Thursday, July 28, 2016

Godspeed, Njeri

My friend Njeri wants to be Nairobi City County's next Woman Representative. If she does so merely to represent the interests of women voters, I shall disown her. If she does so merely to acquire the post-nominal letters "MP" after her name, I shall disown her. If she does so merely so that she can get a fat salary, even fatter allowances and the chance to wangle an uji tender out of the Ministry of Education, I shall disown her. In fact, if she behaves in any way like the current Woman Representative of Nairobi City County, I shall disown her.

But she assures me that she has a programme that will be of benefit to the voters of Nairobi City County. Her focus will, obviously, be on woman empowerment and I hope that her focus will not just be for the upliftment of women but also that such upliftment will lead to an overall improvement in the quality of life for the residents of Nairobi City.

Since the promulgation of the constitution and the election of the Jubilee government, there have been a few incidents that have given us pause. Woman police officers are discriminated against by their superiors. When one recalls how Grace Kaindi, the seniormost woman police officer, was hounded out of office to how Linda Okello became the subject of disciplinary proceedings and salacious gossip because of her officially-provided tight-fitting uniform to that unfortunate woman police officer who was assaulted by the Deputy President's helicopter pilot, the question of the place of women in this man's government is plain for all to see. Let us also recall that the Jubilee government did the bare minimum when it come to the representation of women in the national Cabinet.

We recall, too, the remarkable judgment on appeal of a court in Mombasa where the female victim of a sexual offence was blamed for enticing her attacker. The reasoning of the male judge in favour of the male offender paint  picture of a system that simply doesn't recognise the worth of women in Kenya. We must surely recall the murder of a thirteen year old girl, in the dead of night, by armed police who attempted to cover up their crimes. Despite the progress made int he education of the girl child and the empowerment of women in society, we have a long way to go and perhaps, Njeri may offer her services to this worthy cause.

Njeri must be careful, though, and not lose her way. Our Parliament has a very long and unenviable history of taking intelligent and honourable parliamentarians and turning them into caricatured gargoyles hellbent on robbing the poor taxpayer blind. She must never forget that we do not owe her anything; she came to us, she sought out our vote, she campaigned for the office. If she is elected, so be it. But if she is elected, she must never forget that we are her voters and her constituency, not her serfs or indentured servants to be talked down to and condescended to. If she adopts the same attitude that the current Woman Representative has, she will be no better than the charlatans who have promised the moon but instead delivered chaff.

A word of caution, however. The office of Woman Representative is not an office for the representation of the interests of women but an office established ion order to raise the participation of women in Parliament. If it is seen as an office for the exclusive representation of women's issues, it will never amount to much. Those elected to that office could, of course, focus on women's issues but that would merely expose them for the uncritical thinkers they are. Woman Representatives represent the entire county in Parliament just as do senators, but they do so in the National Assembly, a vastly more important House of Parliament than the Senate. Woman representatives have an opportunity to influence the national Executive in important ways through their participation in the budget-making process. That so far they have failed to do so is an indictment of their paucity of ideas and their tendency to behave like socialites or flower girls of the current crop of woman representatives. I hope Njeri doesn't fall into this trap when she is elected.

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