Election Safari Program Correspondent at Siasa Place- Samburu County
In African communities, songs form a powerful tool of expression, there are songs for every occasion and it is no different in Samburu community. The Samburu people are close but distinct from the Maasai of Kenya, and their culture is among other things rich with songs which are crucial component of their nomadic pastoralism life. They use songs to tease one another, to rebuke misdeeds by others and largely for praise.
Traditionally girls praised morans for their bravery as the official community protectors in the conflict prone county, women also sung for various reasons mainly as form of prayer, petitioning gods for rain. Though women are the family’s backbone in this community, they are still at the periphery of socio-political decision making; hence they have resorted to singing for entertainment in political rallies while lacing their songs with political agendas.
The seasons for clan based political endorsements in Samburu are characterized by merry making and intensive blessings from the elders (men). As the men move around in their favorite politician’s campaign trails ditching blessings, women have been left to singlehandedly run the family errands (ramat) but they seem to defy their traditional place and are singing issues that matter to them.
Though they are not free to roam throughout the county like their husbands, they have organized themselves into informal groups and are making their voices heard in their localities through songs. A closer listening to what these women say in their songs and you discover they are eloquent orators, who have crafted musical tunes that speak of the issues affecting their community. Ranging from education, security, food shortage, poor leadership they have lyrics that suit any political gathering. On girl child empowerment, a group of women in Suguta Marmar had questions they needed answers from their leaders and men in the community.
They sang; “As a community we had agreed that education is important, we have taken our girls and boys to school all the way to the university level. We have put a particular emphasis on the girl child education, we call the police to arrest anyone who tries to marry them off. It is equal opportunities for all. But when it comes to political leadership, girls are still told they cannot be elected because they are girls. We are asking our men to tell us why so, because our girls are brilliant and equally educated like the boys, what then is it with the obsession of their bodily features? Can we try and see if they can actually be leaders? We, their mothers have taken care of our large families and by extension the community without an education, can we give our girls a chance to lead us?”
These are women who had stayed at the back too long and now have decided to speak out, this can be attributed to the expansion of liberties in the context of shifts from traditional authorities, authoritarian to slightly more liberalized regimes brought about by devolution and most importantly the emergence of new autonomous women movements. These women empowerment movements mostly being spearheaded by the elite women in the community through Non-Governmental Organizations, the national and county government are changing the face of the Samburu woman.
It is no surprise they notice any minute development brought by the government since they bear the brutality of all kinds of calamities in this arid land as mothers and home makers. They are therefore not just critics of Governor Moses Lenolkulal’s government, they appreciate what he has done for them like provision of water, securing their villages from banditry attacks through deployment of Scouts manning conservancies and the Kenya Police Reservists who have been recruited throughout the county, and fair distribution of bursaries, scholarships to their children among others.
These, they express in music, singing their hearts out for everyone who cares to listen. In Baragoi a group of women sang to the county assembly speaker Steve Lelegwe who is a senate aspirant; “Speaker Lelegwe when you go to senate please push for the formation of more conservancies in the county prioritizing all our county’s border points, starting with the plains of Sikira and remember to create job opportunities for our children who did not secure jobs in the current government” While encouraging him not to shy from leadership because he has their blessings and his fellow youth look up to him.
Other than the women representative, there is no any other elected woman in Samburu County and there has never been any since the history of the Samburu people. It goes unsaid that this is a man’s community as far as its leadership is concerned. Thankfully this time women have joined the campaign trail albeit in songs to advocate for alternative leadership, a leadership that includes women.