After two hundred plus years of extolling democracy, America finally has a woman at the acme of leadership as a Vice President. Granted, Democracy is largely an experiment and akin to the wheels of a vehicle. A good wheel is for more than just aesthetics as it also impacts the alignment, handling, braking, and acceleration as well as the calibration of the speedometer.
So the fact that America is ostensibly the World’s most liberal and grounded democracy was not an overnight sprout like a bud. If anything, women gained suffrage much later. Yet, in our ‘primitive Africa’, women have either been at the helm or influenced decision making before imperialists sat in Berlin and shared our continent like a piece of game meat shared amongst hunters. Check out Queen Nefertiti, Queen Anna Nzinga of Angola who repulsed the Portuguese and negotiated with them when situation thirsted for it; Queen Nandi-Shaka Zulu’s mother whom he consulted before political-read- war undertakings.
And oh, especially ladies, if you are done following gossip pages, trolling others like purpose – starved simpletons, try reading about the N’Nonmiton of Benin before Europeans began calling them the Dahomey Amazons. These were female soldiers; more lethal than the heroes you watch on Netflix. They were a sub-Saharan band of female terminators who left their European red necks shaking in their boots as they protected their king and kingdom of Dahomey (as Benin was then called). They were sworn in as virgins and are known for swift decapitation like the Japanese Samurais. Damn, I could go on and on for I am always in awe of contemporary and women of yore who have shown pluck, wit, charm and intellect but because this article is not about them, I will urge you to research on them.
Back to America’s historical MVP- Madam Vice President Kamala Harris, her rise to the top of the country’s leadership invokes attention to the remarkable ascent the extraordinary arc of her political reputation purveys. In her book, the Truths that We Hold, she speaks of securing a job as a deputy prosecutor while in the final year at law school, failing the bar exams and thence starting as a clerk as she retook her exams and rising to become the first Black Woman Attorney General to lead the State that is known as US’s Agricultural and cultural bastion- California. We are all aware that she is the first woman of colour and of Indian descent to achieve her no mean feat.
There are a lot of invaluable lessons Kenyan women with a nose for politics can draw from not only her but others like Human-rights activist Sarah McBride who is hitherto the first openly transgender person to earn a seat in a US state senate, after her Delaware triumph.
In her memoir (Kamala) one gets a sense of the deeply seated responsibility and purpose to change lives and serve that she held from a young age. When she was an Assistant District Attorney, she felt her position could not allow her effect the change that was badly needed and due and so she ran for the District Attorney position against her more experienced, connected and moneyed boss as well as other candidates. She did not just sit and tweet and issue press briefings about the sad state of affairs in her city or wait to be handed a position- she did something and went for it.
She campaigned tirelessly even in buses, leaving her car behind and at malls to be elected as a DA. This also underscores that she was willing to start somewhere. She did not move from prosecutor to Senator or VP, she learned the ropes by starting somewhere.
From her, you learn the power of good networking, tenacity, fundraising, grassroots mobilization, audacity and courage to dare challenge the status quo. In her book, she says that when she and her sister would go home from school and whine over something they felt was unfair, their mother would ask, “well, what are you going to do about it? Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something.”
In short, from her journey and success, Kenyan women can learn to be the change they want to see. There are less women in politics? Do something about that, you feel women are disfranchised in one way or the other? Do freaking something!
And President-elect Joe Biden did not pick her because she is pretty or solely because she is a woman. Kalama was vetted and stood out for the following reasons. She had been tried and tested on the national stage due to her own 2020 bid not to mention she has experience in government -as both the California attorney general and as a US senator since 2017. She emerged as an outspoken voice on race – and the need for police reform – right from her days as a DA and which she intensified following the death of George Floyd in May and the subsequent protests it sparked around the country. It is a cinch that no one else on Biden’s VP shortlist that ticked so many boxes. Let me add that Kamala had been scathingly critical of Biden before but he still chose her underscoring that if you are good, even power brokers cannot ignore you.
Then you have the young Democratic ‘quartet” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – who since their sojourn at Capitol Hill have terrorized Trump and captivated Americans and the world with their progressive sentiments that saw them regain their seats.
And from the felicitations deserving Stacey Abrams who rose above her failed bid for governor of Georgia two years ago and built a well-funded network of organizations that highlighted voter suppression in the state and inspired an estimated 800,000 new registered voters that saw Biden take a narrow lead in her State; women fathom that lessons learned from failure to clinch a seat can be used to seal gaps as you gear for another stab.
From Deb Haaland, Teresa Leger Fernandez and Yvette Herrell, the three women who made History as New Mexico became the first State to elect all women of colour to the House- women learn that impossibilities are only in the mind.
John Kenneth Galbraith, America’s sharpest economist of the 20th century said: “All great leaders have one common characteristic; the willingness to unequivocally confront the anxieties of their people, at their time- for this is in essence what leadership is about.”
The zeal for leadership exhibited by most women in Kenya is not born out of the desire to confront conundrums like inequality of opportunities, desire to effect change, serve the people- they want the positions based on their gender as opposed to wherewithal; or because they want power or to meet the gender balance criterion (Oh, the constitution said not more than two thirds so let us demand positions- absolute baloney)
While each woman who won and made history in the American polls has a unique journey that sets her apart from the rest, what is unanimous about them is that none got any seat courtesy of Affirmative Action, Patronage, free nomination based on gender- they all fought for and earned their positions.
Kenyan women who have been rhapsodizing over the gender inequality in governance and legislature can now sit down and take notes from the American women who have not had a smooth sailing either but who surmounted their challenges to rise.
Kenyan women- and I have said this before- do not need Affirmative Action or sympathy from the constitution like an incapacitated gender to climb the ladder. And it is time we had a conversation over quantity versus quality of women in leadership positions. Because what is the point of thawing the testosterone in the Upper and Lower Houses with milquetoast and mediocre women who wear the cloak of elitism and jingoism once they get to the Parliament out of the benevolence of political tin gods and affirmative action?
Stop being mediocre ridding on tokenism and woishe politics to climb the political ladder. Roll your sleeves and get to work. Identify the gaps in the society that needs to be addressed and seek to bridge them; identify with the needs of the people and in your little capacity, serve the people- that will help you launch your bid into bigger platforms. Let your pursuits be guided by meritocracy, acuity, erudition, integrity and service to humanity. Have a purpose and aim for excellence. If not, you will continue chirping like birds over gender parity and issuing congratulation messages to your ‘look-alikes.’
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DISCLAIMER: VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THE WRITER’S. THEY DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT VIEWS OF VIUSASA.