Activist: I've never been elected because I defend children, women

Activist Mary Makokha during an interview with 'The Standard' on November 27, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Many occupy elective offices courtesy of their good deeds but not all good deeds can make one ascend to the said office as Mary Makokha can attest. 

Her deeds especially fighting for the welfare of the girl child and women have been weapons opponents use against her whenever she vies for political office. 

The times she has campaigned to be Busia Woman Rep have revealed to that her activism which has seen gender abuse perpetrators imprisoned could mean just as little to the electorates. 

“I have really desired to get the seat but every time I give it a try my opponents paint me as an evil woman with a mission to imprison men. They tell the masses that if I win the seat, I will send more men behind bars leaving women without husbands and children without fathers,” she said. 

“It is obviously unfounded because I am not a magistrate nor a judge but just a justice system player who makes sure gender cases I hear of reach the courts. What interests me the most is that the electorate swallows such propaganda.” 

Having been involved in at least 13,800 gender-based violence (GBV) cases through her Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP), founded in 1998, Makokha is known.

And with such a background and county-terrain-knowledge, one would expect her to have an edge over her opponents but her performance on the ballot tells a different story altogether. 

In 2017, she lost to Florence Mutua and in the August polls, she managed 35,952 votes to emerge fourth in the race against the winner Catherine Nakhabi Omanyo who garnered 129, 710.

Lawyer and political analyst Peter Samba says Makokha’s political troubles are tied to the socialisation of the electorate around GBV issues. 

“The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) of 2015 for example revealed that 44 per cent of women and 36 per cent of men aged 15-49 across the country believe that wife-beating is justified in some cases,” he said. 

“This lot is tricky to deal with if they notice you pursue GBV perpetrators and want their votes. Makokha might be doing a wonderful job but at times, some jobs take a long time to be appreciated.” 

The lawyer who has litigated several GBV cases said that many that are heard and determined have a person like Makokha behind them. 

“It could be a zealous prosecutor, magistrate, kin of the victim or even a lawyer who wants to see justice for the victims delivered,” he said. “And oftentimes the pushers face backlash for their zeal. This backlash could even be an attempt on their lives.” 

Makokha said her life has been threatened on a number of occasions. 

“I for example have what many call a queer policy of employing house girls. I will employ you if only you have a toddler and you are willing to stay in my house with the child. This is for the simple reason that I eat from the same plate as your child,” she said. 

The wisdom behind this queer policy was informed when she survived poisoning by a house help paid by a family of a sex offender she had exposed to harm her.

“From that incident and break-ins in my home, I have learned not to take my security for granted. I often take a moment to listen carefully to the hum of my electric fence to be sure it is live before I sleep,” she says.