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Kenya: Pre-election Commentaries, 2

AfricaFocus Bulletin
July 24, 2017 (170724)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"As the election draws closer, Kenyans are reminded how sexist and patriarchal their society has remained. Choosing to run is a particularly difficult decision for a woman and her family. Campaigning is often marked by violence directed at women candidates. ... The agitation for a greater political role for women led to progressive legal frameworks. But historical prejudices have ensured that a bill that would enshrine the law has twice failed to get the numbers in a male-dominated House." - Beatrice Akala

While most commentary on the August 8 Kenyan general elections focus on the familiar themes of the presidential contenders and the potential for violence in a close and disputed outcome, as in 2007, the election will also be notable for what it reveals about the impact of political "devolution" and the still contested role of women in politics.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three short commentaries highlighting the continued obstacles facing the participation of Kenyan women in politics, as well as one focusing on the impact of "devolution" in expanding the levels of political contestation to six: "a member of the county assembly (MCA), a women's representative, an MP, a senator, a governor, and a president."

Another AfricaFocus sent out today (and available on the web contains two commentaries focused on the election more generally, and one highlighting the devastating East African drought, the inescapable background to the August 8 election despite the lack of international attention to this massive humanitarian crisis.

For detailed news coverage, AfricaFocus suggests a custom google search of Kenya-based web sites using the words "Kenya elections 2017" as well as two other news sites aggregating content from different sources: and

The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is on-line, with increased computer capacity and availability to check registration and other details, at

And there is an extensive analysis of the demographics of the expanded voter roll for the current elections, from DataScience LTD, available at

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Kenya, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++]

Election season offers a reminder that Kenya remains deeply sexist

By Beatrice Akala, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Johannesburg

The Conversation, May 21, 2017

Kenyan folk stories celebrate women as strong, fierce heroines of the distant past. Women in some communities in western and central Kenya are said to have enjoyed considerable power directly or indirectly as chiefs, queens, queen mothers and advisors.

One of these communities even started off as being matrilineal. Women led and fought fearlessly to extend their territory. Although this community has since become patrilineal, its nine clans are still named after the daughters of its legendary descendants.

In more recent times, women endured the same hardships as their male counterparts in the political struggle to free the country from Britain's colonial grip. They risked life and limb to ensure armed freedom fighters got food. They were also an important source of intelligence for the armed fighters as they came under less suspicion.

But, in the 50-odd years since independence, Kenya's women have had a rough time of it in politics. The first post-independence parliament in 1963 did not have a single woman representative. Only nine had contested for a seat in the 158-member house.

It wasn't until 1969 that the first woman was elected to parliament. In a chamber of 169 members, there were only two women – one elected and one nominated. At the end of 1992, 30 years after independence, the count was just two women in a chamber of 198.

Kenya's progressive 2010 Constitution brought a sea of change in the last elections held in 2013. Not only were there seats reserved for women, but more candidates than ever threw their hats in the ring. The new parliament had a whopping 88 both elected and nominated. More encouraging was the number willing to contest House at 449.

But the change went only so far. None of the 19 women candidates seeking senate and gubernatorial positions were elected. Of the 1,450 elected to county assemblies there were 88 women (or 6%). In Parliament, the increase in numbers amounted to 19%. All were well below the constitutional minimum entitlement of at least a third.

Lazy, idlers and busy bodies

As the election draws closer, Kenyans are reminded how sexist and patriarchal their society has remained. Choosing to run is a particularly difficult decision for a woman and her family. Campaigning is often marked by violence directed at women candidates.

Women candidates in cross ethnic marriages are often easy targets. Some are taunted to go seek elective seats where they were born. The naming and shaming of the single, divorced and married as people who should be taking care of their husband is the order of the day in campaign rallies.

The agitation for a greater political role for women led to progressive legal frameworks. But historical prejudices have ensured that a bill that would enshrine the law has twice failed to get the numbers in a male-dominated House.

The Affirmative Action Bill is better known as the two thirds gender rule. Under an article of the constitution Parliament is required to pass laws to ensure that no gender holds more than two thirds of elective posts and public appointments.

Sadly, the 2013 Parliament has struggled to give to life the requirements of this rule. The failure further demonstrates the complexities of negotiating and upholding democratic principles, people's wishes and constitutional imperatives.

Those against the implementation of the rule argue that women should not be handed free positions. They ought to go to the people and campaign for support. They have been branded as being lazy, idlers and busy bodies who don't deserve to be in Parliament.

In addition, it has been argued that increasing women representation in parliament will hurt the economy due to the ballooning budget. One reads negativity and selfishness in the reasons being advanced. Those who hold leadership positions don't want to let go.

Political parties can do more

Fundamentally excluding women from leadership means that the aspirations of half of the population are ignored. It should therefore be appreciated that if the playing ground was level, there would be no need to include the two thirds gender rule in the Constitution.

What will it take to bring the rule to life? Political parties can do more by making their leadership structures fair and inclusive. Their nominations should not be gender skewed and women who express interest should be given a fair chance to compete. And they could do more to shield women from acts of violence and thuggery.

Women are known to opt out of politics because of fear of violence because the impact on them goes beyond the physical harm. When they do, they lose their right to participate in politics as equal partners. And the country loses the opportunity to experience their aspirations, skills and the ability to lead and articulate the needs and voices of their people.

Having more women in leadership positions will also motivate young girls to strive for leadership positions when they grow up. The younger generation will grow confident that society is fair and doesn't impose limitations on the basis of gender.

"I am a leader, but I was forced to quit"

Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2017

In a country where women are routinely denied the ability to own and control their own finances, running for political office in Kenya is tough. And money isn't a guarantee a woman candidate will be able to win over a patriarchal society. At the start of a painful drought in Kenya last year, Rosemary (name changed to protect her privacy), a young community organizer, decided to run for Member of the County Assembly (MCA). Human Rights Watch spoke to her in Mombasa about the challenges she faced as a young, unmarried woman, and about the threats and resource constraints that forced her to end her campaign. Rosemary's account is edited for clarity:

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission

I am a leader. I was the head girl in primary school and I was the music captain. In secondary school, I was games captain. I was the chairlady in Christian union group. I am also bright – I was number one in class. Now, I help school dropouts, when girls get pregnant I help them keep their partners accountable. I also work with 90 young mothers and do advocacy to help girls protect themselves from underage pregnancy.

Our area is inland. We only have small trees and it's very dry and dusty. People are living in poverty, farming and cutting trees for charcoal which makes it hotter.

Last year, we had a bad drought. People had no water. I have my own tap on my compound so I would fill jerry cans and give water to others. I would wait for a car heading to areas without water and then I would send it along with some water. It was a lot of work.

Eventually, I called the county government, asking them to provide water for the people. The County Commissioner wouldn't speak to me. He asked: "Who are you?" and I said, "I am Rosemary, a community activist." He wouldn't talk to me. He said that the local MCA needed to call him and that I had no right to call him directly, then he hung up.

But I wouldn't give up. I kept calling – borrowing other people's phones – until eventually he gave up and sent us a tanker of water.

That was when I decided to run for office. I launched my manifesto in April 2016. The priorities in my manifesto were water, education, health and participation for all. People really liked the idea of participation. I promised that I would invite everyone to community meetings so that everyone would have a say. Over 1,500 people came to my first rally even though I had only planned on 200. We ran out of food. I paid for the rally myself.

You can't campaign without money. Even a grassroots campaign is expensive.

At the end of meetings, I would say goodbye, and the people would ask, "How are you leaving us? "They mean that I should give them a "sitting allowance" – money for coming to the meeting. Without that, they say: "just go, your words are empty."

Transport by boda boda (motorcycle taxi) is 1,000 KES (USD 10) for the day. Then for each meeting you have to leave 4,000 or 5,000 KES (USD 40 to 50) minimum. Even if I use 10,000 KES (USD 100) a week would use up my money fast. I began to wonder how I would manage my life after the election, especially if I didn't win.

Money is especially a big problem for women candidates. We have no networks, no big business. There were three women in the race when we started – only one is still running – she is not campaigning because she has no money. She is just registered and hoping for miracle. One woman candidate was running against the incumbent in the primaries, but she could not get money to transport her supporters. She lost in the primaries because she couldn't get enough of her supporters to the polling station. There was a bus all the candidates in the primary were supposed to share, but they would ask everyone who they were voting for before allowing them on the bus. If you said you were going to vote for her, they would kick you off the bus. If you said you were going to vote for the incumbent, they allowed you on and gave you 200 KES (USD 2).

Security is also a problem – for example as a woman I don't want to walk around at night. I got threats on the phone and on my Facebook account. "OK, Rosemary, drop this thing or else you know who we are," they said, and "watch out for your life." They also threatened me because I am a single woman with a baby. One said: "Go and get married and then come and ask for votes." I reported to the police but they did nothing. You have to pay them to investigate in my town.

One day, someone dug up the waterpipe to my house, cutting off our water. I thought to myself: I don't have to lose my life because I love my community. I started to think I could still help the community without winning an election.

When my boyfriend realized I was serious about politics, he dumped me. That was a big blow for me, I lost him and my money, I was emotionally down. That is when I decided to quit.

Still, in 2022, whether I am married or not, I will run again. I am going to start a business and get money to run; friends will support me. I have everything to be a leader.

Kenyans see gains in gender equality, but support for women's empowerment still uneven, Afrobarometer survey finds

Afrobarometer News release

Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya

8 March 2017 – Direct URL: (press release) and (presentation)

[Excerpts. For full press release and presentation with figures, see links above]

A majority of Kenyans say the country has made progress toward gender equality, but below-average support among men and lagging political engagement among women point toward remaining challenges, according to new Afrobarometer findings released on International Women's Day.

Popular perceptions that girls and women have a fair chance at education and jobs, that gender violence is never justifiable, and that women should be accorded a fair shot at being elected are in line with perceived progress toward gender equality, the new survey data show.

But much work remains to be done among men, who trail significantly on most of these indicators. Moreover, key pillars of women's progress continue to require strengthening, including an equal chance to own and inherit land and women's political engagement. The findings are being released on International Women's Day, during a period of tense political competition pitting female candidates against their male counterparts in August general elections. The release also comes at a time when the country is beginning to assess the effects of its new gender empowerment laws, including equal rights for men and women to inherit land and other property.

Key findings

  • A majority (56%) of Kenyans say that women's equality has improved in recent years. The best-educated women and men are twice as likely as their uneducated compatriots to see progress on gender equality (Figure 1).
  • About one in seven women (15%) say they personally suffered discrimination or harassment based on gender in the past year.
  • More than three-fourths (78%) of Kenyans say wife-beating is "never" justifiable.
  • More than six in 10 Kenyans (63%) do not agree that men should be given priority in hiring if jobs are scarce.
  • Nine out of 10 Kenyans say that girls now have the same educational opportunities as boys, but perceptions of gender equality drop to seven out of 10 with regard to earning an income and less than six out of 10 with regard to the right to own or inherit land (Figure 2).
  • While 57% say women currently have equal rights to own and inherit land, more (64%) say they should have those rights. Men are almost twice as likely as women to reject equal rights for women when it comes to owning and inheriting land (39% vs. 21%).
  • About two-thirds of Kenyan women (63%) and men (68%) say the government has performed well in promoting opportunities and equality for women.
  • Three-fourths (73%) of Kenyans say women should have the same chance as men of being elected to political office (Figure 3). But men (66%) are less likely than women (81%) to hold this view. Support for women's political leadership has remained steady since 2011.
  • Women are significantly less likely than men to discuss politics, to contact political leaders, to join others to raise an issue, and to attend community meetings.
  • More than half (54%) of Kenyans say they fear political violence and intimidation "somewhat" or "a lot." Women and men are equally likely to express this fear.


Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, economic conditions, and related issues in Africa. Six rounds of surveys were conducted in up to 37 African countries between 1999 and 2016, and Round 7 surveys (2016/2017) are currently underway. Afrobarometer conducts face-to-face interviews in the language of the respondent's choice with nationally representative samples.

The Afrobarometer team in Kenya, led by the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, interviewed 1,599 adult Kenyans in September-October 2016. A sample of this size yields country-level results with a margin of error of +/-3% at a 95% confidence level. Previous surveys have been conducted in Kenya in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, and 2014.

Kenya's 2017 elections will be like none before. Here's why.

By Nanjala Nyabola

African Arguments, July 10, 2017 – Direct URL:

[Nanjala Nyabola is a Kenyan writer, humanitarian advocate and political analyst, currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. Follow her on twitter at @Nanjala1]

Devolution has demystified local power and emboldened voters to assert themselves, leading to shocks all the way up the political pyramid.

Kenya's 2017 elections are set to be the country's most interesting yet. The political landscape has shifted, and whatever else these elections turn out to be – violent, peaceful, confusing - they are going to a different kettle of fish to previous polls.

The most obvious reason for this is devolution. After the 2010 constitution was passed, Kenya restructured its political and legislative units, breaking 8 massive provinces into 47 counties made up of various wards. The national legislature was broken into two branches, establishing the roles of senator and governor. And the position of women's representatives was created in each county to help achieve the new constitution's gender quotas.

These changes also affected how elections work. In 2007, Kenyans voted at three levels: for a councillor, a member of parliament (MP), and a president. On 8 August 2017, the electorate will vote at six: a member of the county assembly (MCA), a women's representative, an MP, a senator, a governor, and a president.

This was also the case in 2013, but since then, it has become much clearer how the different levels of government operate in relation to one another. This means that some positions have become far more attractive and therefore competitive. And this increased contestation at the local level has undermined some of the typical tropes of Kenyan politics such as tribalism and regionalism. Things have changed.

Kenya's political pyramid

One can think of Kenya's system of political operatives as operating in a pyramid formation. At the bottom are local elders. One step up are county assembly members, followed by members of parliament, senators, and county governors. Above them are the ethnic kingpins. These are powerful individuals that come together to at the highest level to form national political alliances or coalitions that then contest the elections. In the case of 2017, we have President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto on one side as the incumbents, with Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and others on the opposing side.

Typically, the role of local elders at the bottom rung has been to marshal voters to back the right kingpin at the top. Much of campaign spending goes towards cementing this local loyalty. Although politicians themselves sometimes hand out cash at rallies, the really important network has been low-level leaders giving out goodies in less intense environments. It's the chief calling a village meeting and distributing bags of maize flour, or the women's group leader dishing out t-shirts at the chama meeting.

In prior elections, knowing which way local leaders were leaning gave a good indication of how the overall vote in a specific region would go. For politicians, spending enough money on these low-level actors could usually guarantee a positive return at the ballot box.

Dismantling the pyramid

Not anymore it seems. Devolution has made local politics much more intimately connected with voters' day-to-day lives. Power has become demystified, and this has inspired more people to challenge local leadership when it has been deemed to fail. A record 14,525 candidates are running for office in 2017, and low-level chiefs and elders can no longer guarantee voters' support for a particular party through the traditional means.

In 2013, it was enough for a candidate who wanted to be elected to buy a nomination certificate from their party and then hand out money at a rally, safe in the knowledge that their "person on the ground" would distribute campaign goodies to people to secure their votes. But with a more discerning electorate who, through devolution, more closely see how local power works, or doesn't, these tactics are no longer as effective.

This can also be seen in the way Kenyan voters have been rejecting the notion of "six-piece voting". This was a strategy employed by national politicians in 2013 whereby they encouraged supporters to vote for the same party across all six levels of government. This was most beneficial to those candidates in the middle levels of the pyramid. Rather than establishing independent political identities, candidates for MCAs, MPs and senators could just provide money downwards to foster low-level loyalty for the party, while trading off the popularity of the national-level politicians above them.

When Odinga and Kenyatta have proposed six-piece voting in 2017, however, they have been heckled and booed at their own rallies. People don't want to just vote blindly for the same party in all the boxes; they want more say in what happens at the various levels.

We saw these new dynamics play out in the party primaries this April. Despite significant attempts at mobilisation, voters rejected incumbent MCAs, MPs and even governors who they believe have failed to deliver. Several key allies of national politicians failed to win their party's nomination.

Many of these figures are now running instead as independents, meaning that many ethnic groups have two or more powerful figures contesting key constituencies. This divides these ethnic kingdoms and presents a dilemma for political parties. On one hand, they need to appease loyalists by putting the force of the party behind each of their candidates; on the other, they need to court voters that support those popular independents that have left the party.

To date, leaders have responded to this conundrum by inviting some independent hopefuls to participate in party events, but this has led to public, and sometimes violent, clashes between supporters of the different candidates.

A new politics?

In 2017, voters are not just rejecting six-piece voting and exercising their judgements over local candidates beyond party loyalty. They are also being vocal and visible about it.

This is the first time in recent memory that we're seeing national political figures appear uncertain before their own supporters during their own rallies. The sight of Kenyatta, a sitting president, being heckled – not once, but fairly consistently during the election period - is novel. That people at a Odinga rally would shout anything that wasn't a synonym for ndio baba ("yes father") is unprecedented.

Of course, more things have changed in Kenyan politics since 2013 than those examined here. But these changes, amongst others, have thrown a significant measure of unpredictability into the landscape. Political punditry in Kenya has always been fixated on the ethnic question, but this time around, it's not going to be that simple. Ethnic loyalty is still important, but it is no longer absolute. Voters have changed, politicians are adapting, and everything is getting a lot more interesting.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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