Outlaw 'negotiated democracy'

Outlaw 'negotiated democracy'

National Assembly chambers. Parliament recently burnt the midnight oil to pass the Political Parties (Amendment) Bill.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Negotiated democracy is a practice that is synonymous with the whole of northern Kenya, not just the former North-Eastern Province as presumed.

It is historically a negotiation by men for men within the various clans to choose a suitable male candidate to represent a locality.

Patriarchy and the advent of Islam in some of the communities have given men tacit power to dominate politics in the north.

The patriachal men were uncomfortable with leadership by women as they considered them physiologically weaker than and unable to carry out physical duties as men, such as going to war and herding animals through dangerous terrains. The position of a woman was always that of a home maker. Her place was at home as a wife, mother, cook and cleaner.

Fast-forward to independent Kenya. Negotiated democracy justified leaving women out of active politics because they were deemed illiterate and less intelligent than men to understand the complex world of politics.

Traditionally, girls were excluded from formal education, which undermined their literacy success. It is, in fact, true that previous generation of women (circa my mother’s) from the north lacked education and skills that could prepare them for a career in politics. But it is not the case now, when education for girls is compulsory and more enrol in schools and institutions of higher learning.

The perception of women in the north as illiterate and weak continues despite the number of women graduates going up year on year. Northern women now work as doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, engineers and so forth but are still deemed unsuitable for elective political seats.

Only a handful have been elected and a few lucky to be nominated. A man, even a semi-literate one, will be given blessings by the clan to vie for a seat than a highly educated woman simply because he is a man.

If the discrimination of women in the north is brought on by Muslim beliefs, then it really does not hold water. Prophet Muhammad said that ‘educating a woman is educating a nation’. His own wife, Khadija, was a highly educated and successful businesswoman who enjoyed immense freedom to follow her own pursuits independent of her husband.

Many progressive Muslim countries have allowed women not just to be educated but trade and run for political office. In 1997, Iran, a majority Muslim country, appointed a woman, Massoumeh Ebtekar, Vice-President.

Another Muslim-Arab country, Tunisia, recently appointed its first female Prime Minister, Najla Bouden. Female political representation in Tunisia shot to 47 per cent after a change in the law that advocated parity and alternation of men and women in political seats.

That is the vision that is required in Kenya to help increase women participation in politics in northern and upper eastern Kenya. The failure by Parliament to enact the two-thirds gender rule is playing into the hands of the proponents of male-dominated ‘negotiated’ democracy.

The most effective way to start increasing the number of women in politics in the north is to, first, outlaw the practice of negotiated democracy that favours male candidates over female ones. Secondly, there must be a deliberate effort by the government to encourage more women into politics by supporting equality laws.

The ball is in Parliament’s court to ensure that the two-thirds gender bill is legislated to give more women a chance to participate in politics. And there is nowhere more deserving of that than the northern region.

This is a part of the country in need of economic and social development for all genders, and locking out 50 per cent of the population that comprises of women is not going to help it realise meaningful progress. Parliament contradicted itself when it said women should fight it out with men in politics than seek an easy way to Parliament through the two-thirds gender rule but then supports negotiated democracy that locks out the very women.

The idea that the Woman Representative seat should satisfy women highlights the condescending way with which women are perceived. One seat allocated to one woman is not, and will never be, enough to solve deep-seated challenges women face in the country.

If anything, their representation needs to equal or bypass that of men, especially in the north, where women lag their counterparts in other parts of the country on social, economic and political spheres. Northern counties need to have all hands on deck, not discriminatory cultural beliefs that hamper development.

Let 2022 be the year that Kenya enacts the two-thirds gender rule, to give the next parliament a 50-50 gender balance in accordance with the law. If Parliament burnt the midnight oil to pass the political parties bill; it can sit and pass the equality bill to give women an equal footing in politics in the next parliament.

However, Kenya must first outlaw negotiated democracy. It is no democracy but a discriminatory concept out to deny northern women rights to determine their social, political and economic futures.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. @kdiguyo