Negotiated Democracy & Council of elders as unseen roadblock to women leadership among the pastoralist’s communities in Northern Kenya
As the political temperature rises every passing day and the nation gradually succumbs to the political labor pain, here we are again in the noisy and deceptive campaign seasons across the length and breadth of the republic. The northern parts of Kenya too were not left behind in this momentary rush for change of guards and sanitization of the existing leadership as a custom after every cyclical 5 years period.
While the current crops of leaders were using the power of incumbency and the resources amassed mostly via dubious means to seek reelections, the new entrants and first time aspirants for various positions were also jogging as they embark on deconstruction of the incumbents basing on their failed promises and their inability to legislate crucial policies which will have led to social-economic empowerment of the electorates.
For the interest of this article, let me solely focus on the negotiated democracy, use of council of elders and its implication on women leadership among Pastoral communities in northern Kenya.
Though 2010 Kenya constitution mothered several clauses such as Article 26 (6) and Article 27 (8) as a safeguard to bridge gender inequality, while Article 81 (b) introduced the need for 2/3 gender rule with the aim of providing women with elective seats and other positions in certain proportion to their male counterparts, 12 years after historical promulgation of this new constitution, still a lot remain to be admired especially on gender parity in governance. It is not lost to us that this gender principle came to existence as result of decades of marginalization of women in matters of governance and their participation in democratic processes. The new constitutions courtesy of its proponents ushered in several reforms aimed at promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms of every citizen including women, youth and persons with disabilities.
But to date, there exist loud out cries among women bodies and some women leaders on how still women are unfairly targeted and elbowed out of key decision making process which had hindered their leadership aspirations and desire to offer themselves for some elective seats due to negotiated democracy used in identification of individuals for various elective seats among these pastoral communities.
Coming closer home, among the pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya especially those inhabiting Marsabit and Isiolo counties, the use of negotiated democracy and alliance formation for coalition building matrix deployed in the past two general elections and still remain in use had worked in contrary to the spirit and letter of the constitution thus inflicting severe pain among women folks.
For instance, in the past two general elections of 2013 and 2017, the predominant communities in these two regions seem to have mastered the arts of setting their eyes on coveted seats of governorship alone at the expense of overlooking other key seats such as the one for senatorial and women representatives. In most cases, these two seats are reserved for coalition partners in the spirit of forming an inclusive line-up that will display the face of the county, though at times these two seats had been again used as tools for exclusion of certain rivalry communities by being preserved for some minority communities within the county.
However, the ugly bit is the fact that it doesn’t matter who the coalition partners field for these seats as long as the names are fronted by council of elders from their respective communities regardless of individual merits and competencies. What defeats logic most is the fact about the composition and the know-how of this council of elders themselves when it comes to vouching for leaders for these various seats. To add more salts to injuries, most of this council of elders is illiterates or semi illiterates with only tacit knowledge and yet this wind of negotiated democracy has made them yield more crude powers and influence on matters of societal governance and leadership which in real sense they may know nothing about.
Sometime it is humiliating to see top scholars and professionals of highest repute who wanted to offer themselves for some of these elective positions subjected to dubious nonobjective process with already predetermined outcome and later cajoled by the same council of elders who in most cases operate under the mercy of the incumbent leaders since these leaders were their sole appointing authority with veto power to hire and fire them at will.
These are some of the monumental challenges and uphill tasks women who are vying for political seats among pastoralist communities are battling with. The recent reactions from the supporters of one of the aspirant (Mumina Gollo Bonaya) the former CAS in the ministry of education but now eyeing the position of women representative at Isiolo County is a practical case at hand in which the council of elders being manipulated by incumbent leaders ended up ignoring and overlooking the need for involvement of women in the process of identifying leaders for various elective seats for objective outcome.
The same wind of outcries was loudly heard from cross section of women and youths in Marsabit County too just a month ago following the pronouncement by the incumbents governor H.E Mohamud Ali and his Borana council of elders that his communities shouldn’t field any person for the seat of women representatives but that seats rather be preserved for coalition partners and yet already three women including the front runner Nominated Senator Hon Naomi Wako are battling it out for the said seat from the Borana community which Governor Ali hails from.
From these two account alone, we can easily deduce objectively the fact that the political system engineered by the council of elders who are exclusively men used by current leaders in office are still marginalizing and subjugating the women in contrast to the clauses in our constitution that guarantee the rights to equality and equal participation of both gender in democratic processes and in communal decision making.
The proponent of 2/3 gender rule envisioned the need to eliminate all forms of gender inequality and historically rooted patterns of practices and prejudices that lead to women exclusion and subordination in all key aspects of the societies. The failure by council of elders to put measures in place in addressing women needs and aspirations for political seats is a clear indication to perpetuate the status quo which will likely resort into women marginalization under the guise of negotiated democracies among the pastoralists in the northern Kenya.
Time is ripe for the communities to revisit and set procedures and standards on election and appointment of council of elders and their terms of references in order to have a lean lot of elders with a set education minimum comprising both gender and with distinguished knowledge of resources management and leadership. These elders in turn should be empowered to operate above reproach and to hold leaders into account a departure from how they were handled today by leaders in power. There is a need for a clear mechanism put in place as we approach this general election for women to compete favorably among themselves without any impediments from leaders or elders.
Two third gender principles are among other key principles which form the fulcrum and the pillar upon which the 2010 constitution was mounted for the primary reasons of inclusivity and gender nondiscrimination. Therefore, let’s aim to cultivate the need and spirit of giving women free space in both social economic spheres for healthy and sustainable growth of our beloved counties.
Other factors blocking women’s aspiration for leadership.
Gender bias and cultural stereotypes had been seen as among old barriers to women leadership by a significant body of research. In essence, Leadership entails overhaul shifts in one’s identity and continuously learning and acquiring skills and adapting to new roles. In most cases, communities undermine the above but inadvertently keep on pushing women to the periphery and later complain why women are not seeking leadership yet no policies and structural shift had been put in place resulting in a clear mismatch between how women are perceived and the qualities associated with leaders.
It is an uphill task for women to establish credibility and acceptance among most pastoral communities with a culture that is deep rooted on perception of when and how women practiced authority in the past. The story of Ako Abanoye was a living testimony among the Borana community. Her fierce and harsh rule compounded by gender role reversal which subjugated men and later led to protest from male gender resulting in her downfall. To date, borana has some saying which is aimed at preventing women ascension to power. Such as, ‘taa siiqe moti worr isin itimoti badh’ loosely translated as (a household rule by a woman is bound to fall).
There are many cultural norms also equating leadership with muscularity and behaviors associated with men thus carrying a wrong perception that women are not cut out for leaders. Most of the time among the several elective seats created courtesy of the 2010 constitution, women is not on the slate safe for the affirmative seat set aside for them. Many attribute the above to fear of women competing with their male counterparts or women lacking the right skills and expertise which wasn’t the case.
The above reasoning belie the notion that men and women are of different make when it comes to leadership and it further looks at leadership in a context – akin to ‘very difficult task” making most women shy off.
All these perceptions display cultural practice and structures which had been disadvantageous for women for so long. We need to have adequate understanding of existing gender bias otherwise many will be left with the usual stereotype on why women have failed to advance at par with men.
For communities to change their perception on women leadership, the existing gender biasness that is embedded in stereotypes and watered by cultural practices should be detected and reversed.
Let’s stop perceiving women on the premise of how they dress, how the walk, how they talk, how we feel when they are around us etc. this had led to negative perceptions which was only beneficial to beauty parlours, voice coaches, tailors and cosmetic shop owners since we have reduced their values to only what they will acquire for them to associate and compete favourably with men for leadership.
As a community, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are signatories to both regional and global instruments including The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The Declaration of Gender Equality in Africa among others.
“We know that when women are empowered, they immeasurably improve the lives of everyone around them—their families, their communities, and their countries.” Prince Harry, ‘Duke Of Sussex.’