Kenya: The Rise and Rise of Women in Rift Valley Leadership

Women’s push for gender parity in leadership hit another milestone with the swearing in of Lily Ngok as Kericho County Deputy Governor.

Ms Ngok becomes the second female deputy governor in the county replacing the former holder the late Ms Susan Kikwai, in what has gone a long way in mainstreaming gender leadership in Rift Valley.

The only other female deputy governor in the region is Dr Yulitia Mitei Cheruiyot of Nandi County.

Ms Ngok, a career educationist, who previously served as the County Executive in charge of Education and Social Services was sworn in last week.

Notably, the swearing in ceremony was presided over by a woman – Kericho Resident Judge Asenath Ongeri, who was assisted by Deputy Registrar of the High Court Solomon Ng’etich and County Attorney Gideon Mutai.

“It is with great humility that I accept to help the governor as his principal assistant to deliver on his government’s mandate and manifesto,” said Ms Ngok in her acceptance speech.

She added: “Governor Chepkwony, please accept my deepest appreciation for your demonstration of confidence in me and once again your profound belief in women leadership,” she added.

Kericho County Governor Prof Paul Chepkwony said he nominated Ms Ngok due to her qualification and demonstrating good leadership abilities.

“When I picked Ms Kikwai as my deputy, many people said I had made a mistake. But I proved them wrong in the long run. It is in the same spirit that I picked Ms Ngok for continuity of government operations,” said Prof Chepkwony.

Elective positions

Rift Valley stands out as a region where despite deep rooted cultural beliefs, voters have defied odds to vote in women to elective positions.

In the last two decades, women here have literally elbowed their way into elective positions as opposed to seeking for nomination.

The late Dr Joyce Laboso while serving as the Sotik MP, made history as the first woman to be elected Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, a position she held for two consecutive terms.

Dr Laboso added another feather to her hat when she became the first female governor in Rift Valley, before succumbing to cancer in July 2019.

She was one of the three women elected in 2017 General Election – as governors – with Ms Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga) and Ms Charity Ngilu (Kitui).

Dr Laboso’s younger sister the late Ms Lornah Chepkemoi Laboso was the first woman to be elected to parliament in the South Rift region. She was followed by Ms Beatrice Kones for Bomet East MP. She came in through a by-election following the death of her husband, former Cabinet minister Kipkalya Kones.

Ms Alicen Jematian Chelaite beat odds to rise from a house help to serve as elected councillor and first woman mayor in Nakuru. She later served as an assistant minister.

Prof Margaret Kamar, Deputy Speaker in the Senate, former MPs Prof Hellen Sambili, Ms Peris Simam and the late Ms Grace Kipchoim are other trailblazers from the Rift Valley.

Ms Peris Tobiko overcame cultural barriers to win the Kajiado East MP seat despite threats of being cursed by elders. She became the first woman to be elected legislator in the Maasai community.

Former nominated MP Naisula Lesuuda also made history as the first Samburu woman to be elected to Parliament when she clinched the Samburu West seat in the last General Election.

But before them was the legendary MP Jelagat Mutai, a fiery politician who left an indelible mark as the first woman to be elected to parliament in the Kalenjin Rift Valley.