How not to empower women

How not to empower women

By Dennis Ndiritu

The political landscape in the country has undergone a metamorphosis since the March 3, 2018 handshake between President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. This has forced major political realignments in light of the match anticipated Building Bridges Initiative seen as precursor for a pro-parliamentary system referendum. At the heart of these realignments are two women groups, Inua Mama, allied to Deputy President William Ruto and Embrace, allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and the right honourable Raila Odinga.

The two groups have been engaged in cut-throat campaigns that have been mired with gory insults against each other. This has attracted strong critique from Martha Karua who views these groups’ conduct as the “saddest thing in the political scene at the moment.” The Narc Kenya Party leader, in a strongly worded statement in November, noted that the two groups were the most unfortunate thing happening in the Kenyan political space at the moment – where women have agreed to be the praise choir for male groupings seeking to succeed the current president. By agreeing to be ‘cheerleaders’ for their male counterparts, women MPs are doing a disservice to fellow women.

Karua’s sentiments come hot on the heels of heated campaigns for the Kibra parliamentary seat where Laikipia Woman Representative Catherine Waruguru of Inua Mama went for the jugular of Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, a proponent of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), with a nasty attack on her recent marriage. This comes amid the clamour by Waiguru to assert herself as the Mt Kenya political supremo and angle herself for the deputy presidency.

Team Embrace, which appears to be an extension of Kieleweke group rallying behind the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, is led by Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Rachel Shebesh, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Mumbi and Homa Bay Women Representative Gladys Wanga. On the other hand, Inua Mama group supports Deputy President William Ruto and it is led by Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika and MPs Alice Wahome (Kandara) and Aisha Jumwa (Malindi).

While turning down any chance of joining either group, Karua, on Twitter, cautioned that she wasn’t ready to wade into Jubilee wars but will instead continue leading her over decade-old Narc-Kenya. It is saddening that what started as routine political games involving women in different political persuasions has slowly degenerated into personalized attacks. With weekendly political excursions, veiled as developmental visits providing the women from the different political groupings with a platform to tear at each other with vengeance, the groups have quickly normalised gender stereotypes, complete with phallocentric memes and rhymes for their perceived opponents. The women leaders seem to be in race with their male counterparts down the political gutter.

Garissa Woman Representative Anab Subow, who calls herself Mama Ruto, has also been on the spot for making disparaging remarks against Raila. In a video clip that went viral, she described the ODM leader in a deprecating manner and negatively alluded to his manhood. This was in the context of negative comments against the Building Bridges Initiative by the Kirinyaga Woman Rep Wangui Ngirici, Isiolo Woman Rep, Rehema Jaldesa and Gladys Boss Sholei. They seemed to have picked up the BBI cue from where Shollei left during the Inua Mama rally in Kajiado. This has been has been met by an equally overzealous Embrace women brigade such as Millie Odhiambo, Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga and Likoni MP Mishi Mboko.  

And in a bid to sanitize these bad manners, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, lays blame on the Building Bridges Initiative. It has been argued that the current situation lies on the failure to enact the two thirds gender rule as stipulated in the Constitution which has left the women fighting for space with male politicians. On the contrary, women have in the past been at the centre of major political milestones such the fight for independence the clamour for the second liberation and preservation of Uhuru Park even where there were no affirmative action legislations. It is even sadder that they are choosing sides based on tribal affiliations and not on issues. 

It is an open secret that none of these groups are keen on empowering the women children and persons with disabilities as they so claim. It is all about what’s in it for them. They are merely there to mint money from their male political honchos keen on making voter in roads ahead of the 2022 elections. If they were in it for the long haul, they would have crafted permanent and long term legislative and policy solutions to these problems and championed its implementation like they are propagating their respective sycophantic ideologies.

As is evident all these purported women groups have nothing to offer except the usual political noise and rhetoric. That they are fronting men for the presidency instead of striving to cut a niche for themselves as world leaders is itself sickening and clearly against their mantra for women empowerment. That these “learned” women most of whom have immense professional credentials seek to offer nondescript solutions such as distribution of temporary goodies for the solution of long term health and economic problems is a big insult to the intelligentsia of Kenyans. 

Former First Lady Mama Lucy Kibaki was instrumental in the construction of  Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Eastlands. This hospital although suffering the ravages of mismanagement and stretch on its resources, has proved invaluable in the address of health crisis in Nairobi City County. This, together with the numerous programs she ran to cater for orphaned children and widows, set the bar for women leaders to emulate and inspired current First lady Margaret Kenyatta to initiate the Beyond Zero campaign, a noble and laudable project, though one that has fallen on the roadside courtesy of allegations of mismanagement.

The Green Belt Movement’s success in fighting for environmental and social issues, often prior to these issues becoming mainstream, is largely attributed to the Late Prof Wangari Maathai’s strong will and determination. That she juggled environmental empowerment and the fight against human rights violations together with other women under the Greenbelt umbrella with a solid long lasting plan tells volumes of what one can achieve with a well-structured and genuine empowerment plan. 

They say that our experiences fuse into our personality, and while it was hoped that the  Green Belt movement would hopefully serve as a model for the next generation in addressing human rights violations, including environmental wrongs championed by the strong women leaders, this has not been the case.

Benjamin Disraeli in his 1844 novel Coningsby, published at a time of great constitutional ferment in Britain and on the eve of a political crisis, notes, “The peril of England lay not in laws or institutions, but in the decline of its character as a community. Without a powerful sense of community, even the best sense of laws and institutions were a dead letter.” 

These sentiments lie true of the situation in Kenya. That we have a degraded attitude by the citizenry and leaders that thinks that our problems can only be solved through cheap make and patch solutions for short term problems is telling of our sense of community. We have improved laws and institutions through creation of affirmative action positions but these have largely achieved nothing in the championing of the empowerment case and leave two thirds gender rule as  a lofty aspiration that will merely burden our wage bill as opposed to achieving meaningful impact.

It is high time we realised that Inua Mama and Embrace are just taking Kenyans for a ride. (

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