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Person of Interest

Goodbye Kethi Kilonzo, hello Melissa Ng’ania

While Kethi is a child of privilege, Ng’ania comes from a humble family of six in Mt Elgon

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Melissa Ng'ania, who works with Wairegi Gatetua and Associates, was admitted to the bar in 2011.

During the 2013 presidential election petition filed by Raila Odinga, lawyer Kethi Kilonzo captured the imagination of Kenyans for standing out in the midst of the country’s best legal brains as she argued for the nullification of Uhuru Kenyatta’s win in that year’s election.

Kethi, then 36 years old, had the rare opportunity of sitting in the same bar with her father, Senior Counsel Mutula Kilonzo (now deceased), who was litigating the petition on behalf of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), which had filed the main petition.

She was, on her part, representing the African Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG), which was also disputing Uhuru’s win and was seeking to have the victory invalidated, though the Supreme Court judges eventually ruled otherwise.

But her eloquence, confidence and diction raised the then little-known lawyer’s ratings among Kenyans and were it not for a technicality (she had not registered as a voter), she would have succeeded her father as Makueni Senator following his sudden death on April 27, 2013. Instead, her brother, Mutula Kilonzo Jnr, who is also a lawyer, stepped in and would be serving his second term after being re-elected in the August 8 elections. But that is water under the bridge.

In this year’s presidential petition, most keen observers were concerned that neither the petitioners nor the respondents had sought the services of female lawyers with all of them opting for prominent male legal personalities.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legal team led by Fred Ngatia, for instance, comprised of Ahmednasir Abdullahi, Katwa Kigen, Tom Macharia and Evans Monari.

On the other hand, Raila was represented by James Orengo, Amos Wako, Otiende Amollo, Pheroze Nowrojee, Okong’o Omogeni, Norman Magaya, Paul Mwangi, Antony Oluoch and Jackson Awele. Lawyer Millie Odhiambo (MP), who was initially slated to be in the team, was tasked with overseeing the audit of IEBC’s ICT system and electoral forms placing her away from the real action.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), for its part, retained senior counsel Paul Muite and Eric Ngumbo to argue its case while its chairman Wafula Chebukati sought the services of PLO Lumumba and Kamau Karori.

Many were left wondering why none of the parties saw it fit to seek the services of the many able women lawyers in the country even as Kenya grapples with the gender equality matrix.

It was not until the last stages of President Uhuru’s legal team’s submissions that a female star emerged in Mellisa Ng’ania.

The young lawyer from Mt Elgon had been tasked with presenting to the court a Powerpoint info-graphic on the President and Jubilee’s performance in the just-ended elections to counter Raila’s argument that he and his deputy William Ruto were computer-generated leaders.

Her moment in the sunshine would have easily passed unnoticed were it not for Lady Justice Njoki Ndung’u’s intervention when she informed Ngatia that he was wrong to refer to the presentation as a video.

ALSO SEE: James Orengo: On his shoulders, hopes of six million Kenyans

She advised that because the veteran lawyer is grey-haired and hence possibly not ICT conversant, he should let a younger “dot.com” member of his team to tell the court what exactly had been presented. It is then that Ng’ania confidently stepped in to tell the judges that it was actually not a video but a graphic presentation.

Kenyans immediately took to social media to congratulate her for her confidence and the fact that she was the only female lawyer to take part in the high stakes petition, which was amplified by State House Director of Digital Communications Dennis Itumbi.

Even lawyer Nicholas Havi, a fierce critic of President Uhuru, could not miss the opportunity to take credit for her performance on the big stage, revealing she had passed through his hands.

Ng’ania, in an interview with the Standard, said: ‘It was a great experience and I loved the team work and resilience.”

The lawyer says she loves what she does apart from the hectic schedule that comes with the job. Ng’ania, who works with Wairegi Gatetua and Associates, was admitted to the bar in 2011.

However, when comparing Ng’ania with Kethi, one cannot fail to see why the two’s journeys may have taken them to the same stage but through different routes.

While Kethi is a child of privilege, Ng’ania comes from a humble family of six in Mt Elgon. She hails from the Sabaot community, one of Kenya’s marginalised tribes. She is the last born.

Ms Kilonzo and Ms Ng’ania also went through different educational systems. Ng’ania attended Tororo Girls in Uganda before joining Makerere University where she later graduated with a law degree before coming back to Kenya and later enrolling at Kenya School of Law.

Kethi-Kilonzo Goodbye Kethi Kilonzo, hello Melissa Ng'ania

Lawyer Kethi Kilonzo making her submissions during the 2013 presidential election petition.

On the other hand, Ms Kilonzo went to the University of Nairobi for a degree in law and graduated in 2001. She is also an accountant and arbitrator.

After school, she joined her father’s legal firm, Kilonzo & Co. Advocates, becoming a partner alongside her brother, Mutula Kilonzo Jnr. Kethi also boasts of more legal experience compared to the new kid on the block.

She, for instance, sued the government in the wake of the deadly military operation in Mt And while Ng’ania is largely a greenhorn, Kethi, before the 2013 presidential election petition, had cut her teeth in the corridors of justice representing former President Moi and then ruling party Kanu, among other clients.

READ: The James Orengo factor in NASA petition

Kethi’s areas of specialisation are general practice, commercial law, taxation and revenue, criminal law, property, conveyancing, land lord and tenant law. On the other hand, Ng’ania works with Wairegi Getetua & Associates, a relatively little known law firm based at Development House along Moi Avenue/Tom Mboya Street.

She is specialised in commercial law and constitutional and human rights law. Her most high profile case is probably the suit filed against the County Government of Mombasa by outdoor advertisers in 2014 after it pulled down their billboards. She represented the Outdoor Advertising Association of Kenya.

Perhaps reflecting on the journey so far traveled, Ng’ania advises the youth to choose their path wisely and do their best in the career path. “Do not shy away from networking for you never know where your luck lies,” she says.

Editor and writer at BUSINESS TODAY, Muli has a passion for human interest stories that have a big impact on economic development. He holds a BSc in Communication and Journalism from Moi University and has worked for various organisations including Kenya Television Service. Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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Person of Interest

Elizabeth Marami: Kenya’s ONLY female marine pilot

Purely because of her gender, she says she has been rejected by various companies in her quest to meet the board requirements for 18 months of sea time so that she can graduate to a captain, 1st in command

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Elizabeth Marami is a second officer in command with the Kenya Ports Authority. He role entails guiding foreign ships seeking to dock at the Port of Mombasa.

At only 27 years, Elizabeth Marami is charting the path less travelled and breaking gender barriers that have been in place for so long. Her courage would see her swim away from the waters of comfort to take up a comprehensive and challenging course in navigation and become a marine pilot.

Intimidating and authoritative would be the ideal requirements for her job. However, Elizabeth has a warm personality, petite physique and is soft spoken for a person whose main duty is to take ‘command’.

Here are excerpts of an interview with Sally Mbuthia:

You have the name pilot in your job title, does that scare you?

I do not often introduce myself as a marine pilot. It was just recently that I just found myself doing so.

I believe it must have leaned more into the fact that I was talking to someone who inspires me and made me feel comfortable saying it. I am just Liz.

What influenced your choice of career?

I didn’t want to be ordinary. I wanted to pursue something that would challenge me. So when I heard about a scholarship, I could not resist the temptation to apply. The scholarship would have me leave Kenya for Alexandria, Egypt to study navigation.

The selection process was very competitive and I couldn’t believe it when I was awarded. I had another offer to study law at the University of Nairobi but my mind was set on navigation.

What comprises navigation studies?

The degree course takes five years. On completion you get certification from a UN body, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). There is also a mandatory requirement of 18 months of sea time for every rise in rank and additional channel training at Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).

I’m currently at second officer level. When I joined the training I was one of 2 female students, the rest were men. The training is very extensive with classes running late into the evening. I never had a typical college life of fun and socialising.

You are now a marine pilot; describe a typical work day in your life

I am a second officer in command.

Foreign ships coming to the Kenyan territorial waters are not allowed to navigate on their own and have to have a Kenyan pilot meet them and help navigate. By doing that, you are taking ‘command’.

I understand you are the only woman in your workplace. What are the dynamics? Do you prefer working with men as opposed to women?

Our workplace is predominantly male. Small things such as bathrooms —where we have separate bathrooms for the male staff and the rest for general public— goes to show the gender disparity that is in the maritime industry.

Yet the real struggle is not about the bathrooms but so many other key policies that keep away women from the sea. There is gender imbalance in staffing and training. Consider that women in the maritime industry account for only one or two per cent of the world’s 1.25 million seafarers, according to the International Labour Organisation.

Related: Gina Din Kariuki opens up on her struggles

The men I work with are great; they encourage me and push me towards achieving my goals. Actually, working with men has helped me understand women better. The men in my workplace affirm, encourage me to be more assertive and don’t compete against me. This has helped me look at women not as competition, but team players in the same frontier.

If you weren’t a marine pilot, what would you be doing?

I would be working in the fashion industry.

I would want to build an international brand that showcases African fabric and authentic designs.

Tell me about your blog? Is it an escape from the unwavering tide in your career?

I have always loved writing and fashion. Running my blog keeps me normal.

I get to wear beautiful pieces and get photographed —which is a world away from my job. Sometimes I wish I could run this blog anonymously and that way I would be able to write about the deep-rooted issues of my life.

Elizabeth-Marami-300x151 Elizabeth Marami: Kenya's ONLY female marine pilot

Her initiative, Against the Tide, is championing for a reasonable gender balance in the maritime industry.

You wrote extensively about rejection on your blog. Would you comment on that?

We were 9 students who were awarded the same scholarship, 8 are male and 1 is female. Part of our course requirements is practical skills in form of 18 months of sea time. All the men in our class have successfully secured sea time on board ships since been offered the opportunity.

I have been rejected by various companies in my quest to meet the board requirements for 18 months of sea time so that I can graduate to a captain, 1st in command.

My applications often come back with rejections based on my gender which can be very frustrating. Companies are afraid of getting into sexual harassment (legal) suits so they prefer not to hire women. The blog gives me an off-my-chest platform where I can share my frustrations.

I have however learnt to be patient. Good things come to those who wait.

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What does your family feel about your career choice?

My family is very understanding. They have been very supportive.

It’s only when I started my initiative, ‘Against the Tide’ that my dad became a little concerned. Be on the lookout for the official launch of this initiative.

Tell me more about the initiative

Against the Tide is my own initiative to see a reasonable gender balance in the maritime industry. Although in its infancy, I want to advocate for policies that favour both genders and allows for equal opportunities in access to opportunities in the industry.

Related: Kenyan firms make strides on road to gender diversity in boardrooms

I also intend to mentor young girls into believing in themselves and having the courage to get into the profession. I have been speaking to students at various schools about the importance of believing in themselves.

You met the President, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta. How was it like?

The most impressive thing about meeting the president the second time was that he remembered me from the first time we met.

On this instance, he commended me on our work before our Managing Director/CEO could introduced me as is the norm. That was truly an honour.

Do you have a life mantra? A mentor, someone you look up

Just the other day I was thinking one getting a life mantra!

I admire the Nobel Peace Laurete; the late Wangari Mathaai’s work a lot. Her courage and determination towards her course of making the world a greener place is deeply admirable.

What are you currently reading?

I read a lot.

I have re-read Chimamanda’s We Should All Be Feminists so many times. The book is one of my favourite reads.

What of your social life. You have any?

I learnt early in life to narrow down my circle of friends to a really small number. I have of course forged great friendships with ladies who have now become family.

With them I can lay bare and discuss really personal issues. My friends have really supported me in my career and offered me moral support. They are also successful in their various fields and l have learnt from them a great deal.

Although they are married with kids, I never feel pressured to settle down, even from my parents.

This article was first published by She.Leads.Africa, a community that helps young African women achieve their professional dreams.

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Person of Interest

President Uhuru’s son who can’t speak Swahili

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s son had accompanied DP William Ruto for a campaign tour of Nandi but viewers were taken aback when he had to reach short speech from his smartphone (SCROLL DOWN FOR STORY)

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Kenyans, including Jubilee supporters, have taken to social media to critic Muhoho Kenyatta, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s son, for being unable to proficiently speak Swahili.

Muhoho, who had accompanied Deputy President William Ruto in Nandi County for a campaign tour at the weekend, read a 30-second speech from his smart phone, amid cheers from the gathered crowd. Kenyans were dismayed, calling him unpatriotic for not being able to deliver a simple message in the native language.

The second born son of the president, who is the last born in the family of three, has not gone through the Kenyan education system. It is alleged that Muhoho had gone through the IGCSE system of education abroad, the reason he is unable to speak Swahili.

This is the first time Muhoho is speaking publicly at a political function, days after First Lady Margaret Kenyatta appeared in a political rally at Uhuru park. It has thus been seen as an act of testing waters in preparation for 2022 politics where his father will be exiting the political stage, which could mark the end of Kenyatta family in Kenyan politics.

If so, Muhoho will have a long way to familiarise himself with Kiswahili, Kenya’s national language that is the most spoken and widely accepted language in Kenya. Common knowledge in politics states that for any political mileage you have to associate yourself with the voters, and in this sense the language.

READ: Untold story of Uhuru Kenyatta’s rural life in Gatundu

Here are some comments from Kenyans about Muhoho’s inability to speak Swahili:

“If Muhoho asks for my vote as future President, I might not give him,” said Chepkorir Vera Moraa, a former student leader at Moi University, an ardent Jubilee supporter.

“Let’s be clear, his knowledge of Swahili absolutely matters. Anyone who knows politics 101 will tell you that the people have to feel you are one of them. If you don’t look like them or talk like them it creates distance and loses votes. This is why his own father dabs and speaks Kiswahili…to look and sound more like the people he is seeking votes from,” said Imungu Kalevera, a social media user.

“Yes, I feel some sense of lack of patriotism in him, but you cant blame him altogether. He has been brought up in abroad. With time he’ll learn . A few years back, Gedion Moi could not speak Swahili, you can even today realise he struggles,” explained John Ngigi.

ALSO SEE: Margaret Kenyatta goes Beyond Zero in politics

“This young man. At his age, he was unable to speak in Kiswahili. He was sent a text message to read and even in the process of reading he wasn’t sure of what he was reading. What if someone would have sent him a pathetic text bordering on insults???? Can he sing the nation anthem, Swahili version?” wondered Mwero Mwangale.

However, Muhoho Kenyatta, a designer by profession, is not alone. When he first emerged politically, former President Moi’s favourite son, Gideon, could not perfectly construct a sentence in Swahili leave alone his native Kalenjin language. However, he has beaten the odds and is presently the Baringo Senator with designs on the presidency and speaks both languages.

SEE: Meet President Uhuru’s fashion designer 

Muhoho runs his own clothing line in various major African cities. In November 2014, he won the Showcase Designer of the Year award in the Emerging Designer category at the Nairobi Expo. His engagement in public events includes a Christmas Day visit to Kenyatta National Hospital Children’s Cancer Ward and Maternity Wing in 2015 during which he donated an assortment of equipment and Ksh1 million for needy kids.

He was accompanied by his fiancee, Firyal Nur Al Hossain, a designer and founder of the Nur clothing label. She is related to Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed. In July 2015, the two were also at the airport to welcome US President Barack Obama.

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Person of Interest

New lease of life for banana leaves bag girl

While fellow students mocked her saying she looked primitive and even called her a witch, photos of her went viral on social media earning her recognition from Nema

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Hilda Gacheri says residents use improvised bags regularly to carry yams from the farm.

The banana fritters bag that has turned an innocent school-girl into an instant celebrity is no strange commodity in her village. At her home in Keria village, Nkubu, Hilda Gacheri says residents use improvised bags regularly to carry yams from the farm.

Dried banana leaves put together can make a carrier, which turned out to be the most ‘innovative’ eco-friendly bag as the ban on plastics was implemented on August 28th this year.

When schools reopened, Gacheri did not have a bag to carry her items in, and buying an environment- friendly carrier would have cost her money – a resource she was trying very much to conserve. Carrying a plastic bag would have attracted the attention of the authorities.

That is when Hilda went down to improvise a bag from banana fritters. This would save her the time looking for a new eco-bag at the market place too and it is likely she would not have got a cheap one. So, she came up with the simplest method ever that is environment friendly, and could not land her in trouble with the law.

READ: The high school student who owns a gun

“I love my environment,” Hilda said during a phone interview, “I am happy that the plastic paper bags were banned because they do not decompose, ng’ombe zikikula hizo (if cows consume) nylon papers sinagonjeka (they would fall sick), so am happy that sahii hazitatumika tena (they would not be used now).  When you throw away the banana fritters makeshift bag, it can easily decompose and be used as manure.”

Hilda, a form 3 student at Materi Girls high school in Tharaka Nithi County, stuffed some of her items in the odd-looking bag and set for school.

Someone took her photos and the images went viral, earning the attention of National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), which gave her an alternative bag and a wooden key ring.

NEMA has recognised her efforts by naming her the brand ambassador of alternative carrier bags. She will use the opportunity to mentor other students and Kenyans as a whole on the importance of living in a clean, safe, secure environment. She is also set to meet with Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhung’u.

Hilda-Gaceri-3 New lease of life for banana leaves bag girl

NEMA’s Catherine Mbaisi gives a key ring and a handbag to Hilda Gaceri during the visit at Materi Girls. Credit: Nema

In Kenya, a large number livestock have died after consuming plastic bags. A study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP) released recently ago found that 15% of all cows slaughtered in the capital, Nairobi, had consumed plastic bags.

The bags once consumed by animals over time end up in human bodies after people eat meat, with some researches indicating the plastics lead to cancers, birth defects, developmental problems in children and immune system suppression.

ALSO SEE: Creative ways Kenyans are coping with plastics ban

Hilda narrated how her friends found the banana fritters bag weird. “Waliniambia nitupe hiyo kitu ati nakaa mshamba (They told me to throw it away as I was looking primitive),” Hilda said, “Wengine pia waliniambia nakaa mchawi (Some even called me a witch). But I took courage and defended the reason why I’m carrying it. I told them; ‘Don’t discourage me with my bag, let me carry it. It doesn’t matter! Ebu nikae mshamba but najua chenye nimebeba (Let me be primitive but I know what I am carrying).”

When asked whether she still has the bag, she said: “Yes I still have it. I will rock it again when we close school.”

She says Kenyans should try this method because it will not only preserve the environment, but also bring more value to bananas. After her pictures went viral on social media, Kenyans proposed that she be the next environment ambassador.

SEE ALSO: Hot towns for real estate investments

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Person of Interest

Hassan Omar: Restless political tinderbox

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Kalonzo’s failure to strongly champion Wiper’s interests in the August 8 elections

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HASSAN OMAR HASSAN: His was a marriage of convenience most informed by the fact that Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho was quick to cement his place in the Orange Democratic Movement.

When he announced recently that he was cutting ties with Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and by extension the National Super Alliance (NASA), former Mombasa senator Hassan Omar took many by surprise. But not so for those who have followed the radical politician’s odyssey for long.

Omar was born in 1975 as the only child in his family His father Omar Hassan Sarai, worked with the Cargo Handling Services and later became a banker at Saudi Arabia while his mother, Aisha Abdallah Suleiman Mazrui, worked with Cadbury Schweppes as a clerk. The mother is a sister to the late Prof Ali Mazrui.

Omar, then a law student at Moi University, stormed the national stage in 1999 when he staged massive student riots demanding radical changes at the Eldoret-based university leading to a prolonged closure.

While other students were made to pay dearly as part of the conditions for readmission after nearly a year in the cold, Omar was expelled.

One of the raft of changes that Omar, as chairman of the Moi University Students Organisation (Muso), wanted was the change of the varsity’s name to either Kesses University (after a nearby town) or the University of Eldoret. He argued it was not proper for an institution of higher learning to be associated with a non-intellectual (read Moi).

READ: Kethi Kilonzo meets her ‘match’ at Supreme Court

The then President did not take it lightly and rebuked him in public at Eldoret International Airport when he landed from Uganda, saying “some young men had no respect for elders.”

Also in the student leadership at Moi University at the time include Homabay Senator Moses Kajwang, who served as Muso secretary general and Homa Bay County Assembly Speaker Samuel ‘Matata’ Ochillo, whose disappearance once caused a huge student strike.

Expelled during Moi days

During the time he served expulsion, Omar was constantly under the watch of state security agents, who could sometimes confront him on the streets to ask him to desist from abusing “Mzee.”

It was not until the defeat of independence party, Kanu, in 2002 by the Mwai Kibaki led Narc that he was able to go back to school to complete his Bachelor of Law degree course following a presidential order that all students expelled during the Moi days be unconditionally readmitted eventually graduating in 2004.

ALSO SEE: James Orengo proves that he’s indeed a walking constitution

What many people might not know is that Omar’s non-conformist approach to politics, and life generally, did not start at the university.

After clearing from Lenana School, Omar was recruited as a cadet officer in the Kenya Airforce in 1994 but left barely a year later due to what friends say was his inability to put up with the straitjacket lifestyle expected of members of the military that includes following orders without question.

A staunch crusader of Muslim rights, Omar has over the years been involved in the work of organisations such as the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Muslims for Human Rights and Muslim Consultative Council.

He was also part of the Muungano wa Mageuzi lobby group that was part of the champions of the calls for a return to multi-party democracy.

In 2007, President Kibaki appointed Omar, then 31 years old, as a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and served as its chairman before his tenure came to an end.

Marriage of convenience

He used the opportunity to take on the government on various human rights issues such as extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. He was part of the team that compiled a report on the 2007/08 post-election violence that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto claim formed part of the basis for the now-collapsed cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Pundits says that Omar, who quit as Wiper secretary general, has more affinity to Nasa leader Raila Odinga more that Kalonzo, regarded as a being among johnnies come-lately in the pro-reform ranks.

READ: Witty lawyers who made presidential petition a laughing matter

His was a marriage of convenience most probably informed by the fact that  Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho was quick to cement his place in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Kalonzo’s failure to strongly champion Wiper’s interests in the August 8 elections, which saw its candidates lose even in his Kitui backyard.

Many would be keenly watching his next move, though it remains highly unlikely the football fanatic will join Jubilee ranks. But then again, a day is a very long time in politics.

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