Sally Kosgei – The legend of quiet power

13 June 2012 Rome, Italy – FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva meeting Sally Kosgei, Minister for Agriculture, Kenya at FAO headquarters.

Dr Sally Kosgei was the first woman to be appointed Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Public Service, and the second female permanent secretary in independent Kenya. For her exemplary service, she was awarded Chief of the Burning Spear (CBS), Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) and Elder of the Golden Heart (EGH). Dr Sally Kosgei was known for wielding exceptional power both in her civil service and political endeavours. As the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Public Service in the Office of the President, she was the first and, so far, only woman to hold this position in Kenya.

After her high school education at the prestigious Alliance Girls High School, Kosgei went to the University of Dar-es-Salaam, where she studied History – Political Science; sharing classes with the likes of former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kiwete. Her credentials thereafter were impressive enough to attract a scholarship at the Ivy League Stanford University, where she got her master’s degree in African History and later a PhD in African Economic History. In 1978, she began her tenure as a lecturer in the University of Nairobi’s History Department. She was soon appointed to serve in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Kenya Mission to HABITAT until 1985, when she was made Consular at the Kenya High Commission in Zimbabwe, and later the Permanent Representative of the Kenya Mission to UNEP.

The 1986-1992 period saw her head the Kenya High Commission in the United Kingdom, and as Kenya’s ambassador to Ireland and Switzerland. About half a decade later, she was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation as the Permanent Secretary – making her the second female PS in independent Kenya after Margaret Githinji, who was PS in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kosgei then delved into politics – winning the Aldai Constituency seat in 2007. It was during her tenure as MP that she was appointed Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, and later Minister for Agriculture.

While she was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kosgei was credited with aggressively pushing Kenya’s agenda in international circles. She is also said to have been instrumental in the mentorship of those that took up the docket after her. She surprised both friend and foe when she carved her own political niche by taking over the Aldai parliamentary seat. Her role at the mediation talks after the disputed 2007 General Elections results brought to the
fore the negotiating acumen of the former career diplomat.

As part of the Orange Democratic Movement party’s negotiation team during the peace talks, she mobilised her international contacts to help resolve the dispute that sparked the infamous post-election violence that rocked the nation. As Minister for Agriculture, Kosgei was instrumental in having 10 ministries put under a single docket, and 70 parastatals being grouped into three. She stated at the time that the agriculture sector was being regulated by 131 laws – most of which were out-dated as they were no longer responsive to the needs of the dynamic sector, and
were in fact a major impediment to economic growth. Associated with the impediments was the absence of strong regulations to foster competition in the sector, the existence of many parastatals that played multiple, overlapping and at times contradictory functions, and a restrictive regulatory environment that hindered or discouraged private sector investment.

In October 2016, after a brief hiatus from public life, Kosgei was appointed to serve as the chancellor of Taita Taveta University for a term of five years.

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