By Prudence Minayo
Grace Monica Akech Onyango is a trailblazer when it comes to Kenyan politics. She is a woman of many firsts who set the pace for her peers. She was the first woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament in post independent Kenya, the first female mayor of Kisumu, the first woman to seat on the speaker’s seat as acting deputy speaker, and the first woman Assistant Commissioner of the Girl Guide Association.
Currently in her late 90s, she quit active politics and has a foundation named after her, Grace Onyango Foundation.
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Here is her story as told by WoK.
Background and Early Career
Born in the 1920s in Sakwa, she was the second born in a family of nine children. The alumna of Ng’iya Girls School graduated from Vihiga Teachers Training College in 1955.
After qualifying as a teacher, she went to teach at her almer mater, Ng’iya and after three years started teaching at Vihiga Teachers Training College.
She was elected mayor of Kisumu in 1965 following the death of Mathias Ondiek. During the campaigns, two women dropped out of the race citing abuse from their fellow male counterparts but Nya’ Bungu (Daughter of the Bush), as she was fondly known, pressed on managing to beat all her six male opponents.
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When she joined politics as a councillor of Kisumu Central ward, there were barely any women working as civil servants or in government offices, not even as sweepers.
She advocated for more opportunities for women and would say that if a male employee died then his wife or daughter should be employed.
In 1969, she vied for and won the Kisumu town parliamentary seat after trouncing a number of male opponents.
“If I was abused in a rally, I hit back with fury. I was fearless. Men wanted the seat and they used every opportunity to disparage me through male chauvinism. They said it was culturally wrong to elect a woman as MP but I told them off. Voters agreed with me,” she told a local media house.
As a Member of Parliament, she was known for her daring remarks and facing off her male counterparts without fear.
“I was the minority in parliament, standing up against 158 male MPs. But I dominated the debates,” she once said.
One of her most daring stints in parliament happened in 1975, when she was part of the parliamentary committee investigating the murder of JM Kariuki. She exposed the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta has having an hand in the death of the political dynamo. The names of Mbiyu Koinange and bodyguard Wanyoike had been removed from the list.
The former Kisumu Town MP is also credited with the Africanization of Kisumu towns by naming them after the likes of Paul Mbuya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Milton Obote. She also lobbied for the abolition of bicycle taxes.
In the 1983 elections, she lost her seat to the late Dr. Robert Ouko and left politics shortly after this.
The former parliamentarian married a teacher and journalist named Onyango Baridi. He passed away in 1969 leaving her with six children. She is currently a grandmother and a great mother of 11.