I just found out that Jomo Kenyatta had a cohort of female bodyguards back in the days when the girl-child was still under siege, which is quite impressive. I learned about this when the younger Kenyatta broke the Internet with images of Lieutenant Colonel Rachel Kamui.
The lieutenant colonel was photographed by the President’s Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) while taking on the duties of aide-de-camp (ADC) in the absence of Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Lekolool – the man who usually stands behind Uhuru.
State House tweeted that Kamui was on duty as the president’s new assistant ADC and would be working alongside Lekolool. The majority of Kenyans on social media reacted as one would expect. There was a lot of ‘oh wow, this is so cool’, because a woman was doing a job that many had presumed was reserved for a man. The mainstream media quickly caught with predictable ‘first female ADC’ headlines.
Some even reported that Uhuru had made history as the first Kenyan head of state to have a female ADC. Which is true, strictly speaking. But he is not the first president to have a female bodyguard. His father beat him to it. And the difference between father and son here can be summed up in two words – public relations.
The pictures of the president and his assistant ‘female’ ADC made the rounds faster than a Trump tweet. And without thinking about it, most of our responses were congratulatory. Which is not to say that the lieutenant colonel is not worthy of praise. She is by all accounts a most formidable Kenyan – a scholar, officer, and a gentlewoman.
This criticism is not about her as a person, nor is it about her qualifications and accomplishments. This is about spin, and how the public is still so susceptible to manipulation.
The song and dance about a female aide-de-camp can only be seen as diversionary when you consider that Parliament – with men in the majority – still hasn’t figured out how to implement the Two-thirds Gender Rule. For a long time, the argument has been that the mechanics of institutionalising parity between the sexes, is just too complex for your garden variety Member of Parliament, which just might be the case.
However, there has been no shortage of proposals on how this gender principle can be legislated. There is a section off civil society that has dedicated itself to schooling members of Parliament in the ways in which the gender-rule can be implemented.
The problem is not the ‘how’, it’s the ‘why do we have to’. There is no political will to include women in leadership. The majority of your elected representatives do not consider gender-balanced leadership a priority.
And the same goes for many other levels of governance, the most obvious of which is the Cabinet. With just six female secretaries, the Cabinet is dangling dangerously on the cusp of the two-thirds threshold. The same can be said for the principle secretary situation, where there are just nine women out of a total of 31.
The president can pick and choose who he wants to appoint to these positions - even when you consider the arithmetic that must be applied to this complex political equation – and yet, time and time and again he falls short of giving qualified and accomplished women their due. Instead of weaving women into the fabric of leadership, he patches them in, with loud and attention-grabbing displays of tokenism.
This is not to take anything away from the likes of Kanze Dena, Amina Mohammed, or Lieutenant Colonel Rachel Kamui, all accomplished women in their own right. This is to say that a few rock-star women have almost been spotlighted to the detriment of hundreds of others who, by virtue of the Constitution, should also be in positions of leadership.
If there is one thing that this administration is good at, it’s framing the narrative, and convincing people to play a predetermined role in their own life stories. The law demands that provisions be made for women to play a more expansive role in governance, but instead of climbing that mountain, many Kenyans are prancing about at its foot, intoxicated by the piecemeal appointments of a few good women to positions that were chosen for their visibility. We’re being finessed, good people, and we’re falling for it.
See, the goal here is to wield real power, so that women can participate in creating real change. To do that, more women need to be part of the power structure. Female participation needs to be built into framework, not appended willy-nilly at the whim of the Head of State.
Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa