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To Leave Or To Stay?

On what happens when we lose political seats.

BY Agnes Amondi

Apr 05, 2023, 10:34 AM

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In recent weeks, we were caught up in a political quagmire that led to violent protests across the country. These protests which have now been suspended were called by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who still does not acknowledge the results of the August 2022 presidential elections.

It was the fifth time that his stub at the top seat failed and like on previous occasions, claimed electoral malpractice. He is not the only presidential candidate to cry foul. Nigeria, Uganda, Mali and South Africa are other countries where opposition leaders, largely male, have faulted the electoral system. 

During the same elections, we elected a record number of women in various seats - 7 governors, 3 senators and 26 members of parliament. In the years past, we’ve seen some women try their hand at the presidency unsuccessfully. 

Nancy Kalembe in Uganda, Diane Rwigara in Rwanda and Martha Karua. As we celebrate this surge of women in politics, the question we are posing is are women just as aggressive as men when they lose an election?  

What Studies Show.

Although I did not come across studies that are specific to African elections, I came across one that analyzed American elections and how women perceive election loss.

According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), there is no difference in the way men and women respond to an election loss. Women are just as aggressive as men in seeking re-election. 

That notwithstanding, the report acknowledges that a loss can be very limiting for both men and women, but it’s possible to recover from it. However, a first-time loss can be devastating. 

Locally, the last election saw some leaders successfully retain their seats. It will be interesting to see where they go after their second terms end. From the report, we can confidently say that women remain as resilient. That’s not the whole story.

Unfair Scrutiny By Media Stops Us From Running Again.

It is not news that female politicians receive patronising coverage from the time they declare their interest in running for office. When they lose, it still goes on. They are advised to pursue other interests or settle for less. 

The media paints a gloomy picture and their interest in running again is questioned. For women, losing almost always spells the end of their political careers while for men, it can even be a springboard to something better.

Men are encouraged to vie again. They receive praise for a brave fight and are projected to be the next best thing. In any case, they get other opportunities - punditry jobs, book deals, talk show invites, consultancy and others. 

The Myth Of Risk Aversion Was Debunked.

The report challenged the notion that women tend to shy away from running for political office again due to the high stakes involved. In our system, elections are a winner-take-all and when you put your hand up for a political post, you have to walk away from the positions you are holding. 

That in itself is a big risk because then the question becomes, what happens when you lose? Of course, seasoned politicians are always prepared and will have more resources. An entry-level politician will potentially invest most of their resources in this pursuit and a loss will be a massive blow. 

Nonetheless, the report concluded that women in politics are not scared away by risks associated with their careers. 

The Difference Is At The Point Of Entry And Not Re-Entry.

The biggest decision women have to make is joining politics. Those who are already in find it easier or at least know how to move around these circles. In the event of an election loss, they are likely to keep knocking on the door and not walk away. 

In contrast, entering politics is a different ball game such that some do it due to the support they already have which assures them of some sought of win should they need to take part in a contest. Others go in after some persuasion which also asserts some form of support.

In Conclusion.

It is simple. Female politicians are just as likely to contest for a seat again and their rising numbers in the political space support the research.