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Cablegate: Kenya Elections: Women Candidates Intimidated

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1. (SBU) Summary: In the last two months, at least six
women candidates for local office and Parliamentary seats
have been physically attacked in attempts to intimidate
them into dropping out of the race. On October 7, Asha
Ali became the latest victim of such an attack. Ali, who
is running for a civic council seat in the Nairobi suburb
of Dandora, is still struggling to recover from the
brutal beating she received, a beating that she believes
was ordered by her MP in an attempt to silence her and
shut doen her campaign. Post continues to be outspoken
in supporting Ali and other victims and to urge the GOK
to prevent election-related violence and to investigate
and punish those responsible for it. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Asha Ali, a single mother of five, lives in
Dandora estate, notorious as one of Nairobi's roughest
neighborhoods. Home to the largest dump in Nairobi, it
is listed as one of the most polluted places in the world
and boasts a crime rate that is exceptionally high even
by Nairobi standards. Ali, who works for a local NGO,
decided to run for a seat on the local civic council to
address the problems of poverty, crime, and unemployment
that plague her community and that fall particularly
heavily on women and children. On October 7, Ali became
the latest in a series of women candidates who have been
violently attacked in an effort to persuade them not to
run for office (SEE REF a).

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3. (SBU) Ali's eyes filled with tears as she recounted
the brutal beating and humiliation inflicted on her by
three armed men in front of her house. Thinking at first
that the attack was a simple robbery, Ali handed over her
valuables. When the beating continued in full view of
her children and her elderly mother, Ali pleaded with her
attackers to stop. "They told me not to stand for office
in this constituency, and to go where 'my people' are in
Kibera slum," said Ali. Beating her with sticks, kicking
her, brandishing machetes and in AK-47, and finally
threatening her with rape, her attackers made clear that,
if she continues her political campaign, her life is in
danger. When Poloff visited her in the hospital several
days after the attack, Ali was still struggling with the
resulting physical and emotional trauma, as well as the
mounting medical bills. However, she vowed to continue
her candidacy.

4. (SBU) Ali is an ethnic Kikuyu living in a Kikuyu-
dominated area, but as a convert to Islam with a Muslim
name, was assumed by her attackers to be "Nubian" and
thus a minority in her neighbourhood. (Note: Nairobi's
sprawling Kibera slum, home to some one million people,
originated as a settlement for Muslim Nubian World War I
veterans. Today, their descendants own much of the
property in Kibera and rent it, often illegally, to poor
tenants from other ethnic groups. Kibera has been the
site of bitter, often violent, conflict over the legality
of slum dwellings and the Kikuyu-dominated government's
preferential treatment of Kikuyu. End note.) Ethnicity
is only one element of the attack, however. In standing
for civic council without "permission" from area MP David
Mwenje, Ali has challenged a man known for resorting to
violence in order to stay in power. Ali is known in
Dandora as an activist for women's rights. She has taken
rape victims for medical treatment, encouraged women to
leave abusive relationships, and supported girls in their
efforts to finish secondary school.


5. (SBU) Ali and Mwenge, her MP, are both ethnic Kikuyu,
members of the pro-Kibaki NARC-Kenya party, and
supporters of Kibaki's re-election campaign. However,
despite these superficial similarities, Ali claims Mwenge
ordered the attack on her in order to punish her for
daring to run for a civic council seat against the (male)
candidate Mwenge supports. Ali also cleaims that Mwenge
put the fix on the recent election for the divisional
leader of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO), a
national NGO focused on women's rights and gender equity
issues, by ensuring that voters from outside the
constituency supported his preferred candidate and not
Ali who also ran for the position. The holder of this
position is considered to be very influential among women

6. (SBU) Mwenge, currently serving as an Assistant

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Minister in the Ministry of Cooperative Development and
Marketing, has been the MP for Embakasi constituency
since 1983. A man with a big ego and unpredictable
temper, Mwenge presides over a constituency with the
largest number of registered voters in Nairobi'a fact
that his critics attribute to his ability to import
additional Kikuyu voters from neighbouring districts. In
2003, Mwenge shocked colleagues when he publicly
confessed to having used Jeshi la Embakasi, a banned
violent youth group akin to the notorious Mungiki gang,
to intimidate his political enemies. Use of such
vigilante groups by senior politicians was common under
former President Daniel arap Moi's regime, but has waned
following the election of President Kibaki in December
2002. Mwenge is also known for getting into a physical
altercation with fellow MP in Parliament in 2001, which
culminated in the other MP biting Mwenge in the back.
Although Mwenge claims his violent tactics are a thing of
the past, many observers in the constituency, including
Ali, believe that he is up to his old tricks and will
continue resorting to violence during the upcoming

7. (SBU) Unfortunately, violence against women candidates
in both Parliamentary and local government races is on
the rise in the last few months. The brutal September
attack against Parliamentary candidate Flora Tera, who
has organized a "Tera Against Terror" campaign to bring
attention to the issue of violence against women
candidates, was the most publicized but by no means the
only such attack (ref A). The Ambassador visited Tera in
the hospital and brought extensive media attention to the
issue, calling for swift and appropriate government
action to prevent future attacks. The UNIFEM-supported
Gender and Governance Programme in Kenya estimates that
at least six women candidates have been physically
attacked in the last two months. Women candidates have
huge hurdles to overcome in terms of cultural bias and
securing campaign financing; violence and intimidation
add another barrier to meaningful participation of women
in the Kenyan electoral process (see ref B). The
recently launched Gender Rapid Response Unit (GRRU),
supported by UNIDFEM and other donors, will provide
another mechanism for women candidates to seek
counselling, legal services and advocacy. The GRRU is
committed to working with the Kenyan Police, the
Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and the media to
combat gender based political violence. Post will
continue to closely monitor the situation, to publicly
support victims, and to pressure the GOK to ensure that
women candidates can run for office without fear. We are
identifying key constituencies in which women are viable
candidates and will follow these races particularly
closely. We are working closely with non-governmental
groups involved in supporting women's rights.

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