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Madam President: a future and a reality TV show intertwined

by - Hope Mutie

2032. A few days after Election Day. The stadium is awash with a crowd wild with ecstasy and anticipation. The Chief Justice stands close by armed with the instruments of power and the Constitution ready to hand them over to the president elect. The Kenya Defence Forces; gallant sons and daughters of the soil, will soon fire a 21 gun salute to welcome the new Commander in Chief. It’s a historic day in Kenya as the first female president takes oath of office.
Where did it all begin?
Stuff of Fantasy?
Let me give you a bit of context. In my country, women have to overcome incredible odds to get elected to any political position. In some quarters, the idea of a female chief executive is radical, an anathema even. Why? I’m glad you asked. Stereotypes about gender still run deep. Consider this: Women in Kenya are the least represented in leadership positions in the East Africa bloc. The writers of the constitution of Kenya, 2010 sought to at least reduce the gaping gender gap by including a provision that no more than two thirds of the same gender shall hold elective offices. But the bill has never seen the light of day in parliament. And the last time a female candidate ran for president? They garnered a paltry 0.36% of the vote.
Ms. President
Enter Media Focus on Africa, an organization that produces content for social change. In collaboration with the mainstream television network KTN, Media Focus on Africa is launching a reality show aptly christened ‘Ms. President’. 50 women participants cutting across the 47 counties will contend for the title of ‘Ms. President’ in a 26 episode show running 6 months. Funded by the European Union, this groundbreaking, edutainment show will demonstrate the talents, abilities, and leadership qualities of women on national television. Audiences across the country will get to see women prove their mettle in tackling national challenges: violent extremism, the economy, and more. It’ll be a high wattage affair that’ll not just portray women as equally capable of leadership; but also spur a much needed conversation about women and the same.
A work in progress at Media Focus on Africa
A Depiction
Very importantly, Ms. President will help viewers visualize a woman president. People – both men and women usually associate power with masculinity. This is partly because women in leadership, particularly apex positions remain a rarity. I recently wrapped up Hillary Clinton’s memoir: ‘What Happened’, part post-mortem of the 2016 United States presidential election. Analyzing the American context, she notes: "…voters had no historical frame of reference to draw upon” when it came to a female president. I find this akin to the Kenyan context in the sense that for generations, the image of power, or influence for Kenyans has been largely masculine. This show, together with the activities surrounding it, are a serious starting point to turn the tide.
I interviewed Harrison Manga, project coordinator at Media Focus on Africa. His enthusiasm about the project is palpable. “We believe the show will make the idea of a female president relatable. Ms. President will help the Kenyan society visualize what a woman leader looks like, what she can do. It will elevate voices of women and increase their visibility”. I ask him how he thinks the show will translate to votes for women leaders and he elatedly tells me: “by people actively participating by watching, discussing and voting for their favorite contestants, being emotionally involved in the process, they will begin to process and internalize the idea of a female president”.
Beyond the Small Screen
In addition to devoted social media campaigns, Harrison and team will take the show to citizens in community outreaches all over the country to broadcast and discuss the episodes over the next two years. These engagements, Harrison tells me, will help overturn abiding assumptions about the place of women and leadership. They will help dismantle perceptions, challenge norms and change notions that women can’t or shouldn’t lead in high office.
Inspiring Women
‘Ms. President’ will embolden women and girls to pursue leadership positions. This might be just what will stoke the ambition of pockets of young women across the country to aim at more, to aspire for more. Seeing women in charge of things will show them that they can, indeed, also run them. And judging by the sheer number of applications, it’s clear as a whistle that women are already fired up about the possibilities.
A few of the applications grouped per county
Like a Badge of Honour: Ambition
When I heard the moniker of one applicant, it piqued my curiosity. Brightstar Kasyoka, at 19, is the youth governor for the county of Kitui (and the youngest youth governor in Kenya, by the way), and former student leader at university. Her gaze on the next general election as a legislator hopeful is firm and steadfast. She pauses, perhaps for effect, when she tells me “I want a platform to advocate for the well-being of kids. This is a cause close to my heart.” And then: “I want to join the show to be involved in something that shows women can lead, inspire, influence.” This is an opportunity for her to receive mentorship, buttress her leadership skills, give her exposure to voters. And she has plenty to offer in return: her experiences as a young leader, a young woman, and a young person who has surmounted challenges. Brightstar suffered a limp right hand after an accident at 2 years old, occasioning years of teasing and bullying in school. But this has only stiffened her resolve. “I want to change how people view perfection. I want to show young people it’s possible to rise above disability, above bullying”.
I personally cannot wait to see her star shining even brighter.
A Shift
I share my enthusiasm and optimism with the architects and everyone working hard to bring this show on television. This could be what precipitates a sea change in Kenya’s political landscape: more women contending for office, a reality of more female leaders across board, a more balanced representation for the Kenyan people in life-impacting policies and decisions. And who knows, a female president - sooner than seems likely.
Where it began.

Original version