Majority of people know her as a social justice warrior, cutting edge lawyer and Founder of Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW Kenya). Ann Njogu opens up to Woman Kenya Network on her days on the front line of justice and what the future holds?
History has kept good records of you as a celebrated feminist, lawyer and activist. Who is Ann Njogu today?
First and foremost, I am a seeker constantly seeking with a lot of curiosity what talents are embedded in me and what God wants with me. I am a very passionate seeker and I call myself a freedom seeker as I want to experience freedom in all the 13 categories of life. In my intellectual, emotional life, parenting in my vision of life, career, health.
But more than that, I am a mother of two amazing adults; Stephanie, 28, currently in Australia and Ted, an aeronautical engineer who helps me run The Kitisuru Manor as one of the directors. He does a fantastic job.
I am also an attorney who uses the law for social good. I have used my voice to give the voiceless a voice. I am also a personal coach because I have come to learn that everything I have learned; I need to teach it to pass it on. Life has no manual and as one of my mentors Maya Angelou says, “When you learn, teach, when you get, give."
Ann Njogu is also a social justice advocate and that is what most people know me for. For years I was on the frontline championing for change. Lately, I am a published poet and still pregnant with ideas. Finally, I am the CEO of Kitisuru Manor, our family business.
As you have rightfully said, many people recognize you from your social justice work; what inspires you to fight for human rights?
That is a journey that started close to over twenty years ago. (That is not to say you should speculate my age, on a light note)
After university, I practised law briefly before joining an insurance company where I rose through the ranks to become chief legal officer. Despite holding a very senior position as company secretary, I was constantly restless and kept asking if this was really it?
I went to Sweden for human rights training for two weeks and thereafter, I knew I wanted to use my law for community impact. This was one of the biggest unfolding events in my journey because it connected me at the intersection of my passion, curiosity around making change and women’s rights. That was the genesis and I have never looked back.
Was the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW Kenya) launched soon after?
When we set up CREAW Kenya with founder members who are also lawyers, we knew that we needed to be involved in women’s emancipation. Initially the idea was to set up shelter homes and I am glad we never took that direction, as we later came to realize that our energies were best placed at a strategic level. Instead of catching the babies from being thrown into the river, we decided to stop the babies from being thrown.
Therefore, we went upstream into legislation, advocacy and community awareness and the rest is history.
Lawyer Ann Njogu poses with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton as she receives Woman of Courage Award 2010.
In June 2021 a Tanzanian MP, Condester Sichwale was removed from parliament for dressing inappropriately. What’s your take on the incident that drew global attention?
In the constitution, one of the basic rights for women is the right to dress as and how they want. That came from me and I am very proud.
Women’s dressing has been weaponized. Society uses the dress as a backlash against women who are proponents of certain changes. Speaking to her (Hon Condester Sichwale) everything hurled your way is an opportunity to step further.
The honourable member of parliament should have gone back and made sure there’s a provision that makes it impossible for another woman to be thrown out. If you seriously think about some of the things male MPs wear to parliament, come on, we should focus on intellectual issues and not whimsical issues such as the dress code.
In 2007 you were attacked and arrested by state security forces for demanding that MPs review their salaries, proof that activism comes at a high cost. How much have you done for this country?
I haven’t done it alone. We did it as a community, we call ourselves soldiers of justice. When you find a network of people who are thinking alike with a common desire to bring change, you achieve a lot. I cannot take the credit alone but I’m proud that we were able to step in the gap.
You drafted and lobbied for Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act, which became law in 200, you were also involved in the constitution process as one of the delegates in Boma and there’s more. Has the country paid back for the sacrifices you made?
When you are involved in activism, your goal is never to get rewarded but to create impact and change. The reward comes in different forms like when you start seeing progress in the things you paid a hefty price for.
One of the reasons I was on the frontline was for our children to apply their talent and not go back in the trenches. Reaping the fruits of our labour may not even be in our lifetime but we know for sure that the seeds that were planted by our struggles and those whose shoulders we stood, with sweat, blood and tears will eventually pay off.
Do you feel like your activism days are up?
Nope. Activism is a life-long journey and everyone should be an activist for change. We should be agitated for change, especially the many things that don’t work as opposed to sitting back, moaning and groaning. Why? Because we will continue bringing to office leaders we don’t deserve. But when we don’t say anything about them, then we definitely deserve them.
Rewriting the story of your life, what chapters would you keep and which ones would you throw away?
None. Each chapter impacted me differently and my character is a sum-total of all the chapters. My philosophy is that in life you either succeed or learn. The only regret I have is not having stepped into my essence earlier.
Tell me about the day you brushed shoulders with Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.
I was out in Machakos doing community work when I got a call from the US Ambassador to Kenya having been crowned winner of the International Woman of Courage Award 2010. I needed to travel to DC to receive the award from the US state department.
The International Woman of Courage Award is presented annually by the United States Department of State to women around the world who have shown leadership, courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to sacrifice for others, especially in promoting women's rights.
To cut a long story short, a moment like that cannot be summarized in a sentence because you get overwhelmed with thoughts. Emotional thoughts that the work you are doing is making an impact and that someone is watching and keeping tabs on our progress. Even though that wasn't the goal from the beginning I remember driving back to Nairobi thinking it was a mistake or a creation of my very fertile imagination.
Meeting the two women I had looked up to for years, was a confirmation that the universe had conspired for my good. I was grateful to the women we had worked with for this unintended reward.
You have also interacted with Oprah Winfrey?
Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve, goes a popular saying. I met Oprah in 2001, very early in my advocacy career after receiving a call from Chicago to recognize community awareness work. Oprah’s work in the media had inspired me and I always wanted to meet her. A day before my flight I got a ticket to attend her live show and meet her.
When Oprah walked in, we chatted like old friends for 30 minutes. If I met her today, it would be totally different and I would have a clear pitch for her on how to impact my community.
You recently became a published poet of The Vernette’s Heart…Who is Vernette and why was it important to release this book now?
Things that change your life are the people you meet and the books you read. Books changed my life from a tender age. Vernette’s Heart is a collection of poems I wrote when I was aged 17-22 years old. These are my raw unrefined thoughts.
I am sharing my journal with the world, published thanks to my son who found my manuscript. He argues that love is at the intersection of many things for young adults. Vernette is Ann Njogu at 17 years old.
Ann Njogu is very curious and at that age, love mesmerized me. It left me with questions more than answers. Vernette can be anyone who has fallen in, out of love young or old. The heart doesn't grow old because the soul doesn't age. To Vernettes of today; I love you, go out and reach out for your dreams.
Are you there yet Ann?
There’s a lot still missing. I am a dreamer with unlimited potential. I want to die empty having brought forth everything that was put forth in me. There’s still more in store but I am very grateful for this moment.
RAISE YOUR VOICE SO THAT THOSE WITHOUT CAN BE HEARD
Globally, women and girls continue to hold unrealized potential,
as the wheels of change in women's empowerment turn rather slowly. Yet women’s
equal participation and leadership in political and public life are