From G7 to G16: Inside female governors’ bid for greater political inclusion

The seven women governors. Top from left: Cecily Mbarire (Embu), Fatuma Achani (Kwale) and Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay). Bottom from left: Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Anne Waiguru  (Kirinyaga) and Kawira Mwangaza (Meru).

Photo credit: Photos I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The county chiefs have put in place measures to deliver on their promises as a way of gaining the trust of the electorate for the benefit of aspiring female leaders.
  • Yesterday, President Ruto presided over the launch of their strategy meant to promote the election of more women to different political positions, especially gubernatorial seats, ahead of the 2027 polls.

Kenya is set to make a major step in gender representation after the 2027 General Election, if proposals by female governors are anything to go by.

For long, the country has been struggling to increase the number of elected female leaders to conform to guidelines set by the Constitution.

The private sector has done well in achieving the not-more-than two-thirds gender rule by appointing women into leadership. The political landscape has, however, yet to achieve this.

An initiative by Kenya’s seven female governors could, however, transform politics and give women an equal opportunity to contest and win political seats.

President William Ruto supports the idea.

“I support the proposal by female governors and ask Kenyans to support the same initiative,” he said on February 27, when he visited Homa Bay County.

The women governors pre-launched a political strategy meant to increase the number of elected female leaders in the next election.

The campaign, which was initiated in Homa Bay County, involves asking the electorate to consider voting for female candidates in 2027 to enable the country to realise the two-thirds gender rule.

Under an umbrella body dubbed G7 (seven female governors), the county chiefs particularly want more devolved units to be led by women. And they have set their eyes towards this goal.

For this, they are asking their male counterparts who are serving their second and final term to consider endorsing women as their successors. Such governors include Prof Anyang’ Nyong'o of Kisumu County.

They also want women to be considered as deputy governors in counties where men have higher chances of winning the county top seat.

The female governors, however, say their wish should not be mistaken as a threat to aspiring male politicians, but an effort to provide equal opportunities for women in the political arena.

Out of the 47 counties, only seven are led by female governors. This is below the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. It is also against the two-thirds gender principle.

Nevertheless, the female governors hope more devolved units will be led by women from 2027 and beyond. And they have started working towards this goal.

The seven governors are Council of Governors (CoG) chairperson Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Susan Kihika (Nakuru), Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos), Cecily Mbarire (Embu), Fatuma Achani (Kwale) and Kawira Mwangaza (Meru).

This is up from three in the period between 2017 and 2022, where there were only three female governors: Charity Ngilu (Kitui), the late Joyce Laboso of Bomet and Ms Waiguru.

In the strategy of increasing their numbers, the G7 wants to transform to G16, where 16 devolved units will be led by women.

A pre-launch of the G7 strategy was conducted in Homa Bay on February 26 and was attended by four of the female governors, who resolved to support each other and deliver on the devolution agenda.

They also resolved to lobby for women’s nomination, address challenges faced by women in politics, work with MPs to deliver campaign promises, and identify women champions to push their agenda.

National event

Similar activities were slated for the six other counties led by women governors before the strategy was finally launched at the national level in Nairobi by Dr Ruto yesterday. The President hailed women as the pillar of Kenya’s politics and committed to the quest to expand their leadership scope.

“It is not just politically correct to say we should have women leaders. It is the constitutional thing to do and it is the moral imperative to which we must aspire,” he said at the national launch.

“So, our women governors, you owe it to the women of Kenya to shine. Because in your shining, you encourage the country to vote for more women.”

At the pre-launch event, Ms Waiguru said they want to ensure more women become county chiefs. She also wants women to take other leadership positions as well, from ward to constituency level, and probably the presidency.

She explained that their intention is to support serving female governors as they seek re-election in the next poll.

“Devolution has played a significant role in development and we want more women as governors,” Ms Waiguru said.

Besides Ms Waiguru, the female governors are serving their first term and eyeing a second term in 2027.

According to the CoG chair, it is easy for one to distinguish a county led by women and those led by men.

She said women work better and counties under female governors are more developed than those led by male governors.

“Governor Wanga is an example. Since her election, Homa Bay County has transformed significantly,” Ms Waiguru said.

The G7 plans to visit all counties to promote women’s leadership.

During the visits, they will identify women with political ambitions and nurture them to be future leaders.

Ms Wanga said Kenyans should do away with the traditional notion that women cannot lead. She noted that some communities still believe women are to be seen, not to be heard, a major obstacle to those aspiring to leadership.

The county boss said her opponents in Homa Bay used this narrative to try and pin her down, but she overcame the challenge and is now a pillar of many up-and-coming politicians. Other female politicians, she explained, gave up after their male counterparts used this against them.

Ms Wanga noted that her county elected a good number of female MPs: Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), Eve Obara (Kabondo Kasipul) and Lilian Gogo (Rangwe), besides woman representative Joyce Osogo and nominated Senator Beatrice Ogolla.

The governor said the vision of having more women leaders is achievable if people with the vision work together.

“We still have a long way to go to ensure more women are elected. If we do not pull together, we are likely to slide backwards,” she said, calling on elected women to work as a team.

Ms Ndeti observed that the G7 plan may not work if they do not get men’s support.

“Traditionally, men would take care of the clan. Male politicians can, therefore, support us in our quest to increase our numbers,” she said.

The Machakos governor said Kenya has made great strides in increasing the number of women in leadership over the past elections. She recalled being among 16 female MPs at the National Assembly when she served as the MP for Kathiani in the 10th Parliament.

Ms Ndeti said some female politicians with good leadership skills fail to be elected because they have no campaign funds.

Ms Kihika noted that getting to G16 requires the empowerment of female leaders from the grassroots level. That includes supporting MCAs to vie for parliamentary seats, she explained.

Hers is among counties with more female leaders. Besides the county boss, Tabitha Karanja is the senator. Nakuru also has four female MPs: Charity Kathambi (Njoro) Martha Wangari (Gilgil), Irene Njoki (Bahati) and Jayne Kihara (Naivasha).

Ms Kihika, too, called on women leaders to work as a team. “As female governors, we consult whenever any of us has a problem. We have ensured our challenges are addressed at the appropriate time.”

Ms Mbarire said women, once nominated, should use the opportunity to seek elective seats. She gave the example of Millie Odhiambo, who was nominated in 2007 before she vied for a parliamentary seat and won in 2013, 2017 and 2022 elections.

“All female governors have identified the best crops that can be grown in their counties. We will use this to ensure women have money in their pockets,” Ms Mbarire said in regard to the use of agriculture as a tool to empower women.

UN Women official Hellen Muchunu, who was present at the Homa Bay event, said the rise in the number of elected women leaders in the past polls is a step towards success.

She, however, said Kenya is far from achieving some of the goals set by her agency.

“We aim at having at least 50 per cent of leaders being women. The government should, therefore, put efforts to increase the number,” Ms Muchunu said, calling on the government to protect the interest of women already in power.

UN Women promised to join the G7.

“The strategy will show Kenyans that women can lead just as men. We will work with G7 to overcome barriers preventing women from ascending to power,” Ms Muchunu said.

The meeting observed that women still face challenges that hinder their development, with Ms Wanga citing the triple threat of HIV, gender-based violence, and early pregnancies to women and teenage girls in Homa Bay.

Priscila Nyokabi, a consultant at G7, said they have identified key pillars that will help them achieve their goals that include socioeconomic empowerment through trade, water provision, agriculture, education and social protection.

Other strategies involve strengthening the judicial system to ensure women whose rights are infringed get justice.

MPs, including Dr Obara, Dr Gogo and Ms Odhiambo, supported the G7 strategy.

Dr Gogo noted that Homa Bay MPs have vowed to support Ms Wanga’s re-election bid in 2027. “We are ready to append our signatures to show our commitment to this. Our aim is to have more women leaders,” she said.

The legislator, who said she did not support Ms Wanga in the last campaign, called on residents to believe in women’s leadership.

The two have since settled their differences.

“We will continue to work together for service delivery,” Ms Odhiambo said.

Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma, too, supports the G7 strategy. He said his vision is to see an equal number of women leaders as men.

“I am a ‘he for she’. I support initiatives meant to empower the female gender," he said.

Opinion divided

However, not everyone believes Kenyans will elect 16 female governors in the next polls. Political analysts have different views, with some saying it will work as others disagree.

Mr Herman Manyora, a political analyst, believes the number of female governors will increase in 2027 because of the changing political landscape in the country.

He says hurdles that prevented women from ascending to leadership positions have been eradicated.

“More women are educated and have funds to finance their campaigns. Kenya has transitioned to a country where women can vie for leadership positions and win,” Mr Manyora explains.

He adds that violence against women, which prevented them from seeking leadership, is being eradicated.

Mr Obora Okoth, a UN consultant and political analyst, says the number of female governors will not exceed 10 after the 2027 election.

He says women still face challenges, including lack of energy and resilience to campaign, lack of funds and resources to ask for support.

According to Mr Okoth, some female governors won their current seats after their party leaders intervened, and that the same tactic may be a challenge in the next election.

“Just a few female governors will have a chance to be re-elected. Most Kenyans do not consider the performance of their leaders when casting ballots,” he says.

Mr Okoth explains that it will take more years for the Kenyan electorate to consider voting for women.

 “This factor of women being their own enemies will also play out in the election. It must be dealt with before more women are elected to leadership positions,” he says.

For Quinter Adoyo, a food kiosk vendor in Homa Bay town, the campaign by the seven women governors will bear fruit.

She says today’s women are empowered and aware of their rights, and can equally contest and win political seats.

Ms Adoyo believes the number of female governors will be at least 20 after the 2027 polls. She says the G7 campaign is preparing Kenyans to consider electing more women leaders.

“There has been a mindset that women cannot lead. But the campaign will demystify this narrative and enable more women to ascend to leadership positions,” she says.