Senator scores a first with win to head pro-democracy lobby

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Nominated Kanu Senator Abshiro Soka Halake added another feather to her cap after being elected to chair the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Kenya (CMD).

Who is Senator Abshiro Soka Halake?

I am a Kanu nominated Senator from Isiolo County, Vice Chairperson, Senate Standing Committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and member, Senate Standing Committee on Land, Environment and Natural Resources.

I am also now the incoming chairperson of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy Kenya (CMD), a political parties-based membership organisation with the mandate to enhance multiparty democracy and strengthen the institutional capacity of political parties in Kenya through policy influence and capacity strengthening.

Before joining politics, I was the immediate former Deputy Secretary-General of the Kenya Red Cross Society.

Before this, I was the Deputy Director of Strategy and Change at the Kenya Wildlife Service. My first job after university was with the Canadian High Commission, where I held different positions.


Senator Abshiro is a mother of three children; she is a politician and an activist in different social and economic sectors with senior management experience in various fields.

She is a mentor, coach, and trainer and holds a Bachelor of Education degree from Kenyatta University, Master of Science in Strategic Management and Organisational Development, and an MBA in Energy and Sustainability from the University of Cumbria, UK.

Were you born a politician? If not, when did the bug bite you?

While people may have certain character traits, strengths or values that may predispose them to certain careers, I am not sure anyone is born a politician.

However, having worked in different capacities, I figured politics and policy influence is the next career progression for me.

So in the search for the next challenge that would bring a bigger and more consequential change, I got involved in politics.

How did your nomination come about? Were you surprised by it?

I have been volunteering for my party behind the scenes for some time before my nomination, and my party felt that I would be more effective from inside the party as an active politician than from outside as a volunteer behind the scenes, and a nomination was deemed the best way for me to contribute.

The Hansard shows that you made 433 speeches in 2019, 291 last year and 31 in 2017. How can you explain this? Are you getting bolder with time? Do you match your talk with action?

In 2017, the House was in session for a short time. You will recall that the elections were held in August and repeated in October then recess in December for Christmas break.

The window for parliamentary business was really short. You may be right though, with time one gets to understand the workings, the procedures, the Standing Orders — which are the rules that govern house business and that does contribute to enhanced participation.

In terms of matching talk with action, my contributions emanate from and/or are intended to spur action.

When you make legislation, these pieces of legislation form the framework for implementation of the proposals they contain.

When parliamentary questions, statements and petitions are presented, these are followed by actions in their execution. So yes, I strive and always push for action from the parliamentary work that I do and the issues that I raise and debate.

However, we must understand that parliamentarians make laws and their application and execution often span different actors — Executive, Judiciary and other stakeholders and citizens as may be appropriate.

As a nominated Senator for Kanu, what do you consider your role in the Senate to be?

My role as a Senator is stipulated in the Constitution, which gives legislative, representation and oversight authority to Parliament.

For Senate, the mandate is provided under Article 96 of the Constitution.

As a Kanu nominated Senator, I do consider my responsibilities to my party to be extremely important too.

I have and continue to support my party to strengthen its structures, its political strategy and its diverse membership.

Additionally, nominated members do have special interest groups that we represent countrywide.

In my case, my focus is on the special needs and interest of women, youth and other vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities and other marginal groups.

Several legislative pieces and other parliamentary work that I have done reflect these roles and responsibilities in diverse categories including human rights, child protection, amendments to succession laws, sexual and gender-based violence and conservation.

How did you end up at the helm of the CMD?

I didn’t just end up at the helm of Centre for Multiparty Democracy.

When the term of the previous chairperson and the steering committee of CMD came to an end, I offered my leadership, showcased the skills, experience, knowledge and values that I would bring to CMD, sought and marshalled support from member party leaders, and put a great team with whom I would work with in the steering committee.

This combination gave the team and me the opportunity and privilege to be elected to the leadership.

Does being the first woman to head the body put any pressure on you?

I don’t think so. Frankly, I have never viewed my leadership with gender lenses.

But I must admit that any new leadership role does put pressure on the new leader as she or he builds new networks, trust, and puts in place all that is required to take the organisation to the next level of success.

How do you intend to juggle your responsibilities as senator and CMD chairperson?

My work as Chair of CMD and my political work as a senator have a natural affinity, thus the linkage between CMD and Parliament is a win-win, I believe.

Strengthening our political parties and providing a platform for political dialogue to promote democratic governance is a shared and desired outcome for both parliament and CMD.

But I am not in this alone. I have a great CMD governance structure and management structure all manned by great and competent Kenyans and I have great support at the Senate — actually, Parliament secretariat does have some of the most competent people I have had the pleasure of working with.

I admit I do have a full plate but I have great teams to work with. Besides, I am very organised and disciplined. I am confident it will be a fun challenge juggling both.

What legacy do you intend to leave at CMD? Anything you may wish to have changed?

As it stands today the strategic areas of focus for CMD include intra- and inter-party dialogue, party strengthening, gender and inclusivity as well as youth development.

These are great areas to focus on and whether or not they evolve as our political and social-economic landscape evolves, these are areas of great opportunity for entrenching democracy and human rights.

These are things that I understand and are passionate about. My team and I will strive to give this country a sustainable, modern and relevant institution that is right for our times and right for our country. That is the legacy we will work to leave at CMD.

What do you consider the high and low moments of your life?

By now you have figured I am a crazy optimist, always seeing the glass as half full.

I have so much to be thankful for, that the lows are eclipsed.

Sometimes I think there’s no such thing as a low in one’s life; the great lessons that propel us to great heights usually have their roots in what at the time may be considered a low.

I will summarise this question in one word, Alhamdulillah (praise be to God)!

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