Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The spear upon the coat: Incomplete

They came calling deep in the dead of the night, their boots sliding on the grass.

I was in Wanja’s hut and next to me was Murathe, the little boy who had been born to me at the height of my youth. Wanja was sound asleep. On such a night, she would sleep till the cock crowed. Then she would make her way to the shed to squeeze whatever came out of ngunu. Spending nights with Wanja took my mind off the horrors of the war. I cannot say I was not afraid. Every meeting was an opportunity to be reminded that we of the nine clans now belonged to Mwene-Nyaga. We would rub our hands upon the earth and generate the warmth we needed to withstand the gathano.

I reached out for my spear. Wanja did not stir. This woman whose hut would be torched while she slept because her husband was home restored my confidence. I rose and stood behind the door. I heard a familiar whisper calling out to my sister Nyawira. Nyawira’s hut was at the periphery of the farm. She was divorced and had been pointed to the place upon which to erect her hut by Gicaru, her father. It was Njihia looking for a place to pull some warmth. I stepped outside and walked to where he stood. He hesitated and moved as if to run. But I had drawn to where he stood. He held out his be-speared hand. I recognised the spear. It belonged to Maina, the head of his village and the elder of his age-set. Maina had asserted his honour upon Njihia’s household for the night and left his spear firmly placed outside. According to the language of honour among brothers of the same age-set, Njihia could not interrupt. I looked at him and recognised the look, the longing in his eyes to have some company before dawn but I could tell that he was afraid of me. He was right to be afraid because I thought him a coward who could not defend the honour of his household because tradition commanded it. I scorned upon his self pity.

I thought of the day I had come home to find Kimani about to place his spear outside Wanja’s hut. The village awoke to the story that I had killed Kimani and fed his body to the dogs. But the ordeal between Kimani and I remained as cold as only that night could narrate. Kimani and others like him understood that Wanja’s hut bore the shelter of only one spear. Njihia had failed his clan. He had failed his sons who would never know the honour of defending the shelters of their spears. He now stood outside Nyawira's hut whining like a wet animal.

Happy 50th Kenya.

A letter to my lover

The clock will turn, 50 you shall turn
The prime of your age, they will say
The time for your will, I will say
To protect the children from being disinherited
To protect me, your true and faithful lover, from being inherited
Taxes, buses, truces, bruises, nurses, they who abandon you to die
At 50 they say you are ailing
Yet I know you to be as active as when we first met
At 50 years they say you are too slow, that your growth is stunted
Yet, your heart grows bigger with age
Because the baby boomers filled your vast with brood
The brood is busy.
Riding their tyres on your back
Disregarding the toil of your past years
They try to understand you
But they fail
Because they refuse to listen to your stories
They are too blinded by the language in your will
Questioning their share to inherit
Wondering why you take too long to die
So that they can erase your history
They who are with you, for the next 50

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The ‘tomorrow identity’: A well-orchestrated lie

On 25th May, 2013, I entered into the world of the founding African leaders. I also came face to face with the leaders of the next 50 years. I relished in the emotions of the day with nothing but the hope in the melody of Teddy Afro’s o Africaye.

I was however not convinced that the young people in the UNECA inter-generational Hall on the morning of 24th May 2013, understood just how much hope and power they held for this continent. They started off by fighting for their space and their right to occupy the seats that had been reserved for them but suddenly taken up by ministers, ambassadors and Government envoys attending the event with the attending Heads of State. They struggled to fit their interventions to the 42 seconds allowed by the moderator, Zeinab Badawi. 

I sat there, hoping that the media, which was well represented, would bring the continent to the reality of the power distances between the young people represented and the Heads of States they were supposed to engage in dialogue. But maybe, I did not understand the meaning of the word dialogue so I looked it up. The English Oxford dictionary defines “dialogue” as a “discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed towards exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem”.  The meeting did not serve the purpose envisaged by its conceivers.  It however was not a waste of time. It was a reminder of the struggles faced by the fading generation of Africans. The painful struggle of the generation at independence to give this continent an identity. It also brought to bloom the reality of the conceited efforts of selfish beneficiaries of that struggle to subject future generations to internal sabotage. 

The youth echoed their frustrations: the impossible attempts to freely move within the continent, dependence on aid, the sale of our sovereignty to the highest bidder, the conflicts, and the negative narratives. They expressed their hope: of a United Africa, of a single African passport, of internal dependence and economic liberation, of the freedom to one day roam the corners of Africa without hindrance. They suffered their lows, soft censorship, and outright disagreement among themselves, intolerance and the LGBTI debate. More so, they represented the present (not the future) of this continent; of that they were crystal clear.

The Africa 2.0 team, bringing together young Africans to shape the dialogue and fate of their continent and a voice that was strongly felt at the inter-generational dialogue is a hope that we are heading in the right direction. Despite the shortfalls of the meeting, its organization was a step in the right direction. The admirable effort by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Michael Sata of Zambia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Macky Sall of Senegal, Prime Minister- Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, and Botswana’s Vice President, Ponatshego Kedikilwe not forgetting former President and a founding father, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia should not go unnoticed.  Some of these Heads of State may have had different expectations, a different, perhaps even ignorant understanding of dialogue, but we need more leaders with their motivation to dialogue or attempt to dialogue with younger generations. The meeting managed to shun the ‘tomorrow identity’. Young Africans stepped into their elements and engaged the Heads of State, however little time they were given. They realized that their time to lead was not in the future. It is in the present.

The spiritual promise
Psalms 38: 8 (KJV)Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia (Kush) shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.

The vision of Kwame Nkrumah
Ethiopia shall stretch her hands unto God, Africa shall unite. 

Kwame Nkrumah’s utterances founded the political kingdom, otherwise known as “Africa’s political capital”-the Seat of the African Union in the land of Empress Titu, Tirunesh Dibaba, Yonas and Dr. Wayne-Adrian Davis, I might add.

Speak up! Lessons from North Africa
It was President Ben Bella of Algeria who walked up to the podium at the OAU founding Summit, after three days of verbose and boring speeches from the Heads of State who went before him and declared that the most important issue for discussion had to be the total liberation of Africa. He called for total solidarity with countries that were still fighting for their liberty. A vision shared by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Kenya was one such State and on 1st June 1963, Jomo Kenyatta and others like him, women and men, led Kenya to the grant of internal self-rule. It was however a Head of State from the North African region that slapped awake a Summit that would have carried on in endless verbosity with zero concrete action. A president from a region that has ceased, in our speeches and narrative, to be African and become countries in the Arab region instead of primarily African countries! A region whose young people speak their mind even when they are not expected to. Young people who question the audacity of Heads of States to walk into a dialogue meeting late and try to rush the process.

The North were the radical leaders. The Casablanca group consisting of Algeria, Egypt, Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Ghana wanted an open Africa; a united Africa. Free of control on movement of goods, capital and labour. They were however defeated in their push for an “African personality, a united African foreign policy”.

The Monrovia group on the other hand chose to abandon the African personality and remain sheltered under the French backed currency zone (most were from francophone Africa). Ben Bella made self-sacrificing remarks. He stated that it was no time to think about money and talk about development while their colleagues in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa were dying. Julius Nyerere got the cue and applauded his colleague. He spoke the language of ‘Muungano’ (unity) of ‘utu’ (humanity) that would years later pick on the South African expression of ‘ubuntu’ to form a universal language of sacrifice.

The OAU started with the right visionaries. We however missed the mark on the leaders we placed to head our independent States. Most of them turned out to be the greatest abusers of the very freedom obtained at independence.  The men made the pact for this continent. The women watched, they listened, they prayed and they kept notes. In October 2012, backed by other women leaders and activists around the continent, they lobbied and had Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma elected as the chairperson of the AU Commission. Women were finally visible at the helm of this continental body with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Joyce Hilda Banda as Heads of State.  I however believe the omission of founding mothers, alongside founding fathers is inexcusable. While history may have ignored the efforts of African women to liberate the continent, we, of the next 50 years, cannot make the same mistake. We must petition the AU for the inclusion of notable African women to be recognised for the role they played in the liberation of their countries, one such example is Sarah Sarai of Kenya. 

The African Leadership Index, 2012 reflects the performance of African leaders in leadership, democracy, corruption and freedom of the media. Only two countries, Mauritius and Botswana scored an A. Cape Verde scored B+, Seychelles, Namibia, Ghana and South Africa scored B. 15 countries were placed in the ICU while others were said to lie in the morgue. Yet all these countries, the super achievers and those awaiting burial were all represented at the African Union Summit, marking 50 years since the establishment of the OAU in Addis Ababa in the month of May. This provides a challenge for Africa. The success and progression of a few States while applauded and appreciated, does not liberate the image of the Continent. Integration is key.

The African Identity
To-date, we are still trying to define that African identity. The same one that was sought by the founding fathers, and consciously I add, mothers in 1963. The youth in this continent are fighting for space to express themselves. They are in search of livelihood. They are hungry for a good education. Most of all, they need respect and the ability to interconnect and inter-breed. How is it that true inter-African relations, capable of producing the intra-African generation are hindered by acrimonious travel hindrances? The interaction of governments is vital for development but the interaction of people within the continent is critical for the  progression and realisation of the shared vision of complete unity.The youth will stop at nothing to ensure that this dream becomes a reality. Indeed, it has to be the single most important focus of the next 50 years. This is our present day Pan-Africanism. The free interaction of all Africans from Cairo to Cape Town, Libreville to Mogadishu, Praia to Antananarivo. Its realisation will bring with it peace, regional integration, fair trade practices, pride and a positive shift of the African narrative. It will raise a crop of leaders who are amiable to criticism and who will primarily focus on the well-being of their people as opposed to their own personal interests. This must be our agenda for action. It will give us cause for the next 50 years. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

The genius of “being or feeling lost”

Nobody ever tells you that the greatest potential in a human being is activated when you feel lost. We do not relish the magic of being lost. Being lost is likened to failure, a situation that cannot be salvaged, or so many think. I think that being or feeling lost is the surest way to finding true purpose.

My friend Laura* resided in the United Kingdom for a long time. For 10 years, a ‘career woman’ exclusively played house wife and did it graciously. But during those years, she felt lost. She reminded herself every day that she would find her self-worth during this period. In the course of time, she took so many development initiatives and courses and piled a unique set of personal competencies. These initiatives and courses made it hard to shut her out of the job market. When she returned to Kenya, she interviewed with one of the blue chip companies for a managerial position. A move many thought hopelessly futile if not completely daring. What these people did not realize was that Laura had become a better person in those ten years. During the interview, the Managing Director of the Company with which she was interviewing asked her why she thought she could exit the job market, stay out of it for 10 years and assume she could jump right back in; at the top of the ladder. Her explanation was simple, in those ten years, she simply explained that she had found herself, her true purpose; her true north. For ten years, she had managed her family affairs, businesses and taken courses focused on leadership and management. For ten years, she had been the sole manager of her home and her life. Those ten ‘lost’ years had transformed her. As you may guess, she got the job and went ahead to double the company's marketing returns in just six months. Many would say she had lost ten years of her life. But to her, she had found her true potential; literally. This is her last year of employment, but she feels that the ten years contributed to her successful career in top level management. At only 55, she is ready for self-actualization. I am awed by her story.

Sometimes we hold on for too long when all we have to do is give ourselves away. Allow ourselves to be caught in the transition between seeming self-awareness and actual self-realization. When we are 16 or 17, when we have a clear chance at doing something random, we usually are too busy trying to be 25 years old. We do not allow ourselves to satisfy our childhood dreams. To let our minds wander into the world. To let our unrealistic aspirations carry us off the ground. In most instances, we run off to University almost immediately, to become what, in our minds, and in society's heavy push, is marketable and secure. In those rushed choices, in those compact and calculated moments, in a bid to outrun the power of our minds to carry us into nothingness, we loose the connection with ourselves.

I will tell you of another of my friends who found herself in her moment of being lost. Habida*, is the loveliest person walking the face of this earth. I mean lovely, inside out. She understands exactly who she is. But she allowed herself to get lost during the Tunisian Revolution. She had already secured a Fulbright scholarship to study in the U.S when she decided that she wanted to stay behind and witness the revolution, help refugees and be a voice to her country's future. She knew that to her parents and to any conventional person, it didn't look right to give up a prestigious scholarship for the love of getting lost in the history of her country. But to her, it was the perfect-imperfect thing to do and so she stayed. This experience molded her and pushed her into a self-awareness zone that being away in America, would not have given her. The following year she reapplied for the scholarship and got it. At the end of it, she had found herself and retained the chance to study in the U.S.

I have also had my period of feeling or being lost. At 17 years of age, I was what many people would call “hip”. Living in a small rural town, studying in a medium accountancy college, I subconsciously expressed my free will in my mode of dress. I consistently wore knee-high skirts, knee length boots, and preferred to have red hair. At the time, it seemed completely usual for me. To my colleagues, it was too much expression. I dressed like a high end New Yorker in Wyoming. I didn’t realize it then. I was just doing what my spirit was pushing me to do. But besides that, I was building a personality of true honesty and expression. I was building an inner brand of advocacy and I didn’t even know it. This phase continued through the 1st semester of University and all of a sudden, I donated all my boots and most of my skirts. I did not even realize that I was doing it. I joined a University club (Community Smile) that allowed its members to mingle with the community through charity and voila, all my high end ‘expressives’ were gone. I hope those who got them inherited the spirit worn in them. The good Godly kind that allowed me to feel I could be anything I wanted to be. In my moment of being lost, in my alter-personality, I found the Advocate within. I found my strength in diversity. My parents would have put out my fire, but they did not. They did not kill the fierce girl within. They did not kill the girl who likes to love without holding back. They did not kill the girl who can work for 24 straight hours because she understands that it’s her destiny to get done, what needs to be done professionally or otherwise. They let me wander in that state of oblivion and I am grateful that they did not interrupt me.

As I recount all these things, I am convinced that we find the best in us, when we seem our most unusual. In my words, when we are lost. When you are lost, you reside in your spirit and it is a lovely concept! Spirit feeds your soul and body and in the end turns you into an enigma. A person comfortable in their skin, at peace with themselves and with others. As Hermann Hesse said, “we must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.” 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

My Central Sun

I breath in your hair oh my beloved thought
I stare to the far north..hoping to catch a glimpse of your tiny spectacle
I look up to the sky, hoping to see you sitting at the pedestal to thee I have accorded
I hold out my hand and imagine mine clasping yours
I look up to the trees and imagine the magnificence of your look
I chose to believe that someday shall it be
I refuse to let the idea of perfection slid through the narrow perception of far-city
I think of you, I dream of you, I'm inspired by you, I believe in you.

I reflect and curse the tongue that us separates
I refuse to be caught in that hurdle
I work and work at mastering the far western tongue
I aspire to have a flowing converse, taking in your beautiful dialect
I constantly imagine crossing that conversational bridge
I see myself on thee side of the bridge
Holding you and dancing to the universal human language
Singing and dancing to the tune of love

I long for thee, my central sun
I embrace the grace of your land for harbouring ye love
I long for thee philosophical inspiration
I open up my tentacles to thee I embrace

Friday, 8 March 2013

Telling the story from my window: the Kenya 2013 General Elections

On Monday 4th March 2013, Kenyans went out to vote in large numbers. In an election registering the highest number of voters in Kenya's history, over 14 Million people registered as voters. Almost 12 Million turned out to vote in a contest that saw Kenyans assert their sovereignty, repeatedly call for peace and spend a week of numerous social media humour.

Last night, Kenyans stayed glued to their television screens, bearing calculators and keenly following the votes garnered by Hons. Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga vis a vis the total votes cast. The Constitution of Kenya gives two conditions to be satisfied before a person can be declared the President elect. First, the person must atleast garner a quarter of the votes cast in atleast half of all the Counties (Kenya has 47 Counties) and secondly, the person must have 50%+1(one) of the total votes cast in his favour. Uhuru Kenyatta had satisfied the first condition, Kenyans kept tally of every figure announced to determine whether he would satisfy the second condition. In an unbelievably nerve wrecking process, he managed 50.03%. Enough to Constitutionally get him through as the Fourth President of the Republic of Kenya. The official results however shall be announced by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) at 11am EAT, on the 9th of March 2013. 

At 3am this morning, I woke up to breaking News ":Mr. President". I had resigned myself to a run-off. However most Kenyans were expectant of a first round win  Most wished it. There is jubilation outside my window, vehicles hooting, vuvuzelas blowing, cars honking. I watch from my window, unable to record the occurrences of this day on camera. But resolute on documenting the same here.

I find it absolutely important to note the following about this election:

  1. Hon Uhuru Kenyatta and Hon Raila Odinga both put forth a strong campaign. They both got over 5 Million votes countrywide. Therefore, both had a respectful representation of the electorate.
  2. Kenyans waited patiently for the lengthy and tedious process to come to a close. IEBC took close to five days to complete the process. Kenyans had hoped the same would be over in a span of two days.
  3. Kenyans used social media to call for peace. It possibly should be noted down as the most successful social election peace campaign not just in Africa but around the world.
  4. Kenyans took their right to vote seriously, queuing for long hours under unbearably hot conditions. They came out in Millions.
  5. There was an interesting voting trend in areas expected to vote for political parties breaking the chain and voting for secure political choices such as Nyeri County Senate seat and Nairobi County's Gubernatorial seat.
  6. Sadly, not a single woman was elected Governor or Senator
  7. A 19 year old was elected County Representative in Eldama Ravine, making him the youngest elected member in Kenyan politics
  8. Following the release of an atrocious staged video of Kenyans arming for violence released by CNN and scores of other misleading and negative reporting by International Media, Kenyans came together to defend the honour of their country by dispelling irresponsible international reporting.
  9. The phrase "Tyranny of numbers" gained renewed visual significance in Kenya.
  10. 16 women were elected to the National Assembly. This is still a very low number
  11. The Teso and Maasai communities elected women to the National Assembly for the first time in Kenya's political history
  12. Kenyans in the diaspora (East African Community) voted for the very first time.
  13. This election had a total of eight presidential candidates, 7 male candidates and one female candidate
  14. It was largely a coalition election
  15. The Kenyan media exhibited a high level of responsible and professional broadcasting.
  16. Security surveillance was perhaps the largest government focus in this election
  17. Kenyans established their National and County Governments, setting in a devolved system of governance
  18. Kenyans called upon the contestants to raise any election grievances with the country's independent and competent judiciary showing institutional maturity since the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
  19. Kenya became the first country in Africa to hold Presidential debates on key policy and political issues. A critical look at the presidential debates shows that there was a huge impact of the debate on the voting patterns. Mohammed Abdouba Dida, a Presidential candidate who Kenyans interacted with largely during the Presidential debates outwitted candidates who had been campaigning for close to a year.
  20. Kenyans for the first time elected the President and his running mate (who would eventually become the vice President), with the Governors also having running mates who would become deputy governors.
  21. The election itself comprised of six ballots each set in a different colour. The voting process took 4-5minutes per person on average.
Overall, this was an unprecedented election. This documentation is for posterity. Its a process my children should bear the privilege to follow from their mother's words. Written on the early morning of 9th March 2013 at Nairobi.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Nairobi to Beijing: Building resilience and charting a Constitutional hope for Kenyan Women

This article is inspired by the dismal number of women elected in the Kenyan 2013 general elections. It is my hope that the next general elections will present a different outcome. All my love to the women of Kenya and happy International Women's Day.

The immediate Kenyan Parliament (10th Parliament) had 16 female members of parliament and 207 male members of parliament.  The total number of members of parliament was 213 with the Gatundu North seat being vacant. The 9th Parliament had 9 female members and 201 male members. The total number of members being 210. The 8th Parliament had only 4 elected female members and 12 nominated female members. The total number of female members of Parliament was 18 and the male members of parliament were 204.  The total number of members of parliament was 222.  This translated to 8.1% women representation.

Women constitute between 52% and 60% of the registered voters. Women representation in the political arena has been very poor since independence.  In 1963 there was no woman elected to Parliament. In 1969 two women were elected.  In 1974 six women were elected. In 1979 there were five elected female members of Parliament. In 1983 three women were elected and in 1988 two women were elected. In 1992 six women were elected.

This representation shows that indeed women have had a dismal representation in parliament since the year 1997. The 1992 elections represented a worse representation than the subsequent parliaments. This could have been one of the key factors taken into consideration during the drafting of the Constitution.  Though women form the majority to the voter population they lack adequate representation.  This has been due to their socialization into believing that only men should indulge in politics. Very few women have been elected to parliament over the years.

Over the years women who aspired for parliamentary positions as well as the Presidential positions have been discouraged from pursuing their political ambitions. Pendo Muninzwa indicates in her article “Kenya's General Elections, Women's Poor Performance” that “when a woman enters into politics she does not cease to be a woman. Her femininity remains and she has to be more diligent than a man in order to prove herself as an able leader”.

Despite there being a steady rise of female members of parliament in the three successive Parliaments, it is obvious that the number of male parliamentarians is constantly high and steady.

Female versus Male candidates and elected representatives

In 1992, out of 19 female candidates, 4 were elected. This compares to 940 male candidates, out of which 182 were elected. In 1997, there were 2497 male candidates out of which 204 were elected, compared to 50 female candidates out of which 4 were elected. In the year 2002, there were 44 female candidates, 10 were elected. This election saw a total number of 991 male candidates out of which 201 were elected. In the year 2007, there was an impressive increase to 269 female candidates out of which 16 were elected. Conversely, the country had 2278 male candidates and 207 of them were elected. I shall in the coming days issue a comprehensive analysis of the 2013 general elections and compare the figures.

These figures indicate that the more women candidates there are, such as in the 2007 General Elections, the more chance they stand of being elected. We must therefore place out women in electable positions, we must employ the politics of presence to favour women.

Another important point to note is that the number of male candidates vying in the year 2007 declined (as opposed to the steady increase in the number of male candidates over the years) because of the coalition formed to offset the 24 year KANU regime. In the same year, the number of women candidates declined from 50 to 44. This shows that coalitions and party mergers in Kenya have been disadvantageous to women. In most cases, the positions are handed out by political party leaders, hence the correlation between the decline of the number of male and female candidates.

Kenyan Political Parties and the electoral system (before the promulgation of the Constitution 2010) were structural barriers to women's political participation. The ballot box on its own without supportive mechanisms cannot be an efficient way of ensuring women’s presence in elective public bodies. The culture of accepting more women in politics does not yet exist in Kenya. This is evidenced by the dismal number of women candidates which translates to the number of those elected. We must reinforce the politics of presence to favour women. The start has already been set by the Constitution and guidelines given to ensure that women have an equal political participation footing. The onus as indicated by the Supreme Court of Kenya in Advisory Opinion number 2 of 2012 lies with the next Parliament. In my opinion, the key lies with political parties.

The gap between legal and factual quality in the area of power and decision-making is so wide that women’s interests and concerns are not adequately represented at policy levels and women cannot influence key decisions in social, economic and political areas that affect society as a whole. They lack the critical mass.  Ideally, the political parties should take the initiative in seeing to it that women emerge in substantial numbers onto the political landscape.  If the experience of other countries such as India, South Africa, Sweden and Spain is anything to go by, considerable voting advantage flows from fielding large numbers of women candidates.

International experience shows that both voluntary and obligatory methods have been used to correct the under-representation of women in decision-making structures. This has been our Kenyan experience. In South Africa the breakthrough came when the African National Congress adopted an internal statute requiring that 30% of its candidates for the National Assembly be women.  This figure has since been raised to 33.3%.  The adoption of Proportional Representation in the Constitution made it relatively easy to achieve this minimum proportion; after the party membership through their branch representatives had voted for all the candidates on the ANC lists, so that those with the most votes were at the top and those with the least at the bottom. Adjustments were made in the ranking to ensure that at least three out of every bloc of ten names on the list were those of women.  This resulted in a number of women moving up the lists in a manner which respected the ranking given to each of them by the branch representatives.

In India, the issue of women’s representation in public political life has been on the agenda for a number of years.  The result has been that the Constitution has required since 1992 that not less than one-third of all seats in every Panchayat (village assembly) and every Municipality be reserved for women.  Since 1998 a constitutional amendment requiring at least one-third of the total number of seats in the Lower House to be filled by women has been tabled before parliament.  Although all the major parties have agreed to it in principle, no consensus has been reached as to how the requirement of one-third is to be met and the Bill has not yet been passed.  It is particularly difficult where Members of Parliament are elected in single-member constituencies to establish that one Member in three be female. Various systems of rotation have accordingly been proposed.  Another problem has been how to ensure that women from communities referred to as backward communities and scheduled castes be included, as well as women from the group referred to as Anglo-Indian.

The equal participation of women and men in public life is one of the cornerstones of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and in force since 1981. Article 7 of CEDAW provides: State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and in particular shall ensure to women, on equal terms to men, the right:

a)     To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;

b)     To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

c)    To participate in non-government organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

Article 81(2) (b) of the Kenyan Constitution provides that the electoral system shall comply with the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of the elective pubic bodies shall be of the same gender. The Constitution however does not provide how this should conclusively be achieved. It provides for quotas. As we have seen, these quotas do not guarantee the realisation of this principle. Therefore, in terms of progressive realisation, the government should adopt policies, plans and programs with regard to achieving this principle as advised by the Supreme Court.

The social impact of increased women representation in Kenya

Women have been marginalised in the political sphere in Kenya and their role in contributing to national sustainable development ignored. Low representation of the women in the political arena means that the Kenyan Republic is under utilising its human resource base available for development. In addition, the little or non- participation of women in the decision making process translates to their perspectives being ignored. They lack the critical mass to advance important social and economic issues affecting women and children

The social impact of increased women representation in Kenya would, arguably, entail greater attention for the following agenda: childcare policy, family policy, gender equality, social policy, land rights policy, poverty alleviation policies, HIV/AIDS policy, sexual freedom policy, violence against women policies and many more policies

It must also be noted that there exists contrasting pictures of the effect of increased women's representation. As demonstrated by other countries, where women are present in 'critical mass' levels in national parliaments, (generally agreed to be about 30%) the policy agenda shifts. It is opined that this would be the same for the Kenyan parliament. Although it has been argued that there is little evidence so far to suggest that increased women's representation has altered policy outcomes to any significant degree. 

This notion must be dispelled by the Kenyan women parliamentarians when they meet the critical mass level. Although, it has been shown that gender policies have been greatly achieved in parliaments that have had a high number of women representatives in Parliament in Kenya such as the 9th and 10th Parliaments such as the Sexual Offences Act.

The 2013 General Elections

The 2013 General elections has revealed that 14 15 women have been elected as Constituency members (equivalent to the former MP’s in the old dispensation). The Constitutional provision to have 47 elected Women Representatives has also been realized. Sadly, Kenya has not elected a single female Governor or Senator. The dream of having a female Head of State remains as such, a dream. Kenyans must re-engineer their mindsets and accommodate the possibility of allowing women to hold important positions in government. The Supreme Court of Kenya ordered the next Parliament to ensure that the mechanisms required to ensure that not more than two thirds of members in elective positions are of the same gender is implemented on or before 27th August 2015. In the next elections therefore, Kenyans must elect women to key positions or risk the cost that comes with an expanded parliament should the two-thirds principle be fulfilled by way of nominations.