Rose Gakuo, the first woman to be elected president of a public university students’ union, speaks about her entry into campus politics and her future plans
Q: Who is Rose Gakuo?
A: A graduate with a first class honours degree in communication and media at Laikipia University. A daughter and sister.
The first-ever woman elected to head a students’ union in the history of public universities in Kenya.
How did you get to vie for the top position?
I didn’t start from the senior positions. I started from being a director of gender and health. It’s actually an equivalent of the executive secretary. Then I rose to the top through the support of my friends.
In which year did you get the first post?
In the first year. I became a student leader within a month of joining campus.
Which means you had some interest?
Yes. We were seven candidates for that position. Six were male; I was the only lady. I thought I was competent for the post.
How were the campaigns?
The campaigns in my first year were a very new thing for me. So, I wasn’t sure how I was to go about this; I had to talk to continuing students. It included making posters because every time you put up your posters, they would be torn or destroyed.
I had to use much money while making trips across all the constituent campuses to garner votes.
It was crazy, because people expected to be funded in every way. We had students asking you to pay part of their school fees; they find you in the school restaurant and want you to buy them lunch; others do not have fare for the day ...
What were your responsibilities as the chair?
More of a supervisor’s role.
At the same time, I garnered enough votes to get into the vice-chair’s position of the national umbrella body, Kuso (Kenya University Students Organisation) in 2014. By then, Babu Owino was the chairperson.
How hard is it to vie for the chairperson’s position?
Very hard. It is very unfortunate that most of us think that tribalism is only evident in national politics. In fact, the primary level of tribalism starts in our campuses. So, if your tribal group is not as large and does not come out as a voting bloc, then the
presidential bid becomes harder.
How did you overcome this?
I did not want to associate myself ethnically to any group.
What was the highlight of your tenure?
During my reign, we did not have any student unrest.
As a student leader, I knew who was most likely to cause anarchy. Of course, those are the people you need to keep close to you and advise them; tell them how it’s going to end.
What legacy have you left behind?
First is that I was the first female student leader. I am also the founder of Kenya University Female Student Leaders’ Association (Kufsla). The general body is Kuso but this one is for women.
You got first class honours? Tell us about it
It was not easy at all. In my first year, I was able to manage my grades and the politics. But in my third year, I remember I got Cs in my transcript.
Are you interested in national politics?
Yes. But incidentally, I’m not interested in an elective post. I’m more interested in something like an appointment, by virtue of my competence and qualifications. Say, something like an ambassador — even a cabinet secretary, why not?
So you wouldn’t wish to seek an elective post at all?
I’m not interested in an elective post.
Where do you go on holiday?
Malindi any time ... I love water.
What do you love doing in your free time?
Swimming and catching up with my girlfriends.