A photograph taken during the Jubilee Party’s NDC in May became a talking point among Kenyans online. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta was captured seemingly staring at someone in the background.
Among the crowd of delegates behind Uhuru was a young lady who appeared to be smiling back at the party leader.
The young lady, who wore a red dress to match the Jubilee colors was Pauline Njoroge. If it is true that Kenyatta was smiling at her, then it could not have been an accident. The story of this gesture can be traced back to 2012. It is a story of resilience.
It was barely a year to the 2013 General Election and the campaigns were in hot gear. Uhuru was making his first stab at the presidency in what was considered a two-horse race between him and his fiercest rival at the time – former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto were facing charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) headquartered at The Hague in the Netherlands.
They were part of the infamous ‘Ocampo 6,’ a group of six high-profile personalities who lead prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo had singled out as the main perpetrators of the 2007 post-election violence witnessed in the country.
While the rival camp massively used these charges to campaign against the duo, Uhuru and Ruto played the victim card to earn sympathy votes and had a secret weapon that the opposition failed to detect and neuter – an elaborate social media campaign. What most people don’t know is Pauline Njoroge’s involvement in this.
To understand this story better, you have to go back to Githiga in Kiambu County, where Pauline was born and raised. She was born into a humble Christian family but lost her mother at the early age of 10.
- How to stay relevant on social media and make good money
- Kenya: The Epicenter of TikTok's Global Craze
- Threads: What you need to know
- Threads: Deleting your Threads account means deleting your Instagram account
She spent her adolescence at the feet of her father and grandparents who struggled to pay her school fees but saw her scrape through Moi Girls Kamangu.
This was the end for them, but it was only the start of her journey into becoming one of Kenya’s most ruthless social media propagandists and political communicators.
Although she was not given a State job, she has worked closely with the government. It is during Uhuru’s second term that the blogger got more involved with the former president’s legacy projects.
She was so close to the Uhuru administration that she covered a number of his foreign trips; her highest moment being the G7 summit in Quebec, Canada, in 2018.
“I had never imagined a scenario where this village girl from Kiambu could be part of this very exclusive summit that brings together leaders of the 7 world’s largest and most advanced economies,” read part of her Facebook post.
A scan through her Facebook profile would not take you long to envy Ms Njoroge’s global tours. She has gone to Venice, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican in Italy. She has visited Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, The City of Bath, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral in the UK. And she has been to the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu and The Château Frontenac in Quebec in Canada.
What you should know though is that her journey through the world started at the American Reference Center Library in Nairobi. This is the place that fed her mind and helped to change the course of her life entirely.
Knowing that she was on her own after doing KCSE in 2004, Pauline made a desperate but daring move to raise her college fees; she decided to go to Kabarnet Gardens and beg former President Daniel Moi since he also educated her late mother.
Sadly, she was turned away by GSU officers manning the gate and was only consoled by a phone call from one of his aides who asked her to apply for a scholarship through the Moi Foundation. She thought this was a long shot and opted against it.
Nevertheless, the blogger applied to join a private university in Nairobi, although she was admitted, she couldn’t even raise enough fees for a semester and eventually dropped out of school. She felt her life had come to an end.
“What was life for anyway if I could not study political science and later work in government or become a player in the political scene?” Pauline narrated in a Facebook post.
Not only was she also unable to pay for hostel fees in Ngara, where she lived, but also had a younger sister who had been sent home over Sh7,000 school fees arrears.
Going back to the village was one of the lowest moments in her life, she had to endure a few years of uncertainty after her hope of progressing was crushed.
But as fate would have it, a couple who knew her from church invited her to stay with them as she figured out her next move.
To make ends meet, the couple opened a posho mill in Gachie and asked Pauline to run it since they could not afford a hired labourer. This kind act brought young Pauline back to the city.
Working in a posho mill did not kill her passion for politics and governance. Borrowing books from the library, she would spend her free time at the mill reading and researching.
“I had registered as a member at the U.S Embassy reference center and every week I would go there and get books on these topics,” she says.
At the same time, Ms Njoroge started an NGO – Eagles Leadership Foundation – with the help of a few friends where they eventually got involved in the Embassy’s programs. And one day, she was invited to attend the American Independence Day reception at the US Ambassador’s residence.
With a borrowed dress, she attended the party and was star-struck to rub shoulders with people she had only previously seen on TV or newspapers.
She approached PR mogul Gina Din who introduced her to the late Minister Joe Nyagah. Meeting other prominent personalities at the event gave her a ray of hope.
Using the knowledge she got from the books she read, the influencer decided to use her Facebook profile to engage other youth in the things she was passionate about because she could not fund her NGO.
Her social media engagements caught the attention of one of her followers who sent her Peter Kenneth’s number. She texted him, and he called her back the following day.
With nothing but a KCSE certificate, a Facebook page, and a Twitter handle, Pauline stepped into the politician’s office at the Treasury in January 2012.
The former Gatanga MP was also a presidential candidate in the hotly contested presidential election.
“I told him how the youth can be engaged through a structured social media campaign,” she said.
“I borrowed most of the ideas from former U.S President Barrack Obama’s campaign.”
Two days after her pitch, Kenneth’s campaign team contacted her. They offered Njoroge her first real job. Her first salary was Sh30,000.
This was the beginning of her now 10-year political communication journey.
Peter Kenneth was a popular candidate among the youth and women. Although he came in fourth with slightly above 72,000 votes in the presidential race, commentators joked he would have won if he had translated his social media following into votes.
It is perhaps her work in his campaigns that earned her the admiration of Uhuru’s National Alliance party (TNA), which had fronted its own digital campaign, and had a youthful leadership under chairman Johnson Sakaja, the current Nairobi Governor.
“This is to confirm that Pauline Njoki Njoroge… to have been appointed Communications (Youth and Volunteers) Manager for TNA Secretariat Nairobi from 04/12/2012 to March 2013,” reads her appointment letter in part.
Her salary was Sh100,000 per month, thrice what she earned with Kenneth’s team.
She was tasked with maintaining TNA’s social networks, media monitoring, and building a comprehensive email, sms, and social media database, among other responsibilities.
The Uhuru-Ruto ticket eventually won the presidential election, and many analysts commented on their vigorous digital campaign.
So notorious were the Jubilee Alliance campaigns that controversial data mining company Cambridge Analytica was said to have been involved in a digital smear campaign against the main opponent Raila Odinga.
After the elections, Njoroge set up a ‘Jubilee Social Media Cabinet’ whose main role was to run pro-government digital campaigns in support of the Jubilee’s delivery unit platform. She also worked with Uhuru’s government as a consultant digital media strategist.
After the elections in 2013, she got a contract at New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Kenya but could only work as a casual because she did not yet have a university degree.
The political communicator decided it was time to go back to school since she had started finding her feet. She had to put her ambitions aside and pay university fees for her sister who had just finished Form Four.
Two years later, one of her friends gave her enough money to enroll for a Communications course at a private university in Nairobi, and three years later in 2015, she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree.
Soon after her graduation, she signed up for a Master’s degree at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies from where she graduated in 2020.
Away from politics, Pauline has worked for New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Kenya, and the NEPAD Agency, AUDA-NEPAD.
Her recent professional engagement was a consultancy job as the Project Manager for the 2nd African Union Men’s Conference, a short-term contract she got soon after last year’s elections.
Pauline also worked in the Azimio campaign team as a social media propagandist and strategist in the run-up to the 2022 General Election. She is loved and loathed in equal measure by opposition followers and Kenya Kwanza sympathisers consecutively.
Her loyalty to Jubilee recently earned her a position at the party after she was appointed as the deputy organizing secretary during its National Delegates Conference last month.
She was among officials selected to replace rebel members who had joined the Kenya Kwanza coalition, according to embattled secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni.
During her tours, Njoroge loves visiting cathedrals and is also passionate about conversations about the church.
Although she was raised a Presbyterian, she occasionally finds herself going to the Catholic and Anglican churches. Lately, she frequents Anglican churches.