The women politicians making a mark

Machakos Senator Agnes Kavindu, Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda, Turkana Woman Rep Cecilia Asinyen Ngitit, Kirinyaga Woman Rep Jane Njeri Maina and Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga. A recent Infotrak survey rated them as top performers.

Photo credit: Photo I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Infotrak conducted a performance survey between July and September this year, involving 58,748 respondents from 47 counties, 290 constituencies, and 1,450 wards,  and these female governors and legislators stood out.
  • We celebrate these top performers who have surpassed expectations and are committed to dismantling legal, cultural and socioeconomic structures that derail development, going by Infotrak findings.

Infotrak, a research company, recently released findings of a survey on top-performing political leaders in 2023. Five women stood out in governor, senator, member of Parliament (MP) and woman representative positions.

Gladys Wanga, a first-term governor of Homa Bay, led the pack in terms of ratings, emerging the best out of 47 governors. She tied the spot with Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya, at 70 per cent.

Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda emerged as the top-performing woman in a category that was led by Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, who scored 70 per cent. Ms Lesuuda scored 63 per cent. Ms Lesuuda retained the Samburu West seat after trouncing four male competitors in the last election.

In the woman rep category, Turkana’s Cecilia Ngitit emerged the best, sharing the position with Kirinyaga’s Jane Njeri Maina with a rating of 50 per cent.

Agnes Kavindu, a second-term senator of Machakos County, was ranked the best-performing female senator with a 47 per cent rating. Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah led the category with an approval rating of 59 per cent.

Women’s leadership has come a long way. In 2022, for instance, Kenyans elected seven women governors, up from three in 2017; 29 MPs up from 23; and three female senators, the same number as in 2017.

Infotrak’s CountyTrak survey, conducted between July and September 2023, involved 58,748 respondents from 47 counties, 290 constituencies, and 1,450 wards.

The five women leaders tell the Voice how they made it to the top, and what development projects they have been pushing in their areas.

Gladys Wanga, Homa Bay governor

What is your take on this latest ranking?

I would like to say that all governors have done their best to make devolution work. I thank God and the residents of Homa Bay County for their belief in the work we do. We do not take their trust lightly. Being told you are the top only means the work has just begun. The big task now is to ensure the work continues to retain the electorate’s trust.

What are some of the milestones you have hit since taking over as governor?

As a county, we have many challenges within the health sector, making it among my top priorities. I have put emphasis on maternal health and child deaths. We are also actively dealing with HIV.

As of now, our referral hospital is well equipped with a CT scan and 24-hour dialysis. We have also ensured we have medicines throughout and our medics are paid on time. I am also working with community health promoters to tackle these issues from the grassroots. This includes ensuring our dispensaries are well staffed and have medicines.

We have also been running medical camps for individuals with optical issues and treatment of fistula among women.

Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga at KICC, Nairobi, on July 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo I Nation Media Group

On education, we have built early childhood development and education (ECDE) classrooms. We started with one in each ward. We are now looking to build six in each ward this financial year, totalling 240. We have increased our bursary allocation to Sh4 million per ward, up from Sh2.5 million.

In agriculture, we ensured our farmers had seeds; and when they had a surplus of maize harvest, we bought from them and took the maize to the milling factory at Kigoto, which produces Mokwa flour. This ensured they had money in their pockets.

We have had water issues, especially in Homa Bay town. We have a plant that can treat up to eight million litres of water, but the issue has been old, non-functioning piping systems. We plan to instal new piping and within six months to a year, citizens should have got a reprieve. Most people will, however, tell you the situation has improved, thanks to the 62 boreholes we have done so far. We plan to add 80 more boreholes.

We are also looking to have water pans, dams and revive stalled water projects such as that in Sindo. It will take time, but in 10 years, God willing, we will have tackled the water issue all over the county.

Your take on the acceptance of women’s leadership and the woes your Meru counterpart Kawira Mwangaza faces?

The impeachment of Governor Kawira was mostly based on unsubstantiated claims, with a lot of political interference. I blame it on patriarchy, which makes it difficult for society to accept women’s leadership. There needs to be enhanced support for women and a threshold for impeachment so that leaders, more so women, can work without fear.

Your career goals and aspirations?

I hope to stand for a second term in 2027, but when I eventually leave office, I hope to be remembered for transforming the entire Homa Bay County and in particular ensuring Homa Bay town gains city status.

I would also like to be remembered for improving the health sector and for setting a good example for more women, especially the younger ones to take up more leadership roles.

(This interview was first published on Kigoda Chako by NTV)

Naisula Lesuuda, Samburu West MP

What does this recognition mean to you?

This is an appreciation for the work I have done in the past year and continue to do. It proves the residents of Samburu West acknowledge my work. This encourages me to do much more.

What guides your leadership style?

My leadership style is guided by public participation. I usually move from one village to the other to check the people’s needs because they know best where the shoe pinches. In certain instances, I have proposed to do one thing, but they have disagreed and proposed something else. In such cases, we have a lot of consultations to agree on what needs prioritisation.

What have been some of your achievements?

On education, I have been criticised for not building more schools, but I insist that we focus on equipping the existing ones with proper labs and other facilities.

We also have many schools without teachers’ quarters; this hampers delivery of education. That is another area we are keen to improve.

On water, despite it being a devolved function, I have solicited funds from the national government for water pans and boreholes. We also have an ongoing irrigation project that has improved the lives of women and youths in onion farming.

Another area of prioritisation is electricity. I have lobbied to enhance connectivity, especially to schools. We also have many manyattas connected. Electricity has also improved job prospects for the youth; some run cyber cafes, barbershops and other small businesses, which was previously not possible.

Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

On infrastructure, I lobbied for the finalisation of the tarmacking of the Rumuruti-Maralal road. This has significantly cut down on time spent on the road from an entire day, to a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

I have been vocal on matters of security because it is one of the biggest problems we face. I have used the National Government-Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) to build security posts and chief camps. We also lobbied from the national government to have trained national police reservists to man the camps.

On land ownership, a critical issue for my people, I was able, with former President Uhuru Kenyatta, to issue 10,000 titles under the free titling scheme. This enabled them to settle and develop their land according to their individual needs.

I currently have two Bills in Parliament. The Kenya Roads Amendment Bill seeks to provide dedicated pedestrian lanes, separate from motor vehicle lanes, to minimise vehicle congestion and reduce road accidents.

The Public Service Internship Bill seeks to have public service interns entitled to sick and maternity leave, and to receive subsistence allowance. The Bill outlines a 12-month internship period and excludes pension or gratuity.

At a personal level, because government funds are never enough, my foundation has provided medical camps and paid fees. I was also able to do fundraisers to boost youth businesses. This perhaps also helped with my ranking because my impact is felt.

Why do you think gender diversity matters in leadership?

Women and men are inherently different and bring different attributes and strengths to leadership. Women leaders, for example, will often have an element of social development in their leadership styles, tackling issues that men will often not care about. For example, using NG-CDF, we enrolled 700 of the most vulnerable households on the National Health Insurance Fund scheme.

We are not there yet, but I hope we can retain the number of elected women and perhaps add more. I hope we address gender-based violence during campaigns, and afterwards accord women in office space to deliver on their mandates.

What are your career goals and aspirations?

I am focused on delivering on my mandate. I do not take for granted the support of the people, which saw me beat my opponents by huge margins. I may not be able to speak about my future ambitions, but my options are open. For now, I want to work hard.

I was criticised for being out of office to deliver my baby but had laid out a system that ensured everything continued to run smoothly even as I worked remotely. Childbearing and raising babies should not be used to discredit women because these do not hinder a woman from performing and this ranking proves that.

Jane Njeri Maina, Kirinyaga woman rep

What does this recognition mean to you and what do you think contributed to your top ranking?

It is such a humbling experience for me given that I’m one of the youngest MPs. It also serves as a reminder that I must constantly endeavour to do more because the people entrusted me with this job at such a young age. It negates the notion that young people do not make exemplary leaders.

I was so keen when I got to the 13th Parliament not to be lost in the grandeur of it all. This recognition demonstrates my commitment to delivering to my people servant leadership and the impactful programmes I have been running. The fact that I am also active on the floor of the House may have topped off the performance record.

Coming into this role, you had a vision; What have you achieved so far?

I am currently running the Tupange Kesho initiative, which is a five-item agenda.
On education, my office has sponsored more than 1,000 orphans and persons with living disabilities (PWDs) through the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF) kitty and other partners.

We are currently constructing a dormitory for Raimu Special School that will be fully equipped with assistive devices. We are also running a school programme where we provide learning support in terms of lockers, desks and dignity kits for girls and boys.

Kirinyaga Woman Rep Jane Njeri Maina.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo I Nation Media Group

On electricity infrastructure, I have lobbied for last mile electricity connection totalling over Sh50 million across the county. We also have a primary focus on street-lighting projects for our markets, which will cost over Sh10 million, to improve security and promote business round the clock.

On economic empowerment, we have issued cheques totalling over Sh5 million to women, youth and PWD groups across Kirinyaga to provide financial support for small and medium enterprises, chamas and boda groups to reinvigorate the local economy.

I lobbied for and ensured that Sh500 million was allocated for an export processing zone. This will create jobs for our young population. We are running beekeeping pilot projects with groups at the grassroots level to empower them economically. We have provided the hives and sourced market for the produce when it is ready.

On social welfare, we have distributed tents, seats, and water tanks to communities across Kirinyaga. We have distributed energy saving jikos to communities in partnership with the Ministry of Energy.

We have run a programme dubbed triple threat to counter drug and substance abuse, teenage pregnancies and raise awareness of mental health. We are also running legal aid clinic week to bridge the gap with regard to access to justice for women.

On the legislative agenda, I have sponsored several questions, statements and petitions agitating for the interest of the people.

I have sponsored the Comprehensive Health Education Motion, which was approved by Parliament to counter teenage pregnancies and negative impacts of social media, promote healthy relationships and combat drug and substance abuse.

I am currently sponsoring the Kenya School of Law Bill, 2023, which will enable progressive learning whereby more than 3,000 law students will benefit to qualify for admission to the advocates’ training programme.

I am also sponsoring the Health Amendment Bill, 2023, which seeks to criminalise detention of corpses and/or persons in hospitals due to pending medical bills.

What is the greatest misconception about the woman representative position and what are you doing to change that?

Many people have a low opinion of women representatives and often disregard their input in society. I have taken it upon myself to be an avid legislator in Parliament. As there is minimal civic education on the roles and budgetary allocation, I take time to explain and walk my electorate through the same, vis-à-vis other elected leaders’ capacity.

Your future goals and priorities for your political career?

I have obviously daydreamed about being president someday; and I know it is not an impossibility as women’s leadership has come of age. However, I have learnt that in politics, it is important to watch and learn. That is what I am doing for now. I focus on giving my absolute best in this five-year term. Most likely, I will defend my seat, but in life, you just never know. I am open to all great possibilities.

What is your parting shot?

I have learnt that the status quo will not always welcome young women leaders in politics. It is quite unfortunate that my first unpleasant encounter was with a female politician. I had such high hopes in support across the board and mentorship from those who have been here longer. I feel that politics is too toxic and competitive and sometimes, women leaders enforce institutional patriarchy. I hope I turn out better; I believe there is enough space for all of us to shine.

Cecilia Asinyen Ngitit, Woman Rep, Turkana

What does this recognition mean to you?

As a first-term woman rep, this was shocking. It, however, made me feel good because my efforts are being seen. I believe my transparency, when it comes to handling county affairs under my docket, may have contributed to the top ranking. Interestingly, in the past when I was not even in this position, Infotrak reached out to me on matters of governance, infrastructure, and the cost of living, among other issues.

In your one year in office, what have been your issues of focus and achievements?

We have had a challenge on the National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF), which has delayed service delivery. Initially, the government said it would be disbursed in September, but we are still waiting. During the last cycle, however, I allocated Sh18 million for education and social development to bursaries, sanitary towels, electric sewing machines and empowerment programmes.

At the time, I was only able to cover two constituencies with the pads distribution. When the funds arrive, I would like to expand that reach. Innerwear is also a big challenge for the girls and we will include that.  We will also continue with bursaries and scholarships. We also plan to empower chamas once the funds arrive.

On water, we plan to purchase pumps, plastic tanks, and generators to aid farming along the rivers Turkwel and Kerio.

At a personal level, I pay fees out of pocket for vulnerable children across the county.

What are some of the unique challenges that Woman Reps face?

The woman rep seat is an affirmative action position, but when you critically think about it, the budget allocation given to us is not even half of what a single constituency MP gets. Yet, we cover a bigger area and a larger population; the entire county is under us.

Turkana Woman Rep Cecilia Asinyen Ngitit.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

Other challenges vary depending on where the woman rep’s county is located. In my case, for example, I come from a marginalised community where the funds allocated cannot meet most needs. You must also consider the insecurity in a county like Turkana, which limits my movements, not forgetting the minimal government presence in the area.

The other challenge women reps face is lack of support from our counterparts in Parliament, more so the men. When discussions on empowering our position through better funding come up, they avoid them because they fear that once that happens, we may go for better positions, and so basically we are a threat to them.

Why does gender diversity matter in a country’s leadership?

Gender diversity is a principle enshrined in our Constitution and so it is true to say that our current Parliament, which doesn’t meet the two-thirds gender principle, is unconstitutional. As a country and leaders, we should adhere to all tenets of the Constitution. Beyond that, women leaders like Governor Wanga and others have proved that they can perform as good as, if not better than, male leaders. This should be an eye-opener for the electorate to seriously consider women’s leadership.

What are your political aspirations in 2027 and beyond?

I hope to defend my seat in 2027, but beyond that, the prevailing environment then will determine the course of action I will take. I may run for MP for a single constituency or even governor. Trailblazers like Kawira Mwangaza have shown that it is possible to grow from one leadership capacity to the next.

Agnes Kavindu Machakos senator

What does this recognition mean to you?

It proves I have been working and performing. It is also a pointer that I am in touch with the ground. This has enabled me to raise issues that are close to my voters’ hearts and that they appreciate me for that.

What leadership style do you embrace?

My leadership style is anchored on respect. I respect everyone, even my opponents and those who may not like or have voted for me. During the past elections, when my opponents were insulting me, I would ask my supporters to still respect them. This has helped me to soar like the eagle to identify with the ground.

What are some of the issues you are advocating and achievements?

In the Senate, I chair the committee pushing for compensation to the 1998 bomb blast victims. We will soon have a meeting in the United States to ask to be included in the terrorism fund, which was formed in 2014 to compensate victims of terrorist attacks. It is unfair that 25 years later, the victims have not got any form of reprieve.

At the same time, I am advocating collective reparations for colonial injustices. My people in Machakos had their cattle taken, women were raped and killed, while men were jailed without trial. I am calling on other counties to bring their petitions so that collectively, we can demand justice starting with an apology and then compensation from the British government.

Machakos Senator Agnes Kavindu in Nairobi on August 7, 2023..

Photo credit: Evans Habil I Nation Media Group

I am pushing, on behalf of local farmers, a probe into the illegal liquidation of the Drumvale Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Kamulu by a rogue official without a court order. The society established in the 1960s had a total landholding of over 12,000 acres. Once this issue is resolved, they will get back their property rights after 13 years.

I also sponsored a statement agitating for the fencing of Masinga Dam and Oldonyo Sabuk game reserve to prevent wildlife from harming humans. We have farmers whose cattle have been killed and I am pushing for their compensation as well.

That aside, I want locals around the dam to benefit from a percentage of electricity that comes from it. As it stands now, many people around the dam are not connected to electricity, yet it is among the suppliers of power to the grid.

I was also able to push for compensation to individuals in Masinga and along the Athi River who were attacked by crocodiles and hippos. Each individual was awarded Sh5 million. So far, they have received Sh1 million each.

We have no fund for development as senators, but I was a preacher before I was a politician, and I understand the needs of the people. Outside the Senate, I do charity work, which I started back in the day, like fundraising for women with disabilities, and building homes for the homeless.

What is your take on women’s leadership?

Women leaders, like men, should be given space to lead. I watched the clips demeaning Governor Mwangaza and I sobbed. Women must not be bullied simply because a few people think they are not the strongest or the smartest. Laws that protect women must be strengthened.

What are your future political aspirations?

Machakos has many issues that cannot be solved even in five years such as land-grabbing, demolitions and others. I still hope to be in the Senate for a third term because our current governor is a woman, and I cannot fight her. I would like her to finish her two terms and then maybe afterwards, I will toss myself in the ring.