This year’s International Women’s Day comes exactly five months to a General Election that will usher in the country’s fifth president.
It also comes at a time when the country seeks to entrench the two-third gender rule.
Besides the presidency, there will be five other elective seats for those seeking to represent the electorate as governors, senators, MPs, MCAs, or Woman Representative.
As the clock ticks towards August 9, women politicians are readying to give the men a run for their money. They are leaving nothing to chance in their quest to get elected despite the challenges that women politicians face on the campaign trail.
In 2007, voters in Rift Valley made history by electing four women to Parliament, swinging wide open the doors of opportunity for many others that held political ambition.
Linah Kilimo defended her Marakwet East seat as newcomers Margaret Kamar (Eldoret East), Peris Simam (Eldoret South) and Sally Kosgei (Aldai) joined the race. However, all four lost their seats in the 2013 election.
Unlike in the South Rift where women have launched intense campaigns for governor, National Assembly, and the Senate, those in northern Kenya have largely confined competition to the seat for Woman Representative.
This is largely because that part of the country practices a form of negotiated democracy that inherently locks women from other seats.
Rift Valley continues to be a trailblazer. In Nakuru, Senator Susan Kihika is seeking to unseat the incumbent Governor Mr Lee Kinyanjui.
Ms Kihika first started by mobilising youth, women and other registered voters to join the United Democratic Alliance (UDA). The party is the vehicle Deputy President William Ruto is expected to use in his quest to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“I’m determined to win the election and be Nakuru’s third governor,” Kihika said in a meeting with supporters.
Besides Kihika, Keroche CEO Tabitha Karanja, a political novice, is set to contest for the senatorial seat which has attracted seven men aspirants.
Mrs Karanja will also vie on a UDA ticket in the race to succeed Ms Kihika. If the two win, they will make the county’s top leadership a women’s affair.
For most of her life, Mrs Karanja has been an entrepreneur, establishing Keroche Breweries, the multibillion-shilling beer business in Naivasha.
In Nyandarua, former Water Cabinet Secretary Ms Sicily Kariuki, who is out to dethrone Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia, says women have come of age and are better and more accomplished leaders.
“We have done well in the corporate and public sectors in positions where men failed and that makes us better leaders. I once managed three ministries simultaneously so what makes you think I cannot be an accomplished Nyandarua Governor?” she said.
She will also battle it out with former Governor Waithaka Mwangi who is seeking a comeback.
Another notable woman set to take on the male-dominated political sphere is Kericho Deputy Governor Lily Ng’ok.
She is ready to face off with former Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter and Chuka University lecturer Dr Erick Mutai.
Ng’ok says having served as a senior administrator at a local university, she has the experience that saw her picked to replace the late Susan Kikwai as deputy governor.
Members of Parliament Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Ms Charity Chepkwony (Njoro), and Ms Martha Wangare (Gilgil) will battle it out with a large number of men aspirants to retain their seats.
The three say they are well aware of the challenges they will face but confidently say they are ready.
“I have delivered in terms of development. My record is out there for everyone to see. Let voters judge me by the work I have done and not my gender or political party,” Mrs Chepkwony said.
Ms Kihara says she has nothing to worry about since she has delivered most of what she promised the voters in the last election.
“I just need to remind the voters that they need to look at what I promised them and compare it to what I have delivered in the past five years,” she said.
Ms Wangare says it is challenging as a woman politician but she is grateful for the support she has received from men who value her work.
Back in the North Rift region, many women aspirants appear to be eyeing the Woman Representative seat.
Elizabeth Keitany, for instance, bowed out of the Elgeyo Marakwet governor race in January after elders endorsed former Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet to carry the Keiyo community’s flag in the race.
Dr Keitany has now opted to run for the Woman Representative seat in a crowded field that has, among others, the incumbent Jane Chebaibai and two nominated ward reps – Neddy Kiptoo and Winnie Kanda.
Her withdrawal from the race leaves Ms Loice Jemenjo, a Kabianga University lecturer, as the only woman aspirant in the Elgeyo Marakwet governor race.
In Uasin Gishu, former Salaries and Remuneration Commission chairperson Ms Sarah Serem and former Nairobi County executive Ms Vescah Kangogo have lined up for the governor race, against top guns such as Mr Jonathan Bii and Soy MP Caleb Kositany, among others.
In Western Kenya, two women in Busia and Bungoma have declared their interest in the governor seat.
Hit the ground running
Busia Woman rep Florence Mutua is seeking to succeed Governor Sospeter Ojaamong on an ODM ticket. She will have to square it out with Deputy Governor Moses Mulomi, former Funyula MP Paul Otuoma and Senator Amos Wako.
Others in the race are Nambale MP Sakwa Bunyasi and former Education and Vocational Training Chief Officer David Mogoria.
Ms Mutua, currently ODM Deputy Secretary-General has already hit the ground running to galvanise her support base.
“There is no leadership position reserved for men or women. Those saying I am not fit for the position for being a woman cannot stop me. The voters will speak and their voice will be heard after the polls,” said Ms Mutua.
In Bungoma, Ms Sophy Waliaula, a university don is also in the governor race. Ms Waliaula will have to square it out with Mr Zachariah Barasa, a Nairobi-based businessman, Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka, Governor Wycliffe Wangamati, and former Communications Authority of Kenya Director General Francis Wangusi.
Still, in Bungoma, Cheptais MCA Jane Chebet will face Mr Fred Kapondi for the Mt Elgon parliamentary seat in the August 9 polls.
Ms Chebet was elected to Bungoma County Assembly where she also served as Deputy Speaker between 2013 and 2017. The second time MCA was first elected in 2013 on ODM but switched to Jubilee in 2017.
She has now found a home in Ford-Kenya, on whose ticket she will be contesting against Mr Kapondi after defecting from UDA.
“There is no reserved position for a particular gender; the leadership of Mt Elgon is controlled by the voters,” Ms Chebet said yesterday, urging more women to go for elective seats.
Still in Bungoma, Gender and Special Programmes Officer Caroline Buyela, 39, resigned to vie for the Webuye East parliamentary seat held by Mr Alfred Sambu.
Buyela will be competing against Mr Charles Iyaya Wanjala and Ndivisi MCA Martin Pepela Wanyonyi.
In Kakamega, nominated MCA Jackline Okanya is vying for the Mumias West parliamentary seat on the Amani National Congress ticket.
She will be facing off with the incumbent MP Johnson Naicca (ODM) and former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa (UDA).
Ms Okanya is pushing more women to go for elective seats as opposed to waiting to be nominated.
In Busia, Ms Emase, having been elected in 2013 on URP, will be trying her luck again and will be seeking to fly the UDA flag.
In 2017, she vied on the Jubilee ticket but lost to Geoffrey Omuse of ODM.
She faces a tough battle from the current MP and Governor Sospeter Ojaamong who has also shown interest in the MP seat.
In Kakamega, former nominated MP Prof Ruth Oniang’o will be vying for the Butere MP seat held by Mr Tindi Mwale.
Besides the current MP, she will also battle it out with the former area MP Andrew Toboso.
“Do not look at my age. I am 75 years old but I am still energetic, well-educated, and full of wisdom. I have seen it all during my illustrious career and the best thing I can do is to give back to the community,” she said.
At the Coast Kwale deputy governor Fatuma Achani and Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa are hoping they will be added to the list of women governors.
So far Ms Marere Wa Mwachai, Dr Naomi Shaban, Ms Jumwa and Ms Mishi Mboko are trailblazers seeing as they beat a large field of men contestants.
Taveta MP Dr Naomi Shaban will be seeking her fifth term in a row as MP.
Dr Shaban, who was recently appointed one of the four deputy leaders of Jubilee Party, appeared to have taken a cue from Ms Mwachai who quit as a high school teacher in 1992 and contested the Msambweni parliamentary seat against Mr Kassim Mwamzandi.
Ms Mwachai ousted Mr Mwamzandi in 1997 and served as assistant minister for Culture and Social Services until 2002.
But as Ms Mwachai exited parliament after being floored by Mr Abdalla Ngozi in 2002, Dr Shaban was elected MP the same year on a Kanu ticket and later served as the first Cabinet Minister from the Coast.
Dr Shaban won against Mr Basil Criticos who had served as MP and assistant minister.
Other elected politicians in the 2017 election included Ms Jumwa and Likoni MP Mboko who clinched their current positions after beating men.
Ms Jumwa is training her sights on the Kilifi governorship and will be seeking a UDA ticket.
In Kwale County, deputy governor Ms Fatuma Achani has also declared her interest to succeed Governor Salim Mvurya who she has deputised since 2013.
“If Kwale residents elect me as their governor in August it will be an open window for more women. I have done a lot and I have led by example,” Ms Achani said.
In Lamu County, Ms Umra Omar has made a debut in politics from the civil society and wants to unseat Governor Fahim Twaha.
Lamu Woman Representative Captain Ruweida Mohamed has embarked on a campaign to capture the Lamu East parliamentary seat currently held by Mr Sharif Athman. After going to parliament through a nomination in 2013 and election as Kwale Women Representative in 2017, Ms Zuleikha Hassan has declared interest in the Kinango parliamentary seat held by Mr Benjamin Tayari.
In 2017, only governor Mvurya and his Taita Taveta counterpart Granton Samboja sailed through with female deputies. Mr Samboja has Ms Majala Mlaghui.
In Taita Taveta County, out of 15 candidates who have declared interests for the county top seat, only three are women.
They include Ms Patience Nyange, Professor Agnes Mwangombe and Ms Rachael Mwakazi.
In Nyanza, a number of women have followed in the footsteps of the first female MP Grace Onyango to get elected in the constituencies and will be in the August race. They include elected MPs Eve Obara (Kabondo Kasipul), Lilian Gogo (Rangwe) and Millie Odhiambo (Suba North).
Read part 2 in tomorrow’s Standard.