Anne Waiguru: What matters most to me - VIDEO

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Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru during the interview at her home in Nairobi on September 12, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

One of the unexpected things about meeting Anne Waiguru is that she is funny. An unexpected humour that’s often self-deprecating. It reveals itself like a flash in the pan, and then it’s gone, cloaked in the officiousness of her position as the (second-term) Governor of Kirinyaga County.

It’s a humour that is wedged away in a taciturn resume: former Director of Integrated Financial Management and Information Systems [IFMIS]; Head of Governance, National Treasury; Technical Advisor, Cabinet Secretary; Senior Public Sector Manager/ Vice president, Citigroup; recipient of the Order Of the Grand Warrior. She considers herself more of a technocrat, not a politician.

Under a large yellow-back acacia tree at the edge of her sprawling residence in Nairobi’s Kitisuru, she considers her politics, politics of the State, and humans because isn’t humanity a form of politics in its own way?

It’s easy to look at her through one prism, but then you risk not seeing her. She doesn’t seem to mind a whole lot, though.

“I was long affirmed by my dad when I was a child,” she says. Her deceased father, a quiet man, was a policeman.

“He built my confidence by listening to me.” For she who is listened to is seen, she implies.

“I was already seen when I needed to be seen.”

What kind of young lady were you growing up?

I was a simple child, focused on doing well in school. I was always at the top of my class. I was very confident and outspoken. I was daddy’s girl, I guess.

Growing up in Nairobi’s Eastlands, I did everyday things. I’d do my homework quickly to play kati or blada in the parking lot.

I went to Precious Blood Girls High School. I didn't like history and literature. I dropped history for geography as soon as I could.

My ambition was to do maths, geography, and economics and end up in finance. I performed very well, and my dad said, “There aren’t many kidney specialists in the country.”

Because he was ailing, I said I’d become a doctor and treat him.  Instead, I studied agriculture and home economics at the university. I got saved in my first year and joined the Christian Union. I was lucky to end up in a hostel room with two strong Christians.

What was your issue with history?

History just didn’t stick in my head. Michelangelo [Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the most brilliant artists of the Italian Renaissance], I didn’t understand why we were studying about him. It wasn’t African history.

Then we were required to cram the years…who did what between 1764 and 1790. I couldn’t keep those years in my head. I liked the stories, but I didn’t want to have to cram the years. I’m good at principles.

That’s why I do well in economics. Once you understand the principle, you apply it across the board, and you can reason and shift things. But history was fixed. It’s that date, that person, and that year.

You mentioned that your dad built your confidence, how did he do that?

My dad was a great man. He was an affirming father. He was a policeman who listened more and talked less. I always talked, and he listened patiently every time I’d talk his ears off.

He did the small things that matter. If I asked for a school bag, he’d buy it. If new Bata shoes come out, he’d get a pair for me. He would say, “If you’re number one, you’ll get it.” Of course, I would become number one, so I got things.

How did his death impact your life?

I was devastated. I didn't go back to school. I refused to sit my mock exams. I just went for my final. I was only 18 years old when he died.

If you had a chance to ask your dad one question now, what would that be?

Dad, what do you think about me being in politics? Is it a good thing? How do you think my son is doing? Should he choose that career? Dad, would you like to talk to him?

Yeah, those kinds of questions, especially now when I tell them [children] something and they don't listen. But he would probably not even tell them anything. He was not one to say much; he listened more.

During your time in salvation, in the Christian Union...

Why are you assuming that I left? (Laughter)...during the season when you were a Christian and now that you're not...( Laughter). Why do you assume I backslid?

Are your friends back then in the Christian Union surprised that you're a politician?

At the beginning, yeah. I'm still surprised. (Chuckles). It wasn't planned. I never thought of myself as a politician. I saw myself as a civil servant. My ambition at some point was to join the civil service and become a PS [principal secretary].

Luckily for me, where I went to work, I started some consultancies and had a stint at the World Bank, which brought me into government as an advisor.

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Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru during the interview at her home in Nairobi on September 12, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

So, that's how I got into the civil service. I got into it almost full-time and had to leave the World Bank assignment.

Then, my secondment was taken over by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which was paying for all the consultants in the Office of the President.

I was posted to the Treasury and soon left civil service because I got a job at Citigroup, Citibank. I remember Joseph Kinyua [former Head of Public Service] calling me, asking, "What are you doing in Citibank?"I said, "I'm working". And he asked, "Why?" I said, "It's a lot easier- less politics, good pay and good perks."

I was assistant vice president then, and I was young. There was a clear career path in front of me, and I was heading the public sector section. I had a nice mortgage, a nice Mercedes Benz car, and all those nice perks. Why change it?

But he told me, "I don't think you were made to keep keys to a vault." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah, prepare to come back to the civil service. Stop sitting out there complaining about what we could do. Come and do it." I left Citigroup and came back to the Treasury.

What has surprised you most about politics?

People. There is all manner of characters in politics. You will get people who are charismatic, dull, very intelligent, people who are not so intelligent, honest people, very dishonest people, people with good intentions. You’ll get those who are full of trickery and malice.

Then you will get people who are focused and ambitious. If you look at other careers, say, medicine, you get the same kind of people with the same temperament. Most doctors are A students the world over. They are bright and with the same temperament- they’re tempered.

Not so in politics. It’s a mixed bag.

The other thing about politics is the expectations of people on politicians. We elevate politicians here in Kenya. It’s a big thing to be elected, don’t misunderstand me, but we put them almost above everything else.

Let me give you an example. If, say, I attend the wedding of Rita’s sisters (Rita is her Chief-of-Staff). When I get there, I will be sat in front and given the mic to say something. I mean, I don’t even know her!

I only went because Rita invited me. You understand? We over-elevate it. You know, there’ll probably be somebody in that crowd who would be better placed to say something than me, the politician, but they will give you a mic.

I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Maybe what it does is that it makes many people want to become politicians, and then there is an over-demand or competition for the job, not so much because of what you can do when you get that post, but because of that status thing.

How has politics changed you?

I try hard for it not to change me. It has disillusioned me. When I sit, sometimes I think, can the things that matter be changed?

I have an excellent sounding board, people who will prod me, who will say, “What did you say? Is that you?” I keep the same social circle that is not fascinated by politicians, who tell me things as they are. That keeps my feet on the ground.

Anne Waiguru: My dad talked very little but he was an affirming dad

What shakes your confidence now?

Is my confidence ever shaken? I [Pause]... Maybe, let’s say the thing that sobers me is the realisation of how little you control. And when you accept that from an early age, little shakes you.

I have a pragmatic way of looking at things. There are things I can change and things that I can’t.

For example, you may want to be a parent of two boys and one girl, but you only sire boys. There’s really nothing you can do about it.

The same is the case with how your children turn out. You can parent the best way, counsel them, and take them to good schools, but you can’t quite determine their choices when they’re out of your shelter.

It doesn’t shake my confidence. What it does is that it increases my faith in God. I try very hard to always remind myself that I’m not God; I can only do the best I can; what I can’t control, I can’t control.

There’s nothing I can do about it. And I don’t get flustered about things I can’t do anything about.

I suppose, as a governor, it must be easy for one to acquire the God effect, how do you handle that possibility?

Because I’m aware that this is temporary. We’ve seen presidents come and go. I don’t look at politics as a lifetime career. I’m clear that I will cut it off sooner than later. Sooner than most people think.

Yeah. Because I don’t think this is all there is in life. There’s a lot more you can do that is meaningful and has an impact other than politics. I mean, how many people can do what you’re doing? Many. You have to be careful not to be pushed towards the direction which other people should go.

Maybe I’m clear now. Maybe in five years, I won’t be. But at least I’m clear that politics is not eternal and not the only thing. There’s an analogy about a caterpillar. Have you ever thought about what a caterpillar is thinking while eating its leaves for days before it coils in a cocoon to sleep, then wakes up and flies like a butterfly?

It’s easy to limit yourself to what you can do or see and how life can be a little bit more liberating, freeing, and happy because we stay as caterpillars.

Are you a caterpillar or you're a butterfly now?

I'm a caterpillar, but heading towards the cocoon stage.

Do you miss leading a normal life, doing normal things, away from scrutiny?

I miss that. I can’t just walk in a mall. People will stare or stop me for selfies. I miss the privacy of going to sit at the food court. While staying in Runda, I’d walk every Saturday morning to Ridgeways, go around Windsor, and come back.

Now I don’t know if I can do that - maybe I can if I wear a hat and shades. I can’t go swimming in a hotel swimming pool like I used to when I worked at the Treasury.

Imagine being on vacation, and I cannot swim. Can you imagine if I wore a costume and someone took a photo and posted it? I’d trend on social media.

Would you do this all over again if you lived another life? Would you still be a politician?

I think so. You know you're not given a choice. I make it [politics] sound terrible. It's not all gloom. As I said, it has an impact on you and your life. But there is no other way to contribute to change like you can when you're at my level.

And it's not all politicians. It's a certain level. Like now, when you're a governor, you can directly make a difference in people's lives, right? If you're a civil servant in a senior position, you can have something impactful. For example, the government wanted to set up an IFMIS system as early as 2002.

They tried four times. I was given the assignment around 2010, and in two and a half years, we managed to set up the system that is in use today. IFMIS manages the government's financial system as a whole. When you do something like that, you feel good that you have played your part in service.

I set up Huduma centres. I'm happy that I was able to do something like that. You can only have opportunities like that in politics, public service, and governance.

Somebody commented the other day, "Oh, you've done so much for Kirinyaga. I wish you could do another term." I said, "No, I don't want to do another term." Why would I want to do another term? Ten years is enough. Let someone else come and do the next bit because you don't have the monopoly on thinking.

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Who's been your most prominent mentor?

Have I really been mentored? I have people I look up to; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is one of my mentors and coaches. She put me in one of the teams of the women leaders in Africa. She holds their hands, encourages them to do great things wherever they are, and brings others along.

But that’s just been a relationship for the last three years. It’s still going on. We pray for her long life. I remember the person who played a key part in my joining politics is Maison Leshoomo [ former Samburu Women Representative].

She used to tell me, “You have to join politics.” I’d tell her I would never join politics, and when I left Cabinet, almost every week, once a day, she’d visit me to tell me nothing else other than, “You need to join politics. In fact, you need to go to the county.”

When I finally joined, she’d tell me, “You need to talk to so and so…now go and meet women. She’d see me on TV and say, “You don’t say everything in politics...” She mentored me to some extent, but I’ve also had good friends.

What have you learned about power, so far?

It's dangerous. Be careful with it. It's a double-edged sword. And it can cut both ways so don't move your eyes from the ball. And keep your conscience clear. And if you forget everything else, remember it's not permanent.

Successful Roman Generals back from war would ride around the streets of Rome, getting celebrated and ululated. They had a slave standing behind them to occasionally whisper in their ear 'remember you're just a man.” Who is that slave for you who whispers in your ear that you are just a mere mortal?

My husband, Kamotho Waiganjo. He has a way of looking at you when you do something and then looking down. My children as well. I have intense children, especially my eldest son. He's grounded, and he's clear on certain things.

What are you struggling with as a person in this season of your life?

Expectations. People think I should do politics more while I think I should do it less. Also, expectations to meet the financial needs of everybody.

People will start their text messages with, ‘Governor, we elected you, we campaigned for you, I supported you…’ Those expectations are hard.

Because politics is what it is, you have found yourself dragged in the mud. When people insult you online, does it hurt you or do you just shrug it off? How do you handle it?

In the beginning, I was very disappointed. It doesn't bother me now. I call such people a momentary distraction. Sometimes, I get irritated, but I try not to get hurt by people who are not important in my life. If somebody calls me a name, that's not a big deal.

I'm not on social media; therefore, I'm not concerned by how much I'm liked and not liked. I learned that in this country, it's difficult to separate genuine expressions from those paid for by someone. Generally, I protect my heart and mind.

Why do you play golf?

I love golf. First of all, it means getting out, and there are not many places you can get out and walk long distances in a very, quiet, serene environment.

I like the game because it's a mind game. It's like chess. You calculate and you play against yourself. If you don't have a clear mind, not focused, you'll play a terrible game that day.

What have you learned about yourself playing golf?

I'm not patient. Golf tries your patience. You’d imagine that if you played golf often then you should automatically improve, right? It doesn't happen. You play well today, and badly tomorrow, you need to be patient, to go back another time to try again. And going back teaches you tenacity.

Then you try different courses because every course is different. I play mostly with my girlfriends and my husband on Sundays. I also persuaded my children to play and they enjoyed it. It's a good time to catch up with them, especially being that they are young men.

Men are not generally very talkative. If you want to hold undistracted conversation, golf is a good place. Once you hit the ball and you have to walk the 250 yards, you will get talking.

"So, how's your girlfriend? Oh, really? Is that what happened? So, you're not talking? Okay. So now it's going to end? What are your grades looking like? Why aren't you making an effort? Do you really think life is that simple?"

What are you unlearning now in life?

Not to be controlling. To let things be. Not everything can be overly structured. If you try to be controlling, it doesn't work.

How do you control children who are out of the home? Or their environments. Or who they befriend. You know when they are young and in your house, you will say, "I don't want to see you with this person." But once they move out, you learn to be less controlling and let God be.

What's your maxim on money?

It's not everything. And there's only so much that you need. It can be an endless pursuit. Yeah. For what? You won't carry it after 70, after 80 years. You can only eat one plate of ugali.

The important thing is to be comfortable, but not to over-accumulate. You determine the threshold of what kind of life you want to live and then just live it. But I'm not of the view that I should be very wealthy.

The wealthier you are, the more stressed you are. How to protect it, how to grow it, how to...beyond a certain point [of wealth] you should get involved in philanthropy.

Lastly, what do you wish people knew about you?

That Kamotho and I met when I was at the Treasury. And we were dating even when I was in the Cabinet. All those rumours you heard were lies.

The other thing people don't know is that I love dancing. That I still have my friends from the last 40 years. My Form One friends are still my best friends. My university roommates are still my best friends. And that my children don't get allowances.

People think I'm mean but I am trying to teach them to live. But they say that it is not practical because of who they are and where they were brought up and I asked them, "Who are you and how have you been brought up?" That has worked out well.

I want you to describe the day you met your husband and what made you decide on him.

It wasn’t a day. I knew him while we were both married. We had met in the chapel circles and he was in the lawyers’ circle, the Christian lawyers’ circle. I knew him from there because my ex was also in that circle.

Then much later when we were writing the Constitution they needed somebody to help with the finance chapter and I was sent from the Treasury to go and assist the technical team that he was leading.

That is where we started arguing because he was trying to tell me what to write, and I told him, "Since you are the expert, write it. Why were you calling me from the Treasury if you think you know?" We took a few bets on some clauses, I won a few. Then from there, we became friends.

I insisted for about three years that I was not interested in dating. We were good friends. We used to say we're just coffeeing, right? So people would ask what are you doing? I'd say I'm coffeeing. I had told him I had no desire to get married again, that I was raising my children, I had a career path. So, he fit the bill. He was a good friend.

What’s your extravagance?

Gold that I don’t wear. I’ve worn these earrings for the last 12 years. Once in a while on weekends, I’ll change them. But I like jewellery and handbags which I don’t carry because I can carry one handbag for all occasions.

But I will still see one handbag and I tell myself please don’t buy that handbag and I’ll still buy it.

I like nice dresses. I like them not long, short, but now I have them in my wardrobe because I can’t wear them anywhere. So I wait until I’m out of the country on holiday to wear them when I’m with my husband and children.

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