On this week’s African Voices Changemakers, CNN International meets the first female African Dreamliner captain in the world – Irene Koki Mutungi.
Captain Koki’s pioneering journey to the top of aviation began at a young age. Her father was a pilot and Mutungi dreamed of following in his footsteps, “I was flying with my dad probably from about two-years-old and by the time I was five or six I would talk about ‘I want to be a pilot’, but nobody took me seriously.”
This passion stayed with her throughout her childhood and when it came to choosing a career, Mutungi still wanted to fly. However, her dad was not always convinced it was a good idea, “Believe it or not, my dad didn’t want me to fly. I think it was probably just the stereotypes in society, the perceptions of what women should do and not do. I think that was mostly what was driving him. But once he accepted it, he was very helpful, he’s been an inspiration to me.”
In her 23-year-career at Kenyan Airlines, Mutungi has accomplished many firsts. She tells CNN about her ground-breaking journey, “I went on to become the first female pilot at Kenya Airways, moving on, first female captain, moving on, first father-daughter flight about sixteen years ago. Then first all-female flight in 2005 and then now the first African Dreamliner captain in the world.”
As a female trailblazer, Mutungi has overcome prejudice throughout her career. She talks about feeling like she had to prove herself, “I had to deal with acceptance issues when I first started. Try and get in the boy’s club, and I was not trying to get in the boy’s club. So, I had to prove myself as a woman.”
Globally, just over 5% of commercial pilots are women, but Mutungi is optimistic about the future, “We’re well on the right track, there’s not too much more we can do. It’s just for the women that are out there flying, keep going now to encourage young girls. Talk to them, encourage them, show them it’s possible.”
Captain Koki makes regular visits to Kenya Airways’ Pride Centre which runs the airline’s training courses. She hopes that her personal story will inspire others to dream big, “I want my legacy to be this African girl, or woman, from Kenya who changed the aviation perspective. I want my children and great-grandchildren to remember that I made part of history.”