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NEWS INDEPTH: Women in Kenya closing gender gap in science

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The number of women in science and technical professions in Kenya has increased steadily, raising hope of bridging the gender gap in a segment skewed in favour of men.

In 2017, there were 21,400 professional women employed in the science and technical fields. This represented a jump of 10.88 percent from the previous year, even though their male counterparts were still more than double at 52,400 professionals.

“Things have really changed. More women are getting into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (Stem). They are getting more into IT and maybe some into engineering. There is actually the will and the drive from women to get into this industry because it is only us who can create an environment to accommodate ourselves,” says chemical and process engineer Emmy Soy-Butaki.

Still, more needs to be done to expose women to opportunities in Stem fields. As a software engineer at Mark Zuckerberg-backed start-up Andela, Joan Ngatia today works with a company in New York city to build websites and applications that are on the cutting edge of the technological space, which can be used by millions of people everyday.

“I stumbled upon my current field of practice merely as an extension of the previous job that I had. I am initially trained in Geospatial Data Sciences so in my work while trying to handle a couple of queries and interacting with several software I thought this is something I could do,” says Ms Ngatia.

“I started learning Python on the side during my breaks at my old office. In programming there is an exact flow to how things came up similar to how we do things in real life. If you want to make a cup of tea there are all these steps you need to follow so programming in the same way has all these steps that you need to add sequentially to get your desired result and that interests me,” says Ms Ngatia


However, even after women work to secure the requisite education to work in Stem fields, they are having a hard time getting employed in the industry.

“Getting a job is a bit harder as a woman because your employer is looking at so many things. For example most of the time the woman is the one in the family who has to sacrifice to take some time off if you have a child who is unwell or your house girl disappears on you. Those are some of the aspects that I feel really affect the relationship between women and their employers especially in engineering,” says Ms Soy-Butaki

Of the four women in her university class of 36, three got into banking instead of pursuing a career in engineering. The number of women enrolled in universities in 2017-2018 was 215,048, a dip from 234,120 the previous year. The ratio is worse in Stem courses.

Some women reported that male employers demand sexual favours to offer them job opportunities in the field, reflecting sexual harassment claims that plagued the industry in 2017.

Discrimination in the workplace is also evident in a discrepancy in salary. Data on Kenya’s gender pay gap shows that only 28,072 women earn more than Sh100,000. In comparison, men in the same income bracket are more than double that number at 48,733.


“At my previous job, I was able to use some of my characteristics like being outgoing and a bit of a perfectionist to climb up the career ladder until one point when I was pulled out of the fieldwork and reassigned to the office because I was the only woman. This meant that my salary was a bit reduced and I did not get as many allowances as the other people in the field did,” says Ms Ngatia.

Further, some of the discrimination comes even when they leave the physical workplace to engage with the society in their professional capacity.

“At times you would go for field work to a far flung area and the locals don’t believe that you have been sent by a particular company. One time a guy kept following me and repeating the measurements and calculations I was doing. If I had gone there with another gentleman as a surveyor to help me, he would have gone back to his house and come back for just the final results,” says Ms Ngatia.

“Once I had to go with a man for particular fieldwork which was basically subdivision of land to make it look legitimate because the old men would have caused frackers if I had appeared alone,” she adds.

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“You might go through terrible experiences as a woman where you are discriminated because of what you have done or who you are. Take it in and actually deal with it, don’t ignore it. Hang out with a friend. Take a step back and relax then tomorrow tell yourself I am better today than I was yesterday,” says Kagonya Awori, lead of Human Experience and Design at Safaricom Alpha, the innovation arm of Safaricom.


“What is most important is how do you view yourself. When you feel not confident put your hands up in the air and do the victory sign. I am good. I am great. I am gonna make it today,” she adds.

Increased literacy and retention rates of women within the education system could also be a trigger for the increased entry into the Stem sector.

Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that although the annual intake of boys in Standard One is still higher than that of girls, more boys drop out in the eight years of primary school calendar. In 31 counties, the completion rate for girls is significantly higher than or at par with boys.

Ms Linda Kemoli who worked as a camp counsellor and supervisor for a technology workshop for teenagers called Tech Republic says: “I found there was actually balance between the male students and female students. You find that the girls were also very proactive and creative in terms of the solutions that they built in things like storytelling and game production. In fact, we conducted a competition and it is a girl who won and she got a tablet and an opportunity to be trained further.”

Women in the different sectors, however, decry their treatment within the education system.

“In a class of about 60, we were 10 of us and every time we had group projects to work on, you would notice that you weren’t expected to do actual practical heavy lifting. The boys would hurdle among themselves and insist on setting up the equipment,” says Ms Ngatia

Ms Awori who was the first African to get a Masters in Human Computer Interactions from Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) before earning her PhD in Melbourne says although she did not experience much discrimination within the academic bubble, today people are prone to disbelieving her academic qualifications when she introduces herself as Dr Awori.

“When you get the title doctor, that is when people try to really undermine your PhD, and it is not that getting a phD in a field like sociology is not a good thing but the title doctor on a woman with a PhD in computer engineering comes with a whole gamut of experiences, mostly positive but some of them are negative,” says Ms Awori.

In a country where a significant number of the best funded technology start-ups are led by foreigners, it is interesting that many women point out discrimination by foreigners because of their race.

“I have never felt discriminated within the academic circles but because of the coupling of gender and race, as an African I felt my perspective is very different because you appear and you are black and you are labelled even before you open the mouth so I experienced a lot of that,” says Ms Awori.

Many of the women cite mentorship programmes as some of the means by which they have catapulted themselves forward within their careers.

“I love the way we are encouraging more and more women to go into Stem. At the same time I would like to say that it is fine for a woman to choose where she wants to go,” adds Ms Awori

“What we should do is really open up the options that women have. We should celebrate the woman but also realise that the woman can choose to be whoever she wants to be. If you don’t want to be in Stem it’s fine. If you want to be in Stem then please go ahead and be the best that you can be,” she adds.

Ms Ngatia is passionate about mentorship and since 2016 has led the Django Girls workshop in Nairobi targeted at girls as young as 16 and women as old as 40 who have zero understanding of programming but have ideas for technological solutions they would like to build such as applications to book buses or websites to make a craft shop.

“I feel bad when sometimes there are opportunities and no woman applies. I do Django Girls because it feels nice to spark the same realisation in other people that I had that I could actually do this,” says Ms. Ngatia.

Many of the women she has trained go on to successfully apply to Andela and other technological firms.



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BCCI: The bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.

BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.

It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.

BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.

The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.

He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.

In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  

BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.

The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.

The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.

It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.

The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.

It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”

This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.

The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.

And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.

“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.

BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.

“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.

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A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.

“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.

CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.

This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.

For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.

In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.

Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 

The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.

Criminal culture

In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).

The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.

This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.

Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.

“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.

These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.

“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.

BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).

Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).

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Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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East Africa celebrates top women in banking and finance

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The Angaza Awards for Women to watch in Banking and Finance in East Africa took place Online via Zoom on 8th June 2021.

The event was set to celebrate the top 10 women shaping banking and finance across East Africa. The 2021 Angaza Awards, which will be a Pan-African Awards program, was also announced at the event.

Key speakers at this webinar were Dr Nancy Onyango, Director of Internal Audit and Inspection at the IMF; and Gail Evans, New York Times Best Selling Author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman and former White House Aide and CNN Executive Vice President.

Dr Nancy Onyango advised women to deep expertise in their fields, spend time in forums and link with key players in that sector.
“Gain exposure with other cultures by seeking for employment overseas and use customized CV for each job application,” said Dr Onyango.

According to Gail Evans, women should show up and be fully present in meetings and not be preoccupied with other issues.
“Be simple and avoid jargon. Multi-tasking only means that you are mediocre Smart people ask good questions in a business meeting. Most women face drawbacks due to perfectionism, procrastination and fear of failure, said Evans.

She advised women to play like a man and win like a woman, be strategic, and intentionally make their moves to get to the top.

“For us to pull up businesses that have been affected by effects of COVID-19 pandemic, we need to re-invent business models, change the product offering and make more use of digital platforms,” said Mary Wamae Equity Group Executive Director.

Mary Wamae emerged top at the inaugural Angaza awards( East Africa) ahead of other finalists.

While women continue to excel in banking and finance, the number of that occupies top executive positions is still less.

“There is a gap for women occupying C suite level and it continues to widen in the finance sector. At entry level, there is still an experience gap for women,” said Nkirote Mworia, Group Secretary for UAP-Old Mutual Group.

She said that at the Middle Management level, women do not express their ambition. For this reason, UAP-Old Mutual has developed an executive sponsorship program to help women get to the next level.

Mworia added that most women hold the notion that top positions in management have politics and pressure.
“One needs leadership skills and not technical expertise to get to the top,” said Mworia.

According to Catherine Karimi, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Officer of APA Life Assurance Company, women need to focus on the strengths and natural abilities that they already have.

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“Take risks and raise your hand to get to the high table. Find mentors along the way and develop your own brand and not compare yourself with others Focus on your strengths because it will make you move faster in the career ladder,” said Karimi.

Lina Mukashyaka Higiro, a Rwandan businesswoman and chief executive officer of the NCBA Bank Rwanda since July 2018, has three lessons for women who want to excel in banking and finance.
“Always spend at least 20 minutes each day reading, seeking genuine feedback from other staff members and widen your network,” Higiro told the webinar.

Women picked for Angaza awards

Mary Wamae, Executive Director, led this year’s Top 10 Women in Angaza Awards, Equity Group (Kenya)(2)Catherine Karimi, Chief Executive Officer, APA Life Insurance Company (Kenya)(3)Lina Higiro, Chief Executive Officer, NCBA Bank (Rwanda)(4)Elizabeth Wasunna Ochwa, Business Banking Director, Absa Bank (Kenya)(5)Joanita Jaggwe, Country Head of Risk and Compliance, KCB Group (South Sudan)(6) Millicent Omukaga, Technical Assistance Expert on Inclusive Finance, African Development Bank (Kenya)(7)Emmanuella Nzahabonimana, Head of Information Technology, KCB Group (Rwanda)(8)Judith Sidi Odhiambo, Group Head of Corporate Affairs, KCB Group (Kenya)(9)Rosemary Ngure, ESG & Impact Manager, Catalyst Principal Partners (Kenya) and(10)Pooja Bhatt, Co-Founder, QuantaRisk and QuantaInsure (Kenya).

The Kenyan Wallstreet, a financial media firm, partnered with Kaleidoscope Consultants to raise awareness of seasoned women shaping and influencing the sector through their organizations.

The Angaza Award criteria included assessing the applicants’ area of responsibility and contribution to firm performance. Professionals in Banking, Capital Markets, Insurance, Investment Banking, Fintech, Fund Management, Microfinance, and SACCOs were invited to submit their applications or nominations via the Kenyan Wallstreet Award Web page.

ALSO READ: Angaza Awards Top Finalist; Mary Wangari Wamae

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IFC in New Partnership to Develop Affordable Housing in Mombasa County

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 14 – International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, has signed a new deal in support of affordable housing in Kenya.

The corporation has partnered with Belco Realty LLP, to develop a mixed use affordable living complex that will consist of 1,379 residential units and over 4,500 square meters of retail and commercial spaces in Kongowea, Mombasa County.

Together with the Kenyan firm, IFC says the partnership will help meet surging demand for housing in Kenya.

Under the agreement, IFC will help identify suitable international strategic partners to invest equity of up to $12 million, or Sh1.3 billion in Belco and to provide the company with the necessary technical support to develop the project.

The development, known as Kongowea Village, will be developed to foster inclusive and affordable community living within the city.

Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa says the project, which will be located on eight acres within the heart of Mombasa city, will aim to be a catalyst for wider city regeneration.

The project will be developed to meet IFC EDGE certification requirements and will incorporate the latest technologies in passive cooling, energy efficiency and water conservation to support sustainable urbanization.

 Kongowea Village is expected to create 1,160 jobs and business opportunities during the three-year construction period and many more after completion of the project within the themed retail arcade.

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 “Access to quality housing is a growing problem in Kenya and across Africa,” said Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

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“Developers often target the high end of the market, but this project is aimed squarely at the lower-income bracket. Helping Belco identify the right partners for this project is expected to attract more developers to Kenya and other parts of Africa to help meet rising demand for housing.”

 IFC‘s engagement with Belco will help Kenya support its rapidly growing and urbanizing population by increasing access to affordable housing. The problem is similar across most of Africa, where population growth and demand for quality housing are combining to outstrip supply.  We are pleased to partner with a company such as Belco that is committed to contributing to solving this challenge,” said Emmanuel Nyirinkindi, IFC‘s Director for Transaction Advisory Services.

 IFC’s partnership with Belco is part of its broader strategy to support better access to affordable housing in Kenya.

In 2020, IFC invested $2 million in equity in the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC) to help increase access to affordable mortgages and support home ownership in the country.

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