Kenya Elections: Ann Nderitu on good governance and regulating the country's political parties
Kenya’s party primaries recently closed - a process for political parties to select candidates for the various elective seats in August’s General Election. Ann Nderitu, 47, heads Kenya’s Office of the Registrar for Political Parties (ORPP), which is responsible for registration and regulating of the country’s political parties. She speaks to UN Women about the importance of good governance and the steps taken to ensure that this year’s election is more inclusive of female candidates.
Why did you get involved in politics?
I’m passionate about governance and making things right and I want public service to be a reference point for good service. In 2007, I was an administrator in Limuru [20km from Nairobi, central Kenya] and was responsible for handling survivors of the post-election violence. I saw the suffering of women and children as people were displaced from Limuru or arriving there, fleeing from their homes. It was a desperate situation. That was the trigger - I decided I was going to participate in something that would prevent something like this ever happening again.
Are there challenges in being the Registrar for Political Parties?
I am a strong believer in the rule of law. This creates order, but leadership demands you make decisions that may be unpopular. Using facts and being fair can guide through. It is also important to try and make decisions that can bring people together rather than divide.
Occasionally, I am reminded that I am woman and not right for the job. The first thing is to respond, not react. Over time, I have learned the difference between reaction and responding. Response is to give facts and disarm those who are trying to get a reaction. Any job should be for any Kenyan who qualifies, and we need to look at the abilities to do a job rather than gender.
Being calm is also important, even when a situation is stormy. You need this when dealing with stressful scenarios, particularly in the political spaces because emotions run high. We are the duty beaters and people look to us for solutions. We need to show leadership as an institution, to ensure we treat our customers right.
Dialogue is very important – calling political parties, informing them on deadlines, explaining issues and procedures, organising information in a way that can be easily understood and help them execute their mandate as best they can. They seek our services.
What measures are being implemented to increase women’s participation in the election?
In 2022 the Political Parties Act Amendment (2011) was passed with a specific view to make the elections more equal for women candidates and other marginalised groups. The amendments are intended to bring order and sanity within the nomination process. Before, the process was opaque. Making this more procedural was very important.
Firstly, strengthening the registration process of candidates avoids confusion or shifting of goalposts. Previously, candidates could represent different parties for different seats. When the deadline comes, candidates must choose one. There is also a provision that calls for party candidate lists to meet a constitutional threshold of not more than 2/3s of any one gender.
Political party funding criteria was also reviewed in the amendments. As such, 15 per cent of their funding is now dependent on the ratio of special interest groups included on their nomination lists. The parties are now competing to bring women onto their lists.
In addition to legislative strengthening, we have also focused on political education for aspirants, party organs and the citizens at large to support and vote for women into political leadership. We have forged collaborative frameworks with partners, like UN Women, to spearhead interventions on broader issues affecting women in election and politics.
What is your main message to parties and their candidates?
Maintain peace and control your supporters. It is not always the parties that sanction violence but their supporters, without the permission of the parties. Parties need to continually talk to supporters so that everyone can campaign freely and allow everyone to participate. They are vehicles of governance and public institutions and should allow the public to scrutinise them and ask them questions and allow participation through their organisations.
Also, contestants need to be ready for elections result. Everyone participates in elections to win, but sometimes you lose. When you lose, it is not IEBC or other duty bearers that have done wrong, and there can only be one winner. Plan to win but be prepared if you lose. Have two speeches – one for winning and one for losing. Again, you need to respond to such a situation. Emotional reactions can create violence. We are in this country to stay, and we have only one, that we must preserve.
In 2021, Kenya’s Office of the Registrar for Political Parties (ORPP), UN Women and other state and non-state actors successfully advocated for amendments to the Political Parties Act, supported by the Government of Finland. Provisions are now being implemented ahead of the 2022 General Elections to ensure they will be more inclusive of women candidates and voters and prevent elections related violence.