After taking a low profile since 2013 when she narrowly missed the Taita Taveta governorship to incumbent John Mruttu, former Central Bank of Kenya deputy governor Jacinta Mwatela is back in the public eye.
The tough talking no-nonsense former civil servant is back to try her luck for the governor’s seat, on an Amani National Congress (ANC) ticket within the Opposition National Super Alliance.
Mrs Mwatela who quit government in 2008 after turning down a controversial appointment as a Permanent Secretary before her contract was over, will battle it out with seven men including the incumbent, in the August 8 General Election.
In the last election, the former deputy CBK boss contested on a Wiper Party ticket and lost with a margin of about 2,000 votes.
She is hopeful that this time round, she will weather the competition from her rivals, who include a former Permanent Secretary and the county’s senator to make history as a first female governor in the male dominated field.
Mrs Mwatela cuts the figure and profile of a serious leader who is fiercely independent and does not compromise on her principles.
This position gained her nationwide fame when in September 2008 she turned down former President Mwai Kibaki’s offer to her as the PS for Northern Kenya ministry. She had wanted to understand reasons for her transfer from CBK, coming before the end of her contract in 2009. With the reasons not coming, she opted to quit government.
As she campaigns to ask Taita Taveta residents to give her the opportunity to serve them as head of their government, some of the voters are divided on what to make of her “toughness” with others saying it is just what a county government needs to be able to realise the fruits of devolution-a leader who will give her all to guard public resources.
To her close friends and family members, Mrs Mwatela is the complete opposite of the picture and impression the public has of her.
Her husband, former politician Calist Mwatela, describes her as a friend and home maker.
He says his wife of 44 years is warm and kind hearted, contrary to how some people view her.
“At home ,we crack jokes, she cooks for the family and she bonds well with her neighbours,” Mr Mwatela says.
Born in a family of 14 at Njawuli village in Mghange, Wundanyi sub county, she had always been different from her other siblings.
Her elder brother and a former Wundanyi MP Mashengu Mwachofi, says his sister was quite reserved and at times she used to be teased by her siblings for her character.
Mr Mwachofi says his younger sister would at times miss meals when their mother forgot to serve her portion.
“That is why she does not value earthly materials. She values humanity more than anything,” he says.
He talks fondly of his sister saying how they used to do menial jobs to put food on the table.
“At times we used to walk for eight kilometers to sell vegetables before rushing back home to prepare for school before 8am. Even through all this, she still emerged top in class,” he added.
After completing her primary school education at Njawuli Primary School in Mghange, she joined Bura Girls High School for her O levels before joining Loreto Limuru High School for her form Five and Six.
The alumni of University of Nairobi who graduated with a Bachelors degree in Commerce would eventually rise to the helm of CBK.
During her tenure at the bank, Mrs Mwatela was known as a straight forward worker and never tolerated corruption.
Her brother says they earned this character trait from their parents.
Born and brought up in a strict Catholic family, attending mass was a must or else one would draw punishment from the parents.
“My mother taught us to never steal or tell lies. My father would always caution us against discriminating other people. Our strong Christian values also solidified our character,” he added.
As more women throw their hats in the gubernatorial race across the country compared to 2013, where no woman was elected to the seat, Mrs Mwatela is confident of victory for Taita Taveta’s top job.
Her political career started in 2013 when she vied for the seat but narrowly lost to Governor Mruttu after she garnered 32,890 votes against the incumbent’s 34 290.
She will run on an ANC party ticket, an affiliate of Nasa coalition as she tries to unseat Mr Mruttu in her second bid.
Her supporters say the no nonsense woman who does not mince her words and says things as they are to her male counterparts, is better placed to fit the job.
In 2013 while vying for the ODM ticket, during nominations she refused to take part in irregularities such as transportation if voters to polling stations so they could vote for her. She argued she would rather lose the seat than win
Ms Mwatela will battle it out with Senator Dan Mwazo (Jubilee) Granton Samboja (Wiper) Constantine Mwadime (Maendeleo Chap Chap), Erastus Katani (Independent) Jared Nzano (Independent) former PS Emmanuel Kisombe (Independent) and Governor Mruttu who will also run as an independent candidate.