Kenya is scheduled to hold presidential elections this coming August. In every election cycle, citizens engage in dialogue and negotiations with their respective political aspirants regarding pressing local issues. Based on past election cycles, these issues include infrastructure, healthcare, education, sanitation, food, security and peace – among others.
In democratic societies, communication between leadership and citizens ensures that information vital to the existence, survival and development of constituents is available to them in a timely and balanced manner. Thus, the visible silence regarding harmful cultural practices by the candidates vying for the various positions in Kenya this year is hugely significant.
Given the officialdom associated with legislators such as Members of County Assembly (MCAs), Members of Parliament (MPs) and other elected officials, the campaign period provides a perfect opportunity for members of the public to access prospective power wielders. This is particularly important because, apart from being eventually responsible for representing their people both at county and national level, legislators are responsible for making and amending laws. An early encounter can create a rapport between citizens and lawmakers that will be invaluable during a future term in office.
It is during campaign season that activists have a perfect chance to reach out to prospective candidates and have a genuine discussion about the need to include eradication of FGM as part of any political agenda. These negotiations could not only inform the party manifesto but also raise the possibility of creating an official policy – should the particular party and its leaders ascend to higher office. In this case, anti-FGM activists can piggy-back on political aspirants at the grassroots level to reach out to their party leaders as a means of escalating the message to discourage the practice of FGM.
More specifically, women political aspirants – by virtue of vying for a special political seat of ‘women representative’ – have a more powerful platform to mainstream ‘women’s issues’ within their agendas. They can address the issues that their male counterparts would still rather not talk about. Women representatives aspirants, irrespective of party affiliations, are by virtue of their position expected to speak on women’s causes without fear of losing votes.
Overall, I fault the donor community for the silence around FGM in current Kenyan politics. Despite being conscious that 2017 was an election year, they have not considered the importance of investing in activities aimed at bringing together anti-FGM actors and aspirants in areas where harmful traditional practices still occur. While it is understandable that donors may prefer to remain apolitical, when it comes to battling FGM they must be more willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. FGM is, after all, a cross-party, urgent issue that requires massive political capital.
On a disappointing note, I fear that that most politicians will avoid talking about FGM among other harmful traditional practices for fear of losing votes. It defies logic how leaders elected on the promise of alleviating poverty and misery can ignore or even encourage a practice that continuously enslaves the electorate.