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Kenya's Women Major Political Lobby Group Cracks Ranks

By Tervil Okoko, PANA, 27 July 2000

NAIROBI, Kenya (PANA) - Any hope the Kenyan woman may have had in her quest to better her political lot suffered a severe setback this week when the women's major lobby group broke up into two factions due to internal leadership squabbles.

The Kenya Women's Political Caucus was formed in 1997 after a motion moved in parliament by the current chairperson, Mrs Phoebe Asiyo, was soundly defeated by a male-dominated House. The affirmative action motion had sought that a third of the 222-seat parliament be reserved for women, among a few other gender concessions.

The split was seemingly caused by Asiyo's refusal to align with one of the constitutional reform groups, led mainly by religious organisations and opposition parties.

A parliamentary select committee headed by opposition leader Raila Odinga champions the other reform group. Odinga's National Development Party or NDP is currently in a marriage of convenience with the governing KANU party.

The Kenyan woman celebrated 20 April when parliament pass the second affirmative action motion, which had been moved by opposition members Mrs Beth Mugo, giving the women a sigh that they were on the right path.

But barely three months later, there is a dichotomy in the caucus, which represents 32 women's NGO, setting the stage for more confusion within the women's movement.

Now individual NGOs will have to choose dealing with the Asiyo splinter group or that led by university lecturer Wanjiku Kabira of the Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development.

The two groups have set separate meetings early August to adopt their constitutions, set up operational structures and elect new leaders.

What seems to be the core of the bitter row is that the caucus has been operating on the basis of ladies' agreement, with no definite terms. There has been a despicable lack of communication among the leaders and the member NGOs, not to mention the lack of operational structures and transparency.

The new alliances appear to be forged along incestuous lines as the organisation seems to revolve around personalities in the same profession. There are also regional clusters, which smack of ethnic chauvinism.

But at the core of the imbroglio is politics. And in Kenyan politics ethnicity is a great factor.

While Asiyo belongs to the Luo ethnic community who largely support NDP even in its collaboration with the ruling party, Kabira is a Kikuyu, a community that is implacably against the government of President Daniel arap Moi and the Odinga-led constitutional reform group.

Tension within the caucus began building up about a year ago owing to what insiders call interference in its affairs by Kabira's Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development, which houses the caucus secretariat.

People in the leadership of the caucus have traded accusations concerning financial transparency and accountability. In the absence of clear-cut roles between the secretariat and the member NGOs, reports allege that each sends a different proposal to foreign donors for funding for what usually turned out to be the same projects.

One report said the secretariat recently requested donor aid for 1.5 million US dollars for civic education but only 400,000 dollars was targeted for it and the rest went to the NGOs.

Another point of conflict is the caucus' participation in the stalled constitutional reform, whether through the Odinga group or the clerics-led one.

Most caucus leaders are rooting for the latter, but Asiyo has openly said she would run for parliament on an NDP ticket.

This means she must go the Odinga way.

Incidentally, it is NDP that has been supporting major efforts on gender matters in parliament developed by the caucus, including the gender commission and the affirmative action motions.

But most of the ordinary women are still with Asiyo and hope that the controversy will be resolved soon, at least before the next general election in December 2002.

With the caucus split, the Kenyan woman has lost a powerful forum to express her aspirations and champion her political cause.

For, unlike any other women's organisation in Kenya, the caucus has hitherto been a formidable force in terms of outreach and intellectual drive and capability needed to push a campaign to its logical conclusion.

As the row rages, women representations at the major decision-making bodies continue to wear thin.

There are only four elected and five nominated women legislators in a 222-seat parliament while aside from one assistant minister, there is not a single woman full cabinet minister.

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