When straight-shooting Kandara MP Alice Wahome twice took on President Uhuru Kenyatta this week, she was daring what no other Central leader has done in recent past - a frontal attack on their tribal chieftain.
In uncharacteristic diatribe, the MP described the man at whose behest she zealously guarded the 2017 presidential poll as “the biggest existential threat to Kenya’s declining economy, democracy, freedom of speech and political association.”
Before that at the burial of Charles Rubia, she had called out the hypocrisy of the President celebrating Rubia for fighting for the second liberation while at the same time reversing those gains.
While there was loud silence in reacting to that episode, Murang’a County MP Sabina Chege was not to let that lying down. As the men retreated to watch how things pan out, she took on Wahome, valiantly.
“She cannot even read her own statement. We know it was written for her, but surely she should be able to rehearse and read it well. She’s a lawyer for heaven’s sake. How many laws has she passed in Parliament which the President has rejected?” Chege said.
The two -- Wahome and Chege -- are part of a growing legion of bold, assertive, energetic and emergent leaders of Central Kenya who are defying patriarchal politics of yesteryear’s to chart a fresh path.
They include presidential candidate Martha Karua, who was denied the Deputy Prime Minister position in 2008 on inexplicable circumstances, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who broke the ceiling as the first woman Governor of the area in 2017, and Laikipia Woman Representative Catherine Waruguru, who leaped from the County Assembly to the National Assembly.
Others are Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, who earned her ticket to the Senate through the vote while her colleagues were sneaking in through nomination, Gilgil’s Martha Wangari who had enough of initial nomination and won herself the seat.
And then there is Wangui Ngirici, who is giving Waiguru a run for her money in Kirinyaga, and nominated MP Cecily Mbarire, who has taken a low profile for now.
“What you are seeing is women playing their legitimate role in politics. We have come to understand that no one will give us a seat at the political table, we have to fight for it,” Waiguru told Sunday Standard yesterday. Unapologetic in her support for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and in her dalliance with Opposition leader Raila Odinga, the ex-Devolution CS has given every indication that no one will slow her down.
Her rival Ngirici agrees that gender should not be a factor in leadership. Like the rest of the daughters of Mumbi, she says women leaders in the mountain must wake up from slumber and leave a mark in the sands of the times.
“We are no longer going to sit back and be told what to do, we will be part of that conversation at the decision-making table, and it won’t matter the political inclinations we are associated with,” Ngirici said.
Across in Laikipia, Waruguru is ubiquitous. Most would struggle to pick out the county’s Senator from a crowd, but not her. She says “the girls” are doing what they were taught to do - speak up.
“Our girls are simply doing what they were best taught by their mothers and fathers, and we need to allow them to exercise their democratic space. We’d love to see other women come and dominate this space which has been the preserve of men since independence,” she told Sunday Standard.
Like her colleagues, she’s equally cagey about women leaders being viewed only as such, women leaders:
“We don’t want to see women treated and castigated. I see our men daringly speak bigger things than those Wahome spoke, but no one seems to judge them so harshly.”
Although the first to take on Wahome, Chege complained that women have been running the show behind the curtains but are only just getting the credit for it.
Former Nyeri Woman Representative Priscilla Nyokabi said there’s a dire need for the region to revamp the quality of its political leadership to emulate Prof Wangari Maathai, Ken Matiba and Charles Rubia.
“They stood for something, sacrificed for the good of all. The region must seriously invest in its next crop of leadership. We have time to reflect and groom,” Nyokabi said.
But the commissioner in the National Gender and Equality Commission, also said the conversation should start within the region and President Kenyatta needs to prepare successors and give them platforms.
Unity of purpose
Mt Kenya has a good history of electing women to legislative posts. Of the old guard, Karua was the pioneer female politician from the region, entering Parliament in 1992, rising to the Cabinet level to run for the presidency in 2013.
Interestingly, it is Karua who blazed the trail on Kenyatta’s political future when she recently told him off: “As a good friend, I am telling the President not to be tempted to preside over an unconstitutional post. Finish your term and let somebody else take the mantle.”
Before Karua, Prof Maathai had contested for the presidency in 1997 and lost miserably. Other notable Central women who fought their way to parliament are Senator Beth Mugo and former MPs Esther Murugi, Mary Wanjiru and Mary Wambui
“It is good that women in Central Kenya are regaining their voice. But we need to have a unity of purpose, otherwise, this voice will easily become unnecessary noise,” Faith Gitau, Nyandarua Woman Rep, said.
And the voices can only get louder. According to International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC), what Wahome did needs to be encouraged.
“Kenyans must take the courage to unequivocally speak direct truth to power which they are speaking in silence. They must come out strongly and tell Uhuru the fact,” ICPC’s Ndung’u Wainaina said.