The woman out to sanitise Kenyan politics

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nderitu

The Registrar of Political Parties Ms. Ann Nderitu during the interview on June 21, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

The Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) is a hot seat. On most days, politicians storm the institution fuming and with a barrage of accusations and demands.

Ms Anne Nderitu, its occupant deals with the ruckus with charisma and a grin that never fades from her face. This smile, though, belies many things, but mostly, the delicate nature of her job. Her office is one of the major stakeholders in the coming General Election.

Before her appointment in 2018, she had worked at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) as an elections trainer. She is now a career elections practitioner and a Bridge-accredited facilitator.

When we meet for this interview, she is in the middle of organising a national caravan that will tour the country this week to preach peace ahead of the August 9 elections.

‘‘We want political parties to commit to a peaceful election through our clarion call that ‘‘Uchaguzi si Uadui,’’ she says as we settle down.

Ms Nderitu, a mother of four believes there is hope for sanity in Kenya’s political processes and that family is the best bet for stronger public institutions.

What it means to work with political parties, politicians and their supporters. 

You must have the passion to work with them and the mindset that politics is dynamic. No situation remains the same. This job is not routine. You wake up expecting new challenges. As a regulator, you must have clarity of your role and the legal framework to take politicians –most who want to operate outside the law – back on track.

Why this job demands a special type of skills.

You must have patience and positive energy. Politics is sometimes a frustrating career with many failures. As a regulator, you must not add to politicians’ frustrations as this breeds agitation, which could lead to violence. You must be firm but flexible. Firm because you must implement the law and flexible because you must provide politicians with options in any given scenario.

Being available and providing information needed by your clients (political parties and politicians) is important. When there is a gap in information flow, people start to speculate and propaganda emerges. In public service, the turnaround time is critical.

On making unpopular decisions.

The first question you ask yourself is: is it within my right to make the decision? Secondly, is it my mandate? Is it within the law? Is it fair both morally and legally? Once you make the decision that is anchored on these elements, it does not matter who gets aggrieved. You make the decision and deal with the consequences later.

Some of the consequences include hullabaloo from politicians. When you take this job, you know that noise is part of the job. Essentially, you are joining politics, but in regulation and political policy. Politics around the world is about opportunity and resources, which is why it is noisy.

You are at the top to bring order. If you are uncomfortable with the noise, then do not take the job. You cannot fear blood and become a surgeon. I am comfortable with the noise. It does not bother me provided I have applied the necessary parameters.

Even so, it is important to keep explaining your decisions to your clients, especially those that have been aggrieved by the decisions.

Being a career public servant and lessons learnt.

You must have loyalty to the law, country and a cause. You must have loyalty to a process. If you do not love people, you cannot serve. You must love assisting people to understand their issues and help them to solve their problems.

Make them understand the law so that they can understand your decisions. They might think you are unfair in the beginning, but they will later realise you meant well. The law must be obeyed. That is why you take an oath to protect it. No one wakes up to go [to a public office to] frustrate people.

Why Kenyans should trust public institutions and public servants.

This trust must be earned. I am a strong believer that attitude is key in service. People cannot trust you if you look down on them. If politicians and political parties did not get the service and support they need at the ORPP, there would be no rationale for our existence.

Always follow through with your promises to call people back. Pick calls. Respond to text messages. Good values start at the top. If the boss is non-responsive, this goes down the stream.

Value clarification is also important in any institution. If you do not believe in corruption, for instance, keep saying it. Otherwise your vision is vague.

Summing up her tenure as the registrar.

We had only the Political Parties Act when I came on board in 2018. We had to develop regulations and policies around the Act to strengthen the institution. We have also since digitised the party register which used to be a big problem.

The system allows one to be a member of only one political party at a time and rejects wrong data. The system can be queried through integration with other national databases such as the National Registration Bureau and the IEBC. This way, we have been able to clean up the register and create openness.

Why Kenyans sometimes find themselves as members of political parties they never registered for.

There are several explanations. Parties change names several times and retain their membership. There are also party mergers where the membership register is also combined. Still, there is fraudulent registration which requires investigation.

There is also the issue of radioactive party nominations. Part of our legal reforms was to look at what was wrong with party nominations and coalitions. Openness and different methods of conducting the nominations were brought on board in addition to negotiations and dispute resolution mechanisms. This way, we have steered political party processes to sanity.

Looking at how the nominations were conducted in previous elections and how they were done this year, we have made significant milestones. There was less violence and disputes could be resolved more amicably, and at the party level, which is a precursor to a peaceful election.

Contributing to a better country.

I desire a country where systems work. If it takes what is within my mandate to make this country better, then I must do it diligently. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says: whatever you do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

Life away from public office.

I am married and a mother of four. I gain fulfilment from charity work in society and church. Money and property are important but relationships are more important to me. I am a believer that God has a purpose for every person.

It is upon us to live that purpose to the extent that we affect other people’s lives, in whatever small way. I counsel young people and women in my circles, including those in the office.

Why family is the seed of strong institutions.

I believe in social structures. Men and women have to collaborate for a better society and stronger country. A family of man and wife is still the best unit to bring up children. Parents should remain together to raise their families. If this is not working for whatever reason, spouses should know when is the right time to let go. But if you are able to save a marriage, do it to protect the children.

Political ambition and the future.

I am passionate about inclusion, women and youth, disabled people and the disadvantaged. I draw joy from helping these groups to access services in political processes and political career. I want to work in this sector to help women become what they aspire to be.

I cannot [rule out] running for office [because] situations change. You can never tell what the future holds. Every day poses new challenges and new opportunities. For now, I am comfortable in public service.

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