Kenya and her First Ladies

We are yet to get an exemplary First Lady

In Summary

• Rachel Ruto trended for claiming the shilling strengthened due to prayers

Aerial Kenya Airforce at a past event
Aerial Kenya Airforce at a past event
Image: PCS

I don't believe Kenya has had a good First Lady. In the 60 years since Independence, Kenya has had five First Ladies, namely: Ngina Kenyatta, Lena Moi, Lucy Kibaki, Margaret Kenyatta and Rachel Ruto. Lena Moi was only First Lady during Moi’s accession to the seat but the position was technically vacant for the 24 years President Moi held office.

The first First Lady was the fourth and last wife of President Kenyatta. Why was she the one named First Lady instead of the other three? Records show that Ngina’s marriage to Kenyatta was mainly a strategic alliance to increase his popularity and claim for the presidential seat. He also divorced his second wife and his third wife died during childbirth. Little is known about Kenyatta’s first wife except she was the mother of his firstborn son.

That made Ngina Kenyatta by default the first First Lady. While Mama Ngina lives primarily outside of the public eye, there have been a lot of rumours speculating the acquisition of her vast wealth over the years. Finally in 2021, the Kenayattas’ wealth was alleged not to be ‘innocent inheritance’ after all. The Pandora Papers claimed the mother and son duo, among other family members, were linked to several offshore companies and accounts.

Although much is spoken about Ngina Kenyatta in hushed tones, since the beginning of her reign in 1964, it has been made a taboo to speak about the former First Lady in a negative manner. We might talk about Ngina Kenyatta a lot in the future but being a great First Lady is not it.  

Former First Lady Lucy Kibaki is unfortunately not remembered in the most positive of ways. Since her public meltdown in 2009, where she called a press conference and made President Kibaki vehemently deny having another wife and proclaim that she was in fact his only legal spouse. That was before she stormed the Standard Group offices and was caught on video assaulting a journalist. Consequently, little was seen or heard of Karoocy until her death in 2016.

Some might argue that Margaret Kenyatta was a wonderful First Lady. Well, she was certainly the best in the bunch, but was she exemplary? No. Margaret was in my words ‘playing the game of thrones’. She was not seen or heard of before and after her husband’s time in office. She showed up, she did her part, read her script and receded into the shadows.

Like her predecessors, Maggie was portrayed as a social activist, doing what the mother of the nation is supposed to do. She showed interest and participated in social issues that did not fall into the President’s dossier. She participated in events and had enough screen time to present a good image without overshadowing the President. She cared for women, children and plants and largely stayed off politics.

Rachel Ruto has been somewhat of an enigma in her short reign. We can not figure her out. Is she trying to get attention? Does she believe the attention she’s getting is good press? Is she a decoy from the dissatisfaction with the current regime? Alas, we cannot tell.

Last weekend, Rachel Ruto was trending on social media for stating that the shilling strengthening against the dollar was the result of prayer. It's not a surprise, really; Rachel has presented herself as a prayer warrior from day one. While her image works for her fan base, she needs to understand that she is the mother of a nation and, therefore, a representative for all of us, not just members of a particular religion.

In all honesty, most of us are befuddled by the Ruto family’s insatiable desire for publicity. They are the most public family in office, it’s like they feed off giving the social media warriors something to talk about. I think the first family is a little too excited for their new role and have forgotten that their job is to be the supporting cast and not the main characters. Children are to be seen and not heard from. Wives are supposed to sit on the left of the President and read off the speech without going off-script.

We look forward to the day Kenya will have an exemplary First Lady, who will do her bit without any negative feedback.

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