Welcome to African-Women in Media Story Feature researched and being presented by Lubao FM reporter Ms. Everlyne Wanjala.
This feature story highlights the Challenges encountered by Women In Politics in the Republic of Kenya during and after elections, and successions, and also gives a picture of pre-election violence and how it affected women in politics in Mt. Elgon a place in Kenya.
In a country where patriarchal traditions have historically dominated the political landscape, Mt. Elgon Sub-County in the County of Bungoma, Kenya stands as a shining, and good example of the power and resilience of Women in Politics.
Mt. Elgon Sub-County is one of the 9 sub-counties in Bungoma County, in Kenya. This place habituates people of different tribes, and the most recognized tribes are three namely; Saboat, Bukusu, and Teso. Among the three tribes, the Saboat is the majority and the marginalized community in Bungoma County. People embrace culture and traditions more than anything else since they believe that women aren’t supposed to be leaders and their work is to give birth and care for the family by doing daily chores. This has become a significant hindrance to women in vying for elective posts in politics.
Even though it has been taken from these traditions, we have some women leaders who have broken loose these cultures and stepped forward to challenge them. The number of women that have engaged in politics is still minimal though there is a significant increase from one general electioneering year to the other.
Chesito is a village in Kaptama Ward in Bungoma County where I meet Susan Chepkosgei, a 42-year-old mother, politician, and preacher at the Pentecostal Church I Mt. Elgon. She was a councilor before the devolution of governments in Kenya through the 2010 Constitution. The councilor’s seat was named Member of County Assembly (MCA) after the promulgation of the new Constitution. Susan vied for the seat in the year 2007 and at the end of this interview she narrates how pre-election violence affected her currently the events that she encountered are still fresh in her mind considering that there was pre and post-election violence at her place in the year 2008 which claimed hundreds of lives and leaving thousands displaced homeless and in dire need of basic needs.
Ms. Susan Chepkosgei explained how Gender-Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation affect women in politics and women at the mountain at large.
“Election season was full of promises and aspirants were on fire running left and right persuading residents to vote them in and I too was in top gear to succeed in the race. I lost in the contest but I was nominated by the party and the aftermath befouled us all when tribal clashes began, neighbors became enemies to one another and cruelty sunk into people’s minds and evil took over. Houses were burnt, lives were lost, resources and properties were destroyed and pain overwhelmed us all as a community in Mt. Elgon. Other factors such as crime, Gender-Based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation, and teenage pregnancies became another menace for the community and the county at large. Those practicing FGM in the area are threatened and secretly practicing the act to achieve their qualification when they die to be buried honorably as per the culture. Fighting these practices were some of the things that motivated me to stand up for women and vie for the posts in our community” Ms Chepkosgei narrates painfully while speaking to Evelyne.
She also states the challenges that she faced when seeking the political party certificate at the primaries which she terms as a corrupt zone full of cartels that always looking for something to get in return, more so when you’re a woman. She states that the media personnel only focused on male counterparts while conducting coverage and offering them airtime for talk shows while terming them biased in their freedom of practice and thus urged media to be neutral in reporting matters of politics and always consider an equal share of the airtime allocation.
“Nowadays women have come out in large numbers to contest with men yet the media focus on them more than women since they have handouts to secure interviews and talk shows while ignoring women vying for the same position. When nominations came, I got over 13,000 votes emerging as the best in the primaries yet I didn’t secure my nomination certificate. They said I was not strong enough to handle the position. Women’s leadership is very influential and women always do development than men since they always want people to see that they can also do it and even better than men. All my time in politics, as administrator, I always looked at the interests of humankind and whatever I could do to make their lives better and developed.” Said Susan Chepkosgei.
Susan Chepkosgei has been a politician for 29 years and a strong member of the society in Mt. Elgon. She engaged in politics at a tender age and this made her encounter several challenges as she states. She was discriminated against due to her age but still succeeded in the election as MCA in a male-dominating field with a focus on delivering to her people. She served for her terms and lost the previous election.
“Politics is so sweet, once you get associated with it, you don’t want to leave. You can lose an election like me but still try any moment an opportunity shows up. When I was in my last campaign gear, I had so many enemies. Others even chased me at night and wanted to kill me. I had to change some routes so that I didn’t become obvious in my movements or else, opponents would even send gangs to come and hurt me through the normal roads I would use. I challenged them many times. The inferiority of women should not pull us down when desiring to contest for any political office. We are better and we work better than most men out there in power. If you check on statistics, few women leaders are having fraud-related corruption compared to men. This means that we are ethical and full of integrity in our services to the public.” Hon. Susan narrates during an interview.
About her next stand in politics, she didn’t put it clearly but her words suggest that she will still vie for elective posts in the future elections
She also seemed affected by the 2008 post-election violence that took so much from her and her family.
“The most threatening season in the political sessions of our land Kenya was in the year 2008. People lost humanity, dignity, and the human spirit. We turned out to be like animals in war. Society lost conscience and value for our heritage, neighbors, tribesmen, country, and leaders.” Susan said while remembering the dark chapter in our political nation.
Susan now is a senior member of a Women-Led Community Group formed with a mandate to support women’s empowerment in Mt. Elgon and across the nation. Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Initiative has helped many women to engage in politics since it’s an initiative comprised of women who are in politics and those willing to join politics. Susana says that it has helped many women in the western part of Kenya mostly in Bungoma County. She added that her being a pastor at the Pentecostal Church Chesito in Kaptama has played a big role in sensitizing women to engage in elective posts. During the interview, I got an opportunity and speak to Ms. Chebolawendi, one of the delegates in the initiative, and together with Susan they testified of the same.
There are other organizations that have come up to protect the rights of women in politics for example the Kenya Red Cross in Mt. Elgon have a series of meeting to educate people on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and the effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is now low evidenced in the place. James Kinyokie one of the vocal people in the organization, took time to explain their role as CSO in the fight against women harassment and Gender Based Violence among women and couples at large. They identify reported cases and push them through the legal apparatus to the furthest disciplinary arm of government as possible.
”So many women in politics reported numerous cases of Sexual harassment and gender-based violence among women in Bungoma County. We dealt with them according to the law. However, other victims could compromise the process by having out-of-court settlements. This has given this “sickness’ an opportunity to thrive since some people always get away with the crime based on the amount of money they can offer to silence the victim.” Says Mr. Kinyokie when saddened by the act.
As we look into the future we must embrace and continue encouraging women to take part in political contests for political offices and positions by ensuring their voices are heard and respected in the decision-making processes. This will encourage their involvement and inclusive governance and leadership. Media should practice professionalism by aligning their coverage to the code of conduct by being neutral in presenting their political coverage mostly in reporting on matters of politics. It’s high time for organizations to come up and educate the public on the importance of maintaining peace during and after elections.
Politics is an organ that we must all embrace and adopt with much integrity and service to the people.
By Evelyne Wanjala – Reporter for Lubao FM in Mount Elgon Sub-County of Bungoma County.