Women stamp authority in the male-dominated Mt Kenya politics

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Women leaders from the Mt Kenya region, both in government and in the opposition, assert that they have transcended the struggle and emerged as conquerors in the once male-dominated field of politics.

The region, which is home to three female governors - Ann Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Cecile Mbarire (Embu), and Kawira Mwangaza - has witnessed the political prowess of its women, who now hold significant influence in the national political arena.

Under the leadership of Martha Karua, the leader of Narc Kenya, other prominent figures shaping national politics include Waiguru, Mbarire, Nominated MP Sabina Chege, and Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba.

Karua, who served as Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s running mate in the previous general election, represents the opposition’s face in the region. She continues to criticize the Kenya Kwanza government, specifically targeting Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who is vying to become the region’s community leader.

Karua is a former long-standing Member of Parliament for Gichugu Constituency, who also served as the Minister for Justice until resigning from that position in April 2009. She earned the moniker “the last man standing” during the disputed 2007 general election, where she aligned herself with the late former President Mwai Kibaki’s camp, which competed against Raila Odinga.

Chege joined forces with a faction led by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in a spirited battle to gain control of the Jubilee party. Her peers have chosen her as the successor to Uhuru, positioning her to become the party leader.

On the other hand, Mbarire has been appointed by President Ruto as the chairperson  of the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA). UDA served as the political vehicle that propelled President Ruto to power and is expected to be utilized by the administration in the 2027 general election.

“It was an honor for women across the country and especially for the people of Embu, as we have never held such a position since the inception of multi-party politics. I am committed to ensuring that the party attains nationwide strength and fulfills its mandate to the people,” she remarked.

Nicknamed “Karinda” for her distinctive style of dressing, Mbarire is renowned for her courage, fiery demeanor, and straightforwardness. The President and his Deputy admire her for her direct and outspoken political statements.

At the recent Meru coffee summit, Mbarire received a standing ovation for fearlessly exposing the “coffee cartels” within the coffee sector. These cartels have been exploiting hardworking farmers, drawing the attention of the second in command.

Improverishing Kenyans

In a live TV interview, Gachua later revealed that Mbarire’s security detail would be enhanced following her audacious act of exposing the coffee barons in the country.

“She identified the cartels responsible for impoverishing farmers, and as a result, we have increased her security, even at her residences. This battle can only be won by the President and me, as we possess adequate security and are incorruptible,” he said.

Mbarire emphasises that it is time for women to assume their rightful place in leadership opportunities. She says, “Women must display courage and stand up for themselves. Campaigns for women can be exceedingly challenging, with emotional, psychological, and physical abuses that are overwhelming. If you are weak, you will give up.”

Waiguru holds the position of Chairperson of the Council of Governors (COG), a crucial role that advocates for the interests of counties in collaboration with the national government. This includes tasks such as overseeing the allocation of revenue, promoting devolution, and other mandates.

In March of this year, the second-term governor received an award from Echo Network Africa (ENA), an organization dedicated to advancing the empowerment of women. This recognition was in response to her tireless efforts in championing women’s leadership and paving the way for those aspiring to enter political positions.

In April of the same year, Waiguru, Mwangaza, and Mbarire joined forces with their counterpart from Tharaka Nithi, Muthomi Njuki, to establish an economic bloc, abandoning the Central Economic Block led by Nyeri governor Kahiga Mutahi. This strategic move aims to create a more comprehensive platform for the voices of women leaders in the three counties.

As the latest addition to high-stakes politics, Wa Muchomba, a UDA lawmaker, assumes the role of the “voice of the voiceless” in the contentious Finance Bill. She strongly criticizes the bill, describing it as punitive, oppressive, and scandalous.

The Member of Parliament went against the prevailing sentiment and disagreed with her party leader and the Deputy party leader, both of whom had warned the legislators not to dare vote against the bill when it is presented in the House.

“I am eager to see which MPs will oppose the government’s plan to create job opportunities for their constituents. We want to identify those who are against this Finance Bill,” the President stated during a thanksgiving prayer service in Narok.

In his response, Gachagua stated that Members of Parliament who oppose the bill should not expect any funding for projects such as road construction in their respective constituencies.

“Some of you leaders are deceiving Kenyans, but remember that if your MP is against the Finance Bill, they should not request funds for roads,” he said.

Matriarchal society

Wamuchomba, who also serves as the National Assembly chairperson of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC), asserted that the collective voice of her colleagues in shaping policies and governance demonstrates that the time is ripe for women in leadership.

According to the MP, the Mt Kenya region has shattered the stereotype that women are incapable of leading by electing women governors and several female MPs, including herself.

She expressed that the region is transitioning into a matriarchal society, where women are taking charge and setting the agenda as the gatekeepers.

Referring to a significant historical moment, she recounted the story of Muthoni Nyanjiru, a fearless and assertive figure. In 1922, Nyanjiru boldly challenged men to surrender their trousers to women as a symbolic act of failure to secure the release of their leader, Harry Thuku, from the Kingsway (Central Police Station) in Nairobi.

Nyanjiru was part of a group of Kenyan workers who had gathered at the Police Station to demand the freedom of their leaders, who had been detained by the authorities due to their increasing activism against the sexual oppression of women and their fight against forced labor imposed by the colonial government.

At a certain point, Nyanjiru suddenly stood up, lifted her dress over her head, and dared the men to hand over their trousers to the women if they were unable to secure the release of their leader. This act stirred the women to ululate, and the crowd surged forward, prompting the police to open fire, resulting in the death of several individuals, including Nyanjiru.

“What Nyanjiru longed for is now present among us, and mark my words, the first woman President will emerge from the Mt Kenya region,” she said.

Regressive narratives

Sabina Chege, on her part, highlighted that the active roles played by women leaders are a true testament to the region overcoming regressive narratives such as the tales of Wangu Wamakeri. Wangu Wamakeri was the only woman to serve as a Kikuyu sub-chief, known as a headman, during the British Colonial period in Kenya.

There is a story that depicts her as a powerful figure who could command others to carry her on their backs or sit on them while addressing the crowd. However, she was later compelled to resign after participating in a male warrior dance called Kibata, during which her grass skirt accidentally fell off, leaving her naked.

“Those were false stories that had hindered women from rising into leadership, but fortunately, our people have shown belief in women by electing them as their representatives. In turn, these leaders have remained committed to serving their constituents,” Chege said.