n June this year, a UK-based charity organisation – One Young World – launched the inaugural ‘Politician of the Year Award’ in London, UK. One Young World gathers together the brightest young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change.
In launching the Politician of the Year Award, the organisation wanted to ‘recognise the five most promising young politicians between the age of 18 and 35 years old from around the world who are having the greatest impact in their home countries and communities and have been using their position to benefit young people.’
While the award was being launched, Samburu West MP, Hon Naisula Lesuuda, was busy serving her people oblivious of the goings-on in the United Kingdom. Unbeknown to her, a constituent of hers who had directly benefitted from the lawmaker’s work, nominated her for the award.
“I came to know about it when I was named as one the 19 nominees who had been shortlisted for the inaugural One Young World Politician of the Year Awards. In October, I received the news that I was one of the winners,” Lesuuda reveals.
The award organisers explained that the purpose of the award was to highlight the work of young politicians who are using their positions to make a difference and to encourage others who have not considered politics as an appealing vocation to see it as one of the most impactful ways to create positive change. Lesuuda fitted the bill to a T.
At just 34 years of age, the lawmaker is impacting the lives of people in Samburu West and beyond through her peace initiatives as well as assisting children from disadvantaged homes pursue their education dreams to the highest echelons possible. Through her peace initiatives, insecurity in her area has considerably gone down. Lesuuda has also been instrumental in changing the narrative about her community being seen as cattle rustlers.
“People need to stop stereotyping communities and start singling out individuals who are disrupting peace. To this end, I work closely with many organisations including our security agents to ensure such people are identified and subjected to the force of the law,” she explains.
Once a leader, always a leader
The first-born in a family of three says that she was initiated into leadership from the get go. Her father, who is a bishop with the Anglican Church of Kenya, ensured that she took part in church activities from early on.
“Besides that, my parents used to be away often times and this meant that I had to rise to the occasion as the head of the family in my parents’ absence,” she explains.
Although she was born in Maralal, Lesuuda grew up in a number of towns thanks to her father’s job, which entailed moving from one parish to another in different locales. This impacted greatly on her as she came to learn a number of languages in the process. Even more importantly, she learnt to interact with people from other communities.
“Growing up in different communities, I am now able to gel with people from all walks of life. As a child, we didn’t mind who was from what community and it didn’t even cross our minds. Now as an adult and a politician at that, I can confidently say that I don’t view people from the tribal lens,” she asserts.
Lesuuda describes her childhood as pretty normal and her parents guided her to develop into the person she wanted to be. And so when she announced she wanted to pursue a communications course, her desire was granted. She thus proceeded to Daystar University to chase her dream career.
“After my studies, I went for my internship at KBC, starting off as a reporter. I gave my all during the internship as I wanted to be employed by the organisation. My diligence paid off as I was absorbed as a fulltime employee by the broadcasting house,” she recollects nostalgically.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Lesuuda worked her way up the ranks of the organisation by her bootstraps and by the time she was hanging up the mic in 2012, she had risen to the position of a senior reporter with her own show to boot. In 2010, Lesuuda was awarded the Order of the Grand Warrior for her journalistic work that highlighted social issues and promoted peace. In 2011, the International Labour Organisation gave her the Wedge Award for Outstanding Professional Woman.
“It was whilst working as a journalist that I was exposed to issues affecting my community and many other pastoralist communities. These communities were under constant attack due to cattle rustling and the transition to work with such communities was thus smooth. Through my foundation – Naisula Foundation – I crisscrossed the country from Tana River, to Kuria and Samburu beseeching the communities to embrace dialogue in solving issues,” she explains.
Jumping ship to politics
In 2012 as the campaigns for 2013 General Elections geared up, Lesuuda campaigned for The National Alliance party (TNA) in Samburu county effectively thrusting her into the political arena.
“In 2013, I was nominated by TNA to the Senate to represent women and marginalised groups. During my tenure as a Senator, I continued with the peace building initiatives I had started prior to joining politics and the nomination gave me a voice. I am passionate about education and I used the opportunity to move round schools to motivate students as well as help those in need. I imparted in my community the need to embrace education for both boys and girls with a bias towards girls due to the many challenges they face such as female genital mutilation and early marriages. I also spoke on reproductive health,” she expounds.
In the Senate, Lesuuda quickly became a darling of the masses as she was vocal about issues affecting the country. Her young age notwithstanding, she was able to tower above more seasoned politicians and it is not in doubt that she left her mark in the upper house. But Lesuuda, being one who does not like to sit pretty in a comfort zone, wanted more. It was thus not a surprise when she announced she would run for the Samburu West seat facing off with the then incumbent MP. She ran on a KANU ticket.
The odds seemed against her and her marital status (being unmarried at the time) was used to malign her in many a political rally in her backyard. But she pressed on campaigning rigorously in a highly patriarchal society; just being on the ballot paper made her the first woman in her constituency to run for elective position. She won, becoming the first woman from her community to hold an elective position.
“It was a sweet win,” she says.
Lesuuda fully supports the affirmative action that seeks to see more women in leadership positions. She explains that it is the affirmative action that saw her and four other women nominated in the Senate run for and finally get elected to Parliament.
“Being nominated in the Senate was a stepping stone for me and my colleagues to work for our community. And so I fully support the two-third gender rule. If we are implementing everything in the constitution, why not implement this one too?” she poses.
Lesuuda sees the win not just a win for her, but for any person who thinks there are limitations to their dreams. But what made her run for an elective position?
“I wanted to leave that space for another woman to find her voice and place in leadership,” she says firmly.
Being an elected MP for Samburu West also came with perks that enabled her to effectively serve her people. For starters, she now has resources, which she has dedicated a large chunk to a cause very close to her heart – education.
“I am proof that education is an equaliser and I want to give every child in my community the chance to pursue it. For me, access to education is just as key as developing infrastructure. To this end, I aim to ensure that the transition and retention rates in schools within my constituency are high. Also, I want those that perform well to go to schools that they worked hard for and truly deserve. Many performing children give up their spaces in national schools since their parents cannot afford school fees,” she says.
This, she explains, not only discourages that particular student, but also other students who see no use of working hard. “I want children in my constituency to know that hard work truly pays,” she says passionately.
This might be her second year representing the people of Samburu West and if the Politician of Year Award is anything to go by, she is doing the right thing. She is sure that she would like to run for the second term and a win would be an affirmation that she is striking the right chords with her people. What makes her tick?
“I strive to align my vision with my constituents’ vision,” she says.
I prod on how it is as a woman in politics. “Expectations are higher for a woman in leadership and thus we are judged more harshly. Also, the mistake of one is mistake for everyone. It’s also a challenge to balance life, work and societal expectations,” she sums up, with her last statement alluding to the fact that it does not sit well with some people that she has reached where she is when not married, something that has been used against her on several occasions.
However, this is now a thing of the past as by the time you read this, Lesuuda will be a married woman. She married the love of her life, Robert Kiplagat Koitaba, on November 17, 2018, in Maralal. We wish her well as she adds another feather to her hat.