Representational politics in Kenya
There is nothing particularly novel or earthshaking about the above four quotesthe first three ‘borrowed’ from a 1992 study2. What is significant about them is that despite more than three decades that separate the first three quotes from the last one, they are describing a reality on the status and challenges of women participation and representation in politics that has not fundamentally altered in the intervening period between 1977 and 2012. This then speaks to the gendered and patriarchal nature of power relations between men and women3, best manifested in the persisting marginality of women in formal politics and key power centers in many countries around the world, including Kenya, and the continuing and fierce political resistance to democratizing political rules of engagement to facilitate the equitable and fair participation and representation of both genders and special interest groups. Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising, that no government has ever fallen because of it policies towards women; but Kenya could become the first, unless the gender rule is complied with before the next elections. In the meantime, as the Women Shadow Parliament WSP(K) 2008 Rapid Assessment and Gender Audit report has noted, the gendered nature of power relations has for decades ensured that women’s numerical strength do not translate into political capital and influence, and hence most women remain largely as voting tools for men, to whom political parties turn to as an electoral force and are enthusiastic for their participation only for the purpose of mustering votes for the party’s presidential, parliamentary and local government candidates. Most women thus continue occupying limited roles at the lower and intermediate levels of the organization, where they serve as organs for mobilizing women for elective purposes.4 The 2010 Kenya Constitution (hereby ‘the Constitution’), was in part responding to this gendered power relations, by providing for Affirmative Action5 (hereby,’ AA’), through measures that would ensure greater participation, representation and influence of women in all governance institutions, including political parties. In this latter connection, it is the contention of this paper that the current fierce contestations in respect to the implementation of the “no more than two thirds” gender rule as contained at article 27(8) and 81(b) of the Constitution, are politically inspired and mirror the wider political representational power struggles, whose gender dimension has always taken the form of consolidation and institutionalization of patriarchal norms and preserving legal frameworks and policies that constrain and/ or exclude women from political governance. The representational provisions as provided in various parts of the Constitution and especially Articles 27(6 & 8), 81(b) and 100, have fundamentally altered the existing political rules of engagement and threaten to disrupt the gendered power distribution in a manner that may negatively impact on the vested political interests of some of the current male power holders. Indeed, the final phase of the constitutional making process that led to the omission of a constitutional mechanism to give effect to the ‘two thirds gender principle in respect to representation in Parliament, was not, in my view, an accident but a result of the compromises that had to be made to retain Articles 27(6 & 8), and 81(b). Those legislators currently opposed to this Gender rule and calling for its repeal instead of developing a mechanism for its implementation, had at the time, wrongly assumed that the application of these provisions would be progressive rather than immediate and mandatory. The current resistance by some male legislators to the passing of the 2011 Constitutional Amendment Bill (that provides a mechanism for implementing this Gender rule, is a logical next step, in the struggle by the dissenting patriarchs, to retain the political status quo and to undermine the creation, through AA, of a level political playing field for all Kenyans, ahead of the 2013 general elections. Despite the obvious legal and political reality that failure to implement the gender rule is not an option (as it would nullify in totality the outcome of the impending 2013 elections), the gatekeepers against gender equity and equality in political representation, have shifted their struggle towards proposing untenable formulae as alternatives to the passing of the 2011 Constitutional Amendment bill. The introduction of new formulae and alternatives appears to me, to be a delaying tactic to prolong the legislators’ stay in power, as they wait for the inevitable to happen- namely, the creation of a mechanism to give effect to the two thirds gender rule. When the inevitable does happen, it would hopefully ensure that the post 2013 election Parliament and all other elective and appointive public governance institutions would have no less than one third women representation. On this, Kenya would merely be following a trail already beaten by over 26 countries around the world, including most of its Eastern African neighbors led by Rwanda-that also leads in the world with 56.3 %. parliamentary representation of women; South Africa with 42.3% standing at position 8 globally; Tanzania at position 18 with 36.0 %; Uganda in position 19 with 35.0 %, and Burundi at position 29 with 30.5 %, while Kenya trails at position 113, with 9.8%6. In my view, the key issue is no longer whether legislators will eventually comply with this constitutional requirement, but rather when and how. This is the point of departure for this paper. I therefore argue that whereas Kenya is lagging way behind regional and global averages in respect to women’s political representation, which currently stand at 20.3% and 20.2% women respectively7, it has now an opportunity to seize this political moment ahead of the 2013 elections, to redeem itself, by legislating the implementation mechanism for the two thirds gender rule; and in so doing, learn from and adopt the best practices from the African countries that have already attained the minimum female gender representation threshold. This would ensure that gender equitable representation goes beyond formal / descriptive to substantive representation. Thus, rather than expending time debating the inevitable, this transitional period prior to the 2013 Elections is an important opportunity for working out strategies and setting out rules and standards on how to hold accountable all future political representatives (both elected and nominated), to all Kenyan citizens. In this connection, part of this paper examines whether, beyond the current preoccupation with attaining the requisite numbers of women in the post 2012 governing institutions, the attainment of gender equitable representation could galvanize the process of engendering and democratizing governance, in a manner that results in making representation meaningful in the lived realities of the represented groups and individuals. The next part of this paper examines the conceptual issues around women’s participation and political representation in general and its gender dimension in particular. This is followed by an examination of global and regional experiences with AA quotas and some of the implications of these for the Kenyan case. Thereafter, this paper examines Kenya’s women’s past experiences and challenges with political representation and what signals these provide, as we look ahead beyond the adoption of the two third gender rule and the outcome of the 2013 elections. The final part of the paper seeks to provide some policy and action oriented recommendations.