In what might have been a deliberate attempt at giving women a fair shot at politics in the male-dominated field, Senator Cleophas Malala chose Dr Beatrice Muganda Inyangala as his running mate in the Kakamega gubernatorial contest.
She adds to the number of women leaders who are boldly laying a stake in the world of politics, and doing so with self-confidence. Dr Inyangala might be new in the murky world of politics, but she is an accomplished scholar who has a track record in leadership and planning.
She has been on the forefront championing education reforms and demanding equality for women. She played a key role in developing vision 2030 (Education and Training strategy) and served as a regulator with the Commission of University Education.
Dr Inyangala is the Director of Higher Education and Deputy Executive Director of Nairobi-based Partnership for African Social and Governance Research. Her areas of expertise are in public policy, gender inclusivity, quality assurance, teaching methodology, governance and fundraising.
At the time she was seriously thinking of giving politics a try, her husband, Dr Ronald Inyangala, was also considering tossing his hat in the ring for the Malava parliamentary seat. This presented a conundrum for the couple, and an amicable compromise had to be reached.
They had a chat that led to her husband shelving his ambition to allow her chase her dream of becoming Kakamega’s first female deputy governor; a platform through which she seeks to empower women and girls.
The Standard team visited her at her Shiruku village home in Malava constituency and had a chat with her.
The Standard: Tell us about your education journey.
I started my primary and secondary school education in western before moving to Moi University where I studied Bachelor of Education specialising in economics and geography. I proceeded to do my Master’s degree in planning and economics. I acquired my doctorate degree from Athens University in Greece in 2004 at the age of 33 years.
What have you been doing since?
After acquiring the doctorate, I taught at Moi and Masinde Muliro universities for a while. I have spent a greater part of my life working as a Regulator at the Commission for University Education, where I have been deeply involved in university policy making. I have worked closely with university researchers to improve livelihoods of communities across the country.
What drove you to politics?
I have been motivated to look for space where I can unlock the capacity of women to support other women to claim their space in society. I know we can unlock the power of women to transform society. This is what drove me into politics. For many years, women have felt that this is not their space because of all the intrigues that come with politics. There is the issue of unhealthy competition that comes with women being underrated and despised, often with mistaken identities for what they are not. Because of such, women have tended to remain behind. We need a strong voice out there that that can rally women behind issues that matter to them.
What are some of these issues?
Women should be in a position to influence policy and programmes that make a difference in their lives; issues like access to water, which may look simple but is complex. How many hours do women and girls spend going to look for water at the detriment of their studies? Yes, we have had affirmative action for some time now, but girls who get pregnant have a problem going back to school because of stigma and lack of support. We need a mentorship programme to help these girls. Because of job scarcities, women tend to depend on men. Unfortunately, the pressure on men partly explains gender-based violence. We must go back and reflect on the underlying causes, and part of this is the helplessness of our women. We can build better home environments if women are in power.
What is your vision for Kakamega County?
Our vision is to expand the economy of Kakamega County as well as revive some of our factories like Mumias Sugar Company. All this will be in an effort to generate employment opportunities for our youth. The informal sector is growing very fast and has potential to create employment opportunities for our youth. I am a firm believer in the bottom-up principle because I spent all my life building skills for youth and we have had graduates looking for employment. The youth unemployment problem is huge in this country, yet we can activate jobs in the informal sector.
How do you intend to finance your ambitious programmes?
I am aware that the county government does not have enough resources. However, in the NGO world, I have done a lot of fundraising and I have networks, international connections as well as the ability to write proposals. With that, I can put together a team that will help in mobilising resources to help in some of the community-based projects, especially on health and hygiene. They are not income generating, but we need them to build better livelihoods for our people.
What else do you wish to pursue as an educationist?
We know that the county runs a scholarship fund, but we would like to enhance it and to streamline operations so that we improve and increase the quality of opportunities for all, and support those who are needy to get access to education.
Was the decision to join politics unilateral or a family affair?
My husband had expressed desire to contest the Malava parliamentary seat. We sat down and had a discussion about which of the offices had greater and direct impact on people’s lives. He agreed to shelve his plans to allow me pursue my ambition of unlocking the power of women to work together to transform lives in the communities within this county.
Was it an easy decision to make?
It was not easy at all. I knew what it involves in terms of resources, in terms of opening up my home and family to public scrutiny and the demands on the pocket. But I told myself that I have been pushing for women empowerment and if we don’t get where decisions are made; where action for programming that influences our lives is done, we shall never achieve what we hope for. I said to myself that I must be the change that I want to see. If it comes to taking a bullet for the girl child, I will be counted among women who took that bullet.
Why do you put a lot of emphasis on women affairs?
I believe that when you empower women, they will be in a position to take care of the youth. Empowered women will be able to support their children. Women take care of their children up to the time they are ready to fend for themselves.
What challenges have you encountered so far?
The greatest challenge is resources because you need a lot of money for logistics to be able to move around the county, meet people and understand their needs so as to know what to prioritise when planning for development. Another thing I find challenging is the lies and propaganda. For instance, some people claim I am only 29 years old and therefore unfit to lead. It is a lie. I have two children undertaking their masters’ degrees and very soon, I will become a grandmother.
How is your relationship with Senator Malala?
We complement each other very well in everything; in our skills, our experiences and in the vision that we have for the county of Kakamega. I like his energy and he listens. I know that when we take over this county, we shall listen to the people of Kakamega and provide participatory servant leadership and all the programmes that we are going to develop will be responsive to the needs of our people.
How have you been received by the people of Kakamega?
I have had amazing, unbelievable support, mostly from women, youth and indeed, men are coming along.