-economic and political landscapes in our countries.
4. From your experience over the years, how would you encourage women to a greater awareness that they can break barriers, influence, and occupy decision-making positions?
In my perspective, gender equality can no longer be a footnote. All women must commit to contribute towards an equitable and inclusive Kenya where we get enough women believing in themselves and coming out to fight for their spaces.
Women leadership is still greatly hampered by many obstacles including blatant and subtle attitudes and beliefs that women cannot reach leadership domains traditionally assigned to men.
Even though there has been quite some progress towards achieving gender parity, much more still needs to be done to have more women elected into political offices. As it is currently, women have to put in much more effort in convincing the electorate to elect them than their male counterparts.
My advice to the women is, however, not to shy away from dreaming to achieve their leadership goals. They must believe they have what it takes to bring tangible change in areas that affect them since they understand better the unique interests of women and girls. We must find a common ground that will help us bring new dignity and respect to women and girls.
Offering mentorship to women is therefore, critical towards the achievement of gender equality since it not only opens doors for them to break the glass ceiling but it ignites the fire and the push for them to achieve their maximum potential.
It also means that there will be more women moving up which forms the foundation of a valuable professional network that will benefit women and enhance advocacy on their issues at high levels.
5. Let’s talk about women’s empowerment. As a champion for gender equity in society, how do you go about encouraging women to achieve their highest potential?
Responding to the need to ensure increased active participation of more women leaders in Kenya, I have been a champion of constitutional reforms that would enable us to comply with the two-thirds (2/3) gender rule entrenched in the country’s current 2010 Constitution.
In the current constitutional regime, the two-thirds gender rule has been deemed unimplementable for the absence of mechanisms on how to realize the principle in appointive and elective positions. I have been actively engaged as a key strategist to ensure that women are equally engaged on all fronts for the key purpose of ensuring their holistic development. It is a trite fact that a nation is empowered when its women, young and old alike, are empowered.
6. You say that your purpose in life is to grow people with energy and to inspire them to unleash their potential. Briefly tell us some of the ways you have done so and key lessons you have learnt while living out your purpose.
❖ Transformative leadership is about influencing positive change in individuals and social systems for the betterment of society. My current capacity as Governor allows me to actively advocate for the interests of the public within the region, I govern concerning devolved functions.
Upon assumption of office after the 2017 elections, I developed a Sessional Paper dubbed The Mountain Cities Blueprint 2032 which captured my agenda and vision for the county. Through it, we have been undertaking wealth-creation development programs whose tangible benefits to the public are now evident.
❖ We, therefore, developed an end-to-end economic stimulus program that we named Wezesha which is a Kiswahili name meaning ‘empower’. Through Wezesha we have so far supported more than 500 farmers groups and close to 50,000 households to undertake various projects. Each of the supported households makes an extra Ksh. 1,000 per day under various value chains which include production of 1 million eggs a month under poultry keeping, tomato, avocado, dairy and fish farming, beekeeping as well as pig rearing.
❖ To provide a conducive environment for our traders, most of who deal in fresh produce, we have so far constructed 15 modern markets in various towns. To transform our urban centres, we have also constructed about 25,000 square meters of cabro car parks and pavements in our major towns such as Kerugoya, Kutus, Kagio, Kianyaga and currently we are undertaking 30,000 square meters of cabro paving in Wang’uru town.
❖ Towards the achievement of Universal Health Coverage, we have undertaken massive infrastructural and service delivery reforms in our health facilities. Our legacy project in health is the upcoming five-storey ultra-modern medical complex that aims at elevating Kerugoya Level Four Hospital to a Level Five Referral Hospital. This facility will enable us to offer the specialized medical services for which residents are currently referred to other hospitals.
The ultra-modern hospital, which has an ICU, an HDU, an oncology centre and a burns unit among other state-of-the-art amenities, will be the first one in the region to match the standards of some of the country’s most reputable private hospitals.
We are also upgrading Kimbimbi and Kianyaga Hospitals from level 3 to level 4 facilities. This is in addition to the 19 dispensaries we are completing and equipping to boost the provision of primary healthcare at the grassroots.
7. If you were to reflect on your career journey, what would you say has been the guiding principle(s) or values that keep you grounded in life?
My unshakable commitment to good governance against great odds, democracy, transformative learning, human rights, the right to excellent service delivery, and the rule of law drive my decisions as a civil servant, a political leader, and in my personal life.
8. Away from work, share with us some of your life experiences on personal growth and development?
Having been selected to join the Amujae Leader in the 2021 Cohort, at Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Leadership (EJS Center) earlier in the year, I am learning a lot from my mentors such as Ellen Johnson who has been the President in Liberia. I cherish every opportunity that equips me with the confidence required to seek the highest positions of public leadership.
The program is designed to address the underrepresentation of women in public leadership in Africa and ensure that women become equal players in setting the national priorities of their respective countries.
I am committed to playing my role in mentoring other young women in leadership and politics. I want to be counted among the women who have positively impacted Africa women leadership.
Any parting shot?
It is said that, if you are not on the table, you are on the menu. Women have been on the menu for far too long, and for us who are on the table now, we should make it count! We should also be the voice for the voiceless and hope for those who have lost hope. When all said and done, let it be remembered that Kenyan women fought for their right to be included in spaces that matter.