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Unfamiliar faces who carry hopes of two aspirants

By - | January 20th 2013

By Joe Kiarie

Presidential aspirants James ole Kiyiapi and Peter Kenneth surprised friend and foe this week with unconventional choices of running mates for the March 4 General Election.

Their picks for a race that pollsters say they seem certain to lose are a 50-year-old former mitumba seller and a 33-year-old Kibera-born wheeler-dealer, both unknown political novices with central roles in their presidential campaigns.

Kiyiapi, the Restore and Build Kenya party candidate picked businesswoman Winnie Kaburu Kinyua, RBK’s national treasurer.

Kenneth, the Eagle coalition’s top man, named Ronald Osumba, the young man who brought him and Party of Action’s Raphael Tuju together in November last year. The only rivals who have also named running mates – frontrunners Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta – settled on battle-hardened politicians.

Kiyiapi and Kenneth’s decisions to go with what seem to be man-in-the-street choices has left many asking: Who are these people they want a heartbeat away from State House?

A peek into Kaburu’s life reveals an educated go-getter who has suddenly found herself immersed in the deep end of politics after years in business. Just two decades ago, Kaburu was a graduate selling mitumba (second hand clothes) in Nairobi’s Gikomba market. Today, the former teacher from Maua, Meru County, owns a multi-million shilling real estate empire that includes several hotels.

Her journey to becoming Kiyiapi’s running mate was a brief one, as she only joined his ‘Operation Okoa Nchi’ party last June. She admits the nomination surprised her, but insists she has what it takes.

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“I had interacted a lot with Kiyiapi (a former Permanent Secretary) while at (the Kenya Private Sector Alliance) Kepsa, but had not heard from him since he resigned from the Education ministry in April,” Kaburu recounts.

 “He called me one night and asked we meet the next morning.” At the meeting, Kiyiapi talked to her about his mission, his party, its manifesto, and strength on the ground.

“He never urged me to join RBK but I instantly developed interest,” she reveals. “I visited party offices that afternoon and joined  after four days. I started attending meetings and before I knew it, I had been swallowed into the deep end. I was nominated national treasurer and started campaigning.”

But she says a bigger surprise was in the offing just six months later.

“When it came to nominating a running mate, the NEC (shortlisted) four candidates and Kiyiapi picked me... I never expected it,” she avers.

Astute entreprenuer

With no experience in national politics, her profile as an astute entrepreneur can explain why Kiyiapi would not look further than Kaburu for a running mate.

Having taught English, Literature and CRE at Iterio and Uasin Gishu High Schools and also served as a postal controller at the Kenya Postal and Telecommunications Company, Kaburu quit formal employment in 1993 when juggling between work and family life took its toll on her.

“I went to Gikomba where I would sell second hand clothes. With a leso on my waist, no one would ever imagine I had a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from the University of Nairobi.” she states. Kaburu, who also has a Masters degree in Gender and Development as well an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration and Psychological Science, soon afterwards started flying to Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Bangkok where she would buy clothes for sale locally. In 1998, she started importing and assembling computer parts from Dubai, which she would supply to various organisations.

She later ventured into medical supplies, supplying dispensables and equipment to hospitals. “Today, I supply almost all the leading public and private hospitals in Nairobi. I also provide waste management services for most of these facilities,” she reveals. The mother of three has since also ventured into real estate and the hotel industry. This go-getter spirit saw Kaburu named the Entrepreneur of the Year 2003 by the Africa Entrepreneur Forum. She has  been decorated with the Head of State Commendation for her skills.

As a founder member and at one time the vice chairperson of KEPSA, Kaburu says she has done much behind the scenes to boost women and the youth. “(The idea of supporting) SMEs is my brainchild,” she says. “The youth and women’s funds were ideas we formulated in the private sector and forwarded to the government… I understand the plight of small traders on the streets (as well as) that of industrialists.”

Kaburu laughs off the notion that she is a political greenhorn. “Politics is relative. I did Political Science because I love politics. Business is also politics and I have previously been involved in key campaigns for politicians,” she says.

Grand shift

But with opinion polls writing off RBK’s chances of bagging the presidency, would it not have been a wiser bet for Kaburu to have a go at elective posts such as that of governor, senator or even women’s representative? She says a number of people back in Meru have been urging her to go for the senate seat but she insists she has already made up her mind. “I am fully in Operation Okoa Nchi.” Peter Kenneth’s running mate in the Eagle Coalition is a little-known technocrat and a tenderfoot in national politics. Ronnie Osumba is known in corporate circles as a smart, aggressive and eloquent wheeler-dealer. Unlike most politicians who grew up in posh suburbs, Ronnie, as he is known, was born and bred in Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slums. He attended Olympic Primary School during its glory days as a national academic giant.

Upon joining Starehe Boys’ Centre, Osumba was instantly thrust into various leadership positions, an attribute he carried forward to Moi University where he notably chaired the sensitive Student Electoral Commission in his final year.

While in campus, Osumba, who is married with two children, is credited with initiating the Kenya-Model United Nations-Universities Chapter, an organisation that seeks to emulate the work of the greater United Nations in 2001. The organisation seeks to promote awareness on global issues, diplomacy and activities of the UN among students. There now exist 17 chapters of KMUN in 14 universities across Kenya.

Before his leap into politics, he spent 10 years in the private sector, leading successful teams in the areas of business development and thought-leadership, brand, relationship and financial management.

Until his grand shift, the 33-year-old served as a Senior Manager in charge of public sector sales at giant mobile telephone company Safaricom, a position he secured in 2011. His rise at Safaricom has been swift, having served as a Corporate Account Manager from 2008 before being promoted to Sector Manager in charge of Media, ICT and Education in 2010.  Osumba is today the board chairman in the Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Kenya.

Grand shift

He has for the past two years also served as the chairman of the Old Starehian Society, a body whose membership includes Eagle coalition Kenneth and Tuju  Tuju as Starehe Boys’ Centre alumni. He is also a key member of the school’s managing committee.

“His political philosophy is anchored in a belief that strong and accountable leadership does not necessarily emanate from years of sitting in political office but in being able to inspire majority of the citizens to organize for the purpose of improving their lives. With this diverse experience, Ronald is very well equipped to help drive Kenya’s development agenda to the next level,” reads one citation in his honour.


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