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Wind of change in Wajir as woman seeks elective position

BUSIA
By | February 5th 2012

By Boniface Ongeri

It all started when she first saw Benazir Bhutto, the eleventh Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Fatuma Gedi Ali, then a young girl, admired Bhutto’s achievements and wanted to see something similar happen in her remote county of Wajir.

But a great challenge stood in the way of her ambition. Fatuma, 25, was brought up in North Eastern region and her community has never viewed women as suitable for leadership positions

But when the Constitution of Kenya was promulgated in 2010, she gathered courage and confronted tradition head on.

In an unprecedented move, Fatuma went public about her ambition to seek an elective position in Wajir County.

And she did this in a manner never seen before in the conservative region. A woman summoning a public meeting, more so of political nature, was unheard of. It was even more historic in that elders and revered religious leaders were among those invited.

Fatuma Gedi Ali speaks as the public meeting. [PHOTOS: BONIFACE ONGERI/STANDARD]

"To be honest, I was anxious when I called people to declare my intentions," reveals Fatuma, who took the opportunity to be the first to declare openly her interest for the seat of women representative.

Opens doors

Her parents and siblings were part the huge crowd that had flocked Wajir Council Hall. After the meeting, the hall was later dubbed Tahrir, in reference to the public town square in Egypt that was the site of the revolution last year.

"I will always remember January 28 2012, as the day the unimaginable happened," says Bishar Beige, who attended the meeting. "It is the day that people heeded the call of a woman."

Women, elders, idlers, aspiring leaders, curious herdsmen, children, you name it. They were all there, anxious to hear what the lady was up to.

"We had heard talks that she was interested in some county government position but I wanted to hear her say it," said Abdi Hussein. "Even persons unexpected (Imams and the religious teachers) in such meetings were there.

Imams are the most revered persons in this predominantly Muslim region. Praying that the Imams would not object to her aspiration, she fidgeted. It was the first time a woman has occupied a high table in the presence of men.

By her own account, she kept reassuring herself that if some predominantly Muslim countries, like Pakistan, had allowed their women to lead them then her people would have no objection to her request.

When a non-smiling Imam lifted his hand demanding the microphone, Fatuma shrank back. "I saw my dreams and those of others being shattered."

But the Imam only wanted to encourage women to take advantage of the new Constitution to challenge for leadership and prove their worth.

Leadership positions in the region have normally gone to men but for the first in history, the community is according women a chance.

Due to Fatuma’s bold step, more women are coming out. But they still have a long way to go. For a start, the women have been confined to women representative positions.

Fatuma’s quest is expected to help those who have been reluctant to pursue their ambitions fearing what the community would say.

"Her move will open doors for women who have been watching the community reaction," Sofia Gedi, the Wajir Human Rights Watch Coordinator, observes.

"It is unfortunate that when women in other communities are even contesting for the highest offices on land we are struggling for women representative positions. But this is a step in the right direction. It is better late than never."

Indeed there is a sense of appreciation from the elderly and awe from the young.

"I came to listen to what Amina had to say," says Abdikadir Mohamed, Chairman Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee.

Nominated MP Mohammed Affey commended her: "It is a positive move. It will encourage others. She faces hurdles especially in making decisions where men are involved but she will succeed."

Fatuma exudes confidence that she has what it takes to steer the county to prosperity.

"Women don’t have a tribe and I am inspired to end nepotism and clannism so entrenched in the county. We have also witnessed bad leadership and we intend to turn things around," she says.

"The passing of the Constitution meant that women would be able to contest for positions," she declares. "The position gives us the opportunity to prove that we are capable of leadership. My focus will be on women and youth empowerment. I am motivated to work for my community."

Fatuma has Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Nairobi is also pursuing a Master of Arts in Disaster Management at the same university. She is married to Mohammed Abdi Omar. Her next move is to launch her manifesto.

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