For many women political aspirants seeking election advice, there is no one better than veteran politician Dr. Naomi Namsi Shaban to get counsel from. She has seen it all, from being rigged out, financial challenges, dirty tricks, personal insults, sabotage, to crafting winning strategies, fund raising, getting out your voters, clever political tactics, winning over your rivals, family and political life balance - in short she knows what works and what does not work!
The three-term Taita Taveta MP and Deputy Majority Leader, who sat down for an interview in mid-June, explained that she decided to run mainly because the women in her constituency repeatedly paid her visits in Nairobi, requesting her to stand. She also had been approached by professionals from her constituency in 1997, asking her to consider running.
Initially, Dr. Shaban, who is a Dental Surgeon, was content running her dental practice and she declined the overtures. She was happy being involved to community activities such as harambees for various causes, seeking jobs for youth and assisting in finding college education for students. However, the people in Taita Taveta constituency were watching and appreciated her assistance to the community. They then decided that they wanted to hire her as their MP.
The chance to run for elective politics presented itself in 2001 when a by-election was called in the constituency following the resignation of Basil Criticos. The quest to convince her to run went into overdrive and groups of people would travel from Taita Taveta and camp at her home in Nairobi, every week to lobby her and other supporters in the City.
“I finally agreed to run and I told them please don’t come to Nairobi anymore, I will be coming to Taita Taveta from now on,” said Dr. Shaban.
The MP was quickly thrust into the rough and tumble of hard core electoral politics and being a rookie, she was given the full treatment of Kanu political dirty tricks. Her first hurdle was to get the party nomination and this being a Kanu zone she vied for the party’s nomination. However, the local elders and party big wigs had their own handpicked nominee and they rigged out Dr. Shaban, despite her having the largest support. She then defected to Ford Kenya and got nominated to run for the seat.
Having tested the political waters, she decided to prepare for the 2002 elections. “I campaigned for one and a half years,” said the MP. By the time the party nominations were held, she had locked down her supporters and won over majority of the elders and Kanu leadership. She convincingly won the elections on a Kanu ticket, despite the opposition euphoria that swept the country. She was returned in 2007 as a Kanu MP and in 2013 on a TNA ticket.
Over the last 15 years, Dr. Shaban has risen to the senior most political positions in the country to be held by a female politician. She served in the Cabinet of retired President Mwai Kibaki as Special Programs Minister and later as Gender and Children Affairs Minister. In the Jubilee government she holds the powerful position of Deputy Majority Leader in the National Assembly. She was tapped to speak at the important prayer service for ICC Six in April and is now in the Jubilee parliamentary team to negotiate the critical Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) reforms.
Dr. Shaban’s political journey has not been a Sunday drive in the countryside. The single parent of two has had to learn the hard way to overcome political challenges that were doubled by a society that is skeptical of women seeking political leadership. She also had to learn to balance her political life and her family life.
The humble and social MP is a great supporter and mentor of women vying for political office and she has a lot of valuable practical advice for female aspirants. The first one is to start early and make sure the electorate in your constituency knows you are interested in running.
“Don’t just announce here in Nairobi you are running, tell the voters too,” said Dr. Shaban.
She urged women to go beyond being known as “that woman with the red car,” and build an image where they are known for their contribution to community development projects and assisting the less fortunate in the constituency.
She also said the women aspirants should develop an election strategy. “Do a full SWOT analysis so that you know your strengths and weaknesses,” said the MP. The veteran politician said that this information is vital as it helps the aspirant target their energies towards motivating their strong areas to vote 100 per cent and also campaign in areas where they have weak support so as to convince some of them to give you their vote.
Unlike the men, women candidates seem to face the challenge of minimal finances to run a successful campaign. The MP advises the women to make sure they have a financial strategy. She said that the most expensive part on personal finances is campaigning to get the party nominations.
“In 2001, I spent close to Shs. 2 million of my own money just to get to the nominations and win,” said Dr. Shaban. Once she was the party candidate it became much easier to fundraise and supporters from the party, women and youth groups donated their time, money, cars and other logistics to campaign for her. “One benefactor fueled my cars on the crucial last week of the campaigns,” she said.
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She also advises women to manage their campaign funds wisely and especially save enough money for the last week of the campaign, when they have to go full blast. But she also warned them to be careful not to come across as miserly or mean to the electorate, “create and image of mother and helper,” she said. The MP pointed out that male aspirants are usually flush with money and are dishing it out liberally, creating an attractive image of generosity to the voters.
Another important area for women aspirants is to make sure they have loyal agents who will man the polling stations and confirm the vote results are correct on Election Day. According to Dr. Shaban, buying of agents by rivals is one of the Election Day dirty tricks. “I kept my agents lists confidential until the last day of submitting the names to the returning officer,” said the MP. She added that on Election Day she made sure each polling station had three agents and a car went round taking roll call and back up agents. She also provided the transport and made sure the food only came from a trusted source to avoid agents being drugged or compromised by rivals.
Now that she has been an MP for many years and delivered on her promises to the electorate, Dr. Shaban says she is proud that she has successfully proven that women can do what men can do. Nowadays she experiences less insults and undermining from her rivals. However, she warns that political rivals are always ready to sabotage development projects and she has learnt never to announce potential projects until they are signed and ready to be implemented.
When it comes to balancing family time and political life, Dr. Shaban said it has been very challenging especially finding time to spend with family. “I cried one time when my son, who was in class two, told me he wanted to go to boarding school because the reason for him going to day school was so that I could be with him,” she reflected. The MP said that she made some adjustments and decided to make sure she had two weeks holiday every year for her family only. She also made sure she attended all visiting days for her children in boarding school.
Dr. Shaban also advices women leaders that once they get elected they should care for the electorate, “Listen a lot to people’s stories and provide advice to them,” she said. The MP explained that she has been successful because she set up a permanent constituency office long before the Parliamentary Service Commission and Constituency Development Fund became active. These offices have permanent staff that listen to constituents’ concerns and relay them to her for action.
Indeed, Dr. Shaban’s popularity is very deep that when she announced this year she was considering retiring from elective politics, the delegations from Taita Taveta have started visiting her again, asking her not to quit and urging her to represent them in parliament once more. She still intends to hang her political shoes for now.