It takes a diamond to shine in one of the most technical and male dominated professions and still maintain poise and a touch of femininity. Such is one Architect Aidah Munano who has risen from a graduate architect, fresh from the university to the current Principal Secretary in the State Department of Housing & Urban Development under the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development.
The “golden girl”, as she quips when I ask of her age, grew up on transit due to her mother’s teaching profession. They would move to different parts of the country whenever her mother got transferred. Remarkably, Architect Aidah Munano remembers all the houses they lived in, in the different places they moved to at the time; some of the houses were pretty remote in rural areas, while others were well built with good facilities. The movement also influenced Aidah’s learning experience as she would move to different schools regularly. The experience birthed in her a keen eye for buildings and as a child; she started analyzing details of her ever changing environment, which she believes to have influenced her career choice later. Being the only girl in a family of three also influenced Aidah’s inclination to architecture as she grew up with boys and in her own words; they bullied her thoroughly, of course lovingly as they were her brothers. She also attended mixed schools all through to high school which further contributed to her drive for challenges. Consequently, Aidah developed a muscle for the tough and challenging things that were traditionally considered masculine.
Aidah attended four different primary schools. She sat for her CPE exams at Gituto primary school, Muranga in 1969 emerging as the best pupil in the school. She then proceeded to Nyandarua secondary school for her O’ levels in 1973 and again became the best student in her fourth form exams. In 1974, Aidah was admitted at the Alliance Girls high school for her Form 5 and 6 studies. Upon completing her Form six, she joined the University of Nairobi to study architecture in 1976. In 2nd and 3rd year, Architect Aidah Munano was the only girl in her class. By the time they were completing the course, they were only three girls in a class of 28. Having grown around boys and studied in mixed schools, the experience was not strange for Architect Aidah Munano. “The male students were actually very relatable and kind to the girls,” she remembers. They did not feel intimidated as the boys always made them feel very special. Until today, Aidah confirms that it has never felt intrusive to be in a man’s profession as otherwise assumed. She completed her architectural studies in 1981. In 2010, she enrolled for a Masters in Construction Project Management at JKUAT and graduated in 2012.
It’s been a journey of 35 years serving from the level of a graduate architect and moving on merit through ten stages in the Ministry to her current position. Upon graduating, Aidah started working in January, 1982 as an assistant architect in the Ministry of Public Works. At the time, the Ministry was organized in seven groups for implementation of projects. She got into a group that was working on military projects. There was a lot of reform in the Defense Forces at the time hence immense development of camps, barracks and houses for staff across the country. After two years, Aidah got her registration with the Board of Architects and Quantity Surveyors. “I was then appointed a superintending architect in charge of the group working on Treasury projects. Unlike my former roles of designing, organizing and site supervision, the new level involved more administration. Groups would deal with specific ministries. A group leader would not just coordinate many projects, but all the people working under the group.” Architect Aidah Munano recounts. Shortly after, she was promoted to a senior superintending architect, in charge of two groups hence supervising projects for more ministries.
She would later become a chief superintending architect. “With this position, you are trusted with bigger and more complex projects.” She remarks. About the same time, Aidah was designated the Provincial Works officer in Nairobi province in 1997. She was in charge of all the projects in Nairobi province which were not being implemented in the headquarters. For the first time, she coordinated across the board; facilitating presidential functions whilst coordinating implementation of roads & building projects for government agencies. The position was very engaging hence required huge personal organization as a lot would be expected from you. Architect Aidah Munano notes that this experience molded how she does her work until today. It was her career breakthrough in terms of administration, project management and coping with tough situations. She served as the Provincial Works officer for five years until 2003 when she was deployed back to the headquarters as a Principal Superintending architect. Her roles here were mainly policy based including planning, research and development as well as projects supervision for the Ministries of Public Works, Water, Transport & Infrastructure.
Aidah has also served as a Chief Architect in an acting capacity. The Chief Architect is referred to as the chief government architect and advisor to the government on all building matters for both the private and public sector. Currently, the chief architect is a head of department under the Public Works directorate, mandated to observe standards in building construction, policy in the industry and implementation of building projects for the public sector.
Before the administrative positions, Aidah worked on projects for various ministries. Her first project was a military facility where she did the complete master plan of the entire project and site supervision of three phases. She was also involved in the design and construction of the Provincial headquarters in Kisumu and several housing projects in Mombasa, Laikipia & Eldoret. “The experience was very exciting as there was trust and unity among the consultants. As a young person, I also enjoyed the travelling.” She notes
Aidah is currently the Principal Secretary for the State Department of Housing & Urban Development. Having practiced in the government for over 30 years, Aidah has witnessed change of governments and massive growth in the building construction industry. “Now we have very versatile construction equipment, easy access to information with computer technology, speed in terms of implementation of projects and new policies that govern the industry. There are magnificent developments, building forms substantially changed with our skyline as cosmopolitan as in any other city in the world.
“In the government, there are very clear structures and mandates specific for the different players which facilitate continuity with every change of leadership. With the Constitution, Acts of Parliament and policies maintained, the changes focus in terms of resource allocation for any particular government in reference to its manifesto. Presently, there is a concerted effort between the top leadership and the teams at implementation level as the cabinet and principal secretaries in ministries are technocrats and not politicians. The Ministry works on a system where information is accessible on a common platform and shared across the board. Technology has also cut the cost of doing business with consultation much easier.” Aidah’s says of her experience in a state office.
Awards & Recognition
Aidah was awarded Head of State recognition in 2002. She has also been honored by the Architectural Association of Kenya for remarkable contribution in the industry. She has also served as one of the directors in the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors. Currently, Aidah is a director at the National Construction Authority. She is also a council member for the Murang’a University College.
One of the major issues that Aidah has had to deal with in her practice in the government is change of implementation teams as a result of promotions and transfers. Such changes affect synergy in the implementation of projects. The changes require continued investment in team building in order to mitigate these dynamics. Although the changes pose challenges, Aidah appreciates the team spirit evident among the professionals she works with. Their devotion and passion to perform and deliver makes her work much easier. “To succeed as a Principal Secretary, one has to really offer the leadership expected of the position.” Aidah adds.
Inspiration & Mentors
“My main mentor has been my mother. She is a very strong, resilient and hard working woman. As a single parent, she ensured that her children grew up in a stable environment, had good education and were comfortable education despite the change of locations necessitated by her career.” Her 84 year old mother, who seemed to always have a solution for everything, also influenced how Aidah looks at things. She has since learnt to be solution oriented in all situations. The need for a solution in any situation too acts as inspiration to Aidah because it pushes her to think and come up with new ideas. This is motivated by her strong belief that nothing is impossible.
Faith in God is her greatest inspiration. Aidah is also inspired by team dynamics as team work births great ideas. She learnt the power of synergy when she chaired a team that came up with the one stop border points, a concept that has now been implemented and will soon be operational.
“Be persistent for persistence provides results. Everything has a solution, so persist and don’t give up. To students and other young people, focus to learn and appreciate that there is time and a season for everything. In addition, take every opportunity and learn from every experience. Get involved in the industry activities through professional institutions and stay informed. Consult and network with the experienced professionals. To other practitioners, construction involves large investment and a client knows what it is that they want. It is therefore important to listen keenly to the client, relate closely to them to not only hear but also understand the requirements and offer the appropriate professional advice.
Aidah is a mother of two and a grandmother of two. She loves networking and listening to people. She also reads a lot of motivational and inspirational books. To relax, Aidah loves taking long walks. She is also a born again Christian. Upon retirement from civil service, Aidah hopes to leave a mark of excellence with the help of the competent and self-driven team of professionals that she works with. As a Principal Secretary, she will continue to ensure that there is value for the money in implementation of projects, satisfaction to the client and timely delivery of projects. Once she leaves the office, Aidah plans to start a project management consultancy and participate more in CSR. She also wants to take up her PHD studies.