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The Thatcher and Merkel effect: Key lessons for Kenya

By XN Iraki | October 4th 2021

Margaret Thatcher (pictured) was born in 1925 and served as the United Kingdom Prime Minister from 1979-1990.

Thatcher studied chemistry at Oxford University before taking up law and eventually joining politics.

Married to Dennis Thatcher, the mother of twins was the first female Prime Minister of the UK.

Her uncompromising politics and leadership style came to earn her the moniker “the Iron Lady” Thatcher died in 2013. 

Across the English Channel, Angela Merkel (pictured), born in 1954, has been the German Chancellor, the equivalent of a Prime Minister for the last 16 years, a role she is set to vacate before the end of the year.

Like Margaret Thatcher, she studied chemistry and would go on to earn a PhD, specialising in quantum chemistry.

Also, like Mrs Thatcher, she was the first female German chancellor. She is married to Joachim Sauer but kept the name of her first husband. She has no children.  

The two women in addition to breaking the glass ceiling are scientists. Did that background make them better leaders? Can we extrapolate that to Kenya? Going by the record of the two ladies, maybe it’s time we tried a female President. Tanzania beat us to it. Why a woman, and why a scientist?  

One, since men can’t agree amongst themselves, why not have a neutral person, a woman?  There are other reasons why we should try a woman. They are less corrupt going by statistics. How many women have been caught in mega scandals? Please do not say women are better at covering their tracks. 

Two, they are better at multitasking, a valuable quality for a president. I recall seeing a woman knitting as she walked to the market, while another one cooked two meals and tended to her children at the same time. 

Women also double up as housekeepers as they do their professional work. Three, they are compassionate, unlike men who believe in a zero-sum game, where they can only gain by someone else losing.

Compassion comes from taking care of children; they know their children’s most basic needs.

Yet men think that paying rent, buying food or paying school fees is more important than breastfeeding or changing diapers.  

Four, women think intergenerational more than us. Bringing up children means they see them grow and thus play a part in shaping their dreams.

Your mum has your welfare at heart even when you are married with children. She will always ask how the children are doing, while your father will be more concerned about how your kamnjengo (construction project) is progressing. 

Five, I think women are more realistic. They are not as outlandish as men. They have practical solutions, for example, the choice of meals, clothes and attending to their babies’ every need.

Even in the corporate world, they have more practical solutions that appear simple but work. And they are not wasteful like men. They rarely chafua meza (buy rounds of drinks). 

Maybe I am too cozy with the traditional roles of a woman, not the emancipated type that sees us as equals.

One woman told me she will negotiate her dowry. Now over 50, she is still waiting.  

Women have many obstacles on the way to the top. They are seen particularly in political circles as not being tough enough and likely to buckle under pressure.

They are also victims of stereotypes. Men feel threatened by a powerful woman and are likely to rally against a female presidential candidate.

Never mind that many women feel men make better leaders. Why else do they vote for them and not one of their own?  Let’s get back to science; would a Kenyan woman scientist make a great president? Who could that be?

The current crop of women politicians does not consist of scientists except Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru who studied math’s, physics and chemistry for her A levels. Does that predispose her to a bigger job?  

Science teaches you to be objective, to see the cause-and-effect relationship and experiment.

This is what makes it a very handy tool in politics. More importantly, science is usually hard and once you get into politics, you probably find it easier to handle everyday challenges.

Think of all the science experiments, equations and graphs compared with politics, where telling people what they want to hear guarantees you a six-figure salary. Both Thatcher and Merkel also worked as research scientists, which gave them a “third eye” in politics.  

Could the science background be what’s the driving force behind Deputy President William Ruto’s success in politics?  His political nemesis, ODM leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, also has a science background. 

Thatcher and Merkel might have been effective politically for other reasons beyond their science background, which toughened them. Thatcher’s father was a clergyman cum politician, while Merkel’s father was a clergyman.  

Leaving the comfort of their hamlets may have widened their worldviews too. 

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