Democracy is a means through which inclusion can be achieved in political participation and representation at all levels of government. In Kenya’s democracy, political parties act as key institutions that citizens use to delegate leadership and have their freely expressed will exercised.
Parties represent views, values and perspectives held by its membership who can then actualize their vision if elected to office. They also serve as the line through which citizens emerge as elected representatives and key political decision makers.
Inequality in the participation of women, youth, persons living with disabilities and other marginalized groups is still evident in Kenya especially among major political outfits. A quick glance at most political parties’ leadership structures shows that these groups are yet to achieve effective representation which presents a risk of non-prioritization of their issues and interests. With the minimal representation and amplification of the interests of special interests groups, it’s difficult for their issues to be prominent in party manifestos and agendas even as the election campaigns gain momentum. If the party’s agenda and objective is unclear going into an election, the chances of members, once elected to office, championing special interest groups would be slim.
It is, therefore, key that issues of gender imbalances and exclusion of minorities are objectively looked into even as the 9th August 2022 general election draws closer. The approaching party primaries will greatly influence the calibre of leaders who’ll be driving the legislative agenda in Parliament. The influence a political party commands and its popularity in different regions in the country almost guarantee victory for any candidate who gets to fly their ticket. If political parties, as institutions, are truly committed to the betterment of the lives of Kenyans then inclusion should be a priority in their agenda.
To ensure inclusion, there must be effort to guarantee openness, transparency and fairness in the party primaries. Minorities have long been disadvantaged owing to factors such as lack of networks and lack of financial muscle to influence decisions and gain visibility compared to their more seasoned opponents. The high party membership costs also need to be reconsidered to ensure that women, youth and persons living with disabilities have a fair opportunity to hold a position in a political party and compete fairly. If more youth, women and PWDs secure party tickets, the likelihood of them winning at the ballot is much higher. As of February 2021, only 21.6% of seats in Parliament were held by women, yet there’s an almost equal gender split according to the last census. This means Kenya has fallen short of the two-thirds gender rule enshrined in the Constitution. Through increased party representation and adherence to the two-thirds gender principle in the party lists, political parties could play a very key role in bridging this representation gap in leadership.
With a diverse set of leaders, we’re also likely to see policy and legislation that is responsive to the realities of minorities. In addition to that, more numbers of special interest groups in legislative bodies, Parliament and County Assemblies, would mean that this group of lawmakers would have the numbers to prevent attempts that erode the gains made for special interest groups.
In a research we released in 2020 dubbed the “Invisible Minority”, we found that despite the provisions of the Political Parties Act requiring gender balance in the party governing councils, most parties are yet to comply. The effect of this non-compliance is that young women are excluded from being part of the machinery that controls the patronage network.
Political parties and their respective leaders have an opportunity to not only influence how parties conduct themselves during the primaries but to make history by securing the place for minorities in the leadership of the country.
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