By Lilian Wamuyu
When breaking news flashed on our screens on the resignation of Polycarp Igathe, the then Deputy Governor for Nairobi County, the news was received with a mixed feel. To the critics of the duo, this move was long overdue while to those who had supported this partnership, this was a political catastrophe.
But even before the dust had settled down, the Governor of Nairobi Mike Mbuvi Sonko pulled another shocker to residents of Nairobi when he posted on his social media accounts a list of names of candidates asking the residents of Nairobi to assist him in picking his deputy.
While as many names on the list were well known individuals in the political or public scene, the name of Agnes Kagure Kariuki seemed to attract a high degree of curiosity. Kenyans took to the internet to find more information on who the business lady Agnes Kagure was. During the period, her name ranked top on google searches and was trending across various online and offline media channels.
In light that the position of the deputy governor of Nairobi County remaining vacant to date, we sought her out to find who she is.
Agnes’ childhood and upbringing
Born in a family with no known profile, Agnes defied the socio-economic, and cultural odds to redefine, reshape, and redirect her destiny. This is clearly evident in her early schooling life in Nyeri. During her early days in school, Agnes realized yet another challenge that she had to surmount. In a period when girls were not so much encouraged to go to school, she had to carry the label of being a girl and satisfy her quest for education.
She therefore did all the household chores such as fetching water, working in the farm, fetching firewood, cooking, and most importantly ensuring that her school work was done like other children her age. This made her realize early in life that hard work is not only a virtue but also pays. As a result, she endeavoured to be among the top in class throughout her primary and secondary education.
Her education was not devoid of challenges. Being sent away from school due to lack of fees was a common phenomenon. This did not deter her from personal development. Many parents of her like during those days had low levels of education and low income and hence did not see any need to struggle taking a girl to school. Their main focus was sustaining the family on the basics such as food, shelter, and clothing thus relegating education to the least in their priorities.
At this point during our interview, she takes a reflective pose then continues with her response. “My secondary school fees was paid by a good Samaritan in the name of Revered Bernard Muindi who educated me through high school. This was through interventions of a good neighbor who I still hold in high esteem. The late Revered Muindi became like a father to me since then. This kind of love from a stranger (who was not even from my community) greatly influenced my life to date. He taught me love, honesty, what it means to share however little you have with the less fortunate in the society, hard work and caring for others. He also taught me on how to be tough, professional and never ever give up on what is right.”
Only this last month Agnes was elected the patron of the Kenya University Students Organisation in a competitive process and in a grand event that was attended by Governor Mike Sonko among other leaders. In her maiden speech, she called upon the students’ leaders to take advantage of their positions to advocate for better policies in different institutions such as HELB to enhance good and quality education.
Although there is a cloud hanging on her Bachelor’s degree from Chiang Mai Rajabhat University as reported by a section of the media, that Agnes was not part of the 2014 graduates, she termed this allegation as fake news perpetrated by those envious of her success. Our team found the basis to this allegation to an individual who had claimed to be an advocate of the High court of Kenya but the Law Society secretariat put out a notice that the individual was not on the Society’s Roll thus denting the credibility of the source.
Career options were limited at the time when Agnes was growing up and she notes that none of the leading professional jobs such as teaching, nursing, banking, house help or farm labourer was appealing to her. She confesses that as much as she was not certain on what career path she would follow, it was certainly not one of those cut out jobs for young women back then.
In 1995, after completing her secondary school, Agnes travelled to Nairobi for the first time. It was during this visit that by sheer luck or coincidence that she bumped into a newspaper advert requesting for sales agents in one of the top insurance companies, ALICO. Though the position had stated that eligible candidates should be 25 years and over, Agnes who was only 20 years decided to give it a try. To her surprise, and to what she calls God’s grace, she landed her very first job as an insurance sales agent.
“There were obstacles in the course of selling insurance including pay based on commissions, identifying potential clients, and of course knowing the geography of Nairobi as a new entrant but in all these I persevered, and learnt the ropes of the business. I put all my efforts in the job and with time, I become among the best insurance agents in the country of our time. It is said that if you are given lemon, squeeze them and make best lemonade. So I have excelled in the insurance industry and as they say the rest is history,” she remarks.
The highlight of her career was marked when she was named Top 40 Women Under 40 by the Business Daily in 2011. She notes that this was a turning point in her life although she connects this great achievement to a process that had been marked by hard work, perseverance, determination and many other wins. This is evident from the many trophies and awards that decorates her office.
Agnes credits her achievements to the company she had worked for, “fortunately, the company I was working for as a sales agent was good at appreciating the efforts we were putting in. What you see are trophies awarded to me over time, besides other incentives like Trips, monetary awards and other forms of rewards. These are some of the awards that helped me remain focused, becoming a consistent award winner.”
With the networks she had established and years of experience, she transitioned into business and ventured into the same insurance industry; a field that she had conquered but still presented many prospects for business and growth. Her business has expanded over the years and she currently has her hands on the hospitality and real estate development.
Politics and Leadership
Agnes’ role in leadership has been prominent as a business leader in the corporate world. This has allowed her to gain more social capital, learning and participating in rebuilding society from economic, political, and social spheres. It is with no doubt that when the office of the deputy governor for Nairobi fell vacant, her contribution to the society was recognized, and this made her name feature among many other proposed candidates from Governor Mike Sonko.
This is a highly political and competitive position where only men and women from prominent families would have been considered. It is for this reason that residents of Nairobi County wondered who is Agnes Kagure? This further explains the curiosity of many Kenyans taking into social media to find more information about her. It was in fact interesting that her name ranked top on google searches and was trending on social media for record days after Governor Sonko put her name across.
During the interview, she noted that she was not surprised when her name was proposed. In her words, “I have known, the Governor of Nairobi since he was the Senator of Nairobi, having interacted with him on many occasions during the campaigns while marshalling political support for the ruling party. That is the time I believe he could have identified potential political leadership qualities that I possess. Since then, we have met in many other forums, all geared towards addressing development issues for the country.
Therefore, I could not be surprised in him considering me for the Deputy Governor’s position. He knows my capability and potential to deputize him in order to manage the city of Nairobi. Together with Governor Mbuvi Sonko, we can transform the city of Nairobi into a vibrant modern city. I was glad to learn that he greatly appreciates the work we have done together.”
Agnes is hopeful that if Nairobi County government accorded her the opportunity to serve as the Deputy Governor, she will add value to the vision of the county by exploiting its potential. In our interview, she touched on rebranding the Nairobi National Park so as to capture the wider representation of our wildlife heritage; particularly she highlighted her desire for Nairobi city to invest in the game park as well as exploit the advantage that Nairobi is home to UN headquarters in Africa; a rare privilege many cities would love to hold. But more importantly, she touched on investing in hard working citizens of Nairobi as this will be an added advantage in exploiting their energies, determination, and dedication to developing the city.
Agnes believes that given the opportunity to serve the residents of Nairobi, she will work in collaboration with the county management to address key areas which would be critical in rebranding and rebuilding the city.
“Nairobi is a beautiful city which has a lot of potential”, she says.
Her pick on Nairobi County government
Agnes opinion on the current state of performance of Nairobi County was not only optimistic but also appealing. She highlighted that although the city of Nairobi is going through a rough time, she has full confidence that the county’s leadership has what it takes in dealing with the challenges at hand. She blamed this on the cartels that have used Nairobi County as a cash cow which some people have used to enrich themselves but not to serve the people of Nairobi.
Allegations and Scandals
Although there are various allegations that have been linked to her name she dismisses them as fabrications to smear her well deserved reputation.
It is evident that Agnes has been in the frontline in supporting social justice causes that advance the rights and progress of the less fortunate in society. In the course of preparing this story, our team had accompanied her in one of her charity missions where she was distributing shoes and other stuff to disadvantaged children in Nyeri. This she says is a commitment she made to use what she has to bless others and as a way of giving back to her community.
Agnes believes that bottom line, success is being able to serve her country and contribute to its socio- economic growth. She emphasizes that this includes the basics such as being able to afford food at the table, take her children to good schools, and contribute to the least fortunate. It is being able to achieve her desired visions and planned goals in life while helping others to do the same.
In her life she wears many hats and as a wife, a mother of two, a woman she has the ability to balance personal responsibilities and public interests. This she achieves by prioritizing her time and focusing on the things that she considers important to her life. She underscored the need to be disciplined and the advantage that women have the ability to multi task.
Agnes advises young people to believe in themselves. In so doing, she emphasizes on the following pointers;
Your success will be determined by your own confident and fortitude.
Do not underestimate your capability and the role you can play in the community and our country.
Always stay true to yourself and never let anybody distract you from your goals. Never invest any energy on negative attacks.
Remember you matter. You were created in God’s image, so do not afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Keep hope alive. Empower yourself with good education in order to go out there and be the best all you can be.
Choose people who will lift you up and not push you down.
Work hard for what you want in life. There is no such thing as free ugali.
Remember you word is your bond and do what you say you are going to do.
Treat people with dignity and respect, even when you do not know them or agree with them.
Being a woman you have to invest time in understanding who you are and liking yourself. I have learnt to love myself to succeed.
Finally have fun and live because life is too short to stay gloomy.