Meet the Gakuos: The family that gave Kenya her third First Lady

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Dr Ephantus Njuguna Gakuo . Inset (Maina Gakuo)
Dr Ephantus Njuguna Gakuo . Inset (Maina Gakuo)

Dr Njuguna Gakuo, father of First Lady Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta, was the first African managing director of Kenya Railways after taking over from GPG Mackay in 1964.

That was three years after he returned from Germany, where he taught for a year after graduating with a PhD in Economics from Frelberg University in 1960. He also taught African studies for three years at Delhi University after earning his BA and MA degrees in Commerce from the Delhi School of Business in 1955.

Dr Gakuo did not return from Deutschland with only a doctorate, but a German wife as well, the mother of Margaret  and his brother, Maina Gakuo.

Dr E Njuguna Gakuo: The alumnus of Alliance High School was the secretary of the East African Tobacco Company before he was appointed Director General of the East African Railways & Harbours during the Africanisation programme in September 1964, a post he held for 12 years to 1976.

It was during his tenure at Kenya Railways that in 1965, he sourced £13 million (about Sh1.8 billion at current exchange rates) from the World Bank to bankroll the improvement of the high capacity rolling stock, new marshaling yards, modern training methods and better rail traffic control.

A further £15 million (Sh2.1 billion) from the Central Legislation Assembly increased rail stock and wagons, besides transitioning from steam to diesel locomotives saw £30 million (Sh4.2 billion) injected into the acquisition of 70 coach (third class) wagons that shot passenger numbers to six million in 1971 and workforce to 46,000 strong by 1972.

At the height of its popularity and transport behemoth status, Kenya Railways was Dr Gakuo and Dr Gakuo was Kenya Railways. But he had to contend with a bloated workforce — always on the verge of strikes and go-slows — and the modernisation programme was a logistical nightmare fraught with delays and capacity challenges. Dr Ephantus Njuguna Gakuo died in August 2005.

HE Margaret Kenyatta: Kenya’s third First Lady who has carved her immortality on the back of the Beyond Zero Campaign, a countrywide grassroots health initiative. Beyond Zero has so far launched 36 mobile clinics around the country. The alumnus of Kianda School is mother of Jomo, Jaba and Ngina and has also popularised the First Lady Half Marathon, whose third edition was launched this year.

-sde.co.ke

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