What you need to know:
- Women politicians like Ngilu, Waiguru and Karua regularly participate in strategy meetings.
- Others are influential personalities who are said to pull strings behind the scenes.
As President Kenyatta navigates the last stretch of his final term, a growing number of women playing integral roles, some publicly and others behind the scenes, are expected to influence the 2022 succession politics.
Women politicians like governors Charity Ngilu and Anne Waiguru and Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua regularly participate in strategy meetings as political alliances begin to take shape ahead of next year’s elections.
Others are influential personalities who, given family ties to those in power, are said to pull strings behind the scenes. They include Mama Ngina Kenyatta, President Kenyatta’s mother, who, alongside opposition leader Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida, reportedly wield immense political power.
The spouses of President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto, Margaret and Rachael, respectively, also belong to this group.
Some have served in the civil service from where they have cultivated deep networks and are resourceful in presidential campaigns.
One such woman, whose name features in the political circles around the presidency, is Ms Nancy Gitau, a political strategist and an adviser of the President.
Ms Gitau, who was one of the coordinators of Mr Kenyatta’s presidential elections in 2013 and 2017, was briefly forced out of power by the Ruto men after the 2013 elections. But she came back, and the DP’s men have sometimes blamed her for their woes in government.
Those who know her describe her as “calm but firm.” Last December, Ms Gitau told Nation she was exploring writing her memoirs.
Then there are the women in crucial party positions, who are overseeing processes with a bearing on the General Election, the likes of Veronica Maina, who is the secretary-general of the Ruto-linked United Democratic Alliance (UDA), and ODM National Elections Board chairperson Catherine Mumma.
Ms Maina served in the same capacity in Jubilee until the appointment of Raphael Tuju. She has apparently switched to the DP’s camp, and is working to ensure UDA, which is likely to be the Ruto vehicle for contesting the presidency, should Jubilee become untenable, conducts party elections to strengthen it ahead of 2022.
The March 2018 Handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga following the disputed 2017 presidential elections is cited as one situation in which women played a powerful role behind the scenes.
And political analysts privy the discreet operations of these women suggest that they will still have a say in the upcoming transition, which explains why sometimes even politicians seek them out hoping to persuade them to help their cause.
Mama Ngina, the country’s former first lady, wields influence given the link to the powers that be since independence, analysts say.
Seen to have the President’s ear, Mama Ngina is said to have been the force behind the 2013 alliance between Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) party and DP Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP).
The memorable photograph of Mama Ngina praying for the two during one of the prayer meetings against their International Criminal Court predicament is one of the enduring images of their remarkable Jubilee campaigns that swept the two to power in 2013.
Mrs Odinga, according to close family members, is said to have played an instrumental role in the truce between the president and her husband.
Governance expert Winnie Mitullah says the role women play in the chess game that is Kenyan politics cannot be overstated.
“They are power wielders, just like the men who make things happen, and you don’t see them. They never have a front platform, but are influencers,” Prof Mitulah says. Mama Ngina, for example, Prof Mitullah offers, has been instrumental in leveraging support or silently quelling dissent because of her network.
When the Handshake took place, she recalls, Kenyans were asking how it happened. “Those are the behind the scenes roller-coasters.”
Governors Ngilu (Kitui) and Waiguru (Kirinyaga) are among strong backers of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) proposed constitutional reforms seeking to expand the executive through creation of Prime Minister and deputy premiers’ posts.
Mrs Karua, a former presidential candidate, is a key player in governance issues and is leading campaigns against proposed constitutional changes that she terms as “attempts to mutilate the 2010 Constitution” through the BBI process.
Other powerful women, who may not directly have connection with the succession politics, but who have influence over current political scenarios by virtue of their relations, include the spouses of key politicians.
For First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, her charity operations, such as the Beyond Zero campaign to improve maternal and child health outcomes, have been seen as boosting the image of the Jubilee administration. Ms Rachel Ruto’s active involvement in mobilising women through table banking is another of public campaigns that resonate with the grassroots.
Others are Mr Odinga’s daughter, Winnie, who has since assumed the role of her father’s personal assistant, even edging out some powerful men around the ODM leader as well as ODM Women league president Beth Syengo.
Winnie has recently been seen with her father in political gatherings and even accompanied him to Harambee House where the handshake deal was made public.
While they are not involved in partisan politics, Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu, Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakango and acting Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu are leading offices whose work influences political affairs.