The cost of elective politics: Two women speak

Written By: Vereso Mwanga
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Catherine Nakhabi Omanyo

Tuesday night August 8, 2017. On that fateful day, having witnessed firsthand long queues of voters who animatedly turned out to support her Matayos parliamentary bid, Catherine Nakhabi Omanyo went to bed a “winner”.

Seldom did she imagine that she will wake up a ‘‘loser’’ the next morning.

Looking visibly disappointed, the Busia County born native was yet to come to terms with how she lost by 13, 841 to the incumbent Geoffrey Odanga who garnered 22, 895 of the votes cast to be declared the winner of the hotly contested race.

Almost a month later, she is still mulling over what might have cost her the seat that she has been eyeing for three consecutive attempts. “By evening, it seemed like I was cruising to victory.

My phone rang persistently and was awash with congratulatory messages of kudos Mheshimiwa!’’

Catherine who goes by the moniker “Kipepeo” was the ANC flag bearer and the only female candidate in a male dominated race of seven .

She admits to fighting off male chauvinism throughout her campaign to the point that she tired emotionally, especially when the criticism appeared to threaten the stability of  her home .

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“I am married to an American and we are yet to be blessed with the fruit of the womb,’ she says jocularly but with untold regrets of how her opponents turned the matter a campaign fodder.

“Some of them including a pastor well known to me felt it was unnatural and took it upon themselves to encourage him to impregnate me which in their view would keep me away from politics,” she quips.

She equally suspects that propaganda also played a role in her woes “The fact that my husband is a foreigner appeared to be a convenient weapon for my detractors.

Many voters were told to oppose my candidature over claims I live  abroad and once elected, I will disappear into thin air rendering me inaccessible.

They also convinced the masses that all women candidates were entitled to nomination in parliament which is not true,”  she recalls smilingly while acknowledging learning a few tricks says will prove a valuable elixir when she throws her hat into the ring come 2022.

Before then, she feels a solution to the gender equation in elective politics must be a subject of deep reflection.

Similar sentiments are shared by Dr. Juliet Gathoni Kimemia whose dream of representing the people of Kiambu County in the Senate she says remains alive.

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Juliet or “Senator” as she likes to be referred to, garnered a paltry 14, 859 votes of the votes cast to finish 3rd in the race that saw Paul Kimani Wamatangi retain his seat with a whopping 734,661 votes.

She vied for the seat on a KANU party ticket and like Catherine, she was the only female out of the four candidates.

“I did a lot of work on the ground and felt confident ahead of the elections. however my party of choice may have been a key contributor my loss.

She is adamant that the formula of achieving gender equality in elective politics must be revised to compel political parties to nominate women if attempts to increase women representation in parliament are to be realized.

“We need a law that requires political parties to expressly nominate women as flag bearers during party primaries if they are to stand in a vantage position to be elected to the August house.”

Their suggestions backing the reality that an ideal  blue print to guarantee the ascension of the fairer sex to political supremacy is yet to be mapped out.

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Several attempts by the 11th Parliament to pass legislation to back the two-third gender rule flopped.

But, female candidates such as Catherine and Dr. Kimemia can take solace in the fact that the number of women elected to Parliament in the 2017 polls has increased even though the playing field is far from being level.

The National Assembly will have 23 elected women MPs, seven more than the 11th Parliament.

In the Senate, where all 16 women representatives in the previous House were nominated, three sailed through at the ballot this time round.

These numbers however are way below the two-thirds threshold required by law.

A number of stakeholders including the National Gender and Equality Commission have vowed to contest in court the legality of the August House as currently constituted.

And, therefore, even as legislators took the oath of office to serve in the 12th Parliament on Thursday 31, 2017 , they have their work clearly cut out if they are to navigate what seems a palpable yet looming constitutional quagmire.

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