By Prudence Minayo
A vocal, combative and a shrewd politician are just some of the adjectives that best describe Youth And Gender Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rachel Shebesh. She was the first woman representative of Nairobi county following the 2013 general elections. Today, she continues to do an excellent job in the government and has recently become a very vocal champion of mental health in Kenya.
Age and Background
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The politician was born on 1st July 1971 in Jericho estate in Nairobi. The family moved to Harambee estate before finally settling in Lavington. She is the fourth born in a family of five children-four girls and a boy.
Her father, Samuel Mbugua, was a seasoned politician who served as Jericho councilor before becoming a mayor between 1998-1999. He died in September 2017. Her mother, on the other hand, was a businesswoman who later joined ministry and became a reverend at the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK).
Shebesh’s father played a pivotal role in setting up estates in Nairobi like Kimathi, Kariobangi South, Harambee, Uhuru and Umoja through negotiating long-term loans with the World Bank.
She attended Lavington Primary School then proceeded to Statehouse Girls followed by Kianda School. During her school days, she was a vocal girl who loved the arts. In fact, while at State House Girls, she performed a song that went up to the national levels. At Kianda School, she was also a part of the choir.
Afterwards, her love for fashion saw her sent to study at the prestigious London Institute of Fashion.
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In 2007, she enrolled for a BA in political Science at the University of Nairobi.
After high school, she worked for a while in the family business. The family owns schools in Nairobi West. She then developed interest in making clothes and even learnt how tailors cut material. This prompted her father to send her to London to study fashion.
Upon returning to the country, she opened a fashion shop along Kimathi street.
Rachel decided she wanted to join politics and looked for women mentors like Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu and Ida Odinga. She joined the Landmark Forum and later on joined Maendeleo ya Wanawake.
The vocal lady then joined LDP and eventually campaigned for Nairobi woman representative seat in 2013 under the TNA party (Jubilee Coalition). She endeared herself to the masses and was elected into office. She had previously been a member of the ODM party and was even nominated to parliament in 2008 by the Raila Odinga led party.
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During the 2017 general elections, Shebesh lost her seat to ODM candidate Esther Passaris who garnered 864,874 votes while she came second with 699,702 votes.
Nonetheless, she was later elected Chief Administrative Secretary at the Ministry of Public Affairs and Gender.
As a politician, she loves fighting for the welfare of women. She is a well known feminist who believes in defending the place of women in society. Her belief is that she does not need to sit in the office the whole time but needs to go out and help women at grassroots level.
Shebesh has been a member of the following committees:
- Kenya Women Parliamentary Association
- Procedures and House Rules Committee
- Library Committee
She has also been an administrator at Marion Schools.
After form four, she got pregnant by the man who is now her husband, Frank Shebesh. The two have been together since then and are parents to three boys. She describes her husband as a supportive partner who hates the limelight. He prefers to live a private, quiet and simple life. He hails from the Western part of Kenya and in an earlier interview on Maisha Magic East, he said he’d never have envisioned his wife in politics. He thought she’d go after other professions like journalism. Their traditional wedding was recently aired on Citizen TV during The Wedding Show.
Early this year, Shebesh came out to declare her mental status. She said she has Bipolar disorder and it is something she has been dealing with for nearly three decades. This means she has had to take medication for more than half her life.
She feels mental health needs to be normalized. If more people talk about it, then it will get easier to do away with the stigma associated with it. In an interview with Churchill, she revealed that she had learnt to avoid her triggers. She admitted that the incident where former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero slapped her was also a huge trigger at the time.
The fifty-year-old was also keen to add she had forgiven the former governor for that. Today, she avoids things that will trigger her disorder. This is because the triggers cause her to fall into severe depression. She even revealed that back while she was a woman representative, she disappeared for more than a year as she was dealing with her mental health. She believes this is what partly cost her political seat.
In a sad incident that dominated banter on social media platforms in 2013, an infuriated then Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero landed a hot slap to fellow politician Rachel Shebesh after she stormed his office demanding that he address a strike by Nairobi county workers. Speaking to Ghetto Radio Majimaji and King Kafu, the CAS claimed that the ex-governor paid her ksh30 million after the matter was settled out of court making it the most expensive slap in the history of Kenya.
“Kidero alilipa doo mingi sana, pesa mingi sana, hawezi repeat. Sikutokaga hivyo. To slap a woman in this country nowadays there is a precedence na sijui kama watu wako na doo wanaweza kulipa. Alilipa almost Ksh30 million (Kidero paid a substantial amount and he will never repeat what he did. I did not leave empty handed. I wanted to set a precedence).
Shebesh went on to state that if she hadn’t taken the step she did, this would have been a norm,
“If I did not go strong on Kidero, I would have opened a floodgate of every woman vying for a seat being treated in the same way Kidero treated me”
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In a quick rejoinder, the ex-governor rubbished the claims by Shebesh saying she is a sick woman:
“We all know Shebesh is not OK. She is sick and some of her claims should not be taken seriously. That’s all I can say on the matter,” the ex-governor said.
Alleged Affair With Sonko
Photos of ex-Nairobi governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko in compromising positions with Shebesh were first leaked on social media on October 8, 2013. This was probably the lowest moment for the then Woman Rep as social media users went for her jugular. Sonko added more wood to the fire when he suggested that it was the CAS who had lured him into the relationship and nearly broke his family.
He told a crowd in Kariokor in 2017:
“Mimi nawaheshimu wamama sana. Lakini kuna mama mmoja ambaye mlimchagua afanyie wamama kazi, mlipomtuma nyinyi wamama, vijana na watu wa Nairobi kule. Amefika kule sasa yeye kwa ile miaka minne alikuwa ananyang’anya wamama wengine mabwana. Hata mimi nakumbuka siku moja karibu avunje nyumba yangu (I have a lot of respect for women. But there’s a certain woman whom you chose to work for the women and youth in Nairobi. When you elected her to Parliament, she has been for the past four years snatching other women’s husbands. I almost became a victim and she almost broke my marriage),” the Standard quoted the embattled ex-governor.
“Saa hii amechukua MCA mwingine kule… amemnyang’anya MCA. Sisi ni watu tunamcha Mungu sana, tunaogopa Mungu. Wamama wengine waheshimiwe (now, she’s running around with a certain MCA who she’s taken control of)” he said at the time.
When the photos were first leaked, Sonko maintained that they had been photoshopped by ” the National Intelligence Services or Al-shabab.”
“I’m not aware of any such pictures and whoever is circulating them knows better where he found them and why he has decided to circulate fake images of me and Shebesh,” Sonko stated.
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