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Where Are The Women?

The big question of the 2022 presidential election race

BY Agnes Amondi

Aug 30, 2021, 12:28 PM

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In the run-up to the 2022 general election, Kenya is yet to have a woman explicitly declare an interest in vying for the highest political office in the land. 
 
Right from when the 2017 election concluded, including the petition, male politicians have been going around the country, firing salvos and staging all kinds of political drama, yapping about the successor to the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta. 
 
Women too have done their fair share of political rounds. You may have heard of the women-led political outfits, Inua Mama which translates to lift women and Team Embrace. Good as it sounds, these two groups are more than happy to coalesce with their male colleagues and support their presidential bids. None have shown intent of standing behind one of their own. This begs the question. Where are the women ahead of the 2022 presidential contest?
 
Let’s consult history a bit here. Since independence in 1963, Kenya has only had three women launch a presidential bid. Martha Karua (2013), Charity Ngilu (1997) and the late Wangari Maathai (1997). Karua's botched attempt eight years ago was the last time we saw a female candidate take a shot at the presidency. All running mates have also never featured any woman.
 
Yaza Kenya sought the opinion of a psychologist, Yvonne Gache who practises at Green String Network, on this matter.

One of the factors she pointed to is the nature of the political culture. You don’t have to be an avid viewer of the news to tell that violence (implicit and explicit) is entrenched in how the political landscape works. For those who partake, it’s almost as though they are willing to do anything if it means achieving their goals. If this sounds and feels aggressive, it’s because it is. Which Yvonne said, are conditions that don't allow women to thrive.
 
Her words: “Our political culture is set up in a violent, unequal, and male dominated-elitist way. It’s highly patriarchal. Thereby creating systemic structures of violence that are not favourable for women candidates.”
 
Another contributing factor she listed is the culture of political elitism. To rise to the upper echelons of political leadership, you have to either be part of or be accepted by the upper class. This upper class or the establishment, you may relate with that, has existed and dominated the political field for eons. One of its hallmarks is the presence of an ethnic kingpin. Here is where the waters get muddy. 
 
In 2021 Kenya, there is no denying that the country is highly polarised along ethnic lines. There’s no denying the “mtu wetu syndrome” any more which loosely translates to "our person syndrome" in English. The political class have played this card for ages and continue to do so at will and has resulted in monstrous sycophancy amongst the citizenry.
 
What has this got to do with whether women contest for political seats, I hear you ask? We’ll let Yvonne explain.
 
“To be a successful political candidate in Kenya, and not just a female one, but male ones as well, you have to be part of or at the very least be welcomed by the political class. How do you create a political elite? You have to be an ethnic Kingpin and have economic power.” 
 
She expounded.
 
“In the quest to build the state that is Kenya, we have used our ethnic nationalities to divide the state and distribute resources. This is where ethnic Kingpins derive their power from. Traditionally, women don’t belong to ethnic nations because upon getting married, one would assume the ethnic nationality of their husbands. This explains why some women have had a hard time running for seats in the constituencies they were born in, as people claimed that they are married and don’t belong to that area. Men however retain their ethnic nationality, a tool that they use to build patronage and patriarchy.”
 
As for economic power, Kenyan elections have been known to be costly. The last election, 2017, was reported to be one of the most expensive in Africa. The specificities of the amounts spent are difficult to know as campaign funding remains obscure. Even so, we will not be further from the truth to say that you really need to be loaded to run any campaigns, let alone a presidential one. 
 
For the upcoming election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) moved to cap election spending at KES 4.4 billion but parliament rejected this directive. It’s not clear whether capping electoral funding would really level the playing ground and boost women’s chances. Generally, women find it difficult to access financial services as compared to men. 

What Now? 

It’s all good and fun pointing out the challenges, but what can women really do or better yet, what can society really do? 
 
This is the age where women have taken the bull by its horns, as the saying goes. More representation in the corporate world, more visibility across all levels of the society but it seems the political sphere, particularly the top-most seats, remain elusive. What to do? Here are our recommendations.
 
Firstly, the media needs to give women better coverage. Portray them in ways that speak to their leadership abilities. Second, training on the fundamentals of how politics works, both at the grassroots and highest level, can also lead to more female participation. Third, women themselves have to change their view of politics. Stop viewing it as a “dirty game” and rather as a way to effect change in society. Fourth, women should only support women who are qualified to contest for positions. Fifth, better legislation that advocates for women can also lead to more of them taking part in the political process. Lastly, the big one, financial support.

With that, we move the conversation along with this question. Would you vote for a female presidential candidate? Let us know on our social media pages - Facebook