Kennedy Musyoka Kalonzo used to hate politics. It was something of an irony considering that his father, former Vice-President and Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, is one of the country’s longest serving politicians.
In fact, Kennedy’s dream was to be an ambassador, even though he dreaded the bureaucratic route of rising to the top of the diplomacy ladder.
He also had aspirations of deejaying, and even saved up and bought a set of Pioneer CDJ-800 decks for this.
“A lot of friends I knew back in my high school and college years ventured into music. One friend borrowed my equipment and spoiled it. I was so heartbroken that I never went back to music”, he says.
It took a long time before he started to soften his stand on Kenyan politics.
“Before I went to study abroad, I hated Kenyan politics because I thought it was too personality-based. However, as I was studying it in Australia, I realised that what I hated was the way we practised politics at the time,” said Kennedy in an interview with Lifestyle.
His notion of local politics was largely based on Western standards where, he says, “a lot is based on party discipline and ideology”.
His view on politics appears to have changed after the 32-year-old became one of the youngest members representing Kenya in the East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala).
His choice did not come without controversy as some accused the Wiper Party of nepotism.
Many believe that his father pushed him into taking up the Eala job, but Kennedy thinks those always linking him to the former VP are “haters”.
Kennedy says he wanted the job because of the frustrations he went through when working on a regional project, which he refuses to name.
“I felt like it was taking too long yet I was working on the project pro bono (for free). I therefore thought that it would be better to bring up such issues in the regional assembly to benefit the whole of East Africa. I am my own man,” he says.
It did not help Kennedy’s cause, given that Raila Odinga’s ODM also nominated his (Raila’s) brother Oburu Oginga to another Eala slot.
Kennedy recalls the process as “a tough one”, for he had to first win nomination at the Wiper Party level, which meant applying and being picked out of the many who had also shown interest in the position.
He also spent two months talking to openly hostile parliamentary select committee members because the political environment during the 2017 General Election was toxic. The process for nominations kept stalling, but eventually he sailed through.
“An MP told me that he would vote for me but I would have to visit his constituents often. It’s one of the many promises I made while campaigning that I am trying to keep,” he says. In November 2017, he was confirmed as an Eala Member of Parliament.
The firstborn in a family of three reckons that life has not always been easy. Growing up, his father was not always present.
He was told that his father was absent because he was trying to build a better country.
“I only came to understand what that meant much later,” he says.
He nevertheless recalls treasured moments when his father would be home, especially their Sunday afternoon outings after church.
The former VP would take Kennedy to eat chips at Valley Arcade shopping centre in Nairobi at the spot where Freedom Heights Mall and Residence currently stands.
Being the firstborn in his family, does he feel pressured to be the “ideal” child?
He says his parents have always been supportive of their ambitions, citing his brother’s choice of becoming a rapper as a case in point.
“From everything I’ve read, in life you are only racing against yourself. Everything will fall in place whenever the time is right.”
He studied for his O-levels at Brookhouse, did an International Relations degree at the University of Newcastle in Australia, and then pursued a Law degree at the University of Nairobi.
“Finally, my dad came to the ceremony; my first graduation he had ever attended. When I was graduating with my first degree, he was the Vice-President, and because of his commitment to the country first, he wasn’t able to make it. However, mum represented him very well,” he says.
In reference to the recent probe by Law Society of Kenya into why only a few students who sat the bar examinations at the Kenya School of Law pass, Kennedy admits there is a problem. It was tough. “There are even times I thought about changing careers,” he says.
Political commitment is something his father takes seriously, so does Kennedy. He started considering politics seriously after coming back to Kenya from Australia in 2010.
When he came back to Kenya, he tried to practice what he had learnt and joined Wiper Party’s strategic team, where his work involved shaping the image of the party. “Being a young person in any organisation, I was also facing an uphill struggle to bring new ideas to the table. As young people, we need to stick together to bring the change we desire in our politics,” he says.
The family has undergone a tough time after Kennedy’s mother, Pauline, was admitted to hospital in Kenya and Germany. During the gruelling 2017 campaigns, the former VP spent many nights at Nairobi Hospital, where Pauline was admitted. She was later flown to Germany.
Kennedy says his mother is now in a stable condition, but does not disclose what ails her. All he says is that the family has faced tough times but also supported each other.
“Dad was away for two or three months and we went to see them frequently. Being a prayerful family, we would pray a lot and just hope for the best. The experience reminded me of advice from one of the party officials to always give back to the community. I recently went to Kenyatta Hospital and spent time with children in the wards. I have utmost respect for our nurses for the job they do.”
The reserved politician says he learnt this trait from his mother, who does not seek public attention. Kennedy also tries to keep away from social media and avoid what he terms as “negativity.”
“My focus is on doing what I need to do to get to the level of people I look up to: Jay Z, Princess Maria Torres, Cyrus the Great,” says Kennedy.
He thinks his father is a patriot to the bone. “I’m still learning from him. He is an amazing man who rose out of poverty. I don’t think I would have replicated his success had I been in his position. His success has also been due to how he relates with other leaders, always looking at the bigger picture, putting Kenya first.”
Kennedy is a huge fan of mixed martial arts and boxing. He loves watching Ultimate Fighting Championship and boxing matches. He is currently on a break from Muay Thai training because of the travelling his role requires.
“I trained a bit in Australia, but I also trained here at Colosseum Fitness Centre, as well as working with two other trainers. I want to be fit before I go back again,” he says in reference to the version of Thai boxing.
He finds pleasure in some simpler things, too. He rears goats and once when he got very broke, he sold a few.
He also travels a lot and watches documentaries to entertain himself. His advice to the youth is to focus on the positive: “Make the most of your youth and get a mentor early.”
Having been in Eala for several months now, he admits that it is more complicated than many people think.
“We are supposed to meet every two weeks and have sittings in the different member states. Due to budgetary constraints and issues between member states, we find ourselves sitting in Arusha most of the time,” he says.
He believes that having different currencies in the region has hindered doing business, noting that “a single currency would make the process easier.”
His pet project is to help young people get jobs. “We need to come up with a list of skills needed in the job market, so that universities can then teach these skills and help reduce unemployment,” says Kennedy.
He has four more years as an Eala MP to realise his dream.