Rehema Kiteto, 25, is an assistant County Commissioner in Bomet County. She is the youngest national government administration officer in Kenya.
Kiteto spoke to the Sunday Nation about her experience, her biggest challenges, and leadership style.
How do you describe yourself to your acquaintances?
There is always so much to tell. I am a social person. Many find me approachable. I am a leader, believer, reader and writer, with one children’s book under my name; Hell In The Backyard & Other Stories. I am a box checker, I mean someone who works or moves with lists that I keep checking whether they are done. I manifest my goals and dreams. That’s what I have come to learn about myself. Even where I am today, it’s something I had pictured although I had not envisioned exactly how it is today. I have seven siblings.
You became an assistant county commissioner last year, at 24. How has the experience been so far?
I wake up to go and learn every day. If not the law we are enforcing, or administration and the many national government departments that we are coordinating, then it is how to handle the people we are governing.
What leadership roles did you hold previously that prepared you for this?
I was a dormitory prefect at Mwasere Girls, then a class representative at Egerton University. I was also a youth leader in Kwale Youth Assembly, an organisation that is focused on pushing the youth agenda. Being a youth leader taught me how to handle different people, courtesy, and protocol when approaching or talking to seniors. It also made me understand partially about the three arms of government and how they operate.
Do you show up at events and people whisper about you to others?
Yes. And most times I feel terrible. Because it raises my insecurities. I sigh in relief when I find out that whatever they were talking about is something good about me, or they were consulting whether I’m actually the person they heard. Many quarters associate with the name but are yet to meet me in person.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Managing the publicity. With the emergence of digital media, we are seeing a rise in bloggers. So, I am mostly afraid of having my story twisted or given weird headlines.
The law, the Bible, and the social moral code are all at my fingertips.
Who’s the most important person you’ve met?
My mother. She has always been my soft landing every time I had a rough confrontation with dad. From a young age, my dad was intent on teaching me about life so we clashed a lot about my decisions. So when it got rough, my mother was there to remind me who I was and prayed for me. My mother has seen my tears that the world was never supposed to see. In retrospect, I am grateful for my father because it is through him that I learned much about leadership.
When people meet you and especially in your uniform, what’s the one thing they like to ask you? Do chiefs and police salute you, too? Haha. But many just look at me in wonder. With the kind of a smile that epitomizes admiration. Especially mothers.
At 24, what is the most important thing in your life right now?
My career. I want to serve my country well. Anywhere I get posted, I want to leave an impact.
Does it make you anxious when you look at the number of people looking up to you for leadership?
Yes, a lot. There are moments when I feel like I am not doing enough. There are many expectations and perceptions. Some quarters want to see a perfect individual — with all aspects of my life going right but well, it is not.
What do your age mates think of what you do?
I have read a number of them saying they are proud of me. They feel represented and inspired. Periodically, I receive messages from girls who are in their early 20s telling me that my story inspires them. And those texts move me.
Tell us about a moment when you were very happy?
When I saw my name among the shortlisted candidates appointed as assistant county commissioners. Seeing how happy my parents and siblings were made me cry. It was a miracle and timely. Then I was vying for political office and I was facing hostility from people who were against my ambitions.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in inspiring people to get things done. Giving someone the reason to do what is right or to achieve something.
What are the barriers that you’ve had to fight to get where you are today?
My self-esteem, family aspirations, society’s dictations and people who posed as friends, only for me to discover later they had their own selfish motives.
Why do you think many women have a fraught relationship with power?
Because they have heard or observed from people what it takes to be a woman in power. It takes a lot. It is double what it takes a man to be in power. You live to prove yourself every day.
As a woman, what are your power secrets?
God. He is my cornerstone. I run to Him every time and I walk with Him in every boardroom I enter. I never feel insecure or less once I talk to Him. I frequently visit prayer centres.
Today is Mother’s Day. What is your “my mother” story?
My mother is helping me in anchoring my feet into the woman I am supposed to be. She gives me the reason to keep becoming more. She is in her fifties now and has eight children, all of whom are successful. She tells me that this is exactly what she had prayed for. It has not been easy but she has done it (of course, with my father’s support). I am proud of her.