Whether in tight jeans, knee-high boots or in figure-hugging dresses or with shiny lip-gloss, colourful lipstick and heavy make-up, or perhaps long weaves on their heads, the campaign for Nairobi County woman representative’s seat is turning into a contest about beauty, politics and policies.
The campaign slogans emphasise beauty and the femininity of the aspirants; their speeches on the campaign trail is all about “empowering youth and women... in arts, sports and business”.
They all appear to have a vague understanding of the role of county MPs, which loosely means a special MP in the National Assembly to drive affirmative action in politics and legislation.
The stress on beauty and trendy slogans began five years ago, when the incumbent county MP Rachel Shebesh, then a mother of three, and now a grandmother, adopted the slogan ‘Manzi wa Nai’ as her tagline.
Shebesh had picked the slogan from a popular hit song ‘Manzi wa Nairobi’ loosely translated to ‘Nairobi girl’ by Kenyan musician Herbert Nakitare, also known as Nonini.
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It was a trick to entice the huge group of youthful voters to vote for her. It worked. For her second attempt, Shebesh has upgraded her slogan to ‘Mama Nai, Jenga Nai’ that translates to ‘Nairobi’s Mother, build(ing) Nairobi’.
Now, even before her term is over, many women are lining up to unseat her. They say, they haven’t “felt her on the ground” and they point to her “political absence”. But they are following in her footsteps.
For Millicent Omanga, a businesswoman who says she coined the ‘kusema na kutenda’ that the Deputy President’s United Republican Party used in the 2013 General Election, her campaign slogan is now ‘Msupa na works’. In sheng, ‘Msupa’ usually means a gorgeous girl. And ‘works’ means ‘gainful employment’.
“I am a hardworking woman and I am super in all that I do,” she explained in an interview with KTN News for the political programme Choice 2017.
Millicent had wanted to be the city’s senator, but she says the merging of her party and President Kenyatta’s The National Alliance Party, saw her tame her ambitions, but this time, she had identified “gaps in women leadership in Nairobi” and she wants to hoist the Jubilee Party’s flag in the next polls. She was born in Pumwani Hospital in 1982, bred in Eastlands – Kamukunji constituency’s Eastleigh neighbourhood— schooled in city schools including Pangani Girls and got her degree in marketing from the University of Nairobi.
Also eyeing the Jubilee ticket is Karen Nyamu, a city lawyer, who says she was born in Nairobi’s Eastlands, and only left the neighbourhood after she got a job because the daily commute was tough on her.
“I used to really get late for work,” she said in the same interview.
Karen’s supporters gave her a perception nightmare when they came up with a campaign slogan calling her ‘Bae wa Nairobi- Nairobi’s sweetheart’. She has dumped the slogan, and she is working overtime to put out her new slogan, emphasizing her job as a lawyer, and her vision for the struggling masses of unemployed youths. ‘Wakili wa ma-hustlers’ (lawyer for hustlers) is her new slogan. For it to make sense, you will have to ignore the dictionary definition of the word ‘hustler’.
Like Millicent, she says, Shebesh must go because she has been somewhat absent in her huge county vote. “Since they (city residents) elected her (Shebesh), they have not seen her. Now she is all over the place campaigning like any other aspirant, her record does not speak,” Karen said.
Nominated member of the Nairobi County Assembly Bernadette Wangui Ng’ang’a is also in the race to unseat Shebesh. Her slogan is ‘Ms B Tosha’. She has given a model-like ring to her first name, and added the word ‘Tosha’ to mean ‘she fits’ for the job. Wangui, a mother of one, also feels “there’s a gap” and wants to take over from Shebesh “to empower the city’s women and youth”.
Wangui also wants the Jubilee Party ticket. Her sister Alice Wambui Ng’ang’a is a Member of Parliament for Thika Town Constituency.
Elected Member of the Nairobi County Assembly, Beatrice Kwamboka (Mountain View Ward in Westlands Constituency) is also in the race to replace Shebesh. She is vying on the ODM ticket and her slogan is ‘Mrembo wa jiji’ – the city’s beauty.
Kwamboka has already submitted her nomination papers for the seat. All the aspirants have publicly said they want to deal with issues that are not in the domain of the county government or the Constituency Development Fund kitty.
When the current crop of county MPs – all 47 women elected to represent their respective counties—got into Parliament, their 16 colleagues who fought it out with men in the 290 constituencies and won, plus the men in the House, looked at them as “flower girls”, a tag that is usually dumped on nominated MPs.
The life-span of the county woman representative in the Constitution is 20 years.