NAIROBI, Kenya, June 17 – You would have been forgiven for thinking that you mistakenly walked into the wrong banquet hall.
Far from the sombre mood that you would expect to pervade a gathering of members of the disciplined forces, there was singing and dancing.
And led by none other than the Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo who on hearing the familiar strains of the Shaggy song Strength of a Woman, as played by the police band, lifted her hands, moved away from the ‘high table’ and created her own dance floor; taking embattled Interior Principal Secretary Monica Juma with her.
Juma who on being introduced to those present for the opening of the National Conference for Women in the Security Sector got a “standing ovation,” as the Master of Ceremony described the claps and cheers that greeted her name.
But the time for introductions was over and now it was time to dance. And dance they did, Omamo taking British High Commissioner Christian Turner by the hand and leading him to the dance floor to enlarge her dance circle.
There he found a clapping and swaying Juma with whom he embraced.
And when the circle broke, a festive Omamo moved the party to the police band that had started the festivities in the first place with their rendition of Strength of a woman.
Perhaps she had been so moved by the song because it was the crux of her address to the gathering of women in the security sector who included Juma, her former Principal Secretary, recently rejected by the National Assembly as the Presidential nominee for the post of Secretary to the Cabinet.
“We’re going nowhere,” she said in a passionately delivered speech with undertones of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, “they may want us to fail but we will succeed.”
The only ‘they’ in the audience was bow tie clad Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji who made the first address in his capacity as Chairman of the Defence and Foreign Relations committee of the National Assembly before making a hasty exit.
“I just hope this isn’t being aired live because I really should be on the floor of the house,” he attempted to joke.
When it was Juma’s turn at the microphone, she said nothing of her tribulations – Gethenji’s counterparts plotting her removal from the public service – and spoke broadly of the challenges women in the security sector face.
She had been invited to give the key note address on, ‘Women’s role in the security sector: A practitioner’s perspective.’
“Even look at simple things like boots, security contractors manufacture them from a size 9 and some of us women wear a size 3. And yet, security is no longer a bouncer body type affair,” she said.
A testimonial video of the first woman to fly a chopper in the Kenya Defence Forces, become an electrical engineer, fly a fighter jet, she said, proved that girls needed to be facilitated to study math and physics.
“Labs in boys’ schools are better than girls’ because people imagine they should be studying things like drama and the arts.”
The intelligence services, she said, could obtain a wealth of information from chamas. “We’re talking about Nyumba Kumi and yet these women’s groups are invaluable.”
And when the media attempted to obtain a more personal account of her tribulations as a woman in the security sector, namely the National Assembly target on her back, Omamo transformed from dancing queen to bulldog.
“We’re here to celebrate the women you can see behind us. We want positive stories of the stereotypes they’ve had to overcome to be among the few women we have in the front lines,” she chided.
And to Juma, “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry, because if the National Assembly Chairman of the Administration and National Security committee Asman Kamama has his way, Juma will be relegated to the back of the parade.
“I’ve worked closely with her and it would be a great loss to the public sector,” Omamo conceded before wrapping her arm around Juma and leading her away from the glare of the cameras.