A recent article in the Daily Nation by David Mwere caught my attention in the way it captured the two-thirds gender principal. Titled, “10 attempts later and the two-thirds gender rule still elusive”, the article captured what ails the women’s movement in Kenya.
Mwere gives a blow-by-blow account of how efforts by Parliament to actualise Article 27(8) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 came a cropper. The article reads: “…the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.”
What stands out in the article are assertions by the since-ousted Leader of Majority in the House Aden Duale and Kiminini Member of Parliament Chris Wamalwa that women legislators largely contributed to the failure of making the two-thirds gender rule a reality. “Every time we were discussing the Bill, the women were out of the country — they went to New York. In 2018, more than 32 women were missing in this House,” Mr Duale said of his failed Bill.
And when the Bill was reintroduced in the House early last year, only 20 women were in the House to support it. During voting, “they were away to gain allowances as opposed to advancing this cause. The two-thirds rule was not achieved because of their selfish interests,” Dr Wamalwa said with barely disguised sarcasm.
One cannot think of a greater indictment of our legislators, and not just the women MPs, than Dr Wamalwa’s. Voting patterns are determined by vested interests and you can bet that if the Bill in question was to revise their salaries upwards, they would have abandoned the New York trip to ensure the Bill sailed through without a hitch. Which brings to mind the troublesome Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
Although delimitation of electoral boundaries is a key function of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), BBI proponents have taken it upon themselves to saddle taxpayers with an extra 70 constituencies from the current 290 to 360. A decade after the Constitution of Kenya 2010 was rolled out and numerous attempts to actualise the two-thirds gender rule, BBI architects have taken it upon themselves to impose political rejects, upon the electorate.
Clause 13 of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020 states inter alia: “…special top up seats are created to ensure the gender principle is actualised. However, in filling of the top up seats, it is provided that a first priority in the nomination shall be given to candidates who contested for the constituency seats and were not elected.”
My understanding of this provision, and I stand corrected, is that where a man and a woman vie for a seat, the woman, should she fail, will be automatically nominated to meet the requirements of the two-thirds gender principal. Nothing could be more insulting and demoralising to the voters than seeing a candidate they rejected awarded a parliamentary seat.
Inasmuch as Clause 13 states that “affirmative action for top-up will only last for 15 years”, the provision is an insult to women who have stood and won elections since the 1960s, until the Constitution of Kenya 2010 created 47 seats for them as County Woman Representatives. While the woman reps can claim legitimacy in that they at least contest against fellow women, what the BBI proposes has the potential of hand-picking, sponsoring and imposing questionable leadership on voters.
It has been said ad nauseam, and it bears repeating, that women have the numbers to elect their own if they so wish. And I reject the yarn that women lack financial resources to win elections on a level playing field.
You only need to read the stories of the likes of Professor Julia Auma Ojiambo, and Mrs Phoebe Asiyo, among others, to realise that it’s not money that got them into Parliament but their solid leadership credentials.
Additional seats will only serve to burden taxpayers with excess representation with attendant abnormal perks, when the idea should be trimming down legislator numbers. For a country reeling under debt, it’s inconceivable that the Ekuru Aukot Punguza Mizigo Bill was ever rejected.