Where are women in the 2022 presidential race?

As Kenya's male politicians crisscross the country popularising their interest in the presidency, their female counterparts are quiet. PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • In June, for instance, former Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Mwangi Kiunjuri launched The Service Party (TSP), which, he believes, provides the alternative leadership the country desires.
  • Maendeleo Chap Chap Party leader Alfred Mutua has, however, taken a different route to Presidency.
  • Ms Karua and current Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu are pioneer presidential candidates.

The race to succeed President 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 box for a presidential rerun following the Supreme Court’s historic nullification of Mr Kenyatta’s win.

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 the alternative leadership the country desires.

Others like Ford Kenya are seeking to reform their parties or negotiating for pacts to solidify their votes especially in Central, Western, Coast and Rift Valley regions. Kanu, for instance, has entered into a post-election coalition deal with Jubilee and Amani National Congress (ANC), while Wiper Party is exploring avenues for a post-poll coalition with Jubilee Party and Kanu.


Maendeleo Chap Chap Party leader Alfred Mutua has, however, taken a different route to Presidency. He is currently running an online campaign using short video clips done using various vernacular languages as a way of touching base with the communities as he seeks to head Kenya. All these parties are male-led.

And, while influential Mt Kenya and Western political leaders have recently met to strategise 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-Uhuru’s newfound political partnership with ODM leader Raila Odinga in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) or backing Deputy President William Ruto.

Worth noting is that these women political grouping’s visibility faded away soon after the launch of BBI report last November, 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 first anniversary.


Every weekend, the women leaders would tour parts of the country dishing out goodies to women, youth and people with disabilities after speeches on why BBI should be embraced or discarded.

What stands out like a sore thumb is that 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.

Ms Karua and current Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu are pioneer presidential candidates. Although Ms Karua lost in her attempt in 2013 and Ms Ngilu in 2017, their efforts challenged gendered stereotypes on women in leadership and, therefore, cannot be taken for granted.

Ms Ngilu has not indicated any plans of losing grip on Kitui for Presidential election in 2022. In a recent television interview on July 19, Ms Ngilu was ambiguous about her political career.

 On the question of her plans for 2022, Ms Ngilu said: “I’m the chairperson and leader of the party, Narc, and I’ve specific things I feel so strong about, that leadership has got to make better lives for people. I’m 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 on whether it would be at national or county level, she said: “We will look at both.”

Ms Karua, who lost the Kirinyaga governor’s seat to Anne Waiguru in the 2017 election has, however, a rather clear space to declare her candidacy. She, is however, yet to vividly pronounce her position.

In an interview last November at her Nairobi office, Ms Karua said she would not be rushed into declaring her political interests.

“I can firmly and emphatically tell you I’m 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 Daisy Amdany asserts that lack of leadership-oriented parties and ethnic balkanisation are working against women, hence, they’re missing from the 2022 Presidential poll debate.

“In Kenya, political parties are nothing but special purpose vehicles created for the purposes of getting power,” she says. “There [are no] parties with internal working systems that can support a woman vying for presidency.”

Ethnic balkanisation, she explains, favours 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 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 Jacqueline Oduol says in circumstances where parties form coalitions such as is 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 Prof Oduol, 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 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 tack and seek political leadership on gender-neutral grounds.

“I’ve been engaged in movements to help women become more politically alert, but I’m 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’m 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 leader. Kenyans are ready to get someone who will respond to their needs.”


Senator for Makueni County, Mutula Kilonzo Junior says violence and the 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 the 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,” the senator says.

Women, he adds, would 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, adding, perpetrators should be barred from contesting, as opposed to giving them a fine of Sh500,000, which they pay and continue the violence.

Mr Kilonzo argues that if there was a guarantee that those found guilty of violating a woman during campaigns and their supporters would be barred [from contesting], “you won’t see a man throw a stone.”

Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) Programme Coordinator Mercy Mwangi says indecisiveness is a major barrier 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 County Assembly even as the primaries neared, and I feel that’s where they go wrong,” she says.

Kewopa runs a mentorship programme encompassing training of female politicians to position themselves for political leadership.

Ms Mwangi says: “We train them on public speaking, media relations, how to mobilise resources and how to form a political party, among other topics.”

“We also have sessions where seasoned female politicians like Martha Karua mentor them through sharing their experiences.”

Ms Mwangi notes that it concerns the association that women have not come out strongly to angle themselves for the top seat, a matter they have raised with Kewopa members.