Nyeri’s Lucy Gichuhi tells of being senator in Australia

Monday January 8 2018

Lucy Gichuhi

Kenyan-born Australian Senator Lucy Gichuhi prepares tea at her father’s home in Hiriga Village, Nyeri County on January 6, 2018. She is the first African to be elected in the Australian senate. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOSEPH WANGUI
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Kenyan born Australian Senator Lucy Muringo Gichuhi has broken many records.

And by winning the seat for South Australia in 2017, she became the first senator of African descent in the senate.

She says she spent only 1,000 Australian dollars (about Sh82,000) to win the seat, a record low spending.  

While walking barefoot to Hiriga Primary School in Mathira, Nyeri, fetching firewood and water, the 55-year-old never thought she would become a politician in her lifetime until early 2017 when she started process of becoming a senator in Australia.

“I never thought of myself going to politics,” says Ms Gichuhi.

TOUGH

In 2017, she became the first person of African descent in Australia to join the country’s senate, a process she says was tough for her.

“My toughest moment was getting to the point where I would have lost going to the Senate. Not because I am not competent, experienced or lacked the skills needed but because of issues of race and identity. It was a tough moment,” says Ms Gichuhi.

While speaking exclusively to Daily Nation at her native home in Hiriga Village, Ms Gichuhi attributes her accomplishments to values and discipline instilled by her mother at a tender age.

Lucy Muringo Gichuhi

Ms Gichuhi chats with her father Justus Weru in Hiriga Village, Nyeri County on January 6, 2018. She is the first African to be elected in the Australian senate. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

STRICT MOTHER

“My mother was a tough lady. She taught me to be a woman. She was a fixture at home and was strict.  I was very close to her that when I got a boy’s letter in high school I would bring it to her. The courage I have, I got it from my mother,” she says.

Daily Nation team found her in the family's semi-permanent kitchen made of timber and iron sheets preparing food for her ageing father, Justus Weru Munyiri.

It is her first visit to her motherland since she was sworn-in in April 2017.

Ms Gichuhi is the first-born in a family of eight.

The South Australian senator got the seat after her predecessor, Bob Day of Family First party, lost his it after the country’s high court ruled that he was not validly elected.

SECOND-SPOT CANDIDATE

Ms Gichuhi was a lucky woman given that she was the second-spot candidate for the political party in the respective senatorial seat.

She narrates that before assuming the seat, the process was marred by politics of identity.

This is after questions were raised about whether she held duo citizenship for Kenya and Australia. 

“I am proud of the governance model and systems of Australia. The electoral, judicial and administrative systems work and put somebody where he or she belongs. A country can put systems that put each person where they belong,” says Ms Gichuhi.

She adds: “To think that I am qualified for something but could not do it because of colour was a sad moment.”

NO RACISM

However, Ms Gichuhi notes that there were no cases of racism by those who were objecting to her candidature.

The excited mother of three says after getting the seat, it was an indication that governance systems can work and put everybody where they rightfully belong.

Prior to capturing the seat, Ms Gichuhi’s strategies included conducting a vigorous campaign on social media, door-to-door campaigns and meeting communities to expound about the policies of her Family First political party.

She also did recordings of her understanding of polices of the political party and put them on social media.

She says the 1,000 Australian dollars (about Kenya shillings 82,000) she used for her campaigns was given to her by Senator Bob Day, whom she says was her mentor.

“The 1000 Australian dollars were given by Bob Day to fuel (my) car and hold meetings. That is the ever money I spent in the process,” she explains.

PARTY DISSOLVED

Her political party, Family First, was later dissolved, and she is currently operating as independent senator.

Prior to joining the senate, Ms Gichuhi was doing internship in the commonwealth parliament, where she says she got the interest of joining politics.

In Australia, Ms Gichuhi says, senators are professionals and their job entails waiting for bills to be passed by the House of Representatives (Lower House).

Senators later evaluate the bills and check on what the government wants. 

“The opposition should keep the government of the day accountable. My role as a senator is to support the government of the day to govern. But at the same time I know, [having been] an auditor for so long, that government needs checks and balances,” she says.

She adds that in the legislative process, she also looks at what the government wants and enquires why the opposition is opposing a certain bill.

SCRUTINISING BILLS

“I look at it as a lawyer and accountant. I look at the bill professionally and later make a decision,” she narrates.

According to Senator Gichuhi, countries like Kenya should not concentrate on looking at what the developed world powers are doing.

“They are just countries with their own issues. We do not have to be caught up in other people’s issues. We (should) just concentrate enough in developing ourselves grassroots up,” she notes.

DEMOCRACIES

According to her, it would be unfair to compare the Australian and Kenyan democracies.

“It is like comparing a toddler and an adult. The Australia system is 200 years old and a mature democracy. Kenya’s new constitution is seven years old and Kenya is in its teething stage. Kenyans should be patient; the constitution is getting tested and tried. Constitutional crises always do happen,” she notes.

She urges Kenyans and their leaders to accept the situation and stop comparisons with other countries.

“We must go step by step. We have made tremendous improvements. The constitution will grow and morph to something good,” she observes.

She is happy because she is getting support from government and opposition politicians in Australia and from all senators.

PROTECT FAMILIES

Her conviction is that governments must protect families to be socially developed.

She expresses unhappiness about increased cases of domestic violence saying people should be educated on family values.

Her husband, who also comes from the neighbouring Ngorano Village, says he met the senator at Ruiru coffee factory in 1982.

“We were taking coffee to the factory. I met her there and we got to know each other. We have three daughters and the eldest is 30 years old now,” says Mr Gichuhi.

After his wife joined the senate, he says the family found it hard to adapt and that they would miss her for long, but they later came adjust.

“It was overwhelming and exciting. It was a great opportunity for her to serve the people which she had desired for a long time,” says Mr Gichuhi.

The senator says she is in the process of writing a book to tell her whole story so that she can reach as many people as possible and empower at least one individual to get over their circumstances.

“I would be happy to empower somebody get over any circumstance,” she says.

The family went Australia in 1999 in search of greener pastures following some hardships in the country.

Asked whether she has plans to come back to Kenya and vie for an elective seat, Ms Gichuhi says she never plans but “waits for things to happen”.

While out there she says, she says she misses Kikuyu tradition foods like githeri, mukimo and ugali.