When Samanthah Maina told us she was going to run for office, as the Member of County Assembly for Kileleshwa Ward. I looked at her laughed and changed the conversation. She brought it up again and I thought, she could be serious about it. I told her, “that is a very good idea, we should run”. Implying that I also wanted to run for office. The next time we had that same conversation again was over the phone and I told her, hey I am going to do posters and just give people a run for their money just because we can, yes?” and she said, “Irene you are joking, I am serious about this.”
I thought about running for office, but the thought terrified me, I could not do it. I told her I was not going to vie but I was going to support her. We cannot all vie but we can and should support the candidates that put themselves out to be elected.
The first question was, what party are we going to vie on? We agreed to vie as an independent candidate. For Samanthah to qualify we needed to get 500 signatures from voters registered within Kileleshwa Ward. We hit the markets, streets of Kileleshwa with our black t-shirts reading “Samanthah Maina for Kileleshwa” and a butterfly as our logo, armed with clipboards and forms.
That was a hard thing to do because we were a group young inexperienced people who believed we were doing the right thing. People were very skeptic when we stopped to ask for their signatures, their names and ID numbers. Many people were very apathetic about the whole process. We did more explaining than the actual collecting of signatures. What I gathered from this experience was that people were frustrated by the leadership but had made peace with that fact. More like we are so used to the survival that we don’t mind it, we have normalized it and have found our comfort.
This is a country where we love to take short cuts. We had many approaching us to “help us out”. Someone offered to get us names and signatures from an m-pesa shop for a price of 1,500/= only. Our motto/tag line was “doing it right”. On one of our numerous conversations with Samanthah, we always talked about how many corners are cut and we wondered whether doing the right thing was even worth it, does it count for anything? Will it matter if we did the right thing? We decided to try and do the right thing and see how far it would take us. Hence the tag line….”Doing it Right”
After about two weeks, the signature collection was proving to be futile. We had seen Ukweli Party online and decided to check it out. I liked what we read on their website, what they stood for and thought, hmmm…why not? I was now on a “Convince Samanthah to run with Ukweli Party mission”
What we did not know was that Ukweli Party was also battling the system in and out of Court. But the party was finally registered and we joined. Thank God we did because now we did not need to go around collecting signatures.
When we joined Ukweli party, we knew we were going to have our first win….getting Samanthah on the ballot box. All the certificates we had to produce, the fees we had to pay, to be honest Kenya is not a place for the young and hopeful.
Samanthah was confirmed as a candidate for MCA Kileleshwa Candidate and now the real hard work began. Please note that the campaign team was inexperienced. I remember sitting through the meetings and thinking “what am I doing here? What do people do at campaign committees?” To begin with we barely had funds; most of the money had been spent on the t-shirts, getting registered.
The campaign itself had to be done on a door to door basis. We had no intention to hold open air public meetings. It was working well with our Party Leader, Boniface Mwangi and we thought why not?
Our first campaign was quite simple. We had our fliers, yellow t-shirts, jeans and comfortable shoes. We were just a handful of us, about 5 ladies. We talked to anyone we met on the way. I felt as if we were wasting our time because how does one get into estates within Kileleshwa? We were not meeting as many people as I wanted us to meet.
We decided to now focus our energy on areas that had more people we could talk to. We went to Waruku. Waruku made me happy. People were willing to listen to what Samanthah had to say. The young people we met at Waruku were honest with us. They told us we were not going to win because the incumbent was going to transport people to vote for him and because our political party was not known. I appreciated that honesty and the fact that they were willing to engage with us, hear us out, maybe vote for us even if a win was not guaranteed.
We promised them we were not going to disappear after the elections, a promise we have not forgotten.
At the beginning of the campaign, I was so focused on “will they vote for her”. I later learnt I was not creating a better context for ourselves. We began to focus on visibility because stressing over who will vote and who will not vote was depressing.
We raised money purely through crowd funding. That was overwhelming for us. People we had never met from all over calling to ask how they could help. Some called to say they were proud of Samanthah and that we need such brave people in our country. That was heart warming and encouraging.
My take home: Anyone can and should make a difference. All it takes sometimes is five seconds of insanity (it takes about five seconds to make a decision).