Key issues risk being lost in factors of party affiliations and handshake politics.
It is a hot Thursday afternoon in Nairobi. At Area 42 in Kibra Constituency, Nairobi, people sit conversing outside shopfronts.
Aside from the cacophony of campaign posters – yellow and blue, red, orange – plastered on the walls and electricity posts, it is almost impossible to believe that Kibra is preparing to go to polls on November 7.
Yet the rhythm of Kibra is changing. In 47 days, the 118,276 registered voters in the constituency will line up in a by-election to replace Ken Okoth who died from cancer in July.
The mini-poll has attracted 24 candidates – eight who are backed by political parties and 16 who are independent.
Besides what is arguably the largest number of candidates in a by-election, the race has also had its fair share of drama involving Jubilee Party candidate McDonald Mariga.
Candidates in the race include Okoth’s brother Bernard ‘Imran’ Okoth on an ODM ticket, Eliud Owalo (Amani National Congress), Khamisi Butichi (Ford Kenya), Malaseh Hamida (United Green Movement), Editar Ochieng (Ukweli Party), Fridah Kerubo Kingara (independent), Titus Katiwa (Republican Liberty Party) and Elijah Abasa of Narc Kenya. According to a survey commissioned by ODM, about 47 per cent of Kibra voters are undecided.
However, according to interviews conducted with voters, the performance of Okoth is likely to weigh heavy on the race.
That fact has not escaped the candidates. It is instructive that Imran is running on the platform of continuity – Tuzidi Kutenda (Let’s continue performing), a motto that plays on his late brother’s 2017 General Election campaign tag line that was ‘Nimetenda, Nitazidi’ (I have performed and shall continue).
Mr Joshua Barasa, who told Sunday Standard he has lived in Kibra for the last three years, said Okoth had set the bar for voters and the candidates.
“Within the years I have lived here, I have seen water taps installed, schools put up from scratch and others renovated but above all I have seen bursaries being issued out to well deserving children despite their tribal affiliations,” says Mr Barasa.
But while bursaries won Okoth plaudits in one demographic, it has led to criticism among the youth, some of who said they felt disenfranchised.
Anthony Hamisi, who is among a group of boda boda operators at 42 stage, lamented that they had not felt included.
“As youths, we don’t want people who will not bring development, it does not matter which party one belongs to,” he said.
Taking the cue, Caleb Okoth adds to the debate: “I want an MP who will assist everyone. As boda boda operators, we are often forgotten and development does not reach us.”
“Leaders who come to Kibra fail to reach this side since they don’t consider us of any value,” says Okoth, as he points to a road uphill that leads to a nearby hospital.
He explains that the road is the bane of expectant mothers, a number of whom he said had given birth on the way to hospital due to the rough stretch.
But in Kibra, the issues go beyond paved roads to unemployment, sanitation and security. The number of Kibra residents with no formal employment are anecdotally high.
From the air, Kibra is a sea of brown rusted rooftops of corrugated structures that the majority call home.
On the ground and in more populated areas, it is a maze of ruts filled with flowing effluent.
The average voter in Kibra still has no access to running water or electricity, bathrooms, or sewage system. But beyond that, there is the issue of housing and the looming fear of evictions.
“Hapa hatuna nyumba, tunaishi kwenye mabati na unaweza ukatolewa wakati wowote. (We live in iron sheet houses and one can be evicted any time,” Kambruce Ooko said.
Joyce Nduku, who Sunday Standard interviewed outside her butchery, explained they expected their MP to assist in emergency response in the fire-prone informal settlement.
“There was fire here but when I called mheshimiwa, he came abruptly and we were assisted, “ she said.
Incidentally, on Wednesday night, a fire gutted a row of houses around Makina Mosque area.
On Thursday afternoon, ANC candidate Owalo was at Makina with a load of iron sheets to help rebuild some of the houses that were burnt down in the fire.
So were ODM members Mombasa Governor Ali Joho and Suna MP Junet Mohamed and their candidate Imran. They distributed roofing sheets and household items to those affected.
But the issues raised by the voters risk being lost in factors of party affiliations and the handshake politics.
The contest has already degenerated into one of might between NASA affiliate parties in the constituency regarded as the seat of Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
All the NASA parties, except Wiper, have fielded candidates in Kibra and the result is accusations and counter-accusations.
Jubilee, on the other hands, is facing a test of its unity with some members such as Nominated MP Maina Kamanda opting to support the ODM candidate Okoth rather than their own Mariga.
The Kieleweke/Tanga Tanga dynamics arising from Kamanda’s surprise endorsement last Thursday are also likely to drown the cries of Kibra voters as the constituency is used as a 2022 election test run.
It will also be interesting to see if the voters in Kibra will be swayed to vote along ethnic lines rather than the numerous issues dear to their hearts.