Chelagat Mutai

Philomena Chelagat Mutai still holds the record as the youngest female Member of Parliament (MP) in Kenya. At just 24 years old, Mutai trounced 11 other aspirants in the 1974 general elections to clinch the Eldoret North seat on a Kenya African National Union (KANU) ticket. This made her the youngest legislator and the first woman to be elected by her ethnic group.

Mutai was a force to reckon with and a firebrand during her brief stint in Parliament. This led to her rise to the national limelight through her passionate and spirited fights against land grabbing, political assassinations and corruption.

She found her niche in leadership when she was in high school where she led a students’ strike and was consequently expelled. The expulsion notwithstanding, she wrote her ‘A’ level examinations from outside the school and qualified to join the University of Nairobi to study political science.

While at the university, she edited the school’s magazine known as The Platform which highlighted the plights of the students. Her vibrant outspokenness led to a few run-ins with the government and with the administration which saw her in and out of the university before eventually graduating and joining politics full-time.

Mutai was closely associated with a group of colleagues who were labelled the ‘Seven Bearded Sisters’ by the then Attorney General because of their resilience and because their motions in Parliament disturbed the government’s agenda.

In 1976, Mutai was arrested and jailed for six months for her role in the invasion of a sisal plantation in Ziwa. This led to the loss of her parliamentary seat. After serving her sentence, she defended her seat and won with a landslide victory.

This marked the beginning of her fall whose thud resonated across the whole country. She quickly fell from a feted top legislator to a hounded jailbird. In October 1981, Mutai was slapped with charges of forged mileage claims. She opted to seek political asylum in Tanzania rather than serve another jail term for fabricated claims. Tanzania thwarted Kenya’s efforts to repatriate Mutai to face trial on criminal charges.

During her exile, she enrolled for a master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Dar es Salaam. She returned to Kenya in 1984 to visit her ailing mother who passed on a few days later. She took up a job at the Kenya Commercial Bank for a short while before moving to KANU as the director in charge of publicity. She was also a committee member of the human rights committee.

After these brief stints, Mutai disappeared from the limelight. In 2006, she was involved in a near fatal road accident and suffered a spinal injury. She died on July 7, 2013.

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