From Machakos to the top of UK academic excellence

Dr Jacinta Victoria Muinde kneels during her doctorate studies graduation at the University of Cambridge on November 30, 2019.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Dr Muinde is the winner of the 2020 Audrey Richards Prize for the best PhD thesis in African Studies for her research on the impact of cash transfers to women and children in Kenya.
  • The prestigious Audrey Richards Prize, which is given every two years in honour of the late renowned British anthropologist, fetes scholars with compelling and well-written doctoral theses on African Studies in  British universities.

When Jacinta Victoria Muinde scored 507 of the possible 700 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and topped in the 1999 class at Liani Primary School in Machakos County, she had no idea that she had acquired a critical key to succeeding in life.

To a large extent, the naive girl who earned a PhD degree last year had set out on a journey that would see her shatter glass ceilings in academia.

Dr Muinde is the winner of the 2020 Audrey Richards Prize for the best PhD thesis in African Studies for her research on the impact of cash transfers to women and children in Kenya.

The African Studies Association of the United Kingdom (ASAUK), which administers the award, sent the world into celebration a week ago when it broke the news to its Twitter followers.

“The Audrey Richards Prize for the Best Thesis in African Studies in the UK goes to @JVictoriaMuinde for her thesis: An economy of (Dis)Affection: Women-Headed Households, Cash Transfers and Matrilineal Relations in Kenya’s South Coast,” ASAUK tweeted on September 10.

The prestigious Audrey Richards Prize, which is given every two years in honour of the late renowned British anthropologist, fetes scholars with compelling and well-written doctoral theses on African Studies in  British universities.

A social anthropologist who is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oslo in Norway, Dr Muinde had submitted the dissertation she had used last year to acquire her PhD degree at the University of Cambridge for consideration for the prize.

Inua Jamii

Her study explores how the government’s raft of cash transfer programmes dubbed Inua Jamii have impacted on gender relations, contributed to kin-making relations, and informed women’s economic lives and their narratives and practices of health and wellbeing in the matrilineal and Islamic context of the Kenyan communities living in the Msambweni region of Kwale County.

It demonstrates that cash transfers help women challenge gender roles. Thanks to them, Dr Muinde says, many women in Msambweni are running small businesses. Inua Jamii has also enabled women to develop handy financial reporting skills: striking a balance between the income from the cash transfers and their household expenditures. She, however, notes that cash transfers alone cannot trigger or sustain meaningful economic and social wellbeing and progress.

“The beneficiaries of the cash transfers need more than the money offered by the schemes. Governments should reinforce investments in, and ensure access to, quality healthcare services, education and other basic services and utilities,” she told the Sunday Nation in an email interview.

Deep insights

The award committee at ASAUK commended Dr Muinde’s work as “well-written” and “an inspired piece of research which gives unexpected and deep insights into the challenges of economic survival and livelihoods of communities living in Kenyan coastal communities”.

Dr Muinde, 34, follows in the footsteps of Dr Fibian Lukalo, director of Research and Advocacy at the National Lands Commission, who won the Audrey Richards Prize in 2012 for her PhD thesis: Educating Daughters, Educating Sons: Mothers and Schooling in Rural Kenya.

Winners of the prestigious award receive a certificate and a generous package of books and journal vouchers.

Dr Muinde went to Vyulya Girls High School in Machakos County and Maseno University, where she studied anthropology.

pmaundu@ke.nationmedia.com