The 2002 general elections in Kenya
by Maria Nzomo
The 2002 elections were preceded by a two-year period in which women political NGOs empowerment were engaged in a well funded preparatory programme under the so-called Engendering the Political Process Programme (EPPP) banner. Despite the EPPP, for most of 2002-when the succession and constitutional review debates took center stage in Kenya's political discourse-there was a notable absence of women's voices in those debates. Women's silence had become so loud that even issues related to the traditional gender concerns that women were passionate about over the past ten years did not so much as elicit a comment from gender-based organizations. Instead, it was the media men and women, who took the lead role in commenting on such issues-including the issue of the significant drop in the number of the registered female voters (in proportion to men) for the 2002 elections.
At the level of female candidates, save for well-known incumbents, such as Charity Ngilu, Beth Mugo and at the campaign stage, Martha Karua, the majority of the other women candidates remained invisible. Apart from the rare appearance of women candidates at the few training workshops organized under the EPPP programme, the political activities, profiles and visions of these female political aspirants for the 2002 elections were largely lacking and/or invisible. Indeed, it could be said that the pre-election spirit of 1992, that galvanized and mobilized the women of Kenya from the village to the national level, to chart out a national women's agenda under the clarion call of unity in diversity had fizzled out, as was the commitment to take every opportunity to use women's collective voice to ensure democratic transformation and removal of women's marginalization in Kenyan's governance dispensation. Whatever happened to those brave and determined voices of 1992 that swore that they would never again be heard to whisper and instead would shout in unison and reject politics of marginalization and insist on being heard?
It is my submission that it was largely because of the unity of purpose that galvanized women in 1992 that led to the historic electoral record of six women winning parliamentary seats in the 1992 General Elections. Similarly, it was the thundering collective women voice that for the first time succeeded in persuading the Kenyan society that any form of violence against women was a gross violation of basic human rights, thus vindicating the fact that unity for a marginalized group does pay political dividend. Similarly, it was perhaps the formation in 1998, of one coordinating network for women NGOs, Women Political Caucus-to serve the purpose of a midwife for women's fledgling unity-that contributed to the temporary strengthening of the organisational and delivery capacity of the women's movement
Indeed, it was through this short-lived national umbrella lobby made up of 43 women's organisations and 23 individuals including six MPs, that the women's movement effectively lobbied for the engendering of the constitutional reform process, and as a first step, insisted and obtained a fairly good representation at the Constitutional Review process launched in 2001. Before the Women's Political Caucus split in 2000, it was instrumental in providing a strong lobby platform that ensured the application of the principle of affirmative action in regard to female gender representation in the constitutional review process, by securing nearly one-third female membership in the district and national forums and in the drafting committee of the Constitutional Review Commission. This translated into seven female commissioners out of a total of 26 members; and about 100 women delegates out of 600, for the proposed Constitutional Conference planned for 2003. The split, which led to the creation of two sharply divided factions from the original Women's Political Caucus, has contributed to a lack of a common vision in the women's movement. In the meantime, a group of predominantly male leaders, who for all practical purposes, were the strangest bedfellows with little else in common except their common desire to grab power from Moi, effectively mobilized the whole country around a super-alliance termed National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). Women on the other hand, with numbers and their expansive organizational structures on their side, were unable to marshal something akin to their own "super alliance" to negotiate for sharing of power with NARC.
The above notwithstanding, there were from time to time, during 2002, distinct though uncoordinated voices that spoke to some gender issues. Women lawyers in particular, were quite vocal especially on the issue of constitutional reform, and gender violence. In addition, since the onset of the multi-party system in 1992, a few politically oriented women NGOs, in collaboration with likeminded CBOs, had played significant roles, not only in the traditional socio-economic arena, but especially in engendering democratisation in the political arena. These were the League of Kenya Women Voters, the National Commission on the Status of Women, the Education Center for Women and Democracy, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-K), the Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development and Friends of Esther and Deborah, among others. They have initiated civic education and training curriculum aimed at political empowerment and capacity building of women candidates and voters, as well as gender sensitisation of men and women.1 Such civic initiatives have contributed to increased gender and civic awareness in the country. Their immediate impact has been observable in the increased numbers of women running and being elected to political office since 1992; with six of them being elected to parliament in 1992. This was, until 2002, the highest number ever in post-colonial Kenya.
Though the number of elected women MPs went down to four in 1997, there was an increase in women running for political office and they had greater political visibility. Two of them were even vying for the presidency, one of them becoming a major presidential contender. The number of elected women MPs rose to nine in 2002, with eight of them winning under the NARC party ticket. The choice of a large number of women candidates to run under the widely popular party (NARC) ticket, certainly contributed to the relatively higher number of elected women MPs than earlier predicted. Breaking the silence: November 2002-January 2003
After observing in shocked disbelief the dismissive and gender discriminative manner that most women political aspirants were handed down by the male dominated party leaderships, the women lobby groups suddenly realized that the political boat was setting sail without them. It is at this point that frantic efforts at damage control were put into motion. So, rather belatedly in early November 2002, a loose Coalition of women NGOs, including many of those affiliated to the Women's Political Caucus, as well as individual activists and professionals, banded together to form a forum that was initially labelled Women for NARC. It was transformed some three weeks later into the NARC Women Congress. This ad hoc women's coalition had a very short-term political mandate, but a more long-term political objective. The mandate was to employ every available means to ensure that NARC won the 2002 elections. For two months, NWC members volunteered their time and even financial resources to produce and disseminate presidential and party campaign materials. They organised and conducted training for election party agents, participated in the presidential campaign and monitored the election-day polls. The key long term objective for this spirit of volunteerism, was to obtain a guarantee from the male dominated NARC that, if the party won the elections, it would incorporate women as equal partners in the post-election power sharing and would complete and engender the new constitution and governance process generally. A proposed Memorandum of Understanding to formalise the envisaged partnership was never tabled. Ultimately, then, there were no guarantees, save for those contained in NARC's election agenda document. The post-election power sharing arrangement envisaged did not happen. Indeed, the only gain for women was the nomination of five women out of seven NARC nominees.
Under the combined circumstances of a weak and fractured women's political lobby and gender imbalanced political playing field, women candidates in electoral politics are therefore unable to shape electoral party decisions, especially at the nomination stage. The latter explains why so many women were sacrificed by their political parties at the party nomination stage in the run up to the December 2002 elections.
The number of women parliamentary aspirants improved from seven in 1963 to over 200 candidates in the 2002 parliamentary elections, while the number of women nominated MPs increased from zero in 1963 to eight in 2002.
From a gender perspective, the new decision making structures are a mixed bag of gains and losses for women. For example, comparatively speaking, women's presence in the cabinet has improved from zero up to 1974 and thereafter, to one assistant minister for Ministry of Culture and Social Services, except for the period 1994-1997 when Kenya had one full woman cabinet minister. But for the first time in 40 years, women have secured 6 ministerial positions. However, they lost out on some of the quantitative gains made under the Moi regime, especially in the appointment of Permanent Secretaries (PSs). Whereas in the last Moi government, the civil service was headed by a woman and an additional six women were PSs, the Kibaki civil service is headed by a man and has only three women PSs. Furthermore, the principle of 1/3 women's representation in all decision making bodies, is still a far cry, as demonstrated by the fact that by March 2003, the representation of women in key government posts was as follows:
Cabinet: 3 (out of 23)
Assistant Ministers: 4 (out of 24)
Permanent Secretaries: 3 (out of 24)
Ministerial Directors and equivalent positions: 3 (out of 17).
Lack of a common women's political voice for most of the year 2002-a year of critical political transition-reduced women's chances of better performance at the 2002 polls and subsequent political developments. In fact, the relatively better than expected performance that women registered can largely be attributed to the NARC party euphoria since it increased the winning chances of both its male and female candidates.
The 2002 women's participation in electoral and reform politics demonstrated that there has been inadequate learning from past setbacks and a lack of consolidation of gains built on past achievements. For ten years, since Kenyan women launched a women's agenda for engendering democratization in the country, the same weaknesses that were noted as a "no go zone" on the road to women's empowerment are still the subject of endless lists of "obstacles still to be overcome" and "ways forward." It is as if the women's movement's attempts to reconstitute itself afresh each year before a general election, hardly enough participatory time for a disadvantaged sector. Indeed, observers might be excused for concluding that many Kenyan women (and men) activists and politicians who suddenly emerge at the twilight of every five years are no more than political opportunists capitalizing on the spirit of general elections that inspire good will and generosity of election funding agencies.
The last ten years of gender activism in Kenya have clearly shown that mobilization of people is not enough. Social movements must also have sustaining ideas, shared goals and a unifying, ideologically inspired gender vision that transcends respective members' socio-cultural and economic diversities.
---------------"Women in politics and public decision-making." In Himmelstrand, U. et.al., eds. In search of new paradigms for the study of African development. London: James Curry, 1994.
-------------- and K. Staudt. "Man-made political machinery in Kenya: what political space for women?" In B. J. Nelson and N. Chowdhury, eds. Women and politics worldwide. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. -------------- "The impact of the African crisis on women." In G. Mikell, ed. African women: states of crisis. Pittsburgh, Penn.: Pennsylvania University Press, 1995.
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