03 April 2013

Interesting new leaders for Kenya

Peris Tobiko is a 42-year-old mother of four who made history in March when she became the first Maasai woman elected to Kenya’s Parliament. Despite significant challenges, Tobiko defeated four men in the race to represent the Kajiado East constituency in Kenya’s Rift Valley province. During Tobiko’s campaign, Maasai elders publicly declared that they would curse anyone who voted for her, she says. Her opponents also urged community members not to vote for her, saying it defied their culture to elect women as leaders.

She says her win in the March 4 elections marks a milestone for her and other women in the Maasai community, a nomadic herding people. She says her community does not value the education of girls, and families marry off their daughters as soon as they reach puberty. Her father wanted to educate all his children but occasionally succumbed to community pressure.

Twice, her father attempted to pull Tobiko out of school and marry her to older men, she says. Both times, she avoided the marriage. “My elder sisters were pulled out of school and married off, but I was lucky that teachers intervened in my case,” Tobiko says. “I was performing well, so teachers wanted to keep me in school.”

“I believe if women are empowered economically, men will be the ones calling for affirmative action.”

36-year old Linet Kemunto Nyakeriga (pictured) was born blind. In Kenya's recent election, she was nominated to represent people with disabilities in Kenya's inaugural 67-member Senate. “I have committed to myself to use this new opportunity to articulate issues of people with disabilities in the Senate."

Additionally, Sammy Leshore (who is confined to a wheelchair) and Harun Kipchumba (who is physically handicapped) were both nominated as Senators representing people with disabilities.

This teenager made history in Kenya by winning a county assembly seat. Nineteen-year-old Kibiwott Munge, won in Baringo, becoming the youngest Kenyan to clinch a political seat in an election.

“This is a victory for young people and a clear indication they have what it takes to lead this country,” said Mr Munge in his acceptance speech.

Silvance Osele Onyango, the 26-year old new Member of Parliament, was raised in a remote village. 

"I have been touched by the fact that the youth have always been viewed as leaders of tomorrow, a situation that has hindered their development. I am waiting for Parliament to kick-off so that I introduce bills which will enhance livelihoods of the youth," Osele stated.

There is an unprecedented number of women in the 11th Parliament - most of them young - who have been handed free seats courtesy of the Constitution. After one of the most high-profile campaigns in Kenya's history, 87 of the 416 seats in the House and Senate will be held by women. Previously, just 22 women sat in the old 222-seat Parliament, which did not have a Senate. 

While the ‘two-thirds rule’of the Constitution requires that another 52 women be nominated by political parties before 2015, for MPs, civil society, and UN Women, the next step is to ensure this process is conducted swiftly and fairly.

Senate Speaker Ekwee Ethuro (centre) and nominated Senator Zipporah Kittony
do a jig at a dinner for members of the new House, following their swearing-in.
Close to three quarters of the elected members of the National Assembly are newcomers to Parliament. Out of the 349 members, only 58 members of the Tenth Parliament made it back to the National Assembly in the March 4 election.

Kenya’s Asian community has largely remained apolitical, choosing instead to build clout through business. But a new wind is blowing across the nation, and that wind has brought three Asian MP's. For Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabir, Embakasi South’s Irshad Sumra and Imenti North’s Abdul Rahim Dawood (pictured), this election was not about familial or cultural numbers, but about ideas, policies, and promises.

Wesley Korir won the Boston Marathon last year and this year was voted in as one of Kenya's new Members of Parliament. He proved that he's not only about running; he can also inspire! If he wins at Boston again next month, he'll be the first MP in the world to win a marathon.

April 20, 2013 Update
Wesley Korir came in fifth in this year's Boston Marathon. When asked about the bomb explosions, by the BBC Newsday program, Korir said, "If this had happened two hours earlier, maybe I would have been among the victims."

He had been celebrating Kenyan Rita Jeptoo's victory in the women's race when he heard about it. "The joy that we had has all been taken away." Ms Jeptoo comes from the Cherangany constituency, for which Mr Korir was elected an MP in last month's election.

Despite the blasts and his new political career, he says he will continue to compete in marathons - even in Boston, if it is held again next year. "My attitude toward marathons will never change but my attitude toward life changes (after such an incident)."

"It makes you ask one question, 'Where is the world going?'"

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