I'm not here for a catfight: When female candidates showed unity

Roots Party running mate Justina Wamae (in red) and Agano's Ruth Mucheru debate at CUEA, Nairobi. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Kenya could, for the time in history, have a female deputy president, if any of the three presidential candidates with women running mates win the August polls.

In a show of might, skill, and prowess, Justina Wamae of Roots Party, Martha Karua of the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Alliance and Ruth Mucheru-Mutua of Agano Party were persons of interest during the Tuesday deputy presidential debate held at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).

They showed up, debated, impressed, and disappointed in equal measure. 

At 5:40 pm on Tuesday, marveling in a red skirt-suit and pearl necklace, Justina Wamae walked into the debate podium, head high with ready responses.

It is the style long favoured by women in politics, shadowing US Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Wamae, 35, would, for the next 90 minutes, sell the Roots Party manifesto to Kenyans, convincing the country why she was the person for the deputy president job. So convincing was she, that she was the talk of netizens on Twitter.

The candidate with a Master’s Degree in Purchasing and Logistics from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) went in on the party’s marijuana and snake farming policies that they hope will help offset Kenya’s nearly Sh9 trillion debt.

But it was her agenda on women’s issues that stuck.

Wamae, who was facing off against Agano’s Ruth Mucheru-Mutua, in the first tier of the debate said she had no reason to fight a fellow woman and was there as a support system to Roots Party Presidential candidate, George Wajackoyah.

“There is no catfight here. My role as the running mate is to amplify the youth and woman’s voice. I am here to represent the woman in the kitchen, the woman who knows the high cost of living, and the stay-at-home woman,” she said.

The candidate, who is not new to politics, hopes to change the mindset of Kenyans on electing women to political seats, and provide alternative solutions to various social challenges.

She is grateful for having a supportive partner, who she thanked on Tuesday, saying: “I thank my partner for allowing me to do what I love, which is public service.”

Wamae unsuccessfully contested the Mavoko parliamentary seat in 2017 on an independent ticket, after failing to clinch the Jubilee Party ticket.

She is currently the Managing Director of Finpro Association Limited, an organisation empowering youth-owned businesses.

Her opponent in the first part of the five-hour long debate, Ruth Mucheru-Mutua, in similar skirt suit fashion, reiterated that she would play her part as an assistant to the party’s presidential candidate, David Mwaure.

“I am coming in to bring balance as both a woman and a young person. My business is to assist. I will champion the development agenda of the woman and youth,” she said.

The Communication and Sociology graduate dismissed the rhetoric of women not supporting their own, saying she was not in competition with anyone.

“I am not here to compete with Justina. This is an interactive session, and not an avenue to bring the other down,” Wambui said, as she critiqued Roots’ manifesto on the sale and legalisation of marijuana.

Mutua identifies herself as a communication expert, passionate about fighting corruption.

It was then Martha Karua’s turn to dazzle, an hour after the first-tier debate.

Clad in her ceremonious kitenge attire, Karua, 65, took to the stage next to UDA’s Rigathi Gachagua, as Kenyans waited with bated breath, enough to slice through the CUEA auditorium.

Ninety minutes was clearly not enough to put across her coalition’s manifesto, as Kenyans were served a front-row seat into the former Justice minister and one-time presidential candidate’s net worth.

“I will be a DP who is respectful of the Constitution and will do my best to support my captain to deliver for this country. I serve with honesty and my track record speaks for itself.”

During her unveiling as the running mate of Raila Odinga in May 2022, Karua said the choice of a woman was a win for all Kenyan women.

“I want to say this is a moment for the women of Kenya,” she said in her acceptance speech.

But analysts on Tuesday evening argued that women's issues continue to weigh heavily in the political landscape, seeing as the two-thirds gender rule is yet to be implemented.

Founder and National Coordinator of the Institute for Social Accountability (TISA) Wanjiru Gikonyo averred that Kenya has yet to achieve the two-thirds gender rule, owing to a lack of implementation and patriarchy.

“Three of the four presidential candidates have women as their running mates. That is the trend we need in terms of gender inclusion. When they get to the top, they need to push for that gender principle,” Gikonyo said during a joint broadcast of the debate.

Her sentiments were echoed by former Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza, who also blamed failure to pass the law on patriarchy.

“Parliament has on several occasions failed to pass the two-thirds gender rule. There’s been a lack of political will to push that agenda,” said Baraza.

University of Nairobi lecturer Prof Alfred Almenya, on the other hand, avowed that Kenya has a leadership problem.

“It’s a leadership issue. We are looking at this thing as tokenism…We have so many incompetent men occupying positions they shouldn’t and we wonder why.”