New State House deputy spokesperson has joined the league of Kenya’s most powerful women
There has not been a prouder moment I can recall in recent history that matches Wednesday’s inaugural briefing of newly appointed State House Deputy Spokesperson, Ms Kanze Dena.
I am not exactly sure what caught my eye about Ms Dena. Perhaps it was the navy blue power suit matched with a blue shirt that gave her that no-nonsense, Olivia-Pope-ish power-woman demeanour, or maybe it was the impeccable Kiswahili she doled out to the battery of bewildered journalists.
Or perhaps it was the confidence with which she carried herself. I can confidently declare that Ms Dena has joined the league of some of Kenya’s most powerful women. She has earned her place in Kenya’s history, not as a footnote, but as a monument of how far up one can go, should you be so wise as Ms Dena, to focus on your dreams and work, work, work.
When her appointment was announced by State House, it came as a surprise to many people — myself included— because, to be honest, her name is not the first to pop up when thinking of a potential presidential spokesperson. As is the case with any female appointed to a significant position, there was no shortage of conspiracy theories flying around, attempting to make sense of her appointment. Ms Dena trended on social media for weeks, providing fodder for bloggers and local rags, some of whom gave a few untoward theories as to how she landed the job.
But it was the “Coast TV girl” headline written by a local daily that caught my attention. There are no free beers for guessing if those individuals are men or women. Such reductionist and belittling headlines written by individuals whose egos are too fragile to allow them to reconcile the fact that a woman like Ms Dena can be anything more than a “Coast TV girl” should end with her sterling performance on Wednesday.
She proved to naysayers and malicious headline writers that she is indeed uniquely qualified for the job, not just for her impressive proficiency in Kiswahili, but for the demeanour and grace with which she carried herself. She has taken the position within her stride, owned it, and that was why she appeared and sounded so authentic — a feat that previous holders of the office could not match.
Still, the initial cynicism and scepticism that her surprise appointment was met with and the distasteful comments and headlines that accompanied the commentary only show how little faith we have in women. In this country, it is proving quite difficult for a woman to get ahead without her achievements and years of hard-work being reduced to the fact that she got the job only because she is young or attractive or had someone powerful who threw in a good word for her. Maybe what many people do not know is that Ms Dena's position is a culmination of nearly two decades of continuous journalism and television anchoring.
But her story does not matter to the people who rubbished her appointment. Because to them, it is as if being attractive and intelligent are mutually exclusive; that women are not allowed to be both. Ms Dena and many other women in this country who are doing a great job being CEOs, leaders and politicians are enough proof that beauty and brains are not the exception, but the standard. Internationally, New Zealand’s Prime Minister is a 38-year-old woman, who gave birth to her first child two days ago.
In Scotland, the First Minister and leader of Scottish National Party is Nicola Ferguson Sturgeon, a 47-year-old woman whose love for red dresses and sky-high heels is well-documented by the British Press. Locally, we have a horde of attractive and highly intelligent women doing great things, and it’s not down to their body shapes or otherwise, but to their world-class brains. We need to look at women beyond their looks and focus on what truly matters: Their ability. As for Ms Dena, let us give her a break. Let her work. Let us judge her by the quality of her work, and let us stop this “TV girl” nonsense. She is the President’s deputy spokesperson, for heaven’s sake, show some respect to the lady. Ms Dena, if you are reading this, I wish you well and I hope you excel in your job. You are an inspiration to many young women, myself included.