Something about that experience seemed to convince a number of people that maybe I was cut out for public leadership and a few calls later, I had a few people from an MP to some clergy pressuring me to think about running for office. I wasn’t ready. And after a lot of reflection decided against it as I did not think that I was ready to leave my business at this point. So when my friend called me and told me that he had decided to run for the position of MCA in our ward, I was happy to jump onto his campaign team and support him.
Our campaign team was formed of a group of seasoned campaigners and some rookies. But, what we all had in common was that our campaign was going to be based on values and selling of a leadership agenda that was progressive and visionary. We had a core campaign team of 10 who were going to work on fundraising, campaign strategy and executing of all the events necessary for us to reach our electorate. Our ward is quite big. The Woodley Kenyatta market ward stretches from railway club near haille Selassie avenue in Nairobi to jamhuri park alongside ngong road. It is probably one of the largest wards by size and definitely one of the wealthiest since the upper hill business district is in it. It also has 5 members clubs, many religious insititutions and many middle class residential estates. 3 major markets are also located within the ward. Kenyatta market, Toi Market and Jamhuri. The ward is a mix of traders and residents of the estates. We learnt that we probably began campaigning too late to cover all the ground that we needed to cover. Our candidate, Evans Mwangi , did most of the campaigning going round meeting residents and market traders and selling his leadership agenda to them. We selected a party which we thought would have some recognition but not rigged primaries so we chose to go with Maendeleo Chap Chap. Since there were no competitors within the party it was easy to get the nomination and be on the ballot.
As we kicked off campaigns we had weekly meetings on Saturday morning to strategise and other adhoc meetings during the week. All campaign team members were either employed or entrepreneurs with businesses to run, including the candidate himself. The campaign turned out to be quite a task. As the campaign progressed we would have more and more team members drop out due to their professional commitments or fatigue. Our first campaign fundraiser was well attended although below our expectations. Convincing people to join and support the campaign turned out to be much harder than we thought. Despite the challenges, we managed through a series of fundraisers and digital posters to raise close to a million shillings to cover campaign expenses. These included design and printing of posters, costs for paying a daily wage to mobilisers and those who put up ( and eventually pulled down) all posters. We had mobilisers organizing meetings with different groups and associations across the ward. We also had to pay costs associated with registering in the party and meeting IEBC compliance requirements.
We learnt a lot of lessons during this campaign. The main one being that Kenyan voters have become so conditioned to receiving money from politicians that it has become an expectation. They have also learnt to make politicians feel important and they probably promise every aspirant that they are going to vote for them, with the hope of making money from the politicians. There are many people who are professional campaigners and they will sell their influence to the highest bidder. Early on in the campaign, news items of abductions and deaths of aspirants, especially MCAs worried us about the security of our candidate but eventually it turned out to be a trouble free campaign. At one point our people putting up posters at night were arrested and eventually released. The strange occurrence was that our leading competitor arrived at the police station just as we had secured the release of our team members at 1 am. This made us suspect that the arrest was orchestrated and that we also had a mole in our team. We eventually found out that two of our key mobilisers were actually working for our competitor. Someone sent us their pictures alongside him in a campaign meeting. The level of betrayals in a political campaign are many.
Despite all the challenges we had some very loyal mobilisers who tirelessly worked day and night. At one point we commissioned an opinion poll which gave us results that showed us where we had strong support and where we had weak support. We used the information to intensify our campaigns in the areas where awareness of our candidate was weak. The closer we got to the campaign the more tiring it became. We also kept running out of resources and having to put out more appeals for support. We got many surprise donations from friends and family as well as well wishers who had seen our social media posts and videos. At some point our campaign became a civic education platform about how important the role of an MCA is and why the ward residents should take it a lot more seriously. At some point we attended a very fiery debate in Kibera 42 where all the aspirants were put on the spot to defend their bids. As our candidates popularity picked up , we got more and more people offering to organize meetings for him to meet more voters. It turned out that some were genuine and in hindsight, some were just looking for an opportunity to make money. It got to a point where our meetings had to end with whisking our candidate away to get away from either excited or angry mobs that wanted money at all costs. It was also discouraging to see the apathy of particularly the middle class who did not care much for knowing who their MCA candidates are. Residents within estates did not want to discuss politics and many resisted our attempts to try and engage them whether physically or virtually.
Closer to election day we selected agents and got a friend who was familiar with IEBC procedures to come and train our agents. On election day we appeared at the polling stations bright and early to witness the process and ensure it was credible. I was rather impressed by how watertight the voting process was from the inside. We documented all seals and serial numbers for ballot papers as well as ballot boxes. In my head it seemed like it would be impossible to rig if every presiding officer followed the set procedure. I remember thinking that it was a bit odd that presidential results began streaming in in very large numbers as early as 7 pm online yet in our polling station we had not even began counting. We spent time counting and arbitrating disputes of ballot papers that seemed spoilt or double marked but eventually we finished counting and verifying as well as signing the forms 34A by 8am the next morning. Our group was the slowest in our polling station. Our team kept bringing us food and drinks to keep us from dying of hunger. I went home in the morning satisfied that our process was free and fair. However, when I checked the results online the next morning it seemed to have discrepancies compared to what we had documented. When I posted this on facebook it angered a lot of people who thought I was discrediting the system. At that point I was just warning people that based on the process I had seen it would only be fair to believe verified results of the actual forms 34A and B . I therefore found it strange that IEBC could admit that they had announced the final result by Friday without all the requisite forms being ready. It also looked strange that they would begin replacing the scanned forms on the system as people pointed out anomalies.
Eventually, our candidate lost to a jubilee aspirant. People overwhelmingly voted “6 piece”. We were heartbroken to emerge 4th out of 9 candidates but happy to have beat the incumbent and garnered 1250+ votes. The leading Jubilee contender had 8000+. Our team members and mobilisers were also heartbroken but we all eventually felt proud for the fight we had put up in trying to introduce a different way of doing politics . Our Aspirant, Evans, always used to tell us that even if he did not win the election, all of us would be significantly better people simply by being part of the experience. He was and still is right. Our lives will never be the same again. We learnt crucial life lessons by being part of this campaign.