Amid jubilation, two leading literary figures were among eminent Kenyan women awarded state honours on Thursday, August 23, 2018.
Kenyan book lovers must have been particularly elated that the two top literary figures – veteran writer Muthoni Likimani and literature don Prof Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira – were among the women recognised.
While Ms Likimani has ventured into the world of fiction and memoir writing, Prof Kabira is mainly renowned for her contribution to the study of oral literature through such titles as The Oral Artist.
Fittingly, the award of last month’s honours coincided with the launching of It’s Possible: An African Woman Speaks, a memoir by veteran woman politician and activist Phoebe Asiyo.
However, during a telephone chat last week, Ms Likimani said she was not unduly excited about being awarded the Order of the Burning Spear, insisting that there are many other Kenyan women who deserve the honour.
She insisted that Kenyan women have been actively involved in matters of national development since the late 1940s and even earlier.
“Non-elite women without political connections have to a large extent been ignored,” she said, pointing out that over the decades there were numerous women involved in such early development ventures as the Mabati Group, set up to ensure that Kenyan families had properly roofed houses.
That venture, she says, was followed by the renowned Matangi women’s group, which tried to ensure that as many rural households as possible had water storage tanks to reduce their domestic water woes.
Among the pioneering women across Kenya who have remained unsung, she says, are the late Maggie Gona at the coast and Tabitha Ogega in Kisii.
Others were Ruth Habwe, Beatrice Shadrack and Priscilla Abwao in Western Kenya.
As for Central Kenya, unsung heroines include Wairima wa Nderitu from Ihururu in today’s Nyeri County and Rahab Kamanda from Murang’a, while in the Eastern region there was Ruth Karanga from Embu.
Explaining that she has received other national, continental and global honours in the past, Ms Likimani said that early this year she was honoured by being invited to the Heads of State Summit at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
She was among a varied group of leading African women, including Phoebe Asiyo, who were honoured by African Heads of State for service to the African continent over the decades.
The Addis gathering focused on reviving the Pan-African Women’s Organisation (PAWO), a women’s body set up soon after the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity, AU’s precursor.
Inaugurated by the founders of the OAU, the organisation was initially made up of their wives and other members of Africa’s political royalty, but is now expected to bring together top female players in African development.
“During the Addis meeting in January, six of us were tasked with rejuvenating the organisation, which is today based in