, Nairobi, Kenya, Jan 7 – When you Google search the name Judi Wakhungu, Environment Cabinet Secretary almost the top ten results revolve around her career as an environmental expert but you will not find anything on her political life, even though the role she currently serves in is as a result of the latter.
Whenever she is addressing the media, Wakhungu who is among the CS who were not mentioned in the first list of the six retained by President Uhuru Kenyatta from his first term team oozes a calm demeanor and a media-shy personality.
Though the President through State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu clarified that no CS has been sacked yet, the reappointment of the holder of PhD in Energy Resources Management from Pennsylvania State University now hangs in the balance.
Dr Patrick Asingo, a Political science and public administration lecturer from the University of Nairobi (UoN) believes that it will only take a miracle to have Wakhungu back in the Cabinet, although there are others who say she might make it to the final list.
“She stands very little chance other than the gender dynamic. Though she is qualified, but apart from that, what else will she bring on the table?” he asked.
The don believes that Deputy President William Ruto will have a big say in who is re-appointed from Western Kenya as he lines up his lieutenants in readiness to inherit the mantle of the Presidency from Kenyatta.
Asingo believes that the work so far done by Wakhungu can be outdone by someone else from Western Kenya who might not be qualified in the same field but can also bring political value to the table.
“She has been very absent from the media. She didn’t aggressively come out to campaign for her reelection,” he said adding that “she carries too many disadvantages including her technical background which might not relate to the public.
As a former Executive Director of the African Technology Studies Network, Wakhungu who has been shattering glass ceilings all her life will know in the next few days whether she would manage to break the hurdles from her first term to be reappointed.
When her ministry, in conjunction with National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) banned carrier plastic bags and handed over the heaviest penalty if found in contravention of the law, the global media attention she got was unprecedented.
However, according to Joshua Irungu, a social commentator, the common Mwananchi only cares about real tangible things they can see. Irungu claims that Wakhungu’s failure to clean Nairobi river in keeping up with the former environment minister John Michuki’s legacy is one of the easiest ways to judge her effectiveness.
“There is a river passing in Nairobi. That which is supposed to facilitate and sustain life is now flowing sewer. Is that not a clear failure even if she banned plastic carrier bags,” he said.
He also lamented that the CS was more concerned about lofty achievements but ignored the most important low lying changes that could have been easy to accomplish and given her the much-needed lifeline and political value.
“What is the most fundamental need of a society? It’s a clean environment. But she was more concerned about doing things that gave her global media attention but Kenyans didn’t feel any change.”
“All we want is a clean environment so that we don’t have to breathe in dust and other impurities,” he said.
In her academic and career journey, Wakhungu is a shining light who carries many firsts in her belt including being the first woman to be hired as a geologist in the Ministry of Energy and Regional Development, where her duties entailed exploring for geothermal energy in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
She was also the first woman petroleum geologist in the National Oil Corporation of Kenya, as well as the first female faculty member in the Department of Geology at the University of Nairobi.
The niece to Moody Awori, the former Vice President of Kenya received a B.S. in Geology from St. Lawrence University in New York then later got an MS degree in Petroleum Geology from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada.
She then became the Director of the Women in Sciences and Engineering (WISE) Institute at the Pennsylvania State University. She was also an Associate Professor of Science, Technology and Society whose research interests included Energy Policy and Development, Science Technology and Development, and Gender Issues in Science and Technology Policy.
Even though her qualification is unparalleled, the political influence in the job she currently holds cannot be ignored. in fact, Onesmus Waiguru, an ardent Jubilee supporter thinks that her fate is sealed.
“Wakhungu stands very little chance. There are too many options that will bring more to the table than her,” he said.
“Dr Asingo agrees with Onesmus. If you look at the political deals which were struck with the likes of Ababu Namwamba, Paul Otuoma, Moses Akaranga among others, it will be very hard to retain Wakhungu as a person who represents the interests of the people of Western Kenya,” he said.