MCA begins quest to reclaim seat
The adage that politics is a dirty game has in most cases served to discourage women aspiring for political seats.
But for Mereza Atieno Akell, this only served to propel her to leadership. She waded through the murky political arena during the 2013 General Election to become the only woman elected as a member of the Migori County Assembly.
Akell was not only able to marshal immense support from youth and women to win the Bukira Central/Ikerenge Ward seat but she beat eight men who were well oiled for the campaign.
“My long and illustrious career as a teacher and head teacher over a period of 20 years prepared me for this seat,” says Akell who also served as the chairperson of the Kuria East Head Teachers Association for ten years.
The MCA who has a Bachelor’s of Art Degree in Education is the only woman chairing a committee in the house. “I have always wanted to see all children in Migori County access education and this is what inspired me to contest as the chair of the Early Childhood Development and Education Committee, making me the only woman chairing a committee in the assembly,” she says during an interview with Kenyan Woman.
Akell also sits in several other committees among them Budget and Planning, Culture and Gender, House Business and Liaison.
In the Assembly, Akell is one of the most active members. “I have managed to bring a number of motions before the floor of the House which have sailed through,” she explains and cites motions on the creation of village administration units, engaging community health volunteers for remuneration, training and capacity development of Early Childhood Development Education teachers.
Akell has also introduced the County Early Childhood Development Education Bill which not only seeks to ensure that the county provides free milk to children in pre-school but also recruits ECDE caretakers.
At the ward level, Akell has been able to initiate many development projects. She has pioneered establishment of the first ever community centre and library that now supports up to 500 children and adolescents to bridge their educational gaps.
Akell lobbied for the tarmacking of the Komomange-Nyaigutu and Kugitibu-Nyawaitanjiria roads in her ward.
She has also initiated several women empowerment projects including starting a dairy cow project where over 1,000 women have been able to boost their incomes. She has also helped to fundraise and support more than 300 widows to set up and run businesses with a view to ensuring that they become self-reliant.
Akell has also ensured that bright and needy students in her ward receive bursary. “In the past four years, over 1,600 students have benefitted from the bursary programme in my ward which has helped to improve standards of education in the area,” she says.
Akell has also personally sponsored 58 orphaned and vulnerable children through their primary, secondary and tertiary education.
She says that the accomplished projects have increased her chances for re-election and earned her political mileage.
The journey has not been without challenges. “I have been abused and threatened as a female politician. I also come from a community heavily steeped in patriarchy and dictates that politics is a male preserve and women should take a back seat,” she explains.
Further, Akell points out, lack of adequate financial resources has derailed some of the projects she had initiated in the ward noting that while an MP has a development kitty, the MCA is sometimes forced to use her own money to finance community projects.
Despite her remarkable achievements, Akell says the seat has attracted several contenders. However, she is confident that she will reclaim the seat come the General Election on August 8.
“I am very optimistic that with my achievements, I will retain the seat and continue to serve the people of Bukira Central/Ikerenge Ward,” she says, exuding confidence.
As a leader, Akell has learnt to be tolerant. “There are people who will support you and others who will oppose you but you must be resilient to overcome this challenge,” she affirms.
She urges women aspiring for political seats to develop a support system. “My family is my greatest support. Once you get into politics, your life becomes public and, therefore, you will need people who will support you in every way.”
She advices women aspiring for political positions to plan for everything including how they intend to engage with the electorate.
“Establish a small group of people you trust to work in your campaign committee with representation from all areas,” she says.
Akell believes women have what it takes to lead in the political arena and calls for more women to contest for seats in Migori County.
She calls on women voters to use their numerical strength, come out in large numbers and vote for women.