The Wako name is not new in the Kenyan political scene; a legacy cemented by the former Attorney General of Kenya and the first Senator of Busia County, Amos Wako. This legacy lives on courtesy of his niece, Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, a vocal political analyst. JOANNE GICHANA catches up with Nerima who talks about women in politics and the challenges they face.
The role of political analysts is still undefined in society today with many saying that they are just giving opinions, but Nerima Wako-Ojiwa seeks to set the record straight. “Yes they are opinions, but they are politically-based opinions. It’s good to have the different opinions on the table because we all see the same thing but we understand it differently,” clarifies Nerima.
Nerima has become a strong female face for women and the youth in politics with an ambitious dream for the Kenyan political scene. “In this [Kenyan political] terrain, people belong to sides and unfortunately intellectuals join those sides, not speaking on ideologies, but on clanism, tribalism and ethnicity. This is what is killing our country. I want to challenge young people to speak on facts, law and the constitution, ” shares Nerima.
Through her interaction with political bigwigs, a false narrative that young women do not engage in political discourse troubled the 29-year-old and she sought out to challenge this inaccuracy through Siasa Place –a women and youth-centered hub for the public to disseminate the constitution, laws and government policy. Formed in 2015, Siasa Place seeks to create a space where women and the youth – who make majority of the population – can engage in factual dialogue centered on law. Women and politics
“It is very difficult for women to break through the barriers of politics,” says Nerima, noting that many women (and men) fail to understand the weight of the sacrifices and courage it took for several pioneering women in Kenyan politics, such as Martha Karua, to pave the way for women like Nerima to participate in politics today.
“There is so much politic history of great women who fought for the two-thirds gender rule, but we as women need to do better in telling the stories of our history,” she reckons, something she delves into at Siasa Place. And what of the representation of women in the current Kenyan government? “I know that women were happy that the last elections gave us three women governors, which is a step-up compared to previous years.
However, out of approximately 14,000 individuals who vied for elective positions, only 2077 were women, which is a mere 15 per cent,” she notes, posing, “Are the women in power really pushing for the two third’s gender rule? For any historical change to occur, women have to be at the forefront,” she adds. In addition, the integrity among elected women has become a looming concern. Nerima feels as women, we should be above reproach. “We cannot forget that two of three women governors have pending cases in court.”
The unfortunate notion of women being a threat to one another rings true in the political space as Nerima notes. “I have respect for women who have been in the activism space, but there is no sense of mentorship,” Nerima says. Looking back, even Nerima found it difficult to find someone to look up to. But she lives by her mother’s advice – to be that woman who lifts other women up. “My mother is a hard worker so she always believed in doing her best and working with others to do so, and I would say I get that from her,” Nerima says.
However, when it comes to men in politics, the succession plans are somewhat clear. “Anyone who is anyone today in politics went through KANU – from William Ruto to Musalia Mudavadi to Uhuru Kenyatta to Raila Odinga; you name them. Even my grandfather was in KANU, and they [men] pride in bringing in new blood and seeing potential in individuals,” Nerima says.
In addition, “Men also groom their sons to take over them. We [women] don’t have that sense of grooming our daughters to embrace similar political interests. I don’t know whether Martha Karua’s daughter is interested in politics, or Charity Ngilu’s children, or Wangari Maathai’s children and the list goes on,” she notes.
However, there is a double standard in the political scene as women in politics are subjected to uncalled-for sexist scrutiny. “When a woman is nominated for something, all of a sudden we see her nude pictures circulating or her past love life being unearthed,” she says.
Attacks are so common on social media and Nerima confirms the same for the Kenyan political space. “Women in the political space have up to 10 accounts on social media with one specifically meant to fight back attacks. It’s a pseudo name – usually a male – otherwise people cannot fathom it coming from a woman. That’s why some people are afraid of Millie Odhiambo, because she says whatever she feels and its so shocking coming from a woman,” says Nerima.
The woman that is
As a brilliant young female, Nerima’s family would always created a conducive environment for her to have a strong voice in big political matters. Both her parents stemming from political families, politics surrounded her whether she liked it or not. This, she says, fostered a drive to be actively involved in
governance in one form or another. “I’m thankful that growing up, my father never told me ‘oh, that’s silly’. At the time, I thought it was normal until I grew up and found out in other households it is not the same,” she recalls. “A lot of women are afraid to step into politics because their own family members are discouraging them from it,” she adds.
Nerima is now grown, and recently got married to her long-term partner Billian Ojiwa who is also involved with politics – a passion they both share. From the get-go, they had agreed that they were partners and would support each other, but the couple has gotten plenty of backlashes on social media.
“I was on TV one night until about 11pm. My husband got messages on Facebook asking when he ate because his wife is on TV at that time of the night,” she says. “It is a very tough balance, but I know I have an open and honest partner and we will deal with things as they come,” Nerima says, noting that she and her husband are looking forward to a family some day soon, but they are well aware of the challenges they will continue to face, head on.