Negotiated democracy hurting women’s role in elective politics

Tuesday November 28 2017

 negotiated democracy

Garre Council of Elders Chairman Ali Nur Ibrahim Sheikh speaks at Banisa on August 24, 2016 regarding distribution of elective seats in Mandera County. Local communities in North Eastern, to avert violence, have taken up negotiated democracy. PHOTO | MANASE OTSIALO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Women comprise about half of Kenya’s population.

Although this is a democratic country, women remain marginalised in decision-making institutions.

Women have been limited to a handful positions in the National Assembly.

This has been attributed to sociocultural norms, perceptions and traditional practices that emphasize the superiority of males.

Elections have often been marred by violent campaigns by followers of candidates and/or their respective clans/tribes.


North Eastern has been a hotspot. To avert violence, the local communities, have taken up negotiated democracy.

The system operates within the traditional governance institutions where members of the clan council of elders negotiate for elective positions.

The councils then recruit the individuals to occupy the position(s).

The negotiated democracy, whose aim was to avert inter-clan conflict reached a climax in 2013 and was also practised in the run-up to the August 8 General Election.


The system has been successful in averting inter-clan violence.

However, it has systematically excluded women from political leadership as they are not represented in the elders’ councils and no clan wants a woman to represent them.

A woman candidate who may have better leadership skills and abilities is systematically marginalised.


This way, women are denied their human and constitutional right to political representation, which is in itself, a form of structural violence.

Their interests and concerns are not taken into consideration in the council decisions and recruitment.

As a result, women, only access the affirmative action reserved seats, in the county assembly and the National Assembly.

Negotiated democracy entrenches the marginalisation of women in political leadership and decision making.

It deprives them of the right to participate in a democratic process as aspirants for various elective seats.

Since most women voters are illiterate and are assisted to mark the ballot paper, they do not have the privilege to secretly vote the candidate of their choice.

Thus how their vote is monitored by the agents of the elders at the polling station.

We have seen an increase in divorce rates for women who defy elders.

This challenge is also emerging in the appointments of county executive officials with the governors being unable to comply with the two-thirds gender rule stipulated in the Constitution.


The elders exert a lot of influence in determining who is appointed.

Since no clan wants to be represented by a woman men take the lion’s share of appointments.

Other factors marginalising women include cultural traditions and practices.

Unmarried women are not given opportunities as clansmen feel they might marry outside their clan and go with the leadership position.


Gender division of labour in a patriarchal value system where sexually segregated roles, and ‘traditional cultural values’ mitigate against women’s advancement, blocking their participation in the political arena.

Women are also perceived as the weaker sex that cannot execute certain responsibilities, including leadership.

They are left with reproductive roles as mothers and housewives.

Religion has also been used to suppress women’s leadership.


There is a need for a complete change of social order in northern Kenya to enable participation of women in leadership.

This includes transformation of cultural norms and traditional practices that undermine women.

This will ensure compliance with the Constitution and International instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948, MDGs, and SDGS.

The Somali community is ready for change to enhance sustainable development, having elected their first woman MP, Sophia Abdi Noor (Ijara).

An effort must be made to ensure that the new social order includes other marginalised groups such as youth and persons with disability.

Ms Mohamed ([email protected]) and Ms Kanyi ([email protected]) are both gender and governance experts