No woman has explicitly expressed interest in the top seat while men are already two years ahead in race
The race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta has started in earnest.
In fact, it began in 2018; less than a year after the highly contentious 2017 Election that saw Kenyans sent back to the ballot for a Presidential re-run following a historic nullification of Mr Kenyatta’s win by the Supreme Court.
The succession battle has since been vicious with political factions such as the male-dominated Tanga Tanga and Kieleweke, and the women-led Inua Mama and Team Embrace popping up to coalesce support for their preferred presidential candidate come 2022.
Those who seem not to find space in the factions have opted to form their own political parties.
In June, for instance, former Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Mwangi Kiunjuri launched The Service Party (TSP) which he believes provides alternative leadership the country desires.
Others are seeking to reform their parties like Ford Kenya or negotiating for pacts to solidify their votes especially in Central, Western, Coast and Rift Valley regions.
KANU, for instance, has entered into a coalition deal with Jubilee and Amani National Congress (ANC).
Wiper Party, on the other hand, is exploring possibilities for a post-election coalition with Jubilee Party and KANU.
Maendeleo Chap Chap Party leader Dr Alfred Mutua has, however, taken a different route to Presidency. He is currently running an online campaign using short video clips with different vernacular messages as a way of touching base with the communities as he seeks to head Kenya.
All these parties are male-led.
Influential Mt Kenya and Western political leaders have lately held meetings tostrategise on how one of their own can succeed Mr Kenyatta; women are either consciously missing or a ‘woman for Presidency’ does not feature in their agenda.
So far, no woman has explicitly expressed interest in the top seat; yet male politicians are already two years ahead in popularising their interest.
Neither have women showed signs of coalescing support for their own for the top seat. They are behind the voices of the men in either Kieleweke or Tanga Tanga groups.
Inua Mama and Team Embrace, formed by female politicians, only reinforced what the male politicians said. They were either pro-President Uhuru’s newly found political partnership with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) or supporters of Deputy President William Ruto.
The visibility of these women political groupings faded away soon after the launch of BBI report in November 2019, a nosedive attributed to Mr Kenyatta’s call for dissolution of political factions to unite Kenyans.
And so Inua Mama and Team Embrace disappeared from the media before celebrating their 1st anniversary. Every weekend, the women leaders would tour the country dishing out goodies to women, youth and persons with disabilities after speeches on why BBI should be embraced or discarded.
Nevertheless, neither of the factions talked about supporting a female presidency or even deputy presidency. Instead, they rallied behind male politicians and promised the women’s vote for the male candidate.
On whether, Narc-Kenya Party leader Martha Karua will vie has largely been a toss and turn affair.
The late Wangari Maathai, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu and Ms Karua are pioneer heroines to have made it to the Presidential ballot.
Although Ms Karua lost in her attempt in 2013, Ms Ngilu in 1997 and Ms Maathai in 1997, their efforts challenged gendered stereotypes on women in leadership and thus cannot be taken for granted.
Ms Ngilu hasn’t indicated any plans of losing grip on Kitui for Presidential election in 2022.
In an interview at a local TV station on July 19, 2020, Ms Ngilu was ambiguous on her political career.
On the question of her plans for 2022, Ms Ngilu said: “I am the chairperson and leader of the party NARC, and I have specific things I feel so strong about; that leadership has to make better lives for people; and I am now going to be looking at what is the position that I can hold that can continue providing better lives… leadership for better lives for people.”
On further prodding of whether it would be at national or county level, she said: “We will look at both.”
Ms Karua who lost Kirinyaga governor’s seat to Anne Waiguru in the 2017 Election has, on the other hand, a rather clear space to declare her candidacy.
She is, however, yet to vividly pronounce her position.
In a November 22, last year interview at her Nairobi office, Ms Karua said she cannot be rushed into declaring her political interests.
“I can firmly and emphatically tell you I am in the field, but I will not be rushed into declaring interest in seats that are not even vacant,” she said.
“It is not yet time for elections. I cannot encourage keeping Kenyans in a state of campaign 24/7 and neglecting the day-to-day issues Kenyans care for.”
So why are women missing out in the political landscape for 2022 succession plans?
Executive Director of Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust (Crawn Trust) Daisy Amdany, asserts that lack of leadership-oriented parties and ethnic balkanisation are working against women hence, they are missing from the 2022 Presidential election debate.
“In Kenya, political parties are nothing but special purpose vehicles created for the purposes of getting power,” she says.
“There is no existence of parties with internal working systems that can support a woman vying for presidency.”
Ethnic balkanisation, she explains, advantages men as it is grounded on patriarchy, a tradition that discredits women’s leadership capabilities.
“Our politics is ethnically driven and what they (politicians) do is balkanise tribes as a platform to prop up a candidate that is from that tribe,” she asserts.
“Tribes are by and large patriarchal and there are no tribes that are going to coalesce around a female. For a woman to emerge from within this skewed landscape, she will have to take a totally different approach to politics. There has to be at least a political party that can coalesce around her.”
Nominated MP Prof Jacqueline Oduol says in circumstances where parties form coalitions such as currently happening, exclusion of women becomes more elaborate as parties involved are male-headed.
“Whenever we have politics of coalition, it starts from the point of excluding women as the politics are male-oriented. It therefore, becomes more difficult for women to engage,” says the former PS in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development.
She observes that Ms Ngilu and Ms Waiguru are better placed to rise to Presidency but the lack of support from their own backyard shows the ground would be rockier for them.
“Position of governor seems to be the next launching pad if you were to think of being a presidential candidate,” she says.
“But you can see Ngilu and Waiguru seem to be facing a lot of challenges instead of (drawing) support from the political base of men and women alike.”
She feels women need to change tactic and seek political leadership on gender-neutral grounds.
“I have been engaged in movements to help women become more politically alert, but I am now persuaded that we might not want so much of getting women to come up not as women, but to think more of leadership,” she says.
“I am convinced that leadership is gender neutral, you don’t have to be a man to be a good leader. And my experience suggests that Kenya is ready for a female leader. Kenyans are ready to get someone who will respond to their needs.”
Senator for Makueni County, Mutula Kilonzo Junior says violence and high cost of elections prohibit women eyeing political positions.
“Where a woman is competing with men, the men fight them so viciously,” he says.
“Take example of Susan Kihika (Nakuru Senator), Charity Ngilu (Kitui Governor) and Martha Wangari (Gilgil MP), even their nominations were so vicious that they survived by a whisker.”
Women, he says would however be more confident to seek elective positions if laws on election violence and capping election budget were executed effectively.
“Half the time, people who perpetrate violence are never punished,” he observes.
“People who perpetrate election violence should be barred from contesting as opposed to giving them a fine of Sh500,000, which they will pay and continue the violence.”
He argues that: “If there was a guarantee that a woman is violated during campaigning and that person is found guilty and was barred (from contesting) including their supporters, you will not see a man throw a stone.”
Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) Program Coordinator Mercy Mwangi identifies indecisiveness as a one of the of the major barriers to women’s rise to political leadership
“During our trainings before the last election, we found out that women were interested in vying but half of them were still wondering whether to go for the position of Member of Parliament, Senator or Member of the County Assembly even as the primaries neared. And I feel that is where they go wrong,” she says.
She says they run a mentorship program encompassing training of female politicians to position themselves for political leadership.
“We train them on public speaking, media relations, how to mobilise resources and how to form a political party among other topics,” she explains.
“We also have sessions where seasoned female politicians like Martha Karua mentor them through sharing their experiences.”
She notes that it concerns the association that women have not come out strongly to angle themselves for the top seat. It is an issue they have raised with the Kewopa members, she indicates.