About 10 months to the 2017 General Election, I attended a training in Nairobi whose target participants were women intending to run for political seats. The women were clearly keen to learn. A huge chunk of the training focused on how to deal with the powerful Fourth Estate.
The aspiring candidates were also advised on the need to come up with a media strategy that would help them in beating their rivals.
The session sparked a lot of interest among them. However, one woman from Kajiado County struck me. She intended to contest a constituency seat as an MP. She followed the discussions and asked a few questions. Later, she drew me aside for a chat. Then, I was an editor at the Daily Nation. From our chat, I could tell she had done her research well and had engaged the people in the constituency, especially the women, well.
She stood a good chance of winning. However, one thing bothered her. A possible smear campaign and its effect on her personality. She had a family and a public image to uphold, she told me. She could not quite bring herself to dealing with a dirty campaign.
And she had what she cited as a good example to draw from, the tribulations of former Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning and now Kirinyaga County Governor, Anne Waiguru. A powerful figure and CS in the Uhuru Kenyatta first administration then, Ms Waiguru resigned from government in 2015, in light of a financial scandal at the National Youth Service (NYS) - a department that was directly under her ministerial docket.
The loss of millions of public funds had elicited a lot of heat and pressure to have her resign. She finally bowed to pressure, citing the effect and toll it had taken on her health and family.
The former CS later pulled herself together, campaigned for the Kirinyaga governorship in 2017, won and alongside Kitui’s Charity Ngilu and Bomet’s Joyce Laboso (deceased), and made history as the first female governors in Kenya.
It is Ms Waiguru’s experience, including the pressure from the public, ridicule and the ‘display’ of her personal life ‘in the media’ that was coming in the way of the Kajiado woman’s intention to contest a political seat. After lengthy conversations, she decided against the idea. She could not, as she put it, ‘parade’ her life and family to the public for a political position. I was disappointed.
A woman had lost an opportunity to live her dream as a political leader. Her county and the society also lost an opportunity to have additional and much-needed female leadership, considering that this gender is still the most disadvantaged not just in political leadership, but in all aspects of decision-making in Kenya.
This brings me to my point. Towards the end of 2020, there were lots of negative remarks and utterances made mostly by individual leaders, some in top positions, against affirmative action and on the need to have more women in this sector. Some of these utterances are likely to discourage women and so is the portrayal in the media of some already in leadership, ahead of the 2022 General Election. This should not be the case.
Ignore the noise
Some women are still toying with the idea of throwing their bid into the political field, which favours men. They must go ahead and make up their minds. These potential candidates must refuse to be deterred, focus on the positive and their target - the political seat - ignore the noise and make the move. They should take as their inspiration, fellow women, especially elected to the constituency seats, which they contested alongside male rivals amidst propaganda and barriers, and made it to the House.
In both Houses of Parliament, a number of women introduced critical Bills in the past year that were passed, while others are still pending. These and other women who were there, made a name and continue to build the nation from outside Parliament, should be their inspiration to join politics. In the meantime, as you hit the ground, keep attending and participating in training forums on political participation and representation.
A Happy and focused 2021!
The writer is a Consulting Editor, founder, The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation