Reach­ing high of­fice Down Un­der

The Africa Report - - FRONTLINE -

Lucy Gichuhi was born near the slopes of Mount Kenya. She grew up with her eight sib­lings, who walked bare­foot to school to­gether. But she stud­ied hard and be­came a lawyer be­fore im­mi­grat­ing to Aus­tralia with her young fam­ily nearly two decades ago. In April, she be­came Aus­tralia’s new­est se­na­tor, and the coun­try’s first African to hold of­fice. Gichuhi is an in­de­pen­dent who is seen as a ris­ing star. She has won praise from all par­ties for her harsh views of the coun­try’s wel­fare state and im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. In her first speech to the Se­nate she spoke of her hum­ble be­gin­nings in Kenya: “With no elec­tric­ity, we re­lied on the light of a paraf­fin lan­tern to do our home­work. Some­times, when my par­ents could not af­ford to buy paraf­fin, we used the light from the fire­place to do our home­work,” she told a ses­sion of the coun­try’s 76 senators. For her, and based on her ex­pe­ri­ence as a lawyer, to mi­grate and gain cit­i­zen­ship in a host coun­try “is not a right; it is a priv­i­lege”. What she rep­re­sents, as an im­mi­grant who preaches the value of hard work and shuns govern­ment hand­outs, is wel­comed by many in a coun­try strug­gling to deal with an in­flux of eco­nomic mi­grants. “I re­mem­ber the first time we found wel­fare money in our bank ac­count, shortly af­ter our ar­rival in Aus­tralia,” she told the Se­nate. “We were ter­ri­fied be­cause we were not used to re­ceiv­ing money from strangers for noth­ing. […] I said to my hus­band, ‘We will have to re­turn it.’” Ear­lier this year, an Aus­tralian High Court ruled in Gichuhi’s favour af­ter an op­po­si­tion party chal­lenged her el­i­gi­bil­ity to serve in Par­lia­ment based on dual cit­i­zen­ship con­cerns. Gichuhi au­to­mat­i­cally lost her Kenyan cit­i­zen­ship when she be­came an Aus­tralian ci­ti­zen in 2001 (the Kenya law has changed since), and won’t be able to vote in the up­com­ing Kenyan elec­tions, which are open to its di­as­pora for the first time. She of­ten speaks of her love for her adopted coun­try: “The di­ver­sity of colour, race, cul­tural back­grounds and re­li­gion go to­wards mak­ing up what we be­lieve it is to be Aus­tralian,” she says. Gichuhi stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Nairobi, Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia and Univer­sity of Ade­laide. Be­fore join­ing Aus­tralia’s up­per house as a se­na­tor for South Aus­tralia, she worked at Ernst & Young, Post­bank, Ac­tion­aid and Madi­son In­sur­ance. Mark An­der­son

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