Kenya’s water and irrigation minister, Charity Kaluki Ngilu announced her bid for the presidency this week as leader of the National Rainbow Coalition. She calls it the “party of development” and unveiled a five-point agenda to promote economic growth while addressing inequalities in the way the benefits of growth are distributed.

Ngilu recently sat down with AllAfrica to discuss Kenya’s pressing development issues, including access to clean water and sanitation, health care and family planning.

The conversation took place on the sidelines of the Reinvent the Toilet Fair, held in Seattle, Washington at the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Before announcing her candidacy, she told AllAfrica why she would like to make the run for president.

I would like to, because I know what can be done to ensure that people are out of poverty.

You must, first and foremost, feed your own people. We rely too much on food imported from developed countries.

My party focuses mostly on the poor and on development – how people can develop themselves. We talk about the poor in rural areas and the poor in informal settlements within urban centres.

As the elections draw near, we are mobilising people to see what we have got to do – not necessarily by giving the poor handouts, but in showing that we can actually make the poor work for themselves to develop themselves.

What will you take back to Kenya from this visit to the Reinvent the Toilet Fair?

I should have come with our technical people from the University of Nairobi to see what is happening here, so they can see what they can actually invent for our country and for East Africa. I am going to encourage our universities to get more money from the government for research, so that we do not just remain stagnant with the old technology of the toilet – 200 years old!

Is access to clean water and sanitation an important issue in Kenya?

Yes. We have a serious problem of lack of sanitation in the country. Sometimes we are able to provide clean, safe drinking water, but we are not able to provide sanitation.

You still have a lot of people who go for open defecation. They just don’t have latrines or toilets. We are raising a lot of awareness – through the schools, in the marketplaces, in the homes, and this is because we so realize the danger. If we provide people with safe, clean drinking water, obviously we would avoid so many diseases.

I look at the amount of resources that we spend to treat people who get sick because they lack water and sanitation. That is what needs to be spent to prevent – to provide people with safe drinking water and sanitation, especially within the slums in Nairobi, and there are very many. Read more…