If the Swahili sages are to be believed then, “Maji ukiyavulia nguo huna budi ila kuyaoga (If you strip down in front of a bath of water then there is little option other than taking a bath).” After many years of shooting off the lip on political affairs, civil liberties and active citizenship, I recently took the bold step of throwing my hat into the ring for the 2022 political contest in Lurambi Constituency, Kakamega County. It was ten arduous months of excruciating and sometimes back-breaking campaigns. I can reliably inform all who care, that I fought the good fight to the bitter end and finished the race. Headwinds seemed hellbent at derailing that political journey at myriad locations but ultimately, we reached the finishing line. Indeed, for the last leg of the race, I had to put the kibosh even on penning this humble piece but now I am ready to unfurl the wisdom I unearthed from this very odyssey. As the sage put it succinctly, “the taste of the pudding is in the eating.”
First and foremost, voter enlightenment and sensitization are at their nadir in most parts of Kenya. The 10 years of UhuRuto were wasted years with regards to the progression of ideals like democracy, civil liberties and political awareness. Many, for lack of better adjectives are naïve, gullible and primitive. This is exacerbated by other vices like illiteracy, poverty, disease, corruption and voter apathy among the uninitiated. Some refuse to vote thinking they will punish some unseen adversary. They fail to realize that their negligence to voting is also a choice which will adversely affect your circumstances. If for instance, you are hungry due to poor governance and as a result refuse to vote for the leader with good policies, then you will suffer the ignominy of continuing the interminable cycle of poverty after denying the proper leader sufficient votes to win. If 14,466,779 Kenyan adults voted, what is your excuse for being left out? A sizeable tranche is less than cognizant of the existence of a 2-tier system of government in Kenya. The National and County Government. Tragically, they will run around trying to convince all and sundry to vote for a particular Gubernatorial candidate on the promise of ‘kuwa ndani ya serikali’ (being part and parcel of government) if the Presidential candidate for such an outfit also wins their corresponding seat. There is actual anecdotal evidence in Kenya of counties like Nairobi and Kiambu whose governors originated from a political coalition in government but who chose fellows that I can only refer to as louts and touts who in due course justifiably got impeached for their innumerable acts of omission and commission. In diffidence, a county like Kakamega whose Governor was to all intents and purposes, opposition leaning, put in an exemplary shift development-wise compared to the clowns in Nairobi and Kiambu who only traded patronage, populism and idle-chatter.
A critical learning curve I encountered was in the fact that expenditure in the political campaign seldom guarantees success. There are many who used fuel guzzlers of various shapes and sizes for their campaigns. There are contestants who hired multi-wheeled trucks daily for their campaigns, paying huge battalions of campaign teams but still didn’t get diddly-squat pertaining to victory in the elections. In my deliberations with some of the candidates for various seats in the recently concluded elections draws a worrisome picture of people who spent as much as 5 million shillings for MCA seats but still came up short in the final vote tally. There are individuals who sold much-vaunted assets inclusive of pieces of land and vehicles in the assurance that proceeds accrued from the ventures would have put them over the line regarding to campaign funds but they were wrong. I equally expended a small fortune but with miniscule returns proportional to my investment, but that is neither here nor there. I must add that a few shillings in the bank will not in any way hurt your aspirations, so you have a better chance with a heavy war chest than without.
Returning to the point I commenced with, is the vexatious situation of our youths being apathetic albeit recalcitrant in exercising their constitutionally-enshrined right to vote. It is exasperating that the brave and honourable heroes of our independence struggle and later those of the 2nd liberation expended blood, sweat and tears for our people to have not just the right to vote but also to have a choice of the political party they seek to have forming government, yet the subsequent generation are indifferent to the more facile activity of voting. On my part, it is asininity galore to see young men in drinking dens, shebeens and brothels on the day they are supposed to be voting in their elected representatives for the next 5 years. If somebody decides to abdicate their right to the vote, then who do they think will vote for them? More disconcerting is that we witnessed some social activist charlatans appearing on our TV screens with their polo-neck overshirts, tailored suits and suave-urbane looks also pontificating that half-witted rhubarb on the ‘right not to vote.’ Their excuse: Taxation entitles them to question the tangent their nation is taking. To me this is foolishness exemplified! I state this unequivocally in the understanding that our aggregated tax payers’ kitty is expended in the much-needed endeavour of financing the general election. A National holiday was declared whence employers gave a free day for our people to come out in force to exercise their democratic entitlement. But lo and behold, voter turn-outs are simply atrocious. If hungry, not voting will still leave you with your hunger and so methinks the audacity of hope lies with just going out there and casting your vote. Hanging onto the double-barreled excuse of penury and disenfranchisement, many of our youths will organize themselves into crowds-for-hire to fill up political rallies. The crowds are huge but vote returns from our youths are dastardly. Many earnestly style themselves as potential voters by dint of ownership of National Identification Cards and fake gargantuan smiles. The disconnect is that ownership of IDs does not always signify registration for voting. A cursory use of the portal made public by the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with the HTML – https://verify.iebc.or.ke was actually pivotal in separating the wheat from the chaff regarding actual voters vis-à-vis pranksters with ID cards purporting to be voters! Feeding in your ID number and Birth Year would invariably regurgitate the rank and file of your voting details inclusive of registration status.
Politics in many outposts of Kenya is still largely tribal with elections merely an ethnic census. I unearthed to little surprise that it is still an uphill task to be elected in Lurambi Constituency as Member of the National Assembly (MNA) without actually being a member of the Luhya ethnicity. Chapter 4, Article 38 may be shouted from the rooftops but discordant ethnicity in most of our provincial constituencies and counties would most certainly rule you out of an elective position in those parts of Kenya if you are not at par with the majority tribe in that particular jurisdiction. Heritage outside Luhyaland would definitely be a limiting factor; hence, you indubitably have to be Luhya. Then under the Luhya ethnicity, a member of the Batsotso subtribe stands a better chance of election as sub-tribal and clan allegiances still hold sway around here. Historically, Lurambi Constituency was a large amalgam that in the past had present-day Navakholo that domiciles members of the Banyala subtribe, the wards Butsotso East, Butsotso Central and Butsotso South that are the stomping yard of the Batsotso subtribe, Mahiakalo and Shirere wards that have sizeable populations from the Isukha subtribe interspersed with a clowder of others due to proximity to town and Shieywe ward, hosting Kakamega town as a cosmopolitan melting pot. In times bygone, the Banyala of modern-day Navakholo held great sway due to their sheer numbers with the Batsotso feeling aggrieved. Today with Navakholo hived off and having a constituency of their own, a candidate who appeals to the whims and wishes of the Batsotso subtribe invariably has an upper hand on all the other candidates in Lurambi Constituency. A critically crucial jurisdiction is Shieywe Ward which is sizeable due to its hosting rights to the town where the multitude works. With the Batsotso congealing towards their candidate, an oratorically-gifted, theatrical, comical, slightly development-conscious, well-funded candidate and who had the backing of the popular political outfit, I can aver here that the contest was not even close. We lost to the aforementioned candidate by a landslide. Imperative to note is that he was the incumbent.
Politics is a game of personal interests. These are many a time rather selfish, egotistical and conceited but in rare circumstances are actually in the best interest of the bourgeoisie. I established that marriages of convenience as special purpose vehicles are a typical feature in the course of the political journey. An incumbency and opposition usually exists as a fluid and transient continuum such that things are never all black or white most especially in our rugged political terrain in Kenya. There are times when elected leaders in opposition-leaning areas have had to close ranks with the incumbency with the interest of getting projects done for their constituencies. Going to bed with the adversary is not so much frowned upon if the ultimate aim is achieved. There is evidence of particular roads, bridges, electrical transformers and a plethora of special favours having been achieved by subliminal concord which only comes out to the public during the story time that is the campaign trail and radio interviews. I used to think the term ‘mole’ was only used derogatorily to slander the character of another by an envious opponent till I was introduced to the rigamarole of realpolitik. Here, I got practical experience on such characters as actual living, breathing beings with embedded networks for fructifying reconnaissance albeit espionage in one camp despite having 4-wheel-drive vehicles procured and palatial homes built by the principal of the opposing political camp. Indeed, those that have in the past averred of politics being a ‘dirty game’ have seldom been blown too far off from the course of reality.
The convenience of being in a political party cannot be gainsaid. I learnt this the hard way when after my favoured political vehicle, the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) decided to dish out a direct ticket to the incumbent. I trooped out in a huff to contest as an Independent Candidate. It was full skullduggery that involved originating symbols, then making the trip to the nearest regional office to cross-check with the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) on the availability for use of said symbols. The regional office in Kisumu ultimately dragged their feet in sending my paperwork to Nairobi to such an extent that by the time I was summoned to Nairobi, the deadline was as close as the width of a nose hair. I ultimately failed to make the May 2nd deadline, provisionally got locked out of contesting the election and had to seek legal recourse as a multitude of holidays including a state funeral fell within the period when I was supposed to present my accredited symbol and credentials to IEBC. Armed with these mitigating factors among many other contestants camped in solidarity outside Anniversary Towers hosting the IEBC, we won the case and had our papers accepted. Next was the more laborious undertaking of collecting a thousand Photocopies of National ID Cards from duly registered voters in Lurambi Constituency. Sleepless nights were the order of the day as I had to toil ceaselessly during the day asking people for their important Identification documents, cross checking with the portal aforementioned then taking a photocopy of the same. It was doubtlessly also an exorbitant affair as ‘elbow grease’ was parted with for my constituents to temporarily part with their IDs. It was indubitably a perilous activity as beforehand; I personally had been at the forefront of a relentless campaign forbidding the populace of Lurambi from selling their ID Cards at whatever price. I erstwhile, was also at the spearhead of registering individuals as members of the ODM Party’s in their digital portal. Hence, it would come to no shortage of bewilderment and apprehension to many that I was back to them seeking their ID Cards a second time for the fulfilment of the basic requirement to be allowed to contest as an Independent Candidate. My own rallying call came back to haunt me. My agents were at various locales spirited away like common criminals, some escaping by the skin of their teeth as those within the loop are aware of cybercrime, identity theft and sim-swapping fiascos in Kenya that have involved people’s personal credentials obtained through social engineering. Coupled with little sensitization from IEBC left the public jittery. Nighttime was reserved for entering the details from these ID copies into special forms both manually and typing digitally into an Excel spreadsheet. By the will of the Almighty and sweat of the brow, this endeavour was completed successfully and on 31st May 2022, I handed in my credentials and promptly received my Certificate from the Returning Officer for Lurambi Constituency as a duly registered Independent Candidate to contest as a Member of National Assembly (MNA/MP). The take home here is that I would have earned an extra month of campaigns if I had contested as a member of a political party.
A cardinal teachable experience I earned was that in the political landscape of today, social media is an invaluable asset in bridging the gap between Candidates and their Constituents. This is more so, for the underfunded candidates like myself. Vibrant WhatsApp Groups, FaceBook Pages, Twitter Handles, YouTube Channels, Instagram, Zoom and Skype were indispensable in disseminating my agenda and manifesto unto the polity from whom I expected votes. Platforms like StreamYard were equally compelling as tools to reach out directly to our techno savvy young men and women all the while fielding questions directly from them. This leveraged on internet and social media penetration in Kenya where according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report for 2021, Kenya had 67.9% penetration of Feature phones as 53.4% of our people have smartphones. Traditional media like Radio and TV also played a peripheral role in advertising my candidature to the electorate of Lurambi; however, for most stations, their price-point was deemed beyond the reach of my meagre resources.
In most parts of Kenya, the 2022 elections have brought an inadvertent generational transition with many of the old guard getting upstaged by the young Turks. There was equally a mindset shift whence in many areas the populace staged a rebellion against the established, monied linchpins of yore, putting into office young, relatively impecunious individuals, some fresh-faced characters newly-minted out of their tertiary institutions of learning. Tales like those of political newbie of humble extraction, 24-year-old, Linet Chepkorir (Toto) who triumphed over a bevy of old heads to bag the Bomet Women Representative seat are no doubt heartwarming. We also have George Nene, a 22-year-old who borrowed a neighbour’s donkey and cart to campaign and successfully bagged the Elementaita Member of County Assembly (MCA) seat dove-tailed with the legend of construction site worker; Timothy Mutwiri, Kenya’s youngest elected representative who at age 21 has clinched the Kiegoi/Antubochiu Ward MCA seat. Lurambi Constituency equally had the unheralded honour of welcoming a young woman, Modesta Lung’atso Auka, my comrade at Masinde Muliro University (MMUST) as MCA for Mahiakalo Ward and another acquaintance, 34-year-old Gildon Opati Shioso who clinched the Butsotso South Ward representative gong. However, the distinction between Western Kenya and other regions of Kenya is that the public here prefer their leaders mature and accomplished. For seats higher than that of the Member of County Assembly (MCA) you must have proven experience in running a family, success in your career/business, amassing wealth, ownership of property among other experiential provisos out of the reach of youthful members of the population demographic. This is occasioned by the fact that you need seemingly interminable wads of banknotes to be able to effectively campaign among members of the Mulembe Nation. Leaders here are expected to dole out hand-outs adjunct to nearly daily contributions to funerals before you can be allowed to dispense your commiserations with the mourners. Every Tom, Dick and Harry you meet in the streets will expect you to donate to them money for transport despite finding you on foot or going about your campaigns on a motorcycle taxi (boda-boda). This will most certainly extinguish the ambitions of many who seek political office, with the best interest of the hoi-polloi in their hearts but unfortunately with shallow pockets. Not electing young leaders will more often than not result in missing out on the energy, new ideas, vision and idealism, a quintessential feature of youthful leadership but I may have flogged this horse ad-nauseum in past writeups and so will not do that for this particular piece.
The political field is replete with chasms of hypocrisy, a notable pitfall for the unwary political aspirant. Though, I had pored through many a political treatise, for instance The Prince by Nicollò Machiavelli and 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene), I still was in for a dose of character development during my 10-month sojourn in the political battlefield. The ground abounds with two-faced, subtle brokers and profiteers with their only motivation being avarice. They organize themselves into groups and will sing your praises, labelling you with all sorts of monikers like “Mheshimiwa” (Honourable), “Kiongozi (Leader)” and whatnot. Little will you realize that after a chit-chat with them, dishing out the precursory 50/- and inevitably exiting, they will be doing the same with yet another contestant. Ideology to many of them may as well be the plaintive appeals of a heedless pullet to a deaf eagle. There are those who will designate themselves as Chairmen of all sorts of groups and motorcycle boda-boda stages with the sole objective of pretentiously obtaining money from these countless “waheshimiwa.” An important precept I learnt the hard way is that crowds do not vote. Additionally, human beings have the predilection for being pretentious and manipulative. I cannot exhaust the number of instances I had to play adjudicator to crocodile tears as incontrovertible instances of manufactured opprobrium among those I failed to pick to be members of my campaign team. I had specific personalities whom I had entrusted with my campaign banners and messaging all over the wards of Lurambi Constituency. I equally had to play smart to eschew getting my head bitten clean off by fellows claiming to have been assigned some nebulous subordinate responsibility of unhanging the said banners for safekeeping when my principal assignees were not around! Thanks to not having dust between my ears, such characters were oft dismissed with a sleigh of the hand. “Kwani, hao wa banner ndio watakupigia kura pekee? (do you think your charges will be your only voters?)” they would ventilate. I ignored this line of questioning as I surmised that most of these uninitiated chatterboxes were not even registered voters and would most certainly not vote anyway. I was vindicated ultimately by the fact that the crowd of 89, 770 registered voters in Lurambi Constituency, yielded only 51,073 valid votes. 764 votes were spoilt despite all the ruckus all around. Another letdown I encountered was that we have too many ingrates around suffering bouts of selective amnesia. In the locale of one polling station, I actually rehabilitated a community watering point at colossal personal cost in November last year with the marginal expectation that I would ostensibly fish several votes in that particular neighbourhood. I had to pick up my jaw from the floor when vote tallies streamed through from that area. In little dissimilitude to the Biblical parable of the 10 Lepers, I received a grand total of a singular vote in that particular stream. All the same, I harbour little regret and ill-feelings as seeing my people access drinking water from a project I personally rehabilitated is sufficient reward even if political leadership is today miles away from my grasp. Nevertheless, to quote English poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson, “tis better to have loved and lost than never to have had at all.”
The dynamics of politics are often fluid marked by rapid shifts in loyalty. Some of these shifts could be so dichotomous as to degenerate into violence. You may inquire what may be the fuel for this conflagration. Money. I have witnessed incidents where erstwhile peaceful rallies have boiled over into diabolical cauldrons where brother roasts another over fickle political affiliations. A worthy adversary for the same seat suffered the mortification of having three vehicles vandalized to right-off status over allegations that he had pocketed money slated to be distributed to a crowd from some gubernatorial candidate. He himself fled from the horde by the skin of his teeth. An MCA candidate also embroiled in this particular quandary had to sermon the police as an irate gang stoned his house silly, nefariously closing in hellbent on burning it down.
Next tidbit is in the localization of politics. It is vital to meet people at their place of need to engender support from them. Speaking to them in a language they understand will not hurt your aspirations in the slightest. This is nothing new as it tallies with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Humans are social animals. According to Abraham Maslow, a Jewish-Russian intellectual, the most basic need is physiological. This entails food, water, warmth and rest. Next is Personal safety. Third is the sense of belonging to a particular congenial grouping and forming relationships. Fourth is Esteem built up by respect. At the apex of the triangle of needs is Self-actualization. Great South African statesman and former president, Nelson Mandela once pontificated, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, the sentiments go to his head. However, if you talk to him in his own local dialect, that goes to his heart.” This is self-explanatory.
More often than not, the ordinary man finds great consolation in yielding to propaganda and sideshows as opposed to the hard-cold thrust of ideological truth. Most of my campaign speeches were methodical and structured like a university master giving a lecture. I often invited my listeners to a question – answer session post-sermon, answering most with as much candour and accuracy as I can summon. The most nonchalant crowd-pleaser is to claim that you will increase the current NG-CDF bursary allocation from the current 3,000/- per head to 20,000 or even 50,000/-.
Question: Though noble, from where will these additional funds for that particular venture be mobilized from?
I always stuck to the path of pragmatism, telling my people what can be attainable as opposed to hiding behind the shadow of political fantasy. Stood my ground as one of the few who was ready to take political flak invoking the touchy subject of Funeral Insurance and Benevolent funds when the easier option would be to just hold your peace and continue with the faulty culture of African socialism, black tax and expecting philanthropy from elected apparatchiks in case of a bereavement. I was neither always the most dramatic nor best at skirting issues; nevertheless, I tried my best to keep my audience rapt and as engaged as possible. However, as Machiavelli puts it in the text aforementioned, “The ordinary man prefers a hearty meal with an inviting aroma forgetting that it could be easily laced with poison.” In concurrence with American popular artistes of the early 2000s; Ja Rule and Ashanti, in the course of the campaign period, ‘I was not always there for incessant phone calls but was always on time’ for rendezvous organized.
With alarming resignation, I surmised that victory in the war on corruption is a far-flung mirage. Men are willing to break laws as long as that course of action favours them. This is in view of the fact that many candidates with less than stellar records on integrity and criminal prosecution were still allowed to contest political seats using funds that they all but assuredly acquiesced from sinister undertakings. The proletariat has little time to investigate impropriety preferring to proffer song and dance upon the candidate that gives them the most money. Veritably, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Men are willing to condone corruption and pilferage of public resources when they sense the winds of personal profiteering blowing their direction. Many are the candidates that find great difficulty in explaining the source of their fabulous wealth but far be it from me criticizing them, as I risk getting saddled the double-barreled yet contrasting labels of salty and bitter for ad-hominem attacks. Mumias Sugar Company has been eviscerated such that only its chassis persists yet notable managers who worked there today are still cleared to contest political seats in Western Kenya. I may be rather embittered in my assessment but none can put my patriotism on the dock. Kenyans forget that corruption may be enjoyable today as a fraudster buys you free tipple with embezzled funds but will ultimately turn egregious once your kith and kin die from easily treatable causes when the hospital lacks medicine.
Ostensibly, all is fair in love and war. In politics as many other facets of life, the end justifies the means. The electoral process is often terminated with plentiful grievances and losers crying foul about all sorts of misgivings. Those who view the current ongoings with the result of the Presidential Election can see how both sides of the major horses are handling themselves. The side named victor are apprehensive and cannot understand why their candidate should not be sworn-in as soon as yesterday. The ones named loser by the IEBC are currently screaming bloody murder as they feel their victory was all but secure but has unfortunately been usurped from under their grasp. These remonstrations are met by naysayers who query in great revulsion why those who complain about vote rigging could not have done it themselves? This is patently symptomatic of an ignominious glitch in our collective moral compass and sense of natural justice, trying to justify the unjustifiable. Though puzzling, that is the polarized atmosphere in Kenya today. I will neither seek to cast aspersions on anyone’s character nor seek to point any fingers. I will only observe that we are in a spot of bother today as a consequence of allowing dishonesty to thrive in the higher echelons of state, even extending to our electoral watchdog body and are now reaping the attendant skepticism and doubt in our systems.
A typical feature of men of low intellectual aptitude is never taking responsibility for their failures and missteps. As such, it is not uncommon to find groupings of people drowning in blame game and revisionist history. Selfsame people start using conditionals like “if only you had… instead of…” Apparently, the gift of prescience and intuition has now come down like the Holy Spirit upon even stool pigeons who comprehend not the difference between a hole in the ground and the crevice of their derrière! But I digress. They forget that there is an opportunity cost for everything you do in life. “If only you had cast your lot with UDA or ANC who are now in government!” This is unfortunately talk from inebriated village louts canvassing as commentators on political affairs but unfortunately too in-erudite to even be students in any tertiary institution teaching political science, let alone instructors. Have they not heard about democracy and the right to choose? Are they blind to the fact that the coalition they denigrate actually snagged 10 members of Parliament of a possible 12, 48 MCAs out of 60, a woman representative and potentially a Governor in Kakamega?
Like Machiavelli, I have been brought to painful awareness of the ordinary Joe as unreliable. In Kenya, there are those who have unfortunately been hoodwinked that a change of ruler to another who is not a part of the existing dynastic hegemony will improve their lot in life. They think some dynasty is their problem! The actuality of matters as we’ll soon find out is that no dynasty will be uprooted but instead two new ones will be added. These are individuals who have finessed the art of leveraging popular disenfranchisement as a vehicle for political gain. There is no way we can address unemployment without voting in a political grouping with cogent ideology on industrialization, modernization of agricultural value chains and entrepreneurship. Populist sentiments and slogans just will not cut it. However, that is democracy for you where hatred and bigotry obscure a logical interrogation of not just the mien but also the innumerable transgressions of a particular political ticket. Furthermore, the unreliability of so-called pals and chums is that despite being egged-on by many to take the plunge into the shark infested water that is politics in Kenya, only a handful contributed to my campaign kitty even those who crowed loudest for me to go independent. I am grateful for those who added to my war-chest both financially and in kind all the while harbouring little vendetta for those who did not.
In closing sentiments, despite trying to shoehorn escalation of medical supply misdemeanours in our public health systems into my campaign agenda, some uninformed fellows who I am trying hard not to use an uncharitable word to describe, attempted to remind me about ‘Health Care being a devolved function.’ Forthwith, I am left baffled as to why our nation elected to devolve both health care and the attendant refusal to stock dispensaries nearest to ‘wananchi’ resulting in the sludge-fest that is ineffectual clinics? Hope they also devolved the mercy of God as that will be the only recourse to our helpless indigenes should they be failed by these ramshackle funnels unto the afterlife.