Ideas & Debate

Gathungu’s appointment affirms women leadership

New Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu
New Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG 

I was pleased to see Nancy Gathungu accede to the high office of the Auditor General to join the ranks of numerous other women already serving in important public and private offices. Women leadership in any country is a reflection of national dignity, stability and continuity, for indeed women have an innate quality that reassures the population that all will indeed be fine.

And in the case of Ms Gathungu the assurance Kenyans are after is that their taxes will be correctly accounted for. Her predecessor, Edward Ouko did a difficult job excellently and honourably, and I am sure she will similarly deliver good performance. Having grown on the job makes her suitable for the task for she understands where the real issues are, enabling her to hit the ground running.

Women, despite their capabilities and qualifications, have not always found it easy to rise to deserved high offices, not just here in Kenya but in nearly all parts of the world. This is a historical issue of either men frustrating women’s rightful career ambitions, or women dithering in confidence to go for high offices. It is an issue of breaking long held traditions and biases, while as much as possible proactively facilitating deserving women to smoothly progress their careers to the highest potential possible.

When the Mzungu colonial was around, it was a norm to predestine women careers towards teaching, nursing, or office secretarial jobs. Executive and technical jobs were usually the preserve of men, and this was the norm in both public and private sectors, and this prevailed after independence. With the exception of a few, women generally accepted this destiny and scaled down their education ambitions accordingly.

I will narrate a real case story of how far we have come in accepting women into senior jobs. In 1981, as the supply planning and economics manager in Esso Oil Company, I needed to recruit a corporate planning analyst, a management development position. The usual expectation was that the applicants would be all men as traditionally women in the oil industry worked in secretarial or clerical level jobs. It was a surprise to see an application from a young lady who had just graduated from Nairobi University in economics. Her name was Mary Mukindia, and she was the best applicant.


The interviewing team asked me if I was ready to undertake the experiment of coaching her into a management-ready woman, an experience not undertaken before. I accepted the challenge and by 1986 Ms Mukindia was a departmental manager sitting at the same management table with us. I had told her that if she succeeded, she would open avenues for women careers in the oil industry, which actually happened, as other oil companies were observing how the big experiment at Esso was progressing.

It sounds a mundane story, but in those days it was a milestone for gender equity. Mary went on to establish the Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA) and later was CEO of National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK).

Yes, women can rise to the highest positions, whether public or private. All that is required is for men and women in positions of responsibility to make it happen without bias or premeditated obstructions. Women on their part must work as hard, if not harder, to justify fair consideration, well aware that bias may take longer to undo.

And women, in their own merit, have indeed demonstrated that it can be done. We have many women in leadership positions in private and public sectors. In elective politics, women should use their merit to compete and succeed, and rely less on nominations which carry little or no public mandate.

However, I am impressed by the way the President has appointed young women as Chief Administrative Secretaries (CAS) as training positions to grow political leadership talents. This is empowerment for future women leadership

Yes, men should accept that women can and will deliver in virtually any field, including the highest position on the land. We need to look not at the gender, but credentials.

As for Nancy Gathungu, congratulations on your appointment. The country has waited for an Auditor General for quite a while, and a backlog of work is waiting to be cleared .