Apart from former Central Bank of Kenya Deputy Governor, Jacinta Mwatela, who put up a spirited battle in the race for the Taita-Taveta gubernatorial seat, the 2013 poll was a slaying ground for female aspirants for the governor’s seat.
Senior female politicians gave the position a wide berth, preferring to run for Parliament and Senate instead. But judging by the pedigree of women showing interest in the plum seat this time round, 2017 could be the year that Kenya welcomes its first female governor. Pundits, however, warn that wamama will need to devise fresh political tactics to successfully compete with men and break the 2013 political jinx.
Former Lands Cabinet Secretary, Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso (Bomet), Former Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru (Nairobi), Cecil Mbarire (Embu), Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos) and Ruth Odinga (Kisumu), are some of the top women politicians who have declared interest to govern their respective counties.
While political analysts admit that cultural biases will still weigh them down, they say women stand a better chance this time, with former Lands Secretary Charity Ngilu being seen as the most likely candidate to run home with the position with ease.
“Depending on the political alignment she makes, it is largely anticipated that Ngilu would win if she contests against Governor Julius Malombe,” says Javas Bigambo, adding that some of the women who have declared interest also have political clout and acumen and are likely to triumph.
Nairobi is, however, unlikely to favour women, according to both Bigambo and Moi University lecturer, Dr Masibo Lumala.
Dr Lumala says that the recent political realignment in the Jubilee coalition, particularly the truce between Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko and Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, puts Bishop Margaret Wanjiru in an awkward position.
“There is much discussion going on in Jubilee in terms of who the party should support for the position,” he observes.
“It is becoming clear that the party will support a male candidate, and that means the aspirations of female politicians will end at the party nominations stage,” says Dr Lumala.
In Bomet County, where Dr Laboso is spoiling for a fight with Isaac Ruto, the battle is expected to be highly charged, especially since Deputy President William Ruto, who is itching to teach Governor Ruto a lesson, will be in her corner.
Dr Masibo admits that it won’t be easy for the governor, but says the battle-scarred politician could recapture his seat depending on how he organises his campaigns. The don also notes that the recent appointment of Dr Julius Kones, who was Ruto’s main challenger for the seat in 2013, to chair the National Water Conservation and Pipeline board, could be part of the ruling coalition’s scheme to consolidate Dr Laboso’s support base.
“Appointing Dr Kones could be part of a ploy to pave the way for Dr Laboso to run over Governor Ruto. Perhaps it’s a strategy to avoid a fallout that Ruto could exploit after nominations,” he explains.
In an interview with the Press, Dr Laboso however denied being DP Ruto’s project, saying she decided to contest after being prevailed upon by Bomet people to “bring change” in the county. She stated that she has what it takes to turn around the county, which she claimed was being mismanaged, adding that it was time Kenyans voted women who are more “inclusive and empathetic.”
“As senior female politicians, it is time we vied for these seats. Some of us must be brave enough to break the jinx,” she said, adding that, “Unlike men who practice combative politics, women would ensure everybody is included in the management of the counties.”
In Embu County meanwhile, Runyenjes MP, Cecily Mbarire, is already fighting cultural biases in her bid to snatch the seat from Governor Martin Nyaga Wambora. Although she enjoys the support of key male leaders in the area, she is already facing verbal attacks over her gender, with Governor Wambora maintaining that she should not vie in Embu, since her marital home is in Busia County.
Both Bigambo and Dr Lumala opine that as much as there is need for gender parity, things are still different on the ground. They believe that some communities would rather vote for a “weak” man than a seasoned female politician.
“What female aspirants must consider is the fact that the seat will be very competitive, and for them to win, they must be competitive too,” advises Dr Lumala.
He however notes that Wavinya Ndeti has the aggression and political mettle to challenge Governor Alfred Mutua who is facing an onslaught from Kalonzo Musyoka.
In the 2013 polls, Ndeti came second after Governor Mutua when she garnered over 92,000 votes against Mutua’s 257,336 votes.