Women who broke barriers to get elected

Tobiko shattered the myths, threats and intimidation to carry the day/MUTHONI NJUKI

Tobiko shattered the myths, threats and intimidation to carry the day/MUTHONI NJUKI

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 19 – Mary Wambui, Peris Tobiko and Millicent Mugadi will go down the annals of history as women, who tested the rough Kenyan political waters with both feet and emerged victorious during the March 4 General Election.

And while each weathered a storm unique to her condition, they each battled it out for the first time competing with seasoned men.

Wambui will be remembered as the successor to President Mwai Kibaki as Othaya Member of Parliament, with the outgoing leader having represented the area for 34 years.

Tobiko will be celebrated for being the first woman to become Kajiado East Member of Parliament, in the highly patriarchal Maasai community that does not advocate for the ascension of women to leadership positions.

And Mugadi will be feted for being the first and only elected female ward assembly representative from Nairobi County, the cosmopolitan capital whose politics is murkier than those in the rest of the counties.

“I was competing with seven people and on a daily basis I had to deal with seven forms of propaganda,” says Mugadi when Capital FM News caught up with her in Nairobi.

The propaganda, she says, included insults that would manifest themselves in unflattering photoshopped images disseminated across social media and other platforms to dissuade the electorate from voting her in.

Some of these images went viral almost tormenting her into giving up her political ambitions.

But Mugadi, who once represented Kenya in the Pan African reality satellite television show, the Big Brother Africa house, stood her ground and garnered the Ziwani Ward representative seat with 3,816 votes.

“Getting insulted and rejected by people I thought would support me was a big challenge. Some of them were my friends and even family and seeing them support the other person was quite hurtful,” she recalls.

And instead of allowing her competition to get the better of her, Mugadi would pick herself up, dust off and embark on yet another campaign to sell her policies and redeem her image.

“They would focus their propaganda on areas where they knew I had support but I realised that it is not always that everyone will be on your side,” she argues.

Tobiko had to fight another battle all together; that of deeply rooted tradition.

The married mother of four, including a breast feeding baby, was vying for an elective post that had already been set aside for a man.

After all, women already had the woman representative seat reserved for them. And it was expected that Tobiko should go battle it out with fellow women.

All odds were against her in a community famed for its chauvinistic approach to women seeking leadership.

“The men ganged up after the nomination and they were whipping up the people’s emotions. They even got the elders’ on their side so the curses and threats started coming up,” she recalls.

Tobiko who already faced the daunting task of getting her husband’s approval especially when she got home past godly hours, still had to balance out her duties as a parent.

But securing the support of her male family members did not mean that the jeering songs and awful threats would go away.

“They said I will die before the elections and that I would not pull through. The elders would even say that I would go down with the sunset but of course that didn’t happen,” she says heartily.

And in the end Tobiko shattered the myths, threats and intimidation to carry the day in an outcome that caused a seismic effect across Maasai land catapulting her to national acclaim.

“My win gives all of us hope. I now have to grapple with the high expectations like youths who are waiting for jobs,” she says.

Wambui’s bid to succeed President Kibaki had been well received until the Head of State deviated from his magisterial silence on his preferred candidates by openly endorsing her rival Gichuki Mugambi.

The businesswoman had to brave public humiliation after she was barred from two of Kibaki’s visits to the constituency in the run-up to the elections.

And even though one of those visits included one to a school she had generously donated to electorates a week to the polls, Wambui remained undeterred holding her head high.

“It was a tough fight against eight men but now, I ask my rivals to come together so that we can take Othaya forward,” she said when she received her winner’s certificate.

“I promise them I will fulfil all the development pledges I made to them and I will officially return to thank them,” she added.

Prejudice against women rising to power still remains entrenched in vast parts of the country but victory for the trio could signal the slow process towards an attitude change that will give women a greater representation in the country’s elective leadership.

Their win could also positively speak to other women who are still afraid of venturing out, citing various excuses including difficulties in accessing resources.

“Two of my competitors had a lot of money which I clearly didn’t but in the end my vision appealed to them more,” says Mugadi.

“I raised funds from my family members and my brothers were very supportive but I only needed logistical support to move around. What sold me to the people were development projects I had initiated including a number of boreholes,” argues Tobiko.