Throughout Kenya’s history, women have stood out with their badassery.
#7 Orie Rogo Manduli
This particular entry is here because she is a first among equals.
Flamboyant, outspoken, regal, and famously brave, Orie Rogo Manduli has always been a force to reckon with. She is a former model (Miss Kenya) and a former rally driver. In fact, she was the first black woman in Kenya to compete in the world circuit Safari Rally. She was also the first female head of the Kenya NGO council, a position she ended up having to physically fight for; she barricaded herself in the office.
#6 Martha Karua
Perhaps the most memorable image of Martha Karua’s badassery is any time she ever appeared in public. She was routinely described as “the only man in Kibaki’s government”, a veiled insult to her docile male colleagues and a rather roundabout reference to her unbridled bravery.
Go through parliamentary records and see Martha’s wrath (and remarkable sarcasm) in the debates. One time, President Moi visited Kirinyaga District. He was “baba na mama” then, and it was unthinkable to publicly embarrass him. But Martha did; in fact, she walked out while he was in the middle of his speech.
Then in 2003 she shut down male parliamentarians who wanted to know why she had been sharing a ride with Father Wamugunda when they got carjacked. Classic Martha, unapologetic and famously badass. If you see the video of her at KICC, defending Kibaki’s votes (and the Tharaka Nithi train), then it’ll make sense why she deserves to be on this list.
#5 Wambui Otieno
Before she was the 67-year-old woman who unapologetically got married to Peter Mbugua, Wambui Otieno was SM Otieno’s wife. SM Otieno was a senior lawyer with all the trappings of power, and when he died, everyone wanted to bury him. Wambui refused, and began a long court case that detained Otieno’s body in the morgue for years. She lost the right to bury her husband, but the resilience of that drawn-out fight was a statement of her character.
Before she was even Otieno’s wife, she was a Mau Mau sleeper agent and later, mobiliser. That last role got her arrested, as were many female Mau Mau leaders in her time.
When she married Mbugua in 2003, she didn’t give a damn about optics. In fact, the photo immediately after the one above is one of them kissing.?Her response to mad crowds at Mbugua’s mum’s funeral??”They either accept me with Mbugua or I take him away.”
#4 Lucy Kibaki
You knew she had to be here in here somewhere, right? Lucy Kibaki is probably the most badass First lady, and in extension, modern one we will ever know. Well, we thought she was of a dying breed, until Ongoro did her thing. There are stories that she has been the one with the pants and balls of steel during her marriage to President Mwai Kibaki since she married him (get it?).
She ruled Kenya with a brave face and, sometimes, bare slaps. Her list of (known) victims includes Clifford Derrick, Frank Musyimi, and Gitobu Imanyara. Gitobu’s wasn’t just a slap, it came with kicks and blows. At least one of these slaps ended up in an assault case.
Clifford’s slap was the culmination of a whirlwind five days in May 2005. First, she had knocked on her neighbor’s (and tenant’s) house to tell him to turn the ruckus down. He did, thrice, eventually moving the party indoors. He got mad when she asked him “What kind of a mother did you have to behave like this?” but there was no story of a physical altercation. A few days later she laid a night-long siege on the biggest media house in the region, Nation Media, to demand the arrest of three journalists who had written about the incident. She delivered her now-famous, only-recorded slap that night, accompanied with a long soliloquy of why she was holding an entire newsroom hostage.
All this while other grown men and women, some with guns and some with piss in their pants, stood there scared of her.?
You don’t know the legend of Cierume, but you should. Cierume was a leader and a warrior, and not necessarily in that order. At a time when war was fought with bows and arrows, Cierume was the badass with a stick. It had been carved from traditional dances, but to her a war was good as a dance.?She got her first shield from a man she probably whipped in war, before spitting on him and taking a piss beside his dead and mangled body (okay, now I am making this up).?
Since this was like the most chauvinistic era ever, men felt that she was taking the limelight and that given the opportunity, they could also kill a Kamba guy with their bare hands, and take his shield as a trophy (Kamba warriors, backed by layers of voodoo, were the worst of their kind). When they bitched, she did what any self-respecting badass Mbeere woman would do, she beat one of them up in-front of the Council of Elders. Now, one of two things could happen if a woman did that before the elders, one is that she might be ostracized and cursed by the community, or the men will just shit their pants and make her the ruler. You can guess what happened. The British made her chief.
#2 Wangu Wa Makeri
Where Cierume beat up men, Wangu wa Makeri humiliated them. At a time when women were listed as property besides hundreds of acres, children, goats, sheep, and dung-smelling huts, Wangu was sitting on the backs of men, and humping as many as she wanted.?
Wangu’s ascent to power was rather interesting. She was the unofficial concubine of Karuri wa Gakure, the infamously polygamous chief after her husband, Makeri, asked her to “take care of the guest.” In many cultures, this often meant in all ways, and Wangu must have had done that and much more. Her reward was an assistant chief position, the first and probably only one to ever be given to a woman in those early colonial years.
She ruled for 35 years! She died at 82 in 1936.
There have been badass women, and then there was Wangari Maathai. She was the first woman in East Africa to obtain a PhD and she was famous for her strong will and dedication. One of the reason Mathai divorced her, actually, was because she was “too strong-minded for a woman.” What did she do after he bolted? She refused with his surname because she felt her maiden surname, Muta, didn’t sound badass enough. She just added an extra “a” and it became hers.
Wangari Maathai is the only reason Karura Forest and Uhuru Park are still green spaces. She paid for fighting for them with her blood, comfort and sometimes, braids. No, seriously. It’s said that she always wore headgear covering her forehead because her hair was pulled out violently during one of her many protests.
In 1992, she barricaded herself in her house to avoid arrest. It took the police three days to cut through the metal bars to get to her. It was one of the tens of times she would be arrested or beaten up, or both. In 1994, she would be at Freedom Corner, leading a group of mum’s who were demanding the release of their children. When no one listened, they stripped and cursed Moi. If there has ever been a badass Kenyan woman, Wangari Maathai was it.