There can only be one winner, but even though they lost in the November 7 Kibra by-election, these courageous young individuals won in affirming the notion that youth are ready to lead.
Dorn Anaclet, Editar Ochieng, Fridah Kerubo and Emmanuel Owayo dared to step up and threw their hats in the ring to fight it out with older, moneyed, well-connected political heavyweights in the mini polls, thereby winning many hearts.
After the noise of the elections lulled, the four young aspirants formed a union, Movement for Political Accountability (MOPA) which aims to encourage many more young people engage in politics.
They share the lessons they learnt this week.
EMMANUEL OWITI OWAYO, 25
Emmanuel is a Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy, graduate from the University of Nairobi and is currently studying Law at the same institution. He garnered 14 votes.
Was that your first time on the ballot?
Yes. Early this year however, I contested for students’ leadership at UoN, even though I did not get the job.
What motivated you to vie?
I wanted to get into that office and help create a space for other youths to engage in national politics. The other motivation came from my belief in youthful leadership. I am convinced that it is our time to lead.
Having been born and raised in Kibra, I felt that I was better placed to help the residents confront their challenges such as improving infrastructure, education, health and sanitation.
Did you think you could win?
When I first entered the ring, I thought I could. However, things changed quickly when popular politicians joined the fray, and I became uncertain about winning.
That was not an ordinary by-election because it attracted political heavyweights including Deputy President William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetang’ula who all came to show their might. Voters were choosing the candidates who were affiliated with the political bigwigs, not individual candidates. I knew that my chances of winning were slim.
How was the experience?
Money was a key factor in the election and it played a big role. I realised that politics in Kenya is not easy if one does not have deep pockets. I had only Sh500, 000 to spend on campaigns. Most people preferred the candidates that had money to dish out.
I was not attacked physically, but one of my supporters was attacked while campaigning in Mashimoni. I was warmly received in most places I visited, and my campaigns were largely peaceful.
Key lessons you learnt?
Any successful campaign requires early preparation. I started mine quite late.
I also learnt that young people still fall prey to political schemes. Many were easily hoodwinked by politicians who were dishing out money.
The other lesson I learnt is that you need the media on your side, or for them to at least highlight your campaigns for you to compete favourably. Many media outlets looked for me but I was unavailable so my campaign programme was not well publicised.
How come most of your age mates are averse to politics?
Young people do not have enough resources, yet politics is money-oriented. There is also an aspect of sycophancy required, because of the belief that one has to be associated with, or endorsed by a popular political figure. This also discourages youth from participating in politics.
I would advise young people to believe in themselves. They must unite and speak with one voice, and desist from following people blindly because this is what has kept them away from reaching their full potential in politics.
FRIDAH KERUBO, 29
Fridah graduated from University of Nairobi with First Class honours, and she hopes to become the first female Interior Cabinet Secretary in Kenya. She contested in the Kibra by-elections as an Independent candidate, and garnered 15 votes.
How many times have you contested for a political seat?
This was my first time on the ballot, but politics is ingrained in my DNA. I started dreaming of vying for an elective post one evening in 2015 after having a chat with my late father. I wanted to vie for the Nyaribari Chache parliamentary seat, but this did not go down well with my relatives who were also eyeing the same seat. Village elders intervened and my mother convinced me to quit politics and concentrate on my studies.
In 2017, I had planned to launch my political career, but had to shelve my dream after I lost my dad. Three months ago, I dreamed that I had contested in Kibra and won. When I woke up the next morning, I started taking into account everything I needed to have to be eligible to vie, and that is how I got into the ballot.
What really motivated you to contest?
Besides being a resident of Kibra and a registered voter, I was determined to make things better for the young people in the constituency because they endure so many challenges. Depression, teenage marriages, drugs abuse and crime rates are on the rise in Kibra, and the root cause of all this is unemployment and illiteracy. I wanted to represent my fellow youth as a legislator and to do my part to change things.
Did you expect to win?
Yes, but that did not happen. However, that bittersweet experience has strengthened my resolve to help more individuals of my generation to be independent and successful.
What was the experience like?
It was both tough and fun. Calls from unknown people asking me to step down did not deter me from my ambition. There was a lot of negative energy from so many places, but I chose to focus on the positive side of everything.
Another challenge was the last minute cancellation by my agents, or failing to appear at their designated polling stations on the day of the election. The three agents who made it to the polling centre left as early as 9am, only for my chief agent to explain to me that they had been threatened and intimidated.
However, the fun side is that I found a new family in Kibra — my constituents. Those who supported and encouraged me during the campaign, and those who had faith in me. I hope I will someday be able to repay their kindness.
What are the key lessons you learnt?
Not everyone who smiles at you wishes you well! Regardless of that, I long to see more members of my generation become independent and successful.
Why are youths so averse to elective politics?
As I was doing my campaigns, I met so many young people who are interested in vying for various seats in 2022. However, many political parties have commercialised the nomination process, and that lack of democracy blocks so many ambitious youth from achieving their full potential.
Also, the financial challenges that young people face can’t be overemphasised. Additionally, people tend to think that politics is only for the old. It is one of the challenges I faced while campaigning. They kept telling me that I was too young. What, really, is the right age for one to engage in politics?
In our society, women are underrated due to patriarchy, but I went against all odds and contested as an independent candidate in a constituency that is a stronghold of ODM.
I want to urge my fellow youth to stay focused. Age is just a number, being in your 20s does not mean you are not capable of leadership.
EDITAR OCHIENG, 31
Editar boasts a diploma in Social Work, and has been advocating for social change in Kibra for 10 years. She was one of only three women who contested in the by-election, and received 59 votes.
How many times have you contested for a political seat?
This was my first time. Before I offered myself up for elections in Kibra, I had never tried my hand in politics.
Why did you decide to go for that seat?
I grew up in Kibra, which is a patriarchal society where women are often discriminated. As such, it is difficult for any woman to get into politics. However, after the death of Ken Okoth, I thought it was my time to flex my muscles and attempt to change things.
Also, I wanted to continue the good work the late MP had been doing, such as encouraging illiterate adults to go back to school, and establishing technical and vocational colleges for youth in Kibra.
Did you think you would win?
I did not expect to win, but I have hopes that one day I will win. I contested just to show the public that a young person, specifically a woman, is capable of fighting it out with the older folk and delivering as a leader.
What was the campaign experience like for you?
It was a learning process. It was really challenging because it was my first time as a young woman in a male dominated field, and a place that is a stronghold of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
The other challenge was money. I did not have enough funds for my campaigns. The reception was quite negative from the locals, but things got better after some time.
Any lessons learnt?
The political space in the country has been heavily commercialised, and is also dominated by violence. This makes it hard for young people to engage politics.
Also, we need to change our attitude towards politics. Many of us view politics as a toxic, dirty arena which they don’t want to be part of, yet politics offers youth an opportunity to serve their communities.
Is that why many young people avoid politics?
Of course. Without the necessary support, it is very hard to make it as a politician in this country. There is this belief that you must be endorsed by a popular figure before you can be accepted by the public, and youth who do not have a “godfather” tend to keep off.
Additionally, young people do not think they can be good leaders. The society also believe that politics is only for older men, and not for women or the young. Many think that women are not supposed to be leaders. That they must always be led.
DORN ANACLET, 26
Dorn is pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Development at the University of Nairobi. He garnered 37 votes in the mini poll that was held on November 7.
Was it your first time to vie for a political seat?
I was a student leader at UoN between 2012 and 2016, and was elected three times to serve in different dockets in the students’ association. In 2015 I was the school’s deputy speaker, but this was the first time I had vied for an elective seat in the country.
What motivated you to contest?
The belief that I was capable of upholding and advancing the late Ken Okoth’s legacy. I had been part of his team in 2013, and I believed I was well placed to pick up from where he left. The political landscape of this country is changing fast, and I believe that the youth have the power to make things better.
Did you expect to win?
Yes. Even though I did not succeed, I take pride in the fact that I did not lose either. The people made their choice and in the end, they won. Kibra won. And because I am part of this great constituency, I won too.
Did you enjoy the campaign period?
I must admit it was very tough and challenging, but I was received well by the residents because I have grown up in Kibra and have been involved in a number of good initiatives. I play and coach basketball there so I did not encounter as many challenges as those who came to campaign from outside.
I did not have a very big budget because many of those who had pledged to support me financially did not fulfil their promises, so I had to make do with the little I had.
I spent a total of Sh437,000, and this was money from my savings, from well-wishers who donated to my campaign kitty, and from my party (Democratic Party).
What was the greatest lesson you picked?
This country is ready for youthful leaders. I have made a resolve to ensure that many more young people offer themselves to run for political office.
Why do you think many young people do not engage in politics?
To vie for such an office in Kenya, one requires money. Without it you stand very little chance of succeeding. Many young people don’t have the financial might to compete and that’s why they stay away from it.
Secondly, many elected leaders have performed dismally in the eyes of the public, and so some youth believe that they will be unable to change much even if they are elected.
I keep telling millennials that it is our time. We must be proactive. These positions are not going to be handed to us on a silver platter, we have to take it ourselves by keeping the current leaders accountable and by offering ourselves to be elected.