By JOE KIARIE
They mournfully recall the last moments they shared with him.
On the morning of Saturday, June 2, leaders of the Ongata Rongai Muungano Women’s Group in Kajiado North constituency received news their MP was to tour Magadi Soda for an impromptu peace meeting.
With Internal Security minister George Saitoti as their patron and a signatory to their bank account, and with some emergency cash withdrawal required to complete a construction project they were undertaking, they decided they had to secure his signature.
Armed with a Sh1 million cheque, seven members of the construction sub-committee travelled to Kiserian and waylaid Prof Saitoti at the Magadi-Isinya junction. When his convoy approached, they waved him down. The motorcade stopped and Saitoti opened his door with a smile.
“Alisema kwamba ukiona wamama hapa jua wanataka dawa. Alituambia leteni cheki haraka na mseme ni pesa ngapi. (He said if you see women here, know that they require some medicine. He told us to bring the cheque fast and say how much money we wanted),” recounts Beatrice Muthoni, who chairs the women group’s sub-committee.
And as the convoy zoomed off, Muthoni recollects how the minister casually promised to soon visit the construction site and evaluate the progress. Little did they know they were seeing their beloved patron for the last time, and that the planned visit was never to be.
While this illustrates Saitoti’s close involvement in women’s groups, it only tells half the story. Saitoti’s legacy in Kajiado North, the larger Maasailand, and other parts of the country, was his support and guidance to women, who he deemed key to development.
In his constituency, he helped establish and prop hundreds of women’s groups, with the main aim being to help women feed and educate children. It is for this reason that most of the women are having nightmares trying to cope with his death.
Ruth Wakaba, the chairperson of the Ongata Rongai Muungano Women Group, an umbrella union for 41 small women’s group strewn all over Ongata Rongai, says Saitoti’s efforts to empower women were second to none. She explains that this started in the late 1980s when he would regularly give cash handouts to women.
But she explains that this never worked and it is then that the fallen minister turned to co-operatives and income-generating projects for women groups. The approach gave women a source of income.
“Starting 1990, he advised women to form groups and conducted a lot of harambees (fundraisers) to help them establish diverse projects. He always insisted we use the proceeds to educate our children,” says Mrs Wakaba, who Saitoti nominated as a councillor before she was eventually voted in as a civic leader in 2002.
At the moment, there are hundreds of women’s groups in the constituency, particularly in Magadi, Ongata Rongai, Enosoorua, Kiserian, Ngong, Ewaso, Isinya and Kitengela.
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