Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Affirmative Action: Let Kenyans Elect Women Running-mates in Marginal Areas

Fellow Kenyans, it is time to amend our Constitution. It is time for our own First Amendment: the Affirmative Action Amendment. Urgently required of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 is an amendment that will make its affirmative action agenda to be realized fast, less fractiously and more reasonably. Our people’s sovereign aim of increasing the participation of women in politics, and of diminishing the patriarchal skew of our national conversation has been steeped in endless incompetence and inconsistency.

Whereas our people have the free will to participate in politics and elect whomever they prefer in regular elections free from undue influence and discrimination, the Constitution still demands of them to ensure that “no more than two thirds of all people elected into office are of the same gender.” That creates a real conundrum. Free choice does not sit very well with strictures and limitations.

The Constitution offers the first way out, though an inadequate one: by creating the positions of 47 Woman Member of the National Assembly, one for each of the Counties of Kenya. Yet, and consequent to this overt effort, the People have responded by directly voting in only 19 women – none of whom is a Senator or Governor - among the 337 parliamentary seats available at the ballot. The feeling in the wind is that “women have their own preferential seats.”  Communities thus responded by casting their lot with the men folk.

As a result, Parliament - as elected - has not met the one-third principle of the Constitution, and might necessitate the nomination of some 140 more women, to balance the stakes. This trial and error process of aggregation and “guesstimation” is too tawdry and untenable in the long term. In the choice between whom the people want and have rightly elected, and whom has to be included in order to balance the numbers, democracy suffers, and cronyism is bound to blossom.

Our political system has a pungent history of poor nominations; of people who simply pick the parliamentary nomination, enjoy the monthly cheque for their term, and yet represent nobody in particular. Aside from a few truly exceptional servants like the current Supreme Court Justice Susan Njoki Ndung’u, who indefatigably legislated for Women and Children, the majority of nominees have performed dismally. It would be disastrous and a pugnacious twisting of wisdom to reward a system that has so brazenly misused twelve slots, with one hundred and forty more.

It is, therefore, time to amend our Constitution to settle this matter. The main premises for arguments on representation of the people centre on population size and land area. Regions with huge populations feel under-represented and marginalized, as no single constituent has adequate access to their representatives. Also, very large area constituencies are difficult to mainstream, as any infrastructure project serves only a few people in a small place, marginalizing the rest of the sparsely-spread residents.

It follows, then, that marginalization exists both in small areas with high-density populations and much larger areas with low-density habitation. Both extremes deserve increased representation and developmental funding. Generally, it happens that women are the more marginalized gender both in high-density and low-density habitats.

I suggest a formula that elects alternate representatives; adjutant or lieutenant members of the national assembly for both sets of areas – call them running-mates.

We should have a senate of seventy: forty seven elected from each county, a woman running-mate senator from each of the eleven most populous counties, a woman running-mate senator from each of the eleven largest area counties, and the speaker. Neat number: 47 and 11 and 11, then 1; to give us 70. Right away, the Senate has 22 women representatives - who have real people relying on them for service and representation.

Also, we should have a parliament of three hundred and sixty-one – two hundred and forty main candidates elected in each constituency; and, one hundred twenty alternative women members, sixty elected as party running-mates from each of the top 60 largest area constituencies, and a further sixty women as party running-mates from the 60 most densely-populated constituencies; and the speaker. Here, we will have 361 as 240 and 60 and 60 then 1.

A similar formula can be used for nominations to the county assemblies, to limit the sizes of their memberships.

The immediate benefit of this is certainty in the size of the national assembly. Kenyans will go to the polls knowing which places will get a second representative, or not. Further, the actual choice of a running-mate in a county or constituency necessitates regional balancing: that east-west and north-south inclusivity that causes regional harmony. Those who nominate their sisters, cousins or kinsfolk as lieutenants will be felled at the ballot by voters who prefer more diverse tickets of the opposing parties.

Also, places like Tana River County, larger than Western Province combined with Nyanza, but with only one senator and three members of parliament will now have two senators and six other members in the national assembly. And we expect the same fate for Turkana, Garissa, Kajiado and other larger than average counties.

Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kiambu, Kakamega and Bungoma, the most populous counties of Kenya will have two senators each; one representing the urban marginalized and women in the senate. The constituencies within them, with hundred-thousands of residents will each get two members, serving their diverse interests in Parliament. As a consequence, Nairobi’s four million residents will have 34 MPs from its seventeen sub-counties, much more congruent to its political and economic importance.

More significantly, we start the election assured of 142 women members of the national assembly, some of who will be youth, disabled, technocrats, activists and experts in various fields. We, by that stroke, eliminate the unwieldy nonsense of electing County Woman Members of the National Assembly. Shall we save ourselves the comedy of results like Rachel Shebesh’s, who was elected with 650,000 votes in Nairobi, only for her to share a platform with members who got only 9000 votes, to win their constituency election?

By any positive count, 142 is better than 47. In effect, we will never have to nominate anyone, because, as it stands, 19 women were elected directly, which outcome, though measly, would have pushed our starting numbers to 161, well over the one-third legal thresh-hold in an assembly of 431 people.

Patriots, it is time to amend our Constitution to achieve common sense, accelerate inclusion and secure our common interest.