Martha karua 2012: Can Gender trump Tribe in the race to statehouse in Kenya?

Martha karua is a presidential candidate in the upcoming General elections in Kenya. She’s among those women who’ve perennially “made it” in politics in a very patriarchal society,against all odds. She epitomizes the idea of “strength of a woman” in spades!

She has held various ministerial positions,and she went on to become a minister in one of the most powerful ministries in kenya : ministry of justice cohesion and constitutional affairs. Martha Karua is one of  very few Kenyan politicians to ever resign a ministerial position: She resigned from the ministry of justice citing frustrations  by non-reformist in the kibaki government.   

Martha Karua hails from the Kikuyu ethnic community (tribe) from central province. This fact has never exactly, necessarily, mattered during all those times she’s been in politics. It does now.

Kenyatta and kibaki, first and third presidents of Kenya respectively, hail from the same Kikuyu ethnic community. The Kikuyu community happens to be the largest, numerically, and there has existed this feeling that the Kikuyu can monopolize the presidency to the end of the world. My guess is that if one was to tell a congregation that the end of the world is nigh, and then followed that with a quip that Kenyans should, therefore, not sweat the Kikuyu having the presidency, one would be run out of the church.I digress…

Back to the issue at hand. The complicated marriage between the presidency and tribe in Kenya stems from the perception (right or wrong) that once a tribe has the presidency,all it’s members benefit at the expense of the rest of the Kenyan population. It’s said that the Kenyatta presidency benefitted the Kikuyu, the Moi regime benefitted  the Kalenjin and now the kibaki regime is benefiting the Kikuyu. Again! The post election violence of ’07/’08 was actually a veiled opposition to kibaki’s (read:Kikuyu) second presidential term.

Martha Karua is campaigning to be the 4th occupant of “the house on the hill” as statehouse is christened by the 4th estate.  Unfortunately, she is a Kikuyu, and if some Kenyans had an issue with a Kikuyu presidency in 2007,  it can only be worse now.

It is to be noted here that Martha Karua has not exhibited that malady that afflict most Kenyan politicians: tribalism( negative ethnicity). She can’t  even lay claim to a “tribal voting block” given that most of her tribesmen and women are hell bent on ensuring Uhuru Kenyatta (son of the first president) becomes the 4th president of Kenya. Martha Karua seems to draw her support from across the country. I fear that all this is neither here nor there:Once she becomes popular enough, some of her detractors will just flash the tribal card and all that Kenyans will remember is her Kikuyu heritage.

However, her being a woman might -underline might- be an advantage on her side. Being the most visible woman presidential candidate may make her transcend the tribe issue. Women in Kenya have been on a political enlightenment path of late. They vigorously campaigned for the passage of the new constitution which guaranteed them various rights in all spheres of life including the  political sphere. Women also happen to form about 50% of the registered voters in Kenya and as such their political might behind Martha Karua should not be underestimated.

Having said that, however, we still live in a patriarchal society where “leader”, especially “political leader” connotes “man”. Women and men have routinely voted for men. This sorry state of affairs actually happens in most parts of the world, a case in point being US of A, where a very qualified woman, Hillary Clinton, was kicked to the kerb in favour of a man, Obama.

Chances of women voting for her enmasse are pretty slim, especially if the Kikuyu tag sticks. However, a saving grace in all this might be the fact that women are less tribal than men, and as such, if they are properly motivated, it’d be easier for them to transcend the parochial tribal politics  and elect her.

In fact, if this were to happen, it’d kill two birds with one stone: it’d deal political tribalism a major blow thereby uniting Kenyans, and it’d start us in the long journey to real gender equality.

As I’ve always put it, Gender inequality is a function of power differential, and real power is in politics, where policy decisions are made.   Once we have many women in politics, the term “leader” would start gradually gaining the hue of “person” rather than exclusively  man. More women in politics would also lead to gender-balanced legislation.

By the bye, it’s noteworthy  that women leadership in the corporate world will always lag behind political leadership. Given that Leadership leadership is mainly perception, if women cannot be seen as leaders in politics, the most visible form of leadership, they’ll always have it hard going convincing managers in their places of work of their potential as leaders. Most managers in the corporate world are men,and not because women cannot be leaders.

I’m held between a hard place and a rock when it comes to Martha Karua’s presidency. On the one hand, and as one of the many enlightened members of the Kikuyu community, I know that another Kikuyu presidency is not a very good idea. I know, from experience,that a presidency only benefits the president and his friends. I’d have adviced Martha Karua, and indeed all the other Kikuyu presidential candidates to take a break for about two terms. This would convince everyone in Kenya that their unhealthy fixation with the presidency is misplaced. It’d also help the country to, heal all these ethnic divisions wrought to us by presidency.

On the other hand, I recognize the many indirect benefits that might accrue to our young daughters in terms of women-leader role models courtesy of Martha Karua’s presidency.

In Martha Karua’s candidature   the hundred shilling question remains: what will win, gender or tribe?




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3 Responses to “Martha karua 2012: Can Gender trump Tribe in the race to statehouse in Kenya?”

  1. TheNinJA Ian (@ianTHe_Ninja) Says:

    i hope gender triumphs over tribe..because really ought to be given a chance

  2. Manyala Says:

    The tribal nature of our politics was perfected in our psyche by Kenyatta where he set the Kikuyu apart from the rest of the country. This will not be undone until we find a way of erasing this blot in our collective consciousness. And this can only be started with the children, even the youth are already wasted! Before this, the issue of women does not even come up

  3. Mikey Says:

    I disagree. Tribe is overinflated as an ill in Kenyan society. Biggest foe is corruption and impunity therefore the person best placed to address that is the best leader. And in this case, its obvious, no one has the guts and consistent stand needed to fight these evils like Martha Karua.

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