Narok 'Iron Lady' exits elective politics, in blow to women’s leadership

Soipan Tuya
Photo credit: Robert Kiplagat

When she declared her interest in running for the Narok governor’s seat, she raised hopes among her supporters that she would become the first woman county boss in the Maasai community.

But Ms Soipan Tuya, who has served two terms as Narok woman representative, abandoned her quest one month ago.

In late February, after several months of push and pull between her, Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo and former Labour CAS Patrick Ntutu, she dropped her ambition in a deal brokered by UDA presidential candidate and Deputy President William Ruto.

In traditional Maasai households, men were the heads of the home, livestock defenders and leaders. The woman's place revolved around tending goats, milking cows and taking care of the children.

But things have changed over the years, although cultural barriers continue to hinder women from ascending to elective leadership.

As the 2022 General Election draws closer, women aspirants in Narok are already crowding for the woman rep seat that was specially created to bridge the gender parity gap in political representation.

So far, no woman has expressed interest in the parliamentary, ward representative or senator seats.

But one bold woman leader had chosen to break the ceiling by declaring her interest battling it out with men for the county's top job.

Ms Tuya, 42, a lawyer by profession who also serves as the chair of the Speaker's Panel, seemed not to be taking any chances as she sought to become the county's first woman governor.

Born in a political family – her father Samson ole Tuya served as Narok South MP – Ms Tuya was on a mission to prove naysayers wrong.

She had earlier hinted that her quest for the governorship was inspired by powerful women leaders such as neighbouring Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

The firebrand politician explained why she chose to forego her ambitions to support DP Ruto for the sake of the party.

"When I agreed to step down, over 1,000 of my supporters surrounded me and pleaded with me to rejoin the race but I told them that I had resolved that when I finish my 10 years I will leave that post for another woman," Ms Tuya said.

She will now join DP Ruto's campaign secretariat.

She said that she leaves her current office with her head held high, having done her best with the limited resources she had.

"When we were elected in 2013 as woman representatives, we had zero funds. We fought and we got Sh40 million annually, which is very little, especially for a vast county like Narok, but still we had to accept and utilise it to make an impact," she said.

She cited programmes such as issuing water tanks, sanitary towels and funds to empower vulnerable groups such as women, youth and people with disabilities.

The county MP also said that under the National Government Affirmative Action Fund, she supports 100 bright students from poor backgrounds who are in secondary schools.

She admitted that the decision to quit elective politics, at least in this year's polls, was not easy.

"We realised that our competitors were a bit organised and had picked one candidate and they had started spewing tribal politics. We also had to settle on one candidate to champion for cohesive politics. I have since convinced my supporters to accept my decision and they have agreed," she said.

A few days ago, Ms Tuya and Mr Ntutu merged their campaign teams in a bid to support the latter's gubernatorial bid and DP Ruto's presidential bid.

With her exit as woman representative, a record six women have lined up to succeed her.

Among them are her former rivals Rebecca Tonkei and Lydiah Ntimama, who came second and third, respectively, after her in the 2017 polls.

Others are Sintamei Parsitau, Jane Nampaso (Ushanga Initiative county coordinator), Lolly Malaso (tutor, Maasai Mara University) and Nairobi-based businesswoman Cheptongilo Kosigo.