BY NJERI KABEBERI
I wish to start by congratulating Chris Kirubi for his bold and unequivocal article headlined ‘Kenya is ready for a woman President’, because indeed I cannot agree with him more.
For forty six years this country has not only consistently voted for male presidents and generally a strong male leadership, but we have also been seriously shortchanged by the same male leadership that we have elected.
The hope and optimism that Kenyans had at independence in 1963 were soon dashed after the African government was unable to meet a lot of the independence promises especially on land reform, poverty eradication, education and health for all.
The dignity of the African which Kenyans fought for was soon to be abused by the very leadership that the freedom fighters had placed in power. Kenya must be one of the few countries in the world completely unable to honour its freedom fighters through both deed and word.
Subsequent governments of Presidents Moi and Kibaki have continued to not only short-change Kenyans but add to the misery by engaging in human rights atrocities, corruption malpractices and ethnic bigotry that has denied the ‘Nation’ Kenya from developing economically, socially and politically as well as assuming its rightful place as an African and global leader.
A recent research (April 2009) conducted by the Centre for Independent Research (CIR) commissioned by Media Focus on Africa Foundation (MFAF) found that 53.7 percent of Kenyans are financially dependent on the 46.3 percent of their relatives or friends who work. That is a sign of high levels of poverty and joblessness.
Meanwhile, despite the struggle for a new constitution for close to two decades, the country is still operating with a Constitution that essentially is unable to respond to issues of historical injustices as highlighted under agenda item four of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, 2008 (land, poverty, inequity, impunity, idling jobless youth, national cohesion among others).
Consistently there has been a lack of political goodwill to truly and totally work for the Kenyan nation. That is why for me Chris Kirubi’s statement is not only welcome but also timely.
The world over has to-date elected at least forty four Women Presidents and forty two women Prime Ministers. These women are not extra-ordinary individuals but your normal woman with families; with children, young, old, married, divorced, unmarried, professors, trade unionists, human rights defenders, ordinary workers, Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike and this since 1940 when the first woman president was elected as Head of State of the Peoples Republic of Tummu Tuva (later incorporated into the former Soviet Union) – President Khertek Anchimaa-Toka. The first woman Prime Minister; Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri-Lanka was elected in 1960.
Some of the more known Presidents and Prime Ministers are from Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Among them is President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, President Mary Robinson of Ireland who later became the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, 2nd woman president of Ireland who was elected among five other women candidates with only one male candidate who finished a distant last!
Others are Presidents Maria Corazón S. C. Aquino of the Philippines where a second woman president was elected in 2001 and is still in power, Executive President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In Prime Ministers, names like Indira Ghandi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway – elected three times!, Benazir Bhutto – first woman Premier of a Muslim country – Pakistan, Sylvie Kinige of Burundi, Agatha Uwilingiyimana first woman premier to be assassinated in office – in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.
A most interesting finding is the Republic of San Marino where to date they have had at least nine women presidents. San Marino is a country in the Apennine Mountains; is a landlocked enclave and completely surrounded by Italy. It is one of Europe’s microstates and has the smallest population (30000, inclusive of 1000 foreigners) in the Council of Europe.
San Marino is the oldest sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, having been founded on September 3, 301. The Constitution of San Marino, enacted in 1600, is the world’s oldest constitution still in effect. The constitution of San Marino requires that every six months, the General Council elects two Captain Regents to be the Heads of State. The Regents are chosen from opposing parties so there is a balance of power. They serve a six-month term.
So, clearly very many countries have had women presidents and premiers both elected and nominated according to the different country’s electoral system.
We however also need to discuss Kenya’s electoral system as we discuss the election of a woman president. The current system which is the plurality-majority system also referred to as ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) system has not been friendly to women political candidates. Whereas its advantages are that it is simple to work with, the fact that it’s a winner-take-all system may by its very nature shortchange citizens of fair representation. A case in point is Makadara constituency where the winning MP received 17 percent of all the registered voters and the other 83 percent votes do not count in our system.
There is need to examine whether a combined electoral system that allows for both constituency representation through the FPTP and Proportional Representation (PR) where every vote counts and political parties then receive quotas for parliamentary representation according to the number of votes a party has garnered.
Under the PR system a political party in the end only gets as many seats as the proportion of the votes obtained overall and this way every vote cast counts. A Mixed Member Proportion (MMP) system would combine the positive attributes of FPFP systems (such as clear geographical links to representatives) and proportional representation where every vote counts under the PR system.
In addition to changing the electoral system, there are new values we need to uphold in relation to elections; that indeed money, violence and macho-ism all favouring male candidates should stop being the guiding principles for winning or voting candidates to power.
Instead we should vote for candidates who first and foremost have capacity to deliver on their promises and this can only be proven through genuine track record. In addition, as a people we should embody values of respect of human rights for all – including and especially the right to life, transparent and accountable systems of governance, equality and equity for all Kenyans irrespective of gender, ethnicity and physical or other ability.
Furthermore, Kenya needs a general inclusivity and participative mind-set so that in both policy and attitude we exclude none but actually include all.
So as we maintain this debate let us also continue working on that which hinders good leadership in this our beloved country, Kenya. Both the change in the electoral system and the change of attitude that will allow for not only a better opportunity for a woman president to be elected in Kenya but a better opportunity for leaders of integrity.
(Njeri Kabeberi is the Executive Director, Centre for Multiparty Democracy – Kenya)