By Lydia Limbe
“I love politics. My father and I always discussed politics. When I was in high school, during that time when students are expected to choose the potential courses they’d like to take up in Universities after completing their KCSE, it was a no-brainer for me. I chose Political Science,” says Beth Wanyoro the current Vice Chair Person of the Student Organization of Maseno University, also fondly known as SOMU.
Beth is a trailblazer in Kenyan student politics history. She is the first female to be elected in that position, the unofficial consensus being that it’s not a position for the female folk and has been so since the first Kenyan university was built.
“In my first week of joining campus, I was enrolled into the campaign trail of one of the contenders. He later on became the vice chairperson of SOMU.”
It was during this period that Beth got to put to test her political interest, giving her invaluable experience and knowledge that later became the corner stone of her success in this non-trodden path.
Many women like Beth, get into institution of higher learning and want to fully participate in the day-to-day running of the student affairs. Winifred Buya and Minky Wanja are among them.
Winifred, like Beth, recalls that immediately she stepped into the campus grounds, she knew that she had to be part of the student body.
“I wanted to so badly, and made a mental note to find out how I can be able to actively engage in student politics.” Says Winifred during a phone interview.
The ‘how’ opened up for her, when she heard of a workshop by Akili Dada for aspiring student leaders like her, dubbed ‘Emerging Leaders Workshop.’
“I’ll be honest, when I went there, I thought that Akili Dada would fund my campaigns. I quickly realized that the workshop was to equip us with the necessary tools to be able to successfully view for political positions within the student governing body,” adds Winifred.
It was during this training (2015) that she met Minky Wanja, who was a student leader at Kenyatta University as the Gender and Social Welfare Secretary. Wanja had gone to speak to the aspiring female student leaders about her experiences as a political student, and to encourage them to forge on.
“It was an honour for me to be able to continue mentoring other female students interested in vying for student leadership positions. As the Gender and Social Welfare Secretary at Kenyatta University, one of the things I did was to mentor interested female students in students politics through the Amazing Woman Dialogue.” Said Wanja.
Wanja and Winifred hit it off at the Emerging Leaders Workshop, and Wanja became Winifred’s mentor during her political quest.
“I came from the training with renewed vigor. I must do this, I told myself. Wanja was my sounding board during that time. Also, I was able to tackle the issue of campaign funds confidently after that.”
Winifred went on ahead to be elected the Organizing Secretary for the Students Organization of Maseno University. Even though Wanja had been invited by Akili Dada to come speak to the aspiring students, she’s glad she stayed on through the whole training and speaks highly of the training content.
“I’ve not forgotten the Business Canvas Model. It’s a tool that I in my life. It gets me to zero in on what I stand for as a person, and help me break down to the finer details of how to achieve a goal I’ve set for myself.”
The two current student leaders say it was not easy getting into university politics, but all say it was worth every moment.
“When I was on the campaign trail with my predecessor, I read the whole constitution. There’s nowhere that it’s written that there are female positions as well as male positions. So when it was time for re-election, and when I looked at the vision I had, I strong felt that the position of Vice Chair is the best for it. So I went in full throttle.” Said Beth, the Vice Chair of SOMU.
In her manifesto, she’d promised to increase the bursary fund, and has already done so up from Ksh 600,000 to Ksh 1m. So far, 255 students have benefited from this fund, with 23 of them being from the once neglected Homabay Campus.
Both Beth and Minky feel that if they had political mentors, it would have strengthened their political participation.
“Even after being elected, I did not have any leadership training until I attended one by Acumen. We studies the different global leaders and their leadership styles, and that is when I felt I could boldly and effectively be the embodiment of the position I was elevated for,” says Minky.
Beth is aware of this need, and has enrolled herself for the next week’s Emerging Leadership Workshop. Fingers crossed she makes it to the final list.