Wangari Maathai, Charity Ngilu, Martha Karua: Political Moments and the Legacies of ‘Mama’

“Leadership is not simply a matter of filling the top positions in a government. Nor is it a quality restricted to the ambitious, the elite, the politically gifted, or the highly educated. Indeed, not every person in a leadership position is truly a leader” – Wangari Maathai, ‘The Challenge For Africa’ (2009).

A good place to start would be the 1997 General Elections. Charity Ngilu, who was already a household name after capturing the Kitui central in Kenya’s first ever multiparty elections held in 1992, announced that she would be running for the presidency on a Social Democratic Party (SDP) ticket. “Ma saa na Ngilu”, for those who remember. We all cheered for this gallant politician who arrested our imagination when she stormed out of Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DP) and boldly struck out for the country’s top job despite a relatively short career in politics. And then, several months to the election, Wangari Maathai, too, announced that she was vying for the top job. The results? Moi won, of course. Kibaki came second, Raila, third and Ngilu managed a respectable 5th place, one notch higher than the late Martin Shikuku. As for Maathai, she came third from last in those elections with 0.07% of total votes cast.

With today’s news that Charity Ngilu will be seeking the presidency in the 2013 General Elections, one cannot help but feel that history is somewhat repeating itself. Martha Karua, the proverbial long-distance runner, launched her presidential bid a couple of years ago, and has been on the campaign trail ever since. Now Karua has company in the form of ‘Mama Rainbow’. It may be political naivete to ask, but would anyone serious about campaigning for the presidency launch a bid with only five months to the polls? Prior to her campaign announcement, wasn’t she on record that she would support Raila’s presidential ambitions? These questions may seem to you, rhetoric or a display of my ignorance, but allow me to continue.

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Engineering a New Breed of Kenyan Women Politicians

Disclaimer: The letter below is meant for diasporadical purposes only. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

To whom it may concern,

Even as we will endeavour to attain the 33% minimum female representation in future Parliaments (as enshrined in the new Constitution), I believe there must be a shift of focus from just considering the numbers to a closer examination of the calibre and character of the women political representatives themselves.
Not to understate the importance of this 33% critical mass but it is crucial we start examining the specific women vying for public office, considering their educational and professional training, religious views, family and social background, temperament, other idiosyncracies and overall personality. All these other variables will assist Kenyan voters and taxpayers alike to determine what qualitative impact a particular woman candidate will make once she sets foot into parliament or any other public office in the land.
The required 33% of our current number of 222 MPs comes to about 73 women MPs. So the question which I ask is: would you want 73 Sally Kosgey’s or 73 Charity Ngilu’s or 73 Martha Karua’s or 73 Esther Murugi’s?

I’m sure the majority of you would obviously say none of the above and would opt for a mixture of these women politicians based on their individual strengths and weaknesses so as to arrive at a well-rounded and suitable woman politician, if it were possible. In the animal and plant kingdoms, this selection of attributes from various species is known as ‘breeding’.

So allow me to suggest, hypothetically, two possible “breeds” of Kenyan women politicians.

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Daily Dozen: 22/11

- David Rudisha for President! [IAAF]
- “Charity begins at home, even with Tenders” [DN]
- Pope Benedict says condoms are ok. But really, who goes to an 83 year old German virgin for advice on sex? [Guardian]
- “Our Loud Cry” [Africa On The Blog]
- “Cece Winans was here” [Hot Secrets]
- “Kenya Matters” [Ethan Zukerman]
- Attention multimedia lovers, the Nokia N8 is here. [Moses Kemibaro]
- More Problems with Safaricom 3G [KG]
- What you will never know about some of Kenya’s pilots [Kumekucha]
- Starting a Business Abroad: Fact-Finding Mission [Inari Media]
- China Buys Up the World [Economist]
- Who Needs Marriage? A Changing Institution [Time]

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