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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.

Business Today is the leading independent online business website in Kenya. Started in 2012 by a veteran business journalist, it has a huge following both in Kenya and abroad. It covers various business and related issues. Email editor at: [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

Young economist becomes deputy governor

Wesley Rotich, the Elgeyo Marakwet deputy governor, says a call from his boss took him by surprise and even his mother was apprehensive he was leaving a stable job for the unknown

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Elgeyo Marakwet deputy governor Wesley Rotich during an interview in his office in Iten. Credit: KNA

When he applied to be the Elgeyo Marakwet county director of cooperatives, he never envisioned that this position would open many more doors in his life.

Wesley Rotich, the 30-year Elgeyo Marakwet deputy governor, told KNA that he sought the job to satisfy his quest to do what he loves best, to serve his people.

Rotich, who is arguably one of the youngest deputy governor in the country, said immediately he got his job, he embarked on reviving collapsed saccos.

“I believe, cooperative societies are the engine behind rural development and therefore I worked hard to see that the sector thrives,” Rotich said in his office.

One of the major achievements in his two year tenure as a director was to present the Cooperative Development Revolving Fund bill to the assembly which was passed. Under the bill which is now an act, the county will directly fund saccos.

“As a result of the act, the Assembly has already set aside Ksh10 million in the 2017/18 financial year to be loaned to the Saccos,” Rotich said.

According to the deputy governor, the issue of uplifting living standards of Elgeyo Marakwet residents is very close to Governor Alex Tolgos’ heart.

Rotich-300x200 Young economist becomes deputy governor

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos and his deputy Wesley Rotich after clinching victory in the August 8 election.

Therefore, during the course of his work, he was constantly in touch with the governor for briefs.

However, this one call from his boss threw him off balance momentarily. “When he called me, I thought the governor as usual wanted a brief about the sector. He went straight to the point and told me he wanted me to be his running mate in his second term in office,” Rotich said.

 “At first I thought he was joking, but having dealt with him, I knew he was not the type to joke and especially on such a serious matter,” the deputy governor observed.

The Moi University Economics graduate said while the call surprised him, he didn’t hesitate or even think twice but immediately accepted the governor’s offer

“This is because I believe that one needs political power to influence change and it is also in politics that resources are distributed,” he said.

But while his family members supported the decision, it did not go down well with one person very close to him – his mother.

ALSO SEE: From radio presenter to senator: Journalist outlines his vision

During his inauguration ceremony, Rotich told the crowd that she never called him during the campaign period.

According to Rotich, his mother was worried that his son had left a reliable job as a director to venture into the murky political world.

“In fact, my mum had said if I lost, then she would give one of my child to the governor and the other one to my brother as they are the ones who convinced me to join politics. Thank you for giving me a pay slip for the next five years and making my mum happy,” the father of two, an eight-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son, told the crowd.

Youth unemployment

Interestingly, the problem of unemployment among the youths was the main reason he was given the deputy governor’s post.

While he will assist the governor in administrative duties, his main role will be to engage the youth. The deputy governor knows this will be an uphill task following his experiences on the campaign trail and also listening to various leaders who spoke during the inauguration ceremony.

The leaders, including senator Kipchumba Murkomen, Women Representative Jane Chebaibai and area MPs, all said in every place they visited during the campaigns, they were ready to meet youths with certificates who are seeking jobs.

“However, I know that five years is a short duration but as the Chinese saying goes; a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. I know I cannot solve the problem at once but if a few can start their own small and medium enterprises, it will be a step in the right direction,” he said.

Therefore, as he embarks in his job, Rotich says he has his work cut out. He says given the different ecological zones of the county, i.e the highlands, escarpment and the arid Kerio Valley there cannot be a blanket solution but that each area will require its own unique strategy.

The easy-going governor who describes himself as a risk taker says he is ready to face the situation. Rotich says he grew up in the Kerio Valley in Chegilet and bought his first lorry while in his second year at the university.

“I started engaging in business early in life selling fruits and cereals which thrive in the Kerio Valley,” he says.

Procurement

Rotich added that apart from ensuring that there are right policies for youth development, he will embark on training them on financial matters especially the procurement act so that they can benefit from the 30% funds set aside for tenders for youth, women and people with disability.

According to the county director supply chain management Robert Chelagat, the three special groups did not exhaust the 30% set aside for them in the last financial year as they do not have access to tenders.

Related: A blind MCA with a great vision

There has been a feeling among residents that they require more sensitization on the procurement act which they say is too technical thus making most shy away from applying for the tenders.

Noting that the executive will require the assembly to actualise their dream, Rotich called for dialogue and harmony among the two while respecting the separation of powers so that together they can push the county development agenda forward.

He seems to be in good hands as the new County Assembly Speaker Philemon Sabulei said he expects the assembly to work with the executive to provide solutions to the many challenges facing the county key among them unemployment and poverty.

The deputy governor added that in a bid to develop the county, the cooperation need to go beyond borders saying there was need for all leaders in the North Rift to meet and discuss ways of maintaining peace along the Kerio Valley.

“This is because the continued conflicts have let to stagnation of development in the area,” he said.

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