Archive for September 11th, 2011

Scientist’s fight for adoption of African vegetables rewarded

Scientist’s fight for adoption of African vegetables rewarded


Posted 09 September 2011, by Jacon Ng’etich, Daily Nation (Nation Media Group),



As a young girl, she suffered from a condition that made it impossible for her to eat animal proteins.

It was probably this allergy so early in life in her village, Ematusuli in Vihiga, that would lead Prof Mary Abukutsa to a lifelong quest for alternatives to animal proteins.

“Since I was allergic to animal proteins, including meat, eggs and fish, my mother would look around for indigenous vegetables and she insisted that I eat them. I did not know that they contained important nutrients to augment my diet,” said Prof Abukutsa in a recent interview.

After being introduced to indigenous vegetables so early in life, Prof Abukutsa took it upon herself to popularise them to the rest of the world.

Her struggle has been long. Fellow researchers were skeptical of the importance of traditional vegetables at first.

Over the years, however, she has managed to bring back to the cooking pots 10 different indigenous African vegetables that she claims are high in nutrients and easy to grow.

“Forget about spinach, cabbage and kales, our indigenous vegetables are far more nutritious,” said Prof Abukutsa.

“When I started out, no one was keen to support me in my research. I had no one to fund me, and even the government was reluctant,” she said.

The lecturer in horticulture was recently named among the four women mentors by the African Women in Agriculture Research and Development.

The four will mentor 70 winners of the 2011 fellowships selected from across the continent.

In the two decades she has done her research, Prof Abukutsa says indigenous vegetables have grown in stature from being seen as weeds to being considered essential food good enough to be stocked on supermarket shelves.

“I look back with contentment at what I have achieved. The struggle has given birth to more initiatives, both locally and internationally, on indigenous foods,” said Prof Abukutsa.

Through her efforts, vegetables like jute malon, (murenda), slender leaves, (mito), vive spinach, (nderema), African kales (kanjera), spider plant (saget), vegetable amaranth (terere), African nightshade (managu), cow peas and pumpkin leaves have found their way onto supermarket shelves across the country.

“What were once despised as vegetables for poor peasants are now found in any supermarket and in numerous restaurants,” said Prof Abukutsa, a mother of two boys.

In recognition of her achievement, Prof Abukutsa, 52, was awarded the Order of the Burning Spear by President Kibaki.

In September 2010, she received an African Union award for her research in the production of traditional vegetables in developing countries.

“The awards are not only a victory for me but for the country because the research will boost the fight against poverty, malnutrition and poor health,” she said.

Each of the winners of the AU Regional Scientific Awards receives a Sh1.4 million reward.

Prof Abukutsa’s journey has not been without hurdles. She says when she started her research in 1991, many dismissed her as trying to further an empty cause.

“It took time before they actually realised that previously overlooked vegetables in essence have a significant impact on reducing malnutrition. No one was ready to fund the research, not even the government ,” said Prof Abukutsa.

She said, however, she somehow managed to carry out research to prove her argument that the vegetables were high in vitamins and other nutrients.

“Another area where I encountered real challenges was publishing my research work. No international journal would touch it because they had a low opinion of indigenous vegetables, which some considered weeds,” said Prof Abukutsa.

“I was only left with the option of publishing it locally through university journals,” added the lecturer.

She said the cultivation of about 200 indigenous crops in Africa has significantly declined.

“We remain with only a few species. Only 30 species now remain at the National Gene Bank in Kikuyu and regional botanical gardens and national museums,” she said.

Prof Abukutsa is currently working with over 300 farmers in Central and Western provinces who are trained in all aspects of growing indigenous crops, from seed production to processing, using organic methods.

“I have farmers with whom I am working with closely, they have acquired and are passing on the knowledge of indigenous food growing to others in their communities,” she said.

The farmers have also learnt simple food preservation techniques like drying, which increases shelf-life but retains nutrients. Supermarkets prefer this kind of preservation.

Prof Abukutsa said it would be hard to solve nutrition security, poverty, and health problems in Kenya without relying on African indigenous crops.

“Many African indigenous vegetables have medicinal properties. Spider plant is known to help constipation, as well as facilitating birth. Nightshades have been used for centuries to cure stomach ache, and colocasia esculenta and elephant ear (also known as taro root), have been used to treat irregular heartbeat,” she said.

“The use of African foods, including vegetables, holds the key to the future food sustainability in the country,” she said.

She said the current focus of promoting the production of the African vegetables, particularly by rural women farmers, would help reduce poverty and improve nutrition.

“This has been my passion and desire, to see to it that people acknowledge the importance and benefits of indigenous vegetables. My father encouraged me to study science as a means to pursue the course,” she said.

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Sindh flooding kills 180, displaces 5m


Sindh flooding kills 180, displaces 5m


Posted 10 September 2011, by Staff, Central Asia Online,



Staff Report


KARACHI – Flash flooding and heavy monsoon rains in Sindh have killed more than 180 people and displaced more than 5m until September 9, according to a statement issued by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).

According to an initial survey conducted by the PDMA, 31 children and 79 women were among the dead.


Nearly 200,000 flood victims in Sindh have taken shelter in official relief camps, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) reported.


The flooding has submerged 4m acres of land, including 1.7m acres of agriculture land, causing damage to 80% of cash crops, the NDMA statement said.


Another monsoon over eastern India is moving toward southern Pakistan and may generate fresh rains beginning September 11 in Sindh, south Punjab and eastern Balochistan, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.



Post-flood hardships: Walking your feet sore to fetch a pail of water

Post-flood hardships: Walking your feet sore to fetch a pail of water

Children fetch water for daily chores as Shangla’s supply of water continues to suffer at the hands of the 2010 floods. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ


Posted 11 September 2011, by Fazal Khaliq, The Express Tribune with The International Herald Tribune (Express Tribune News Network),



SHANGLA: The July 2010 floods wreaked havoc in Shangla District, exposing people to all sorts of hardships, particularly regarding clean drinking water. Children and women have to travel several miles to meet their daily requirements. Eventually, after several unsuccessful pleas, locals pooled in money to complete a water supply scheme that was on hiatus due to a funding shortage.

According to official data, the estimated total losses in the floods here were Rs2.44 billion. Apart from the main link road that connected Shangla District with the rest of the country, the fixed phone line network, hundreds of micro-hydel power stations, water mills, agricultural land, irrigation channels, public and private houses and shops, and 130 clean drinking water supply schemes were completely washed away, leaving the local people without basis of all life.

Olander, a village in Peer Khana Union Council, is the worst affected. At least 22 houses were completely destroyed in Sobidar colony when lightning struck it on July 29, 2010. “There was nothing but destruction everywhere. Our houses, goods, agriculture lands, irrigation and water supply schemes, our livestock, everything. It was all wiped out in a split second,” said Alam Zeb, 61, a village elder who was still grief-stricken by the natural catastrophe.

Zeb felt that a drinking water supply scheme was the most urgent need of the entire area, “Our women and children start bringing water at 11am and continue the morning till 4pm. They have to walk one kilometre to fetch water.” he added.

The majority of water carriers are women, and are heavily fatigued by the tiresome job, “All I can say is that carrying water on a daily basis for a woman my age with high blood pressure and diabetes is constant torture,” said an old woman angrily, while adding that the floods took away their only source of livelihoods.

Village elders had appealed to non-government organisations to help install and restore drinking water supply schemes for them. These locals, after their pleas and requests to higher-ups, have collected money for a small water scheme that would transfer water from across the hill. However the project’s completion seems next to impossible with the meagre amounts of funds collected as the majority of the population is poor.

Zaitoon, a 12-year-old girl carrying a water pot on her head, told the Express Tribune, “This is my second turn climbing uphill with this heavy pot. My mother is very old and ill, and my father is out all day at work, I am the only one left to fetch water for my family.”

“Clean drinking water may seem like a minute issue, but in reality it is a major issue , especially in hilly areas like Shangla, which have already been neglected for years, and where water has become a rare and expensive commodity,” said Mohammad Khalid, a local journalist.

Locals are even seriously thinking of migrating from their village as they believe neither the government, nor elected bodies have time to address their miseries. “We are now tired of imploring our politicians and government officials, who give all sorts of promises only to forget about them”, said Zeb.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2011.


Wanjiku’s Parliament Part II: Why should women’s representation matter?

Wanjiku’s Parliament Part II: Why should women’s representation matter?


Posted 10 September 2011, by Wambui Mwangi and Melissa Williams, The East African (BusinessDaily Africa),


One version of the “reverse discrimination” argument holds that it’s unfair to men to suggest that they are incapable of representing women’s interests. Another version of this argument is that it’s insulting to women to suggest that women are somehow so essentially different from men that they have to represent themselves — from which it follows that they are no more capable of representing men than men are capable of representing women. This “critique of essentialism” is one that defenders of measures to enhance women’s representation must take seriously.

On average, women do perform certain social functions that men, on average, perform less frequently or intensively. But there is nothing in this social fact to suggest that such differences are ordained by nature — the view that has been used for millennia to try to justify women’s social and political subordination to men. Instead, we can say that because of historically inherited patterns of gendered difference, including the gender division of labour, women by and large occupy a different social position from that of men. People from different cultural groups experience social life differently because of (or through the medium of) differences in language, forms of economy, beliefs about human relationships to nature and to the cosmos, and so on.

These differences in social perspective, as political theorist Iris Marion Young puts it, make sense of our intuition that it is important to have people from every sizeable cultural group in political life. Representatives who are themselves members of culturally or geographically distinctive communities — some of the very “communities of interest” that the new Constitution has in mind — will do a better job of advocating the interests of their constituencies than representatives from other communities because they have a better understanding of the real-life impact of laws and policies on their constituents. Someone from a drought-prone region will have a different perspective on water policy, for example, than someone from a region with heavy rainfall. These differences in perspective matter for the quality of public policy.

For the same reason, because women’s social positions are different in patterned and well-documented ways from those of men, even across regional, cultural and other forms of difference, they are more likely to be keenly attuned to the impact of legislation on women than are their male counterparts. This line of reasoning does not suppose that men are incapable of understanding women’s perspectives. Indeed, if they were incapable it would do little good to have more women in parliament; it would be as if men and women were speaking different languages. Instead, the point is that while men are capable of understanding, they frequently do not possess as sound an understanding of policies’ impact on women because they lack the social experience that would make this impact obvious to them.

This bias — call it an epistemic bias, or a bias in the kind of knowledge that people possess because of their social positions — affects not only the crafting of individual pieces of legislation, but also the legislative agenda itself. Because men are less likely to be attuned to the challenges women face in their daily lives, they are less likely to give priority to the kinds of legislation that have the greatest potential to improve the conditions that have the greatest impact on women’s well-being.

Take, for example, the widespread problem of sexual and domestic violence. Since men are seldom subject to these forms of violence, it is relatively unlikely that most men will take active measures to prevent it and to criminalise it. As a result, women continue to be far more vulnerable to violence than men. This generates a deep inequality between men and women in the extent to which they enjoy one of the most fundamental human rights, the security of their own bodies from violent harm. It is no accident that, around the world, study after study shows that women legislators are much more active advocates for legislation to protect against sexual and domestic violence than are their male counterparts.

The example of gender-based differences in vulnerability to violence is just one among many important policy issues in which studies demonstrate a strong connection between what political theorists call the “descriptive representation” as contrasted with the “substantive representation” of women. “Descriptive” representation is about whether or not a legislature accurately “describes” or expresses the diversity of the society it claims to represent. Some people refer to this as “mirror” representation: Is the legislature a true mirror of the people?

The metaphor of the mirror is useful in capturing the common experience of women or other segments of society when they look at a parliament and see no one who looks like them. They cannot recognise themselves in the body that is supposedly making laws on their behalf. The critique of parliaments as being insufficiently reflective of important segments of society played an important role in the movements for women’s suffrage and in the Civil Rights Movement for the enfranchisement of African-Americans in the United States in the 1960s. Mirror representation is an intuition that has deep roots in the very idea of representative democracy.

In contrast, “substantive” representation concerns the degree of fit between citizens’ interests and concerns and the actions of their elected representatives. If the majority of citizens in a given constituency are very much in favour of community development, for example, and their representative nonetheless votes against it or fails to deliver it, they are not getting very good substantive representation on that issue.

What, then, is the connection between women’s “descriptive representation” — the presence of women in parliament — and the substantive representation of women citizens’ concerns and interests? The first step in answering this question is to note the obvious fact that there are many differences among women. Women do not all share the same interests; they disagree deeply across a wide range of policy issues, including issues that don’t appear to have a lot to do with sex (say, foreign policy) and those that are all about sex (say, abortion). But study after study reveals that there is a real and persistent gender gap around a range of policy issues.

In general, and with some variations across different countries and regions, women are more supportive of affirmative action than are men. They are more concerned about violence, especially sexual violence. Family law matters are much higher on their political agendas than on men’s. In many African countries, there is a further gender gap around issues of water and energy, which is unsurprising in rural areas where women do most of the hauling of water and cutting of firewood. There have been dozens of empirical studies over recent years on the question whether better descriptive representation translates into better substantive representation for women.

The evidence is affirmative and clear, from study to study, from country to country. On average, women representatives do a better job of advocating the issues that matter to women than do their male counterparts. In a recent study on women’s representation in Tanzania, for example, Mi Yung Yoon shows that women MPs do more than male MPs to bring issues such as poverty, child labour, energy, HIV/Aids, water, agriculture, marriage, maternal health, energy and community development to the legislative agenda. Moreover, they frequently lead the debates on these issues. Noting these dynamics, Tanzanian House Speaker Samuel Sitta remarked, “Female MPs improve not only our awareness but also the national awareness on women’s issues. It is a national awakening.”

In short, presence matters. Having women in parliament makes a real and measurable difference to the quality of political representation received by the 50 per cent of the voting citizens who are women. In measuring the impact of women’s legislative presence on substantive representation, empirical research shows equally clearly that numbers matter. While even a small contingent of female representatives can make some difference in policy, significant changes in legislation and in policy agendas occur only when women have reached a “critical mass,” which most studies indicate is at about 30 per cent of the legislature. This is why Kenya’s constitutional provision guaranteeing that, in this case, women should hold 33 per cent of the seats is well targeted, even if it is only slightly above the threshold where descriptive representation brings a significant improvement in substantive representation.

Numbers matter for a number of reasons beyond the advocacy of women’s interests by women representatives. First, a larger number of women representatives increases the chances that they will be able to form strategic coalitions with male legislators around key issues. In other words, the power of numbers gives women more clout to advance the legislative agendas that matter most. Numbers matter, as well, because having more women in parliament disciplines male legislators to desist from the rhetorical tactics that they have so often used to silence their female colleagues.

In Kenya, as former parliamentarian Joe Khamisi notes in his recent book, The Politics of Betrayal, “During debates, women legislators had to endure sneers and snippets of degrading comments from their male colleagues, sometimes making their comments inaudible.” Having more women in parliament makes it less likely that sexist views have a place in the halls of the national legislature (where surely they do not belong). Instead of silencing women’s voices, sexist male representatives find that the rules of civility require them to silence themselves — a species of what Norwegian social and political theorist Jon Elster calls “the civilising effects of hypocrisy.”

Both presence and numbers matter for another critically important reason: Having significant numbers of women in parliament sends a loud and clear signal to all citizens that women have a proper place in the halls of power. This is particularly important when battling historically entrenched ideas. As democratic theorist Jane Mansbridge points out, this signalling effect goes far beyond mere symbolism. In societies where women have been historically excluded from the franchise (as in Kenya during colonial times), and then excluded from positions of responsibility (as in Kenya today), bringing women’s representation above the “critical mass” threshold makes it unambiguous that women can no longer be treated as second-class citizens.

Wanjiku’s Constitution, Wanjiku’s parliament

When women have a strong presence in parliament, it signals not only to women but to all citizens that no one is more or less “fit to rule” by virtue of the attributes they have at birth. Democracy is incomplete as long as children grow up believing that the course of their lives is pre-ordained by the accident of whether they have been born male or female, rich or poor, born in Taita, Bondo or Matondoni. In Kenya’s bold new Constitution, this spirit of democracy, grounded in social justice, is strong. The provisions for women’s representation are not a dispensable add-on to this new, democratic, vibrant and inclusive vision of Kenya but rest at the very heart and soul of Kenya’s inspiring constitutional moment.

The overt attempt to abandon the Constitution’s provision for gender diversity is not a minor affair to be explained away by the supposed “technical impossibility” of meeting the thresholds specified in a legal sovereign document approved by a supermajority of Kenya’s citizens. As noted above, multiple other contributors to the public debates have made clear that there are a number of technical devices fully adequate to the task, including the designation of the 80 new parliamentary seats as women’s seats.

Kenya is in the middle of an historic, self-chosen transformation achieved at great cost. Kenyans face a critical choice in this moment, whether to carry through on the principles expressed so powerfully in our horizon-widening new Constitution or to be complicit in allowing its opponents to pick apart the very provisions that are essential to fulfilling the principles and the promise of a more just and more democratic Kenya.

Kenyan Supreme Court Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is reputed to have said that in Constitutional matters, “Wanjiku is the boss.” Perhaps we can save Fida lawyer Judy Thongori her promised appearance in court the “very next day” to contest any attempt after the next general election to sit a non gender-compliant Parliament.

Perhaps we should ask instead, “What would Wanjiku want?”

Let’s implement the Kenyan Constitution. It’s the law.

Wambui Mwangi is a political scientist, photographer and writer. Melissa Williams is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto and the author of the award-winning Voice, Trust & Memory: Marginalised Groups and the Failings of Liberal Representation.


Wanjiku’s Parliament: Why women’s presence and numbers matter

Wanjiku’s Parliament: Why women’s presence and numbers matter

The Kenyan parliament in session. Picture: File


Posted 03 September 2011, by Wambui Mwangi and Melissa Williams , The East African (BusinessDaily Africa),


Why are men 90 per cent of the Members of the Kenyan Parliament?

There are currently 222 members of the Kenyan parliament. Of this number, 200, or 90 per cent of the total, are men; women occupy just 22 seats. Nor is this disparity an anomaly. On the contrary, it confirms an invariable and radical over-representation of men in parliament over the past half-century of Kenyan political Independence. [See related: Scrapping two-third gender rule is wrong and foolish]

Women and men are each about 50 per cent of Kenya’s adult population. Women and men are each 50 per cent of the citizens entitled to participate in authoritative national decision-making processes in Kenya. Women and men are each 50 per cent of the Kenyan “youth bulge” now preoccupying policy makers. Women and men are each 50 per cent of the Kenyan tax-paying base, as human-rights activist Atsango Chesoni has observed. Women and men are each 50 per cent of the Kenyans who have the constitutional right to occupy official positions at all levels and in all bodies of the Kenyan government. So why are 90 per cent of the members of the Kenyan National Assembly men?

We ask the question in this way to engage the current public debate over the Kenyan Constitution’s provision of a gender diversity “rule of thirds” as envisioned in Article 27(8): “In addition to the measures contemplated in clause (6), the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” This unmistakable principle is further iterated in Article 81(b): “The electoral system shall comply with the following principles […] not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” Article 177(b) in turn insists that a county assembly consists of “no more than two-thirds […] of the same gender.”

In this respect, the Kenyan Constitution conforms to an already widely established international norm of a minimum critical threshold of the minority gender’s representational presence in national institutions, usually in the range of 20 per cent to 40 per cent. Perhaps it is necessary to emphasise here that the Kenyan Constitution in no way specifies which genders are to be present in these proportions but only that the presence of the dominant one should not exceed the stipulated ceiling of the two-thirds quota of the total. A “quota” can be understood variously as a share, a ration, a portion, a slice, percentage, fraction, bit, or amount — all of these make reference to the relation between a part of something and its whole.

Around the world, 40 countries have constitutional or legal gender diversity quotas for parliamentary elections and institutional composition; in more than 50 countries, national political parties have voluntary or compulsory gender quotas for their candidate lists. UN Women is a recently created United Nations entity dedicated to global gender equality.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni exhibits a crisp understanding of the situation when he notes that, “We cannot talk about democracy without involving women; they form slightly more than 50 per cent of our population. [Related: Is Janet finally stepping out of Museveni’s shadow? ]

If democracy is about equality and social justice, then women, who contribute around 60 per cent of our agriculture (the mainstay of our economy) and produce 80 per cent of our food, have to be taken more seriously.” The East African Community Legislature has already surpassed the 30 per cent threshold. Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa have also all separately established and handily achieved this gender parity benchmark, while Rwanda currently leads the world in the exactitude of its interpretation of the gender parity ideal. [Read: Delivering a better future for women and girls]

Public and private spheres

These measures recognise what women political theorists have been arguing for several decades now: The modern political system rests fundamentally on the perceived distinctions between the “public” and the “private” spheres, where the public sphere is the realm of politics, economy, authoritative collective action and public rationality, while the private sphere is associated with domesticity, family affiliations, and affective life. The public sphere has historically been associated with men and with male prerogatives to public office while the largely invisible and unpaid domain of the “private” has been considered women’s proper place.

As Jenny Chapman says, this has rendered women both “Other” and “Stranger” to political life. The real-life effect is that there are significantly and sometimes insurmountably higher barriers to entering political life for women; these result in women’s generalised exclusion from and marginalisation in the world of politics. Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga refers to this pervasive devaluation of women: “This victimisation, I saw, was universal. It didn’t depend on poverty, or lack of education or on tradition. It didn’t depend on any of the things I had thought it would depend on. Men took it everywhere with them… femaleness as opposed to and inferior to maleness.”

African women’s meaningful inclusion in political decision-making is an urgent matter, for as Ghanaian novelist and former education minister Ama Ata Aidoo has put it, “If, like men around the world, African men harbour any phobias about women moving into leadership positions, then they had better get rid of them quickly. After all, men have monopolised leadership positions in Africa over the past five hundred years, and still overwhelmingly do. If they alone could save us, they would have done so by now. But instead, every decade brings us grimmer realities. It is high time African women moved onto the centrestage, with or without anyone’s encouragement. Because in our hands lies, perhaps, the last possible hope for ourselves and for everyone else on the continent.”

Twenty-seven years ago, in March 1984, the Kenyan government ratified the United Nations General Assembly’s Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose or impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Similarly, the Constitutive Act of the African Union specifies in Article 4(1) as one of its principles “the promotion of gender equality.”

Most importantly, the Kenyan Constitution promulgated on August 27, 2010 is forthright on the matter. Article 27(1-3) states that “(1) Every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. (2) Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and fundamental freedoms. (3) Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.” These “spheres” clearly include the Kenyan parliament. Indeed, the Kenyan parliament is perhaps the most important “sphere,” of all, as it is the body that represents the deliberative, resource-allocating, law- and war-making authority of all the Kenyan people.

Intuitive fairness and basic logic would suggest that parliament, embodying and representing the sovereign legislative authority of the Kenyan people, in compliance with international protocols and the specified intentions of the Kenyan Constitution, would be composed of men and women representatives in the rough proportion in which women and men occur in Kenya. Yet, men are currently represented in the Kenyan Parliament at 180 per cent of their presence in the population, while women’s presence in Parliament is at an 80 per cent discount of their evident share of the population.

Given this demographic reality in the population and in the political franchise, considering the international and regional legal regimes to which Kenya is bound and which affirm and promote the principle of gender equality, and considering particularly that the Kenyan Constitution repeatedly emphasises the importance of gender equality as an integral element in the project of establishing equality, human rights and social justice in Kenya, we would expect that the appropriate public focus with respect to the currently 90 per cent male Kenyan parliament to be something on the order of:

What can account for this remarkable, historically persistent and now unconstitutional male bias in the Kenyan parliament? As a matter of urgency, what are we going to do about this indefensible distortion of the symbolic and substantive representative functions of Parliament?
Oddly, this is not the current frame of the public debate. Instead, men and women of goodwill, together with social justice activists and constitutional lawyers, find themselves called upon to defend the sovereignty of the Kenyan Constitution and to justify the Constitutional imperative to implement the gender diversity rule of thirds in the Kenyan Parliament. Against this, and in light of the clarity of the Constitutional position on the matter, we note that Kenyan Cabinet, despite its obligation to uphold and defend constitutional authority, instead proposed to “drop,” much like a handkerchief, what is unavoidably a sovereign command on the grounds that it is “technically impossible.”

Will of the people made clear

The Constitution is clear. The will of the people has been made clear, first in the referendum and again in a recent survey showing that well over two-thirds of the Kenyan population approves the gender provisions. The burden of argument should not rest on the Constitution or its gender provisions, but rather should be borne by those who would abandon both. Constitutional imperatives are not optional or subject to a veto by state functionaries on unspecified “technical” grounds. In any case, the “technical” objections have already been roundly defeated by Katiba Institute scholar Jill Cottrell and the many others who have presented an array of operational and electoral options that would ensure constitutional compliance. To consider constitutionally compliant implementation “technically impossible” in this context indicates not only a rather constrained imagination but also a misapprehension of the spirit of as well as a contravention of the crystalline letter of the Constitution.

Of more pressing concern to us, however, are the views recently expressed in public that the gender rule of thirds in the Constitution is “anti-democratic” and constitutes “reverse discrimination against men” because it would infringe the rights of male candidates to participate in the political process or on the voters’ rights to their choice of candidate, in the event that implementation of the rule of thirds takes the form of reserved single-gender candidates in specified electoral contests. Similar assertions that the gender rule of thirds violates the democratic principle of “one person, one vote” jostle for space with the contentions that women want “free seats,” are “afraid of fair competition” in fighting for constitutional compliance with the gender rule of thirds, and indeed such compliance has been characterised as handing power to women on a “silver platter.”

Kenya’s new Constitution is the achievement of decades of struggle and heroic effort by men and women of goodwill to establish a more equitable context for the unfolding Kenyan future. In Kenya — as in other transitional political contexts — part of the undoubted difficulty in the implementation process arises from the fact that those who have built and benefited from the status quo, indeed, those who are currently benefiting from the status quo, are seldom enthusiastic participants in the dismantling of their own privilege.

We take the view that it is the duty of the Kenyan government to ensure its own compliance to the sovereign will of the people as stated in Article 2 (1) of the Kenyan Constitution: “This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic and binds all persons and all State organs at both levels of government.” This obligation is entailed in Article 3 (1) that “Every person has an obligation to respect, uphold and defend this Constitution. (2) Any attempt to establish a government otherwise than in compliance with this Constitution is unlawful.”

Nevertheless, as political scientists, we take seriously the need to respond to arguments that the constitutional rule of thirds is in tension with principles of justice, equality or democracy. Yet other detractors of the rule of thirds have suggested that the gender question is trivial compared with the other more important goals of constitutional implementation and that the energy devoted to debating this matter would be better spent in other ways. In this view, it simply doesn’t matter whether the members of parliament are male or female as long as they are qualified for the job. In what follows we seek to address that challenge, as well.

We answer these three questions:

  • Does the gender diversity “rule of thirds” violate democracy by contradicting the principle of “one person, one vote”?
  • Are the reserved seats in the gender rule of thirds “unfair competition” or “reverse discrimination?” against men?
  • What difference does difference make — what does it matter how many Members of Parliament are men or how many are women?

As any contemporary discussion of gender necessarily engages also issues of human rights and social justice, in instances where contradictory interpretations of the Constitution might be possible or where the meaning of a constitutional directive might be ambiguous, we are guided in our understanding of the “spirit” of the Kenyan Constitution by Article 19(1-2) which states that, “The Bill of Rights is an integral part of Kenya’s democratic state and is the framework for social, economic and cultural policies. (2) The purpose of recognising and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is to preserve the dignity of individuals and communities and to promote social justice and the realisation of the potential of all human beings.” Protecting human rights and promoting social justice invariably confronts the effects of gender structures and gender roles on the possibilities of “the realisation of the potential of all human beings.”

Bowing to the current reality, in this discussion of the Kenyan situation, we take the minority gender entitled to the 33 per cent quota to be comprised of women, but we note again that this is a contingent situation whose reversal is encompassed by the language and spirit of the Constitution.

Do the reserved seats in the gender rule of thirds violate “one person, one vote”?

The idea of democracy (the rule of the “demos,” the people) rests on the principle of equality: That “each should count for one, and none for more than one,” to paraphrase Jeremy Bentham. No one should have more power than others to decide the matters that affect all. No one has a natural right to rule over others by virtue of their wealth, sex, race, or wisdom. Democracy makes the people the judge of who is best qualified to make the law that governs all.

The principle of “one person, one vote” expresses this fundamental equality of every citizen. It is a principle that was powerfully expressed in the referendum approving the new Constitution. The vote cast in Kisumu had just the same weight as the vote cast in Kitengela. Each Kenyan citizen counted equally in giving the nation a new Constitution, regardless of region, ethnicity, wealth, education, and, yes, regardless of gender.

But “one person, one vote” is not the whole story of fairness in a system of representative democracy. In systems like Kenya’s, which have first-past-the-post electoral systems in which one representative is elected from each territorial district (rather than one of the many forms of proportional representation around the world), a strict reading of “one person, one vote” would require that every single electoral district would have exactly the same number of people as every other district.

One of the driving causes behind the Kenyan constitutional reform of electoral constituencies was that under the old Constitution electoral districts sometimes differed massively in population. Because of this, a vote cast in a constituency with a low population density could weigh many times more than a vote cast in a constituency with a high population density people if each of these two constituencies nevertheless elected only one representative each. It is for this reason that the new Constitution adds 80 new electoral districts, so that the inequality in voters’ power can be lessened. These reforms enhance the quality of democracy by making every citizen more equal in her or his power to shape the outcome of elections and, through their representatives, to shape the laws and policies developed in parliament.

“One person, one vote,” then, expresses a very fundamental aspect of fairness in democratic representation. Article 89 of the new Constitution is an expression of this principle. It specifies that “the boundaries of each constituency shall be such that the number of inhabitants in the constituency is, as nearly as possible, equal to the population quota,” where the population quota is the total number seats divided by the total population.

Nevertheless, the Constitution does allow for some departures from the principle of “one person, one vote.” It does so because the strict numerical equality of citizens’ votes isn’t the only principle of fairness that matters when it comes to political representation. Consider the allowable reasons for exceptions to the rule of strict equality: “(a) geographical features and urban centres; (b) community of interest, historical, economic and cultural ties; and (c) means of communication.”

How can these be justifiable reasons for departing from strict equality and from “one person, one vote”?

The reason is obvious: Fair political representation is not only about representing individual citizens. It is also about representing the different “communities of interest” that constitute the sovereign people. A principle of strict equality would mean that there would be many representatives from dense urban areas, but few or none from many rural, sparsely populated parts of the country. The idea of giving equal voice to the different communities of interest that constitute the Kenyan popular sovereign requires some considered departures from the principle of equal votes. This is why it does not seem deeply undemocratic to allow a justifiable degree of difference in the population size across counties.

The new system of county constituencies is designed precisely so that the differences among Kenyans are fairly represented in parliament – differences in region, language, economy, life-ways and cultures. Although one constituency may have a small population relative to the others, if the circumstances of life are sufficiently different from those in others, the constituents might feel they were not truly represented if they had no representative of their own in parliament, no matter how equally weighted their votes.

This very same logic is what makes sense of measures to secure, if not total equality, then at least a substantial measure of parity, a minimum threshold, when it comes to the representation of Kenyan women. Women are not geographically constituted such that one can draw a constituency or a county around them on a map. Yet the lived circumstances of women across Kenya are as different from those of men as the circumstances of neighbouring counties might be from each other. We understand that these geographically distinct constituencies must nevertheless each have their own representatives: why should women, too, not have an equal voice in parliament?

The point becomes even stronger when we focus on the fact that women are about equal numerically to men (in fact, they are numerically superior). If citizens from a low-population county can have a much more than proportional voice in parliament within the county-based seats, then why should women be content to have a much less than equal voice, a voice discounted in the current parliament by 80 per cent?

In any case there is nothing in the setting-aside of certain constituencies for women that violates the principle of “one person, one vote.”

It is not as if, in those constituencies or counties, male citizens do not get to vote. Their votes count for just as much as the vote of any woman citizen in choosing a representative. They just do not get to vote for a male candidate. Do we want to say that because 60 per cent of Kenyans have never had the opportunity of voting for a woman candidate, women in those constituencies did not have an equal vote? If having an equal vote means being able to vote for a candidate of one’s own gender, then 60 per cent of Kenyan women have been disenfranchised. We do not think that this is a sensible view of things. Women in those constituencies did get to vote, but in the parliamentary system as a whole they have been vastly underrepresented. They lack an equal voice in Kenyan politics, even if they have an equal vote.

To the question, “Do quotas for women violate ‘one person, one vote’?” our answer is a confident and resounding “No.”

Having an equally weighted vote is an important principle of fair representation in diverse democracies, but it is not the only principle of fairness that Kenyans have taken into account in making this Constitution more democratically responsive.

Next Week: Are set-aside seats a form of “reverse discrimination” or “unfair competition”?

Wambui Mwangi is a political scientist, photographer and writer. Melissa Williams is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto and the author of the award-winning Voice, Trust & Memory: Marginalised Groups and the Failings of Liberal Representation.



Growing little by little

Growing little by little


Posted 09 September 2011, by Kwanele Sosibo, The Mail & Guardian Online,


A community farm in Phillipi produces fruit and vegetables on a small scale. (David Harrison, M&G)

Rain, wind-blown sand and sunshine jostle for dominance. There is no one in sight except for older women hunched over well-maintained rows of healthy looking vegetable plants at the Siyazama Community Allotment Garden Association in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

“There is too much wind in Khayelitsha,” says Monica Dilla when I comment on her extensive use of protective tunnels. “It destroys the spinach, giving it black streaks. The sun also burns the crops and makes the sand dry very quickly, forcing us to irrigate twice a day when it’s sunny.”

Dilla runs a co-op called Masikhanye Food Garden, measuring about 1.2 hectares, with 19 other women at the edge of the Siyazama association’s land. It was started in 2000, three years after the association’s first garden was established in the township. Masikhanye also has gardens in other parts of Khayelitsha, such as Harare.

In their entirety, the association’s gardens cover about 3.5 hectares of a narrow stretch of municipal land that was once temporarily occupied by Eskom. According to the Abalimi Bezekhaya organisation, which assists communities like these to establish gardens, it is the first community garden of its size in Cape Town.

Although the Siyazama gardens are thriving, Nobesuthu Mgomane, a gardener who is in her fifties, says membership of the association has dwindled as women have left because of old age or impatience.

“There isn’t a big youth movement in this sector,” says Dilla, who qualifies for a pension in October. “Many regard it as a job for old people who are uneducated. So we still have to find ways of getting them involved.”

With the help of Abalimi Bezekhaya, Masikhanye Food Garden sells its produce to suburban Capetonians at a weekly market known as Harvest of Hope. Crates with a variety of vegetables fetch R95 each and Dilla says the co-op makes between R8 000 and R11 000 a month, which is divided among the women. They also distribute food parcels of vegetables to members of the group twice a week.

The department of social development has reportedly told Masikhanye that it “needs to be sustainable and can’t be babysat forever”.

Masikhanye has joined forces with other farmers to form the Vukuzenzele Farmers’ Association, with the aim of approaching the department of rural development and land reform to acquire more land and access bigger markets.

In the long run this could bolster Masikhanye’s fortunes, because it struggles to meet the demands of a larger-scale market closer to it. “The Phillipi [fruit and vegetable] market wants us to pay for stalls and they demand a lot of quantity. We are small farmers — where are we going to get pallets of carrots?” asked Dilla.

In the heart of Phillipi other community farmers who are constrained by space, failing crops and the need to make a living are contemplating repatriating to the Eastern Cape. Rose Makosa, who has lived in the township for more than 20 years, wants to return to her ancestral home to work with young people.

Looking over the 400m² plot she cultivates with her colleagues from the Sakhulwazi Women’s Organisation, she says: “This is not farming. In the Eastern Cape there is a lot of land that we can use. There are huge tracts of land where our fathers used to plant. Those children [living there now] may as well learn to be farmers.

“If we can get a government contract we can supply prisons, orphanages and hospitals with our produce. Then we can begin to reverse urbanisation, which has only succeeded in turning our youth into criminals.”

In a good month the garden generates about R3 500, which is distributed among the organisation’s 10 members, who also make beads to earn extra income.

But good months have been evading Makosa and her colleagues recently. When Makosa — the only one in the group who has received horticultural training — recently went on a six-week trip to the Eastern Cape, she came back to an unkempt garden, which suggested that her colleagues’ strengths lay more in beadwork than agriculture. Part of their crop failed because of a pest problem that they were ill-equipped to handle.

Makosa says she has appealed to the group’s sponsor, the non-profit organisation Heart’s project, called FoodTents, to assist urgently with the problem. “People get demotivated because they have to wait so long for a harvest,” said Shaun Cairns of FoodTents, which sponsored the group with its patented protective covering. It has taken over the site and turned it into a “grow zone” where it plans intensive training sessions to assist potential small-scale farmers to turn a profit from the crops they produce.

The protection afforded by the food tents, which cushion plants from the harsh elements, helps farmers to reduce the impact of inclement weather on their crops. They could, in the future, in other contexts across the region, help mitigate the effects of climate change and water shortages.

Kwanele Sosibo is the Eugene Saldanha Fellow in social justice reporting, supported by CAF Southern Africa. This feature was produced in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

Rainy days

  • Trends suggest that large regions of Africa — particularly the Sahel and part of Southern Africa — could experience a warming of 3°C to 6°C by 2100.
  • Precipitation patterns will be affected dramatically, declining by more than 20% compared to 1990 levels.
  • More than 95% of Africa’s agriculture is rain-fed. Agricultural production will be severely compromised by climate variability and change. The amount of arable land, the duration of growing seasons and the yield per hectare are all expected to decrease, adversely affecting food security and exacerbating malnutrition.
  • Three-quarters of African countries are in zones where small reductions in rainfall could cause large declines in overall water availability. By 2020, between 75-million and 250-million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress.



South Bali by Shanks’ Mare

ROLE Foundation & SoleMen to Support Children and Women’s Education and Bali’s Environment at ‘Walk the Bukit for a Sustainable Future’ Event September 22-25, 2011.


Posted 09 September 2011, by Staff, Bali News (Bali Discovery),




Bali’s first The Bukit Walk for a Sustainable Future fund raising event has been set for September 22-25, 2012. The 4-day walk will raise awareness and generate funds for underprivileged children in Indonesia, women’s literacy and vocational skills training programs and environmental restoration projects in South Bali.

The Bukit Walk for a Sustainable Future invites local businesses, hotels and individuals located in the Bukit area of South Bali to become involved by making cash donations, purchasing tickets for a raffle prize draw, act as sponsors for the event or to make a personal pledges rededicating themselves to create an environmentally sustainable world.

SoleMen Robert Epstone, Frenchman Daniel Chieppa with his Balinese wife ‘Yatna, and Swissman Beat Schmid de Gruneck will walk barefoot a circuit that will take them around the entire Bukit peninsula.

Together with ROLE Foundation who are the organizers of The Bukit Walk for a Sustainable Future – local business and hotels along the route will be encouraged to make donations and pledges.

During the event visits will also be paid at the Bali Life Foundation an orphanage in the Bukit and Eco Surf Rescue Uluwatu – a non-profit waste management project dealing with trash collection and sewerage.

During the walk, ROLE Foundation hopes to attract new students. ROLE is inviting unskilled women from the Bukit area to sign-up to its free education program with courses in literacy and vocational skills training.

The Bukit Walk for a Sustainable Future will start from ROLE’s Town Leaning Center on Jalan Siligita in Nusa Dua on Thursday, September 22, 2011.

The route will pass through Ungasan, Pecatu, Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland and Jimbaran, and the final leg passing through Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Dua to Sawangan (see the map). The walk ends back at ROLE’s Eco-Learning Park, Sawangan with a celebratory Children’s Fun Day event at the park to be held on Sunday 25th September.

ROLE Foundation

ROLE Foundation believes that poverty and environmental degradation are inextricably linked. The programs seek effective ways to ensure a healthy environment and to eradicate poverty through environmental assistance projects, education, environmental awareness building, and the creation of eco-friendly job opportunities.

Founded by Michael O’Leary in 2007, ROLE Foundation is a registered charity in Indonesia, headquartered in Bali.

ROLE educates and provides employment assistance for 200 women, has welcomed over 2000 children and visitors to the Eco-Learning Center, and manages environmental restoration and waste management projects.

[ROLE Foundation Website]

SoleMan Indonesia

SoleMen Indonesia is registered charity providing funds to support accredited agencies and projects for homeless and underprivileged children in Indonesia. The SoleMen are walking barefoot to support poor and homeless children in Indonesia.

[SoleMan Website]

Walk the Bukit for a Sustainable Future  

For more information, to make cash donations, learn more about sponsorship or join this year’s event contact ROLE Foundation by [Email] or telephone ++62-(0)361-8078805 or ++62–(0)81 338 157924.

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