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VOLUME 18, NO. 1-2 (MAY-JULY 2003)

The 2002 Elections The Road Travelled, The Lessons Learned


The 2002 general elections in Kenya
women's performance and prospects in parliamentary politics

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.

Back to the pre-1992 silence or lack of a coordinated political strategy?

This silence begged a lot of gender related questions during the transitional political context of 2002. For example, apart from the Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization that spent most of 2002 mobilizing women to support Uhuru for the presidency, what were other women's organizations doing? In this regard, their political position remained unknown and their modes of participation in this electoral political process invisible. Similarly, their views about the changing fortunes of the constitutional review process, especially the possible negative gender impact of going into elections with the old constitution was also unclear, as was the post-election fate of Affirmative Action, especially given the rapidly shifting power arrangements and alliances at that time. Indeed, one was hard pressed to discern concrete political strategies in place to ensure that a large percentage of women won both party nominations as well as civic and parliamentary seats in 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.

Structural constraints to women's participation in electoral politics

The apparent political silence by women noted above must also be understood within the structural impediments that women globally and at the national level continue to face as they seek to participate in all areas of politics. Numerous studies on women's participation in politics and public decision-making globally2 indicate that the electoral playing field has always been tilted heavily in favour of men, more so in countries such as Kenya, which are highly patriarchal and lack a democratic constitution and electoral laws to facilitate free and fair electoral process. In Kenya since 1963, the gender specific unevenness of electoral politics, has manifested itself in the form of:

  • The persisting social resistance and/or lukewarm acceptance of women's participation in political leadership;
  • A culture of electoral violence that tends to be harsher towards female than male candidates;
  • The feminization of poverty that renders women more financially constrained to manage a campaign than men;
  • Lack of adequate political socialization for leadership that manifests itself in women's exclusion from access to strategic political information and general inability in the art of public oratory and populist campaigning;
  • Women's marginality in mainstream political party hierarchy; they are therefore unable to change rules of engagement which are defined and organized around male norms and values;

Within these objective conditions, women are constrained from setting the political rules of representation and inclusion in a manner that reflects their specific experience and vision. Indeed, male political ideology continues to define the standards of evaluation of women's political performance and participation.

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.

Women's performance in parliamentary politics: 1963-2002

Since Kenya's independence some 40 years ago, women's performance in the area of parliamentary electoral politics has registered marginal but gradual increase in the number of women MPs. The only exception to this trend was in 1997, when women's performance in electoral politics dropped, despite the fielding of a woman presidential candidate. The number of elected women MPs moved from zero in the first post-colonial government to six in 1992 and then dropped to four in 1997; it rose again to nine in 2002.

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.

Women's presence in the 2003 NARC government structure

Following the landslide victory of the 2002 elections, the immediate challenge for the winning party, NARC, was to form a government of national unity. This would ensure not only broad based participation in decision making by all the diverse communities of Kenya, but would also respond to the need for gender equity and justice in representation and participation in all key political and other public decision making.

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).

Assessment of the 2002 women's electoral performance

In sum, although the gender sector has been an active and sometimes effective lobbyist in engendering democratic change in Kenya since the beginning of the political transition in 1992, women clearly squandered a strategic political moment in the 2002 political transition. They failed to register a significant presence to become major political players, with adequate capacity to negotiate effectively at the pre- and post-election negotiating table, where key political positions were being shared among the key players and strategic policy decisions regarding Kenya's future were being charted. It is no wonder then, that during the party nominations and in the post-election power-sharing arrangements, women were heard crying foul for having been betrayed and politically marginalized by men once again! This political reality was in part a reflection of socio-political fragmentation. It also portrayed a lack of a common consensus on a minimum gender agenda that is reasonably inclusive, articulates the interests and expectations of women across the board but also enlists support of non-gender social sectors.

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.

Enhancing women's electoral political performance: which way forward?

In my view, in order to improve women's electoral performance, and especially to strengthen their political participation and the representative character of parliament, there is need to devise strategies for redressing numerous factors associated with the political opportunity structure that negatively affect performance. These include:

  • Consistent political participation and engagement in leadership activities and training to overcome women's low political socialization;
  • Frequent attendance at social and political gatherings where political information is likely to be shared, as well as engaging in a wide reading of any available political literature and media articles, with a view to beefing up one's bank of political information;
  • Development of fundraising skills to strengthen one's financial base for the political campaign;
  • Starting of constituency building and informal campaigns five years before a subsequent election. This is with a view to mobilizing, building and sustaining loyalty of target voters towards self, thus lessening the challenge of the official one-month electoral campaigning;
  • Development of political professionalism and power of incumbency retention rate. In this connection both women political incumbents and election losers must soldier on in electoral politics so as to acquire the necessary political experience and/or to entrench themselves in various political structures. Women politicians therefore need to be more persistent and professional in their attitude towards politics and learn to accept electoral defeat as a temporary setback and a good learning experience rather than a permanent knock out;
  • Consistent participation in the affairs of any one party that they join and lobbying within it for inclusion in key decision making positions of the party structure. This with a view to curb their marginalization during critical moments of political party recruitment, such as the nomination for general elections;
  • Lobbying for the attainment of a gender sensitive legislative and policy framework as a fundamental strategy for reversing undemocratic governance;
  • Avoidance of a narrow view of individual rights and freedoms that tends to destroy and and/or curb the development of a collective vision among women.
  • Establishment of broad based networks, partnerships and alliances with other marginalized groups, including men, especially those that share similar concerns;
  • Lobbying for the engendering of the new Constitution to include elements crucial to women's rights3
  • Strengthening of the women's movement and its support structures.

In order to strengthen the mushrooming women's organization, women need to guard against the tendency to focus on factors that divide and focus on and maximize factors that unite. There is therefore a need for women to embrace a common denominator that would become an unbreakable unity in diversity glue. This would hold the movement together for the promotion of a gender agenda in the country's governance and democratization process.

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.


Despite their marginality at the negotiating table during and after the 2002 elections, women nevertheless succeeded in securing five out of seven nominated parliamentary seats allocated to NARC, and three out of four allocated to KANU, in addition to three Cabinet and four assistant ministerial positions. But despite the improved electoral performance by women candidates and the government's subsequent marginal effort to exercise affirmative action in parliamentary and public sector appointments and nominations, it is my submission that the gender agenda remains a major unfinished business that will require both women and men committed to gender justice and equality to take action to move the gender agenda forward.


  1. Maria Nzomo. "Engendering democratization and empowerment: women's struggles against political exclusion and discrimination in East Africa." In Stromsqist, N.P. ed. The encyclopaedia of third world women. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

    ---------------"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.

  2. B.J. Nelson and N. Chowdhury, eds. Women and politics worldwide. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. Maria Nzomo. In Himmelstrand
  3. ------------"The political and economic aspects of the gender question in the Constitutional Reform in Kenya." Background paper prepared for the Constitutional Review Process, January 2002.

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