By Prudence Minayo
Growing up in a large family in Ngewa village, Githunguri in Kiambu county and traveling to school barefoot, Elizabeth Kangethe had no idea that one day she would inspire millions in Kenya and abroad. She became the first Kenyan woman to be elected mayor of Barking & Dagenham, UK. Today, she has rubbed shoulders with royals, presidents and various powerful people. Appearing on KTN, six years ago, she encouraged women who want to get into politics to go for it, as long as they are determined and follow their instinct.
This is her story as told by WoK;
She was born in the mid sixties in Githunguri and is the middle child in a family of seven children, two boys and five girls. She attended primary School in her village followed by St. Anne’s Lioki Secondary School.
She was part of the scouts movement and loved adventure. This informed her decision to go to Turkana to teach as an untrained teacher to the shock of her parents. Life in Turkana helped to harden her. After the year was over, she went to college to train as a teacher, quickly rising through the ranks and becoming a headteacher at 24.
Through the Scouts movement, she got the opportunity to travel to Canada where she spent a year. Also as a girl guide and being part of the Kenya Scouts Association, she visited several places, the United Kingdom included.
In her thirties, Elizabeth Kangethe made the decision to relocate to the UK in search of greener pastures. Here, she faced a lot of harsh realities including racism. Life was not the same as the times she had visited as a scout. She also had difficulty finding a job as the locals found her accent funny. Then, there was winter which no one had prepared her for. She had left behind her son and family, and people back home thought everything was now easier for her. The determined woman pushed through until she was able to adapt to life in the UK and move her son there as well.
Leadership was something that was always embedded in her. Growing up, she was a very bold child and also served as a prefect and captain. In Kenya, she got the chance to work with the Electoral Commission of Kenya and enjoyed seeing how politics was conducted. She also admired the late Githunguri Member of Parliament Arthur Kinyanjui Magugu, who was a friend of her father.
In the UK, she met a lot of people while teaching. It was, therefore, no surprise that she ventured into politics. She had also become very active in helping black people settle in the UK and most of the time they would inquire things from her. She became their voice and even the Member of Parliament saw it and encouraged her to pursue a leadership position.
She began campaigning to become a councillor, and surprisingly faced a lot of opposition even from her fellow black people. Others thought it was impossible, she was abused and her family didn’t want her to contest as they were not ready to see her harassed. Her mind was made up and in 2010, she became the first person of Kenyan descent to be elected a councillor. The positive thing about UK politics was she didn’t spend money campaigning and the party was always there for her.
Elizabeth Kangethe became the first Kenyan to be elected as mayor, serving in this position from 2014 to 2015. She was then made the vice president of London Mayors Association.