Mama Lucy Kibaki is no longer with us. The public focus of her term as First Lady was on the fight against HIV/AIDs as well as how to improve the well-being of ordinary Kenyans. She also did quite some work in empowering women in politics, directly and indirectly.
However there are a few other key lessons in her life that seem to have escaped the notice of most of us.
One, Mama Lucy Kibaki came from a generation of Kenyans who were born as British subjects but worked to establish their own independent nation. This generation was made up of amazing contradictions; they held strong opinions about each other especially based on where one came from but were always able to see beyond their differences and backgrounds and work with each other whenever the country needed them to do so. Lucy lived to the call of her generation and never lost sight of the big picture of what Kenya meant – a common space for all of us – even when she did not agree with the various people struggling to lead the nation.
It is this character; essentially an ability to see the contributions each of us can make to the Kenya we want whatever our background, that has led to the kind of tributes Mama Lucy is getting from across the political divide. It is a character in short supply today and something those of us struggling to figure out how we can lead this country to its full potential can borrow from her (and her generation).
Two, Mama Lucy represents a generation of women who never lost focus of what is important in life. Many have made fun of how viciously she fought off negative coverage of her family; or how she reacted when anyone seemed to undermine her, her husband or her children. However what gets lost in the telling of these stories is her determination in ensuring that the story on her family was told according to her terms.
Mama Lucy did not allow anyone else to define her family but herself. She decided what public coverage her family should receive and expected everyone to recognise the boundaries that she had set and know and respect what was off-limits. She also decided what about her family was public and what was private, and took no prisoners when this line was crossed. The result is that today her family has been able to retire from public life with their dignity intact. The media now also understands that the children and spouses of politicians are not politicians, or public figures.
The third outstanding lesson from Mama Lucy is around how she protected her marriage to Mwai Kibaki. It did not matter that Kibaki was ‘Baba wa Taifa’, he was the father of her children first. It did not matter that he was a public figure claimed by many, he was her husband first. It did not matter that he was President with aides running his schedule, he was head of her family first.
This is an extremely important lesson especially for women married to politicians and public personalities. Mama Lucy taught that when society looks up to these men who lead us with such poise and confidence, it is because there is someone who has spent years privately supporting and praying for him. She also taught us that marriages are worth fighting for. Finally, she taught wives that no one should be allowed to hijack their ‘finished product’ without a fight; even if it is just by perception.
Go Well Mama Lucy Kibaki. We will miss you.
(Wambugu is Director of Change Associates, a Political Affairs Consultancy)