Queen Mother: Mama Ngina, the power behind Uhuru Kenyatta’s throne

As President Uhuru Kenyatta rides off into the sunset on conclusion of his second term as president of Kenya, it will not just be an individual exiting, but probably the end of a dynastic influence on the Kenyan political scene.

Apart from the outgoing president, one other person who might feel a great sense of loss is his mother Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the family matriarch who served as First Lady during the reign of Uhuru’s father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Since she was thrust into a public eye as a shy teenager bride to a much older Independence War hero, she hardly ever uttered a word in public.  But as Kenya’s First Lady between 1963 and 1978, and then again as ‘First Mother’ from 2013, Mama Ngina was acknowledged as one of the most powerful persons in the country, in many ways the power behind the throne.

As First Lady, Mama Ngina was the quiet presence with a demure half-smile always walking one step behind the commanding figure of the liberation struggle hero. She cut the figure of a dutiful, reticent wife who knew her place and wouldn’t interfere as her husband busied himself in the all-male domain of matters of State.

Away from the public appearances, however, Cabinet ministers and other politicians and government officials knew that at State House in Nairobi; the State Houses in Mombasa and Nakuru where President Kenyatta often retreated; as well as the private family home in the small township of Gatundu some 50km out of Nairobi, her word was law.  The imposing Kenyatta may have cut the figure of the typical African strongman who brooked no dissent on the political arena, and on the domestic front firmly believed women and children should know their place.

However, he gave the girl he married as a fourth wife when she was just 18, and he was in his mid-50’s, extraordinary leeway on the home front.

On her husband’s death in 1978 she gave up the duties of First Lady to retreat to private life overseeing phenomenal growth of a vast family fortune. Then was thrust back into centre stage again 35 years later in 2013 when her first-born son, Uhuru Muigai, followed in the footsteps of the departed family patriarch on election as President of Kenya.

She didn’t move back into State House or perform any public duties, that was the preserve of the new First Lady, Uhuru’s childhood sweetheart Margaret, but it soon became common knowledge that Mama Ngina continued to wield extraordinary influence over her son, the second president of Kenya in her life. She eschewed controversy and stayed deep behind the scenes, but she was the family matriarch and on that score number one in the pecking order. The only time she generated controversy was in March this year after wading into the open rift between Uhuru and his Deputy President William Ruto, describing the latter as a person who had been badly brought up