Ps Josephta with the Head of state,H.E President Uhuru Kenyatta.
She is soft spoken, logical, well-founded and a career public servant.She rose to “fame” and limelight when the President, H.E Uhuru Kenyatta appointed her as the first Principal Secretary with a disability. This is the story of a woman who has flouted odds to serve in one of the most powerful ministries in Kenya.
This is the story of PS Josephta Mukobe.
Stevie Wonder,a prominent Artiste once said that ―Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes, that does not mean that he lacks vision. These are the opening remarks made by the Principal Secretary in Charge Special Programmes in the Ministry of Devolution during our interview. She the highest ranking government official with a disability in the Republic of Kenya. I meet her in her office on the 8th floor of Tele posta Towers in Nairobi where her office is based.
Josephta was born in the early sixties in a family of eight. She is the first born. She was born in Vihiga district. Her parents were enthusiastically waiting to receive their bundle of delight, but shock set in when they were informed that their child had a congenital disability, a condition that has affected her limbs.
Sadness in the whole clan
In the Luhya community childbirths are celebrated and are sources of joy to the family and the entire clan. However, her birth brought nothing but melancholy, to both her family and the clan. Her birth came with all sorts of explanations on the reasons why she was born disabled. Amidst all these frustrations, she found acceptance and love BY her parents. Much as the situation was distressing she believes her parents drew their strength and valor from her grandparents who were staunch Catholics. “Everything happens for a reason”, they would say from time to time.
As a small child she grasped that she was different from the rest of the people around. “Ni mipango ya mungu” was the answer she got from her staunch catholic parents when she asked why she did not have her hands. Her the greatest triumph was the moment at an early age when she learnt how to hold objects using both arm. “It was a great milestone”, she remembers with a huge smile. She learnt how feed herself, hold objects like the pen and scribble things on paper or on the ground. She would later learn other activities of daily living like brushing her teeth through the help of her mother who is still her strongest pillar to date. Her mother was there to cheer her up and every visitor at their home was told about the news of any of her landmark. This affirmation played a huge role in boosting her self-esteem. Looking back she wonders how life would have been for her if she had to depend on someone to feed and clothe her; the limitation of lacking a choice and the freedom to make decisions. She jokingly talks of a situation where you want to bite a loaf of bread and you have to depend on someone’s verdict on how many bites and size you take.
Knowing her constraints, her parents spent a lot of time teaching her to read and write. By the time she was registered to school she already knew how to write and was therefore not taxing to the teachers. Her parent had to make a pre-visit to the nearest school to her home to ensure the administration would support her and.
The worst first day in school
Her first day in school remains a long time dreadful event that will take time to forget. Learning came to a stoppage as children from lower to upper primary surrounded her; some ran up and down crying there was an evil spirit in school. The mortification dissuaded her from going back to school, but her grandmother reinvigorated her. The choice to take her to school was met with mixed reactions from relatives and friends. Whereas some felt school was the best place for her, after all “what else could she do”? Others were incredulous and wondered why my parents were wasting their time and resources to take me to school.
Journey to education
The first year in primary school was full of adjustments. She picked her momentum from class two and began leading in her class. She performed so well in her C.P.E. exams that the headmaster took her results to her home, himself. Mr. Francis was his name.
Josephta received her admission letter to join the high-status Alliance Girls school in Nairobi. Her parents were worried though. How would their little girl survive away from the care of her close family members? It was proposed that her position be traded with a classmate who had performed poorer than her. She remembers crying the whole night. Her parents altered their mind about the idea. Joining Alliance Girls exposed her to an environment far from home as she interacted with people from different cultures and diverse background. She had to take care and have responsibility for her personal belongings unlike before where it was done by her parents. She still went through stares and “stroppy looks”, from time to time. Teenage set in. Teenagers really care about their looks and image and she was no exception. Negative thoughts and self-destruction passed through my mind. This happens to Persons with disabilities and she adds “show me a disabled person who has never attempted or contemplated committing suicide and I’ll show you a liar”. Her parents took her to a hospital in Uganda to see if “anything could be done” but the assistive devices she was given were very burdensome. She didn’t use them for long.
At University of Nairobi
Josephta performed well at Alliance Girls’ and she advanced to University of Nairobi for her undergraduate.She pursued Bachelor of Arts Degree in Humanities and Social Science.Up until then She had not networked or seen a prosperous person with a disability in a senior Government office and was conjecturing on how she would manage. She resolved to be a role model to the many others who would come after her. Josephta had only one mentor, her uncle who was studying at Makerere University at the time.
She got her first job 6 months after campus as a Human Resource Officer and has since worked in the Human Resource career line for many years. She remembers an instance where her boss doubted if she could write and therefore feels that Disability and diversity training should be in all sectors including employers’ sensitization. In 2003 Josephta got a scholarship and left the country for further studies in England. PS Josephta holds Masters of Science in Human Resource Management from Manchester University.The government, which offered the scholarship, increased her stipend to cater for the extra cost related with her disability.
There are things that she just could not do especially in a domestic set-up. She particularizes how gender roles delineate the value of a woman in an African Traditional Set-up. The “ideal” physically strong to till land, fetch water, plough, feed animals and collect firewood. She would always wondered how she could manage all that.
The rise and rise in civil service.
Madam Josephta is a career civil servant who has worked her way up the ladder and at one point she served as The Deputy director, Human Resource Management at the Office of the Prime Minister. In 2013 she was appointed as the Principal Secretary for the State Department of Coordination, Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. She oversaw the assessment of staffing levels in public service an exercise that brought about savings through payroll cleansing, deployment and redeployment of public servants. She also started a series of reforms in prisons including trying to curb mobile related crimes by prisoners. She also spearheaded the government’s effort in looking into cost effective sources of energy and food in prisons to help reduce the cost of running the correctional facilities. “We want our prisons to also contribute to national development through rehabilitation of prisoners”, she said at Meru GK Prison in 2014.
She would also address the “taboo” issue of grabbing of government land by “big people”. “We are saddened by the state of affairs in our prisons where majority of land has been grabbed, making it impossible to carry out expansion”, she said citing that it has been a costly affair to transport women prisoners to Kakamega prison due to lack of the facility in Bungoma County in 2015.
Her current portfolio at State department -Special Programmes involves handling emergencies, disasters, IDPs among other emerging and state issues. When not working, during her leisure time, she enjoys travelling, listening to music and mentoring young people. In the month of May(this month) she intends to visit Joytown special school and give back to community by mentoring the students and sharing a meal with them.PS Joseptha is not married, nor does she have her own children out of her personal choice, but supports many children to access education in Kenya
Quick Facts about Josephta Oyiela Mukobe.
At a Retreat in Narok last month
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