What you need to know:
- One of the useful lessons Eva Obara has learnt in politics is that constitutional safeguards, party support, and visibility are crucial to increasing women’s chances of winning seats.
- The Kabondo Kasipul MP advises women to build networks and maintain decorum and decency in speech and conduct as they navigate the political space.
Kabondo Kasipul MP Eva Obara had harboured political ambitions for years, courtesy of two major developments. Firstly, she chaired the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation (MYWO) in Nyanza and was a member of its National Executive Committee. Secondly, she had political leaders as her mentors.
While at MYWO where she devoted time pushing women's empowerment agenda, including political leadership, she was mentored by Ms Phoebe Asiyo – former Karachuonyo MP, ambassador to the United Nations Development Fund for Women and MYWO’s first African president. Ms Ida Odinga and former MYWO chair Zipporah Kittony remain important pillars on her political journey.
Beyond helping women leaders advance their political and social agenda at the national level, Ms Obara also worked with women farmers at the community level to improve their livelihoods. Farmers in Kabondo credit her with the formation of Kabondo Women Cooperative Society.
“To date, the cooperative brings together constituents, mainly women, to farm sweet potatoes and help them market their produce for better prices and maximise returns,” she says.
With the cooperative up and running, she turned her attention to education, steering the formation of Women’s Initiative in Education, a non-profit organisation that champions girls’ education.
At the Kenya Literature Bureau where she rose through the ranks to become managing director, her leadership skills stood out. By 2016, she had become a household name. People started demanding that she represent them as Member of Parliament (MP). She quit her job at the publishing firm and joined the contest for Kabondo Kasipul MP ahead of the 2017 General Election.
“My constituents persuaded me to run for the constituency seat, having observed my leadership skills and passion for public service.”
She won, becoming the first woman to be elected as MP in that constituency. Her illustrious political journey can be traced to her reputation for excellence, commitment to duty, energy, diligence and openness.
Now serving her second term, Ms Obara says her strategy involves tackling issues that resonate with the electorate. “During the 2022 General Election, I again endeared myself to the electorate by showcasing my development track record and ability to collaborate and build networks.”
The MP says the constituency was, in 2022, ranked the fourth best nationally in the use of National Government-Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF), thanks to her leadership.
During her first term, Ms Obara is credited with prudent use of NG-CDF to build and refurbish school infrastructure, including laboratories, classrooms, sanitary facilities, and administration blocks. She also introduced rainwater harvesting and storage systems in public primary and secondary schools, built offices for chiefs and assistant chiefs, and a police station at Othoro.
Ms Obara also initiated a scholarship programme, Kabondo Kasipul Stars, which gives full four-year scholarships to needy children joining national schools. She says these investments have resulted in improved academic outcomes.
She also initiated Rachuonyo East Entrepreneurs Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (Sacco) in 2018. It has more than 800 members and targets entrepreneurs from Rachuonyo East, Rachuonyo South, and Suba North sub-counties. “Its objective is to uplift the living standards of the rural entrepreneurs by providing a digital saving and borrowing platform for affordable credit,” she says.
The Sacco works with development partners to enhance members' financial literacy, networking and marketing of their products.
“To enhance members’ economic base, the Sacco promotes environmental education and has embarked on training farmers in organic farming, tree planting, installation of rocket stoves and provided solar-powered business equipment on credit, to its members and potential customers.”
Ms Obara says the successes she has recorded in her political life are a result of workable strategies. Her re-election, for instance, was bolstered by three things: her track record, support from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, and her ability to connect with her constituents.
She got a direct nomination from ODM, which remains the dominant political party in the Nyanza region. “The party's campaign strategy and support from party members contributed to my victory.”
Although most of her campaign resources came from personal savings and contributions from family, friends, well-wishers and volunteers, ODM also provided her with publicity materials and cash, she adds.
Despite the overwhelming support, she did not rest on her laurels. Ms Obara set up a campaign secretariat, manned by key point persons. She then devised a messaging strategy that involved use of word of mouth and radio to reach voters.
Her campaign slogan, “Somo kod dongruok (education and development),” resonated with the electorate. In the digital space, she used Facebook, Twitter (now X), WhatsApp, and her website to communicate her development agenda. “These platforms enabled me to identify and resolve constituents' issues.”
While Ms Obara is happy to have retained the seat, she says the victory had its fair share of challenges. She cites financial constraints and societal bias against women's leadership, as some of the issues that occasionally derailed her campaigns. She, however, focused on demonstrating her leadership skills and commitment to public service.
One of the useful lessons she has learnt in politics is that constitutional safeguards, party support, adequate financial resources and visibility are crucial to increasing women’s chances of winning seats. “You need to be visible and work closely with your community and political party, and make proper security arrangements for you to win an election.”
Ms Obara believes that even as women apply these strategies to increase their numbers in political representation, affirmative action provisions in the Constitution need to be implemented to get more women into these positions. She also urges that political parties rationalise their nominations to get more women vying for seats.
She further calls on women in positions of authority to support and mentor other women. “Those aspiring to political positions must work with mentors, offer themselves for positions of leadership, pursue education, and mobilise resources to be able to mount a credible campaign. Preparation and determination are key to success.”
She advises women to always trust in God, build networks, and maintain decorum and decency in speech and conduct as they navigate the political space.