Nairobi — Former US first lady Michelle Obama once said there is no limit to what women can accomplish; and one strong woman in Kenya has lived to prove that.
Meet Nancy Karigithu, a true definition of "Strength of a Woman."
A maritime legal expert, Karigithu is the current Principal Secretary for Kenya's Shipping and Maritime State Department under the Transport Ministry dedicated to spearhead the country's maritime agenda for economic growth.
She is the first PS to head such a government department in the history of Kenya having been appointed in November 2015, when President Uhuru Kenyatta named his initial team of principal secretaries.
The President initially formed it as the Maritime Commerce Department, (now Shipping and Maritime), a first of its own, as his administration came into power (first term) with an ambitious dream of awakening the sleeping giant-the blue economy.
Karigithu walked into her Transcom House office along Ngong Road, Nairobi, with a lot of weight on her shoulders, knowing very well the expectation the country had in making a breaking through in the blue economy.
She has lived to her dream of driving the maritime agenda to the next level, not only for Kenya but the entire continent and the global scene at large.
Karigithu has vast experience in the sector spanning over 30 years, marked with exemplary leadership in the fields of maritime administration and commercial shipping in both government and the private sector.
Until May 2015, she was the Director-General of Kenya Maritime Authority, where she was in charge of day-to-day management and operations and also responsible for advising and implementing the government's maritime policy.
In that capacity, she represented Kenya in global maritime forums including but not limited to the Assembly, the Council as well as the Technical Cooperation Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
During this time, Kenya attained key milestones as a maritime player in the Eastern Africa and the West Indian Ocean region.
In June 2015, she ended a four year stint as the Chairperson of IMO's Technical Cooperation Committee, one of the five committees through which the organization performs its mandate. She currently serves as a member of the board of governors of the World Maritime University based in Malmo, Sweden, the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta and is also the Vice President (Africa) for International Mobile Satellite Organization, London.
"I steered the Kenya's maritime industry over a nine year stint, guiding the regulation and the shipping industry at large, resulting in exponential growth in the industry over that period," Karigithu explains.
Her contribution to the country, continent and the global maritime space speaks volumes.
In 2007 she was privileged to champion the launch of the Association for Women in the Maritime Sector in Eastern and Western Africa (WOMESA), which brings together women maritime professionals to mentor and encourage new female entrants in the sector, as well as lobby for their training and promotion.
Captain Pretty Mbakaza (L)-Ship pilot from SA Durban Port), PS Nancy Karigithu (Centre) and KPA Trainee pilot Elizabeth Marami at a recent Womesa event.
Womesa is a partnership between IMO and 24 countries in the East and Southern Africa region aimed at building the capacity of and encourage the participation of women in the maritime sector through a mentor-ship programme and training sponsorships.
Leading by example, Karigithu is an inspirational speaker at numerous forums intended to encourage young women, of high school and college age, to take up careers in the shipping industry, including seafaring.
This has borne fruits in the country where for decades the maritime sector has been perceived a male playing field. Today, Kenya can boast of having women in top careers in the maritime sector including marine pilotage and engineering.
Karigithu has played a major role in developing the sector in Africa where she had in the past consulted widely for IMO in sub-Saharan Africa, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the East African Community and the African Union (AU).
Her expertise has been recently recognized by the AU where she also served a stint as a maritime transport expert.
Countries that have benefited from her knowledge and expertise include Ethiopia, the Gambia, Uganda, South Africa, Seychelles and her mother land Kenya just to mention a few.
"I was a consultant on establishment of legal frameworks for the improvement of safety of navigation for Uganda, a landlocked state in 2007. I also part of the team involved in developing a national maritime transport policy for South Africa in 2005, before resigning to Join the KMA," the soft spoken but tough PS explains.
Between November 2004 and July 2005, she worked closely with the African Union to elaborate maritime transport policy decisions emanating from the AU Executive Council.
Seychelles benefited from her input between March and April 2004, when it reviewed the legal and administrative framework for the establishment of a Maritime Safety Administration.
It was the same year that she played the lead role in drafting Kenya's legislation for domesticating the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. The (ISPS) Code is an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention on minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and government agencies.
She is also behind the Kenya's key maritime legislation like Lake Victoria Inland Water Transport Act, Merchant Shipping Act and Kenya Maritime Authority Act.
Between 2003 and 2004, she was part of the team engaged in the drafting of the Kenya integrated transport policy document and also helped revise the African Maritime Transport Charter that was finally adopted in 2011.
Karigithu further helped Tanzania review the legal framework for the establishment of an independent Maritime Administration where she drafted the Merchant Shipping Bill. For Zambia, she was instrumental in drafting the country's maritime legislation having special regard to a landlocked state with vast inland waterways.
She also consulted for Ethiopia, helping in identifying and assessing requirements of a recently landlocked state owning a national shipping line.
"We also reviewed the draft Maritime Code of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia," she narrates during an interview with the Exchange.
A graduate in Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Maritime Law from the International Maritime Law Institute, Malta, Karigithu helped Ghana draft the legal and administrative framework necessary to establish an independent maritime administration, after helping Kenya outline modalities of setting up an independent maritime administration.
She horned her leadership skills at the IESE Business School (offered in conjunction with the Strathmore University Business School). IESE Business School is consistently ranked among the top ten business schools in Europe. Programmes top-tier management or company owners with at least 15 years of senior managerial experience.
In 2014 she attended the inaugural Senior Maritime Leaders Program, mounted by the Singapore Maritime & Port Academy. "The programme boosted my maritime leadership skills and I was able to undertake an in-depth analysis and understanding of international shipping together with the attendant concerns for the safety of life at sea, ships and cargo, maritime security and the need for sustainable use of world seas," she says.
A former senior legal officer at Kenya Ports Authority, which manages East Africa's leading Port of Mombasa, Karigithu is currently helping her country formulate the National Maritime Transport Policy which is at advanced stage.
She was deeply involved in the arrangements that saw Kenya successfully host the recent Global Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi (November 26- 28), where the country sealed major partnerships. The forum was attended by more than 17, 000 delegates from 183 countries, out of the 206 countries in the world.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has since promised that his government will adopt the recommendations made at the conference and turn them into opportunities to advance Kenya's development.
"Without doubt this conference was a turning point for Kenya, Africa and many other parts of the world in that new investments in the blue economy will lead to enormous growth in Kenya's economy, create thousands of marine related jobs and increase food and nutrition security and enhance environmental sustainability," President Kenyatta said during this year's Jamhuri Day celebrations (December 12) in Nairobi.
The blue economy is one of the eight sectors under the economic pillar of the third Medium Term Plan of the Kenya Vision 2030, expected to contribute to 10 per cent GDP.
PS Karigithu has also been part of the team spearheading the implementation of the Marine Cargo Insurance policy in Kenya which seeks to have all imports underwritten locally.
This is in an effort to tap into the Ksh21billion worth of insurance cover repatriated by Kenyans to foreign insurance firms.
Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) data shows local gross premiums in 2014-15 were Sh2.7 billion and Sh2.9 billion respectively.
Karigithu was this year named the 2018 African Union (AU) Woman of the Year and was also the overall winner of the Pan-African Most Influential Woman in Business and Government, for her contribution to the development of the blue economy in Kenya and Africa as well as her work in championing the integration of women in the maritime sector.
"I am humbled at this recognition, however it has taken many hands to reach this space and I thank them all. We shall continue working closely with all the industry players to drive the blue economy agenda to where it deserves to be," PS Karigithu said of the awards.
She is keen to help Kenya reap from its waters, mainly ocean, where the country's jurisdiction covers about 128,015km squared and a distance of 200 nautical miles offshore.
Navigable inland waterways cover approximately 10,700 square kilometers. The combined waters under Kenya's jurisdiction covers an equivalent of total land surface area of 31 out of the country's 47 counties. While the maritime industry drives 92 per cent of the country's international trade, its full potential is yet to be harnessed and exploited something she is focused on.
"I believe in our country's ability to transform into a major maritime nation on the eastern seaboard within the next ten years," she says.
Kenya stands to reap big from the fishing industry whose value is estimated at more than Ksh 90 billion per year
The country also has a huge potential in ocean resource harvesting, offshore oil and gas mining, maritime transport, maritime education and training, to mention but a few.
It can also become a net exporter of workforce to the global shipping industry in line with the economic and social pillars of Vision 2030, according to the PS, who says the country can train 10,000 Kenyan seafarers in 10 years for placement on foreign sea going ships.
"Kenyans' nature of hard work and innovation, coupled with a good grasp of the English language, which is the officially recognized medium of communication at sea, places them in good stead to work in this space," the PS explains.
Other than the foregoing,Kenya has a rich marine eco-system surrounding her inland waters which other than the living resources have the potential to improve the tourist experience and menu thus increasing the annual numbers of visitors.
Some of the key inland water resources are Lake Turkana- the largest desert lake in the world and Africa's fourth largest lake, also referred to as the "Jade Sea" due of its breath-taking colour.
Another one is Lake Victoria. At 68,000 sq km, this is the world's second deepest lake with great potential for tourist fishing as well as agricultural farming. The nearby Ruma National Park is habitat to the rare roan antelope among other wildlife.
Lake Baringo is another inland water body. This is a freshwater lake of re-known as a birdwatcher's paradise with over 450 bird species so far spotted. The scope exists for development of other tourist activities including fishing (angling), water-skiing, water surfing and nature boat rides.
Lake Bogoria, Nakuru and Elementaitacover a total area of 32,034 hectares and are home to 13 globally threatened bird species and some of the highest bird diversities in the world, another bird-watchers' paradise.
Lake Baringo and Bogoria have boiling springs and geysers that have high tourist potential, which if well positioned and exploited have the potential to transform the lives of communities living around them.
Kenya is also home to various water dams built for irrigation and power generation. They include Masinga, Ndakaini, Kiambere, Kamburu, Nairobi and Gitaru among others.
These are all water bodies around which can be developed blue economic activities like fishing, cage fish farming, water sports, leisure boating etc, thus helping to transform Counties from revenue allocation to revenue generation mind-set. Such activities would also help stem rural urban migration.
"From the foregoing natural assets, and based on the right policy direction and strategies, well-trained human resources to champion and undertake production based on resources found in the maritime domain, Kenya can be an 'African tiger' in record time" Karigithu says.
To her, the sky is not just the limit. She believes there are no limits when you are surrounded by people who believe in the potential of the dream, which in this case, is the potential of the Blue Economy.
"We will go far as a country, we have joined hands and are working together towards a common goal," she affirms.