Breakthrough as Kenya poised to elect first female governors

Joyce Laboso Kenya’s?deputy parliamentary speaker Photo: Twitter/@DrJoyceLaboso
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Nairobi:Women are likely to be elected for the first time to some of Kenya’s powerful governor positions after making historic gains in party primaries this week, experts said, heralding a political breakthrough for the patriarchal society.

Kenya has East Africa’s lowest female representation in parliament – at 19 per cent – and women have struggled to make gains in the face of violence, intimidation and sexism.

That looks set to change in August’s elections.

“This time, at least two women are almost guaranteed for the position,” said Macharia Munene, a professor of international relations at Nairobi’s United States International University.

“They might win because they have proven themselves as capable leaders in previously held positions.”

Kenyans will vote for their president, parliament and county representatives on August 8.

The ruling Jubilee party and the opposition National Super Alliance, known by its acronym NASA, both elected women to run as county governors in primaries concluding on Sunday.

None of Kenya’s 47 counties, which manage local infrastructure, are headed by a female governor, an influential position overseeing budgets worth billions of shillings.





[Martha Karua, former Kenyan presidential candidate, is running a governor position.]

Martha Karua, former Kenyan presidential candidate, is running a governor position.Photo: Supplied

The counties get about 20 per cent of national revenues. They can also raise local taxes. In return, they must provide most health facilities, pre-schools, and local infrastructure.

Anne Waiguru, who is standing in the Jubilee stronghold of Kirinyaga, some 100 km northeast of the capital Nairobi, has a good chance of victory, Munene said.

She was the powerful minister for devolution and planning until she resigned in 2015, saying that unsubstantiated corruption allegations had taken a toll on her health.

Joyce Laboso, the deputy parliamentary speaker, is also well poised to win the western county of Bomet for Jubilee, he said.

“We have stepped up this year,” Labososaid. “Society must stop thinking that women are mere flower girls.”

Wavinya Ndeti, who was a member of parliament until 2013, is vying on a NASA ticket, while two of the three women to have stood for the Kenyan presidency – former ministers Martha Karua and Charity Ngilu – are both running under their own parties.

“Women have proved that they can be good leaders who want to change the lives of their people,” said Ngilu, who was Kenya’s first female presidential candidate in 1997.

Women usually lack the political clout and money to get nominated by the main players in primaries, where voters choose party candidates, often amid violent clashes.

“Apart from the physical violence we suffer during campaigns, we are also subjected to a lot of emotional abuse,” said Laboso.

Female candidates often hire bodyguards after threats of rape and beatings, sexual slurs or curses from elders for violating tradition.

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