Who is Sicily Kariuki, for Kenyans who do not know you?
She is the Cabinet Secretary for Health; formerly the Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs;
Tell us about your background
I was born in Embu, as the second last born of seven siblings to my parents — the late Mugo and my loving mum Eunice Wandiri — humble and God fearing, loving parents, who instilled the love and fear of God in me. To date, I still cherish the rare and intimate moments with my ageing mum.
What kind of a person are you?
God fearing, confident, goal oriented, determined, resilient, dare-devil … all wrapped in one.
I am married to a very supportive and understanding husband. Together, we have four children; all young adults; and two grandchildren.
What challenges do you go through during your work and how do you solve them?
Technical challenges characterise my day; and I am able to fix them with technical solutions. Issues to do with stereotypes are difficult to handle since they create perceptions which are stubborn to deal with. For instance, as a woman, it’s difficult to tell the world that you are as good as your male colleagues in the workplace, that you are not where you are because a man got you there.
What advice can you give to up-and-coming women who are interested in any top position?
With all the gender equality talk and just because they are girls, they shouldn’t expect to be given anything on a silver platter! They have to work for it and compete with men! They must prove their worth. They must work twice as hard to earn half the respect they deserve in the corporate world! Never mind, the domestic world cannot be replaced!
With your busy schedule, do you find time to be with your family?
It’s always a struggle — balancing between office duty and domestic chores. Whenever I am not travelling, on a Sunday, I always try to make my husband his favourite masala tea and pancakes, as I make my children their rare sandwich, whenever they are home! But it’s very rare.
How does your being Christian shape your decision-making?
Psalms 28-7 reminds me every day that my strength comes from God, who is my shield. So every morning, I commit my day to God and lay my steps upon Him. This does not only give me the will to keep going, but also the courage to push forward. This is what my parents taught me.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Impacting people, especially the voiceless and most vulnerable, besides challenging the status quo!
How was the journey to where you are?
Gruelling; but purposeful.
What is your ideal day like?
Early to rise, late to bed!
If you were not the CS Health, who would you be?
A counsellor or a psychologist. I get so many people thinking I can listen to them and help them fix one or two personal issues.
What did you study in school?
Many things. Arts in high school, business at graduate college, regulation, law and leadership at postgraduate level.
What drives you?
Loyalty and the urge to make a difference, and to impact one more soul.
Did you ever aspire to head a Health ministry, if not where do you think your strength is?
No. This came as a surprise when the President named his Cabinet on 26 Jan 2018 and appointed me. However, I am one adaptable person and I have since fitted in well.
Three women you admire most?
Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, Zipporah Kittony and Winnie Mandela.
How do you unwind?
A long swim is always my most precious moment! A quiet evening with my family is always a welcome time.
What is the one thing unique about you?
Being me — candid, brutally honest and naively loyal.
What legacy do you wish to leave at the Health Ministry?
Daring to lead a reform journey that would cause legislative, institutional and policy reforms that will define the future of health in the 21st century and positively impact the lives of needy Kenyans.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Leading the sector in defining Kenya’s UHC approach, including determination of the essential benefits package; rallying the sector to adopt a primary healthcare approach to health sector delivery, focusing on promotive and preventative as well as specialised cadres through adoption of collegiate modalities.
Also, deepening partnerships with the devolved structures and the private sector with higher value for money and, a better leadership and governance ecosystem.
Some Kenyans think that you are arrogant, why the perception?
Everyone around me, including family and friends as well as myself, are surprised by this description of Sicily Kariuki. However, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But perceptions should not be shaped by biased media. I am easy-going, but if you expect to find me in social places, then it will take you many years!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Only God knows. If life brings lemons five years later, I will make a lemonade!
What’s your favourite meal?
Mukimo. I am from Nyandarua, the land of potatoes and peas!
A lot will be determined by what my current assignment yields! So let’s see.
What mantra do you live by?
100 per cent is not good enough; do more!