What you need to know:
- Since she floored 12 men to become Speaker – among them Mr Zack Njeru, who was thought to be Governor Kinuthia Mbugua’s preferred candidate – Ms Kihika has turned out to be one of the most powerful individuals in Nakuru and beyond.
- In 2006 she was admitted to the bar and licensed to practise in all courts in the State of Texas and in the US Federal Courts.
- Away from work, the Nakuru County Speaker is an outdoor person who loves nature and activities like rock climbing, hiking, boating and camping.
She may have missed an opportunity to extend her father’s political legacy when she lost the Bahati parliamentary election in the March elections, but Ms Susan Wakarura Kihika’s stature has grown.
She may also be slight of frame but Ms Kihika, 39, calls the shots as the Nakuru County Assembly Speaker.
Just like her father Dixon Kihika Kimani dominated the politics of Nakuru and was influential on the national stage in the 1970s and 1980s, Ms Kihika is slowly emerging as the “Iron Lady” of Nakuru County politics.
Since she floored 12 men to become Speaker – among them Mr Zack Njeru, who was thought to be Governor Kinuthia Mbugua’s preferred candidate – Ms Kihika has turned out to be one of the most powerful individuals in Nakuru and beyond.
As the chair of the County Assembly Vetting and Approval Committee on Appointments, she showed she was made of stern stuff when she led the House to reject six nominees to the Executive Committee submitted by Governor Mbugua on the grounds that their nomination was flawed.
Mr Mbugua was forced to eat humble pie and submit a fresh list, which was eventually approved by the assembly last week.
“I have nothing personal against the governor but while I’m still the Speaker of this honourable Assembly, I will continue to stick to the rules. That is why I want Members of County Assembly (MCA) to play their oversight role on the Executive without fear or favour,” says the alumnus of Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls’ High School in Nyeri County.
“I think most people assume I am a rigid lady. However, if they knew a little bit more about me, they would find out that even though I am a no-nonsense person, I also enjoy a good laugh and above all I am easy-going,” she told the Sunday Nation.
The mother of two girls, Tiffany, 15, and Ashley, 13, says balancing the roles of mother and politician is like sitting on a knife’s edge.
“I feel so sad when I’m not there for my lovely queens. As a mother, I sometimes feel as though I am giving them a raw deal. Most of the time I am out on assignments, holding a series of meetings and by the time I arrive home, they are already asleep or tired,” she says.
To bridge this gap, she has taken time to explain the nature of her work to her children.
“I want my children also to understand the importance of hard work. Sometimes I see no better teacher for children than their parents,” she adds.
The joy of motherhood is splashed all over her face as she points out that having the two daughters was the best decision she made in life.
She says her worst moment in life was being away during her father’s sunset years.
“I came to see my sick dad after spending 20 years in the US. Seeing him struggling in his death bed, I kept asking myself, ‘was it worth staying away from home for more than two decades only to come home when he is sick?’ I wish I had more time with him,” she says. Mr Kihika Kimani died in 2004.
What are her memories of her father?
“First, I don’t remember him as a politician, but as a loving father, my best friend and a humourist with no equal. He loved a good laugh and when you see me laughing aloud then you know where I inherited it from,” she says, adding that her father was also a no-nonsense straight talker.
Mr Kihika Kimani’s most notorious moment was in 1976 when he led the unsuccessful Change the Constitution movement that was seen as an attempt to block then Vice-President Daniel arap Moi from succeeding ailing President Jomo Kenyatta.
And it is law that his daughter opted to study after leaving high school in 1992. While growing up at Engashura, she had made up her mind to become a lawyer and venture into politics like her maverick father.
“Just like my father, I like speaking my mind and he always insisted that I should be a lawyer. I remember one day I came home during the school holidays and I told him I wanted to pursue engineering. He said a big no,” she recalls.
Instead of joining the University of Nairobi, where she had secured admission, she went to the US in 1994. But America’s strict education rules forced her to first enrol for a political science degree at the University of North Texas before pursuing a law degree at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
In 2006 she was admitted to the bar and licensed to practise in all courts in the State of Texas and in the US Federal Courts.
In the same year, she was employed as a prosecutor at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, where she served for four years. She applied for the job while in her last semester at the university, and went through a rigorous interview that included a mock prosecution before a jury.
“You can imagine they assigned the interviewees those cases which they called ‘a dog’, which basically meant the facts were so bad for the State and there were high chances of not getting a guilty verdict,” she recalls, adding that her passion led her to secure a guilty verdict.
As a black person, a foreigner and a woman, Ms Kihika is still surprised she secured the prosecutor’s job in Dallas.
Her journey to becoming the chief prosecutor started with misdemeanor cases before taking on crimes such as murder, manslaughter, violent robbery, rape and assault.
“I have always had two loves in my career: political science and law. That is why I have kept the fire burning until I achieve my goals of life,” she told the Sunday Nation.
She adds that her parents supported her fully in her academic pursuits, even though she had to work part-time in the US to pay for her fees.
“As you know, my father was a polygamist, but I can tell you that he did everything he could and that is why many of his children went to expensive private schools in Kenya and abroad. This just goes to show how much he believed in education. He didn’t just talk. He walked the talk.”
Ms Kihika, who returned to Kenya in August 2012, says she is an avid reader and is currently reading “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is the Chief Operations Officer of Facebook.
“This is a must-read, particularly for women in leadership if they hope to tackle and overcome the obstacles that are deliberately placed in their pathway as they seek leadership in various capacities,” says Ms Kihika, whose favourite music is rap and R&B.
Away from work, the Nakuru County Speaker is an outdoor person who loves nature and activities like rock climbing, hiking, boating and camping.
“I enjoy pushing and testing my endurance to the limit,” she says, and flexes her shoulder muscles like a boxer in the ring.
But why did she opt for the Speaker’s position? After losing the Bahati constituency seat to Mr Kimani Ngunjiri, she says she came across a newspaper advert inviting applications for the position.
“It is not something I had sat down and thought about. It had never crossed my mind. I didn’t even know what the job of a Speaker entailed. But, after doing some research, I consulted Mr Ngunjiri and Nakuru Town MP David Gikaria and we strategised on how to win the seat by visiting all the wards and convincing the MCAs to vote for me,” says Ms Kihika, who is also the National Vice-Chair of the County Assembly Speakers’ Forum.
Madam Speaker, as she is popularly referred to by the MCAs, says that her greatest fear is when the elected leaders fail to deliver promises to the electorate. She believes that to help them perform their role, the MCAs must be paid better.
“The MCAs deserve to earn more than the measly peanuts they are getting now since we expect them to play the oversight role over the executive. If the situation remains the way it is, then it is easy to compromise the MCAs at the expense of service delivery,” she says.