At least 23 women leaders are eyeing the coveted governor post in next year’s elections, raising the possibility that more counties could have women bosses compared to only three that have tasted female leadership since implementation of devolved governments in 2013.
Unlike the past two general elections where only a handful of women vied for what is regarded as the second most powerful political office in the land after the presidency, nearly two dozen women have declared interest in the county seats, signalling a tough contest for their male rivals.
The only women to have occupied the office are Joyce Laboso, former Bomet Governor, who died in office, Kitui County boss Charity Ngilu and her Kirinyaga counterpart Anne Waiguru.
Besides Ms Waiguru and Ms Ngilu who plan to defend their seats, Ms Karua, is also a contender for the Kirinyaga seat, even though her name has featured in the lists of running mate position for other presidential aspirants.
Ms Karua ran for president in 2013 and came a distant sixth after Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Peter Kenneth and Abduba Dida.
Ms Ngilu made her first stab at the top seat in 1997 but came fifth after former presidents Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Mr Odinga and Vice-President Kijana Wamalwa, who died in office.
Other women leaders who have thrown their hats in the ring include Susan Kihika (Nakuru senator), Fatuma Achani (Kwale deputy governor), Soipan Tuya (Narok woman rep), Florence Mutua (Busia woman rep), Cecily Mbarire (Nominated MP), Wavinya Ndeti (former Kathiani MP), Ruth Odinga (former Kisumu Deputy Governor), Aisha Jumwa (Kilifi woman pep), Purity Ngirici (Kirinyaga woman rep) and Peris Tobiko (Kajiado East MP).
Others are Pamela Odhiambo (Migori Woman Rep), Sabina Chege (Murang’a Woman Rep), Margaret Wanjiru (former Starehe MP), Anne Kananu (acting Nairobi governor), Agnes Kagure (political operative and businesswomen), Florence Mwangangi (Machakos assembly Speaker), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay Woman Rep), Faith Gitau ( Nyandarua Woman rep), Kabiaga University lecturer Dr Loice Kipkorir (Elgeyo Marakwet) and communications specialist Patience Nyange (Taita Taveta).
No woman, so far, has declared interest in running for President.
Political analyst Winnie Mitullah argues that even though women are not keen on running for president, their resolve to go for the top-most county position, governor, is a positive gesture.
“It is from governorship that you grow to the presidential position. In fact, in a right working political system you will find that governors are the ones that end up being presidents,” said Prof Mitullah. “I think in the 2027 election the women candidates for President will have increased,” predicted Prof Mitullah.
Ms Achani yesterday told the Nation that her ambition is to rise to the position of governor first and complete the projects they initiated with her boss, Governor Salim Mvurya, before considering other higher posts.
Ms Tuya said her belief in women leadership has inspired her to aim for loftier heights.
Ms Kihika said her desire is to provide better leadership for the people of Nakuru.
Ms Mutua said she aims at bettering the lives of the people of Busia since the seat comes with a sizeable budget that if well utilised can change peoples’ lives.
Ms Waiguru, Ms Ngilu and Ms Karua’s names have, however, featured in the lists of presidential running mates even though none of them has declared their intentions to team up with any contender for president.
Ms Waiguru, who of late has appeared to be drifting towards Deputy President William Ruto’s camp, has acknowledged that the main presidential contenders have approached her with an offer for running mate position.
However, she said that unless she declares otherwise, her focus is to defend her gubernatorial seat.
“There have been conversations on whether I will opt for the running mate post and to whom among the presidential contenders. I’m honoured since it’s not every day that you have people considering you as their running mate,” she said.
Prof Mitullah said women have faced difficulties in seeking the presidency, adding governorship should help them on the journey to the top.
“What happened to Martha Karua, which some of us have never accepted, was very unfortunate. She had worked on the ground for almost two years advancing for the position of presidency. It didn’t come by fluke, she worked for it for two years and then she got less votes than even Abduba Dida who had come a few weeks to the election,” Prof Mitullah noted. The experience, she noted, “tells something very unique and terrible about our system.”
Ms Kagure, who is eyeing Nairobi governor seat, said her aim is to “serve not to get a platform to become a tin-god.”
I believe I have the credentials, exposure as well as hindsight, insights and foresight to offer quality and visionary leadership,” she said.
Ms Ndeti said she wants to empower the people of Machakos. “My priority projects will be agriculture, water, infrastructure, youth and women empowerment, education and health.”