What you need to know:
- Ms Winfred Nyiva Mwendwa was first elected to Parliament in 1974 after her brother-in-law Eliud Ngala, then the incumbent, relocated to the neighbouring Kitui Central Constituency.
- Ms Mwendwa was to make a major political return, winning the seat in 1992, 2002 and in 2013 as Kitui County Woman Representative.
- She came from a prominent Kitui family - from where she made a debut to Parliament, took over a seat - through the vote - that was held by her brother-in-law and this shaped her into a formidable politician
Ms Winfred Nyiva Mwendwa has had an impressive political career that include a number of firsts.
In 1995, three months to the high profile UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the late retired President Daniel Moi appointed her to the Cabinet. She consequently led the Kenyan delegation of about 450 women to the key international meeting. With that appointment, her name had entered history books-as the country’s first female Cabinet minister.
By the time she was named the Culture and Social Services minister on May 9, 1995, Ms Mwendwa, a veteran politician, was serving in Parliament as the MP for Kitui West Constituency, having made a comeback to the August House in the 1992 first multi-party General Election, after more than a decade “in the cold. She had already established herself as a formidable politician. Then, cabinet ministers were picked from Parliament (the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proposes a return to the practice.)
An alumni of Alliance Girls High School and the University of Nairobi and wife of a former Chief Justice and politician Kitili Maluki Mwendwa (deceased), she was first elected to Parliament in 1974. This was after her brother-in-law Eliud Ngala, then the incumbent, relocated to the neighbouring Kitui Central Constituency.
Although she was to later lose the seat in the 1979 election to Mr Permenas Munyasia after serving only one term, Ms Mwendwa was to make a major political return, winning the seat in 1992, 2002 and in 2013 as Kitui County Woman Representative. She eventually hang her political boots in the last 2017 election after 40-years in the game.
Without doubt, Ms Mwendwa came from a prominent and powerful Kitui family - from where she made a debut to Parliament. She took over a seat - through the vote - that was held by her brother-in-law. This shaped her into a formidable politician after tossing herself into the male-dominated field and competing with, and trouncing them for the Kitui West Parliamentary seat.
Now serving as a mentor to younger women politicians, the 79-year-old did not get the seat on a silver platter because of her family name. She fought for it.
Death of their spouses
In recent years, Kenya’s Parliament has had a few women who were elected either following the death of their spouses or relatives or whose family members have served before them in the House.
In the current Assembly, for instance, there are examples including Ms Beatrice Kones, the MP for Bomet East and widow of former cabinet minister Kipkalya Kones. She was first elected to Parliament in a by-election on September 28, 2008, after the death of her husband in June of the same year. President Mwai Kibaki subsequently appointed her to serve as an Assistant Minister for Home Affairs. Ms Kones, however, lost the 2013 General Election to Mr Bernard Bett of the URP. But the former teacher was to recapture the seat a term later in the 2017 election, to become Bomet East MP.
In the same House sits Kitui West MP Edith Nyenze, who was elected in March 2018, to succeed her husband, a former cabinet minister who died in December 2017. The former high school principal emerged winner in the subsequent by-election and is serving her first term, and a popular one at that.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika was elected to the House in 2017. The daughter of one of the most fiery Moi-era politicians and long serving MP for Bahati, Dickson Kihika Kimani, she first tried her hand in politics by contesting the same constituency seat in 2013.
She lost to incumbent Kimani Ngunjiri. The lawyer-turned- politician then moved on to contest for the speaker’s position at the Nakuru County Assembly and beat seven opponents to the seat.
In the following General Election, Ms Kihika comfortably won the county’s Senate seat.
When the former Bomet governor the late Joyce Laboso was elected to Parliament as Sotik MP in a by-election to succeed her sister Lorna Laboso who died alongside Kipkalya Kones in a Narok plane crash in 2008, she was apolitical, by her admission.
Murky world of politics
The political greenhorn who beat 11 rivals to capture the seat, Dr Laboso literally emerged from a classroom, at the Egerton University, to jump into the complicated and murky world of politics.
She did not only look back, but went ahead to retain the Sotik seat, becoming the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and later getting elected in a most competitive and bruising race, to become the second governor of Bomet County, and one of the three women who made history after they were elected governors.
Some of these women and others in similar situations, may have had to contend with intimidation, hatred, degradation and even sexism in addition to other unpleasantries all because of the family name that they carry.
Their detractors and opponents never tire to remind them of how much “undeserving” they may be of the “inherited’’ seats. As such, some female aspiring politicians whose relatives are, or have been politicians, may get intimidated by this and opt out.
And what a better time for such political disparagers to rear their ugly as now, when political alignments and realignments are taking shape ahead of the 2022 General Election.
Senator Kihika, whose critics have a field day branding her a ‘dynasty’, never mind that her father died close to two decades ago before she publicly declared interest in politics, knows it. Any woman, whether her nucleus family member or relative is in politics or planning to join, should feel free to toss herself in elective politics and shake off the nitpickers.
Ms Rugene is a journalist and founder, The Woman’s Newsroom Foundation.